The way this crossing protection is set-up for safety is quite simple. Traffic can flow normally right up until the train at restricted speed comes upon the crossing in which case drivers can take action to the train. People can adapt, but you seem to make it out like a certain minority of people cannot. Just go down to L.I. City and watch trains approach the Borden Avenue crossing PREPARED TO STOP while crossing activation is activated.
C'mon. You're talking about two very very different crossings. L.I.C. (11th street, I believe) is constantly active during weekdays, often with trains idling feet from it. There's also a very small population of people using that crossing - no homes and only industry. It's not hard to get a limited population used to a pattern that has existed since that yard opened...
Up until LIRR stopped moving equipment on this route (what, 3, 4 years ago tops?), trains moved through the (now former) secondary tracks in Maspeth and many of the other crossings at track speed, with protection activating before the train showed up. Freight was the same way. Don't try to tell me otherwise because I've seen it myself, and probably have photos to boot (or have I not observed this route enough?
). Advanced activation was the expectation of those using these crossings, built in by decades of experience. What we seem to have now is activation coming at a point that worries people - they see a train very close to a crossing and the gates not going down - they question if something isn't broken.