Come snow, do you take the highway or side streets?

A snowy Syracuse street.

A snowy Syracuse street.

As the Lake Effect snow fell steadily during a work shift this week, my boss and I talked about our winter driving habits around Syracuse, N.Y.

There were no customers at the front end registers at the moment.

I told her how I had taken the New York State Thruway entrance nearby the Little Bitty in the Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood to Route 57, and how it was clear sailing until the Wegmans supermarket. And then I hit a curtain of snow and slippery roads the rest of the way, all the way to the store.

She was surprised I had taken the highway at all.

Too much of a chance to encounter spun-out, Jack-knifed tractor-trailers, she said.

I countered that I wouldn’t have jumped on the big highway for that five-mile stretch if it had been snowing the mile from my house …

And with the roads snow-covered and slick for my 15-mile trip home after closing, I skipped the Thruway and I481 and stuck to the surface roads. I didn’t want to be forced to drive faster than I wanted to push my Chevy Cruze by other traffic, or have my visibility compromised by blowing snow coming across the road from the sides of the unprotected highway.

So naturally I’m curious about your winter driving habits.

Are there any conditions that keep you off the highway? What’s usually safer where you live, the highways or the surface roads? Do you have any shortcuts that you brag about to your friends?

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52 thoughts on “Come snow, do you take the highway or side streets?

  1. Unfortunately, living in Cazenovia for 10 years and working on Syracuse’s Irving Ave., there was little choice but to grab the wheel and white knuckle it up and down Rte. 92. You just did it, because if you thought about it too much, you’d start thinking that calling in sick might be the safer option.

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    • I spent 15 years commuting from Morrisville to Syracuse, Lisa, 11 taking Route 20, 92, etc. and then four the other side, with Route 5. North or south, it was always worry, worry, worry and drive through it anyway. The only no-go day I had was after the really big one in 1992, when after opening my garage door, only a half-foot of daylight remained at the top that morning. I looked at that, looked at my shovel, and called my boss.

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      • We had a big one in I believe late winter, 2011, where the snow accumulated over the top of the cars. The roads were eerily barren except for the town snowplough, which sealed my fate after pushing a four foot lip of snow and ice across the end of my driveway. Every business closed except the hospitals and gas stations. I’m glad I didn’t have to negotiate 92 or 20 on that day!

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  2. It’s hard to say here in the UK snow ….almost any amount of snow grinds the country to a halt! Mostly though the motorways are better than the sideroads. Any short cuts I keep to myself !

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  3. I’m with Lisa. When I was living in Upstate NY, I just put chains on my Volvo, and drove, as cautiously as I could. I spent many a time sliding backward down one of those steep hills in Syracuse on ice, praying I wouldn’t hit a parked car. Worst of all, I had a stick shift in those days and when I was at a light with the incline behind me, I would become a teeth-chattering nervous wreck that I would be able to gun it over the hump and keep going forward. I think I would opt for public transportation now. Oh, and in those days we were allowed to have studded tires from November through March. Did that too.

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  4. It used to be that the big highways were safest during a storm, because they spent so much time plowing and salting them. But in recent years it seems the services here have become substandard. I had an appointment last week about 45 minutes away – in dry conditions that is – along our major artery. However the slow lane was a sheet of ice.
    I don’t know if it’s an environmental thing or a budget thing, but I want my roads back!! The side streets are in no better condition either.

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  5. It’s a moot question for me, Mark. Unless I’m traveling somewhere for a vacation or something, I always take surface roads. Around here, there are so many accidents every single day on the highways that it doesn’t really make sense to drive them if you really want to get to where you’re going. At least on the surface roads, if there’s an accident in front of me, I can turn off onto a side street and wind my way home. Drivers on the highways are pretty much stuck until the accident is cleared. My normal drive to work on surface roads is 12-15 minutes; if I used the highway and there was not an accident, I could get to work in about 15 minutes. With an accident on the highway, it could take an hour. If I have to go around an accident on the surface roads, I can still get to work in about 20 minutes.

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  6. I’m a side-road person in general, because taking the scenic route is good for my nerves, and snowy conditions are no different. I might detour a bit more to avoid a bridge or a steep curve, but I generally avoid the interstate and highways when it’s slick. It’s the speed of others that scares me!

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  7. Hey Mark!!!! I am a side-street driver. Too many nuts on the highway that do not drive according to the conditions, If it snowed ere where I live now, I would just stay in my house because these Californian drivers are scary on clear, dry days. Be safe. Hope all is well with you and your family!!!

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  8. When I was working it was a 15 mile drive one way. The roads could get very grueling with me going at a snail’s pace and drivers behind me trying to get me to speed up. I hated the hills! Glad now that I don’t have to drive on snowy icy roads.

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  9. To be honest, the highway drivers sometimes are less crazy than the sides street drivers near me (when it snows). And they’re usually well salted, which varies town to town by me also.

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  10. I stay off the highways when visibility is poor, when it’s really cold and the winds create black ice, when we’ve had lots of snow for basically the same reasons you stated Mark. ❤
    Diana xo

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  11. The highway is definitely the way to go in Maine. Those always get cleared first and often. Some side streets never get any attention from the plows. Plus, stopping for a red light or stop sign can get you stuck. Trust me on this!

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  12. Well funny but as I read this thee news was on and said to stay off side streets – anyhow – I tend to prefer the highway if possible – but I also like having phone apps that tell u the traffic flow – but yesterday there was red on all roads – interstates – main highway and side streets

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  13. I’ll go wherever the bus can make it bro Mark. Since my driving habits are non existent now, unless you count the occasional side-swiping cars that are in my way when I go to the bank, I make it okay. In my apt. I usually walk, hobble or crawl, squirm or wiggle my way from one area to the other, depending on the mood I’m in and whether I can stand or not. We were lucky this time and the bad stuff just side swiped us on the way up to visit you, so the 5 – 6 inches we were supposed to get stayed in the clouds til it got to Syracuse. Kentucky people are thoughtful that way. I hope you are loving my gift to you.

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  14. I was thinking about you last week when all that snow came in. Glad y’all didn’t get it too bad this time . . .
    Though the heat & flooding can be bothersome where I live & evacuating for a hurricane is an absolute fricking nightmare . . . I am so glad I do not have to bale out in the snow/ice on a regular basis to drive to work – or shovel snow to get out of my drive, etc. Besides, I kind of hate the cold – makes my body ache!!

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    • The evacuation for a hurricane would make me fret more than the blizzard driving, I believe, Sadie. I mean, that’s life and death dancing around you. Oy. In any case, I’m glad you found your cold ache avoidance down there!

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