DELMAR — So you say you have an argument to make in this debate over the Delaware Avenue Complete Streets and Road Diet Project? Let’s shine a stop light on that for a moment.
Complete Streets has been a discussion topic for urban areas looking to beautify streets that have neglected the neighborhoods they run through. Think for a moment about how cities and towns have been designed over the past century and there is one, overwhelming factor that has played into those plans — motorist traffic.
Delaware Avenue has always served this town as a commercial road. Before its incorporation into the state’s network of highways and routes it was a toll road managed by local stakeholders as the Delaware Turnpike. Just like today, travelers used it to go from Point A to Point B. Delmar grew as it served those travelers with various amenities — hotels, road service, restaurants and taverns. It drove business, and in turn, helped build the community we see today.
The four-lane stretch of Delaware Avenue you see is a result of an expansion project from sixty years ago. Pockets of Bethlehem were booming with residential development. So much so, the high school and several of the district’s elementary schools moved and expanded to accommodate the influx of people moving here. In 30 years, the town population more than doubled from 9,800 people in 1940 to 23,000 in 1970. (Though, part of that was the Baby Boom that followed the end of World War II.)
Engineers from Creighton Manning drafted a feasibility study in 2017 that supports the argument of putting Delaware Avenue on a road diet. Road diets reduce the number of lanes reserved for motorists to address several more issues surrounding the immediate neighborhood — increase safety, build up aesthetics, or accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s been a thing of late, and people can see it at work on Albany’s Madison Avenue.
Proponents of the Complete Streets concept often point to what Albany did a few years ago with Madison Avenue. The four-lane roadway accommodated motorists running from Point A to Point B but neglected the College of Saint Rose, its students, the residents and all of the businesses along the 1.5-mile stretch of road. It was once a super-highway running through a vibrant community accentuated by high education, Victorian homes, a movie theatre and coffee shops. But, you wouldn’t see that buzzing through in your car.
Today, it is a calm, neighborly roadway that conjoins the needs of motorists driving through, and the people stopping in to enjoy the community. As one Elsmere resident claimed in last week’s town board meeting, “We don’t need the Complete Streets project. We want it.”
Well, hold on. Let’s pump the breaks on that for a second.
Out of the three options on the table for Delaware Avenue — one of which is to leave it alone — none of them resemble Madison Avenue. Aside from the fact that none of the options introduce streetside parking, there is a more glaring omission to the $5.2 million project.
Crieghton Manning’s 103-paged report documents 213 accidents along the 1.3-mile corridor over a five-year period. Seven involved bicyclists, while two included pedestrians. In terms of percentages, 3 percent of these accidents involved those on bikes and another 1 percent included those on foot.
Of those same number of accidents, 37 happened at two traffic signals; 26 at Elsmere Avenue and 11 at Delaware Plaza. These are also the only traffic signals on the stretch of road. That should be important, because they are the only two traffic signals within the corridor study. This is the difference between Madison Avenue and Delaware Avenue.
Those of us who already try to cross the two-laned section of Delaware without the support of traffic signals are fully aware motorists do not yield to pedestrians without a red light. It should happen. It’s the law, even. But, it doesn’t happen.
The report reads as a marketing tool for the rail trail and that’s the driving force behind the proposal. Not by coincidence, Creighton Manning had also assisted Albany County with previewing the rail trail to town residents in a public workshop less than a month before it’s feasibility report went public. It’s not a need. It’s a want — a want to create a neighborhood around the rail trail, but the proposal is not practical. Not if you neglect to install red lights. Not if you fail to listen to surrounding business owners whose livelihood depends on incoming traffic.
The Complete Streets project is incomplete. Before $5.2 million is spent on reinventing 1.3 miles of Delaware Avenue, there is a need for more traffic signals. Among all of the changes made on Madison Avenue, Albany officials credited well-timed traffic signals for allowing motorist traffic to flow smoothly. Without them, it won’t matter how many lanes you have on Delaware Avenue. You’ll still have motorists racing between Delaware Plaza and Elsmere Avenue. With additional crosswalks, that is a dangerous, dangerous thoroughfare. This glaring omission leaves us with little confidence in any proposed change.