DELMAR — Around a dozen Delmar business owners and town officials met on Tuesday, July 9 to discuss their concerns about the upcoming Delaware Avenue Road Diet project.
The two-hour meeting, held at My Place and Company in Delmar, saw the attendees deliberating on how the project may hurt local businesses, cause further traffic congestion, and not improve pedestrian and drivers’ safety. Despite these concerns, there was a general consensus among the attendees that they still did care about the success of local businesses and road safety overall, but the road diet was not necessarily the best idea.
The project, slated to be done by 2022, is also known as the Delaware Avenue Complete Streets and Road Diet Project. Said to relieve traffic congestion, improve pedestrian safety and encourage a more “community main street” setting, it would convert a stretch of Delaware Avenue — from its intersection with Elsmere Avenue to Normans Kill Bridge — from a four-lane to a three-lane road, which includes a middle two-way left-turn lane. Totaling a cost of around $5.2 million, construction is expected to start in 2021.
One main concern the attendees brought up was that project would include two bike lanes, which they believed was not ideal since it would truly be used by cyclists only in the warmer seasons, as opposed to all year round. They also noted that the neary Albany County Rail Trail already offered an alternative for cyclists to use, which can connect them to many local businesses throughout the route.
“I don’t think bike lanes are good on Delaware Avenue because it just won’t be safe with all the traffic,” said Delaware Plaza managing director Debbie Nolan, who appeared on behalf of her father and the plaza’s owner, Howard Nolan. “I am a biker and I always go around the back of Delaware Plaza.”
Albany-based attorney and author Barbara Collura said that she had gone through all of the project-related public meetings and comments since around 2007. “A majority of businesses and residents did not want the bike lanes put in and the town just listened to the minority in the project’s last two meetings,” she said. “Don’t let anyone from the town ever tell you that they didn’t hear from you.”
Town Board member Jim Foster said that in 2017’s Delaware Avenue Complete Streets Feasibility Study, most of the roughly 200 crashes on Delaware Avenue were caused by distracted drivers, especially by those using smartphones while driving. While there were no fatalities listed in the study, Foster warned that if more crosswalks are placed on Delaware Avenue, more pedestrians will be vulnerable to distracted drivers and “you’re inviting disaster. That same driver who used to not stop and hit a car, will now hit a kid or an unprotected individual like a biker. And that’s when they get killed.”
Foster also said that in one incident, he attempted to use the crosswalk on Delaware Avenue from Main Square to the Veterans Memorial Park so that he could access the Rail Trail. “I stood there, and this was 10 a.m. on a Tuesday so it’s not during rush hour, and I pressed the button that would alert drivers that a pedestrian wanted to cross,” he said. “I waited for six cars in one direction to go through before one finally stopped. Six cars flew by and if we’re under some illusion that the project will solve that same problem, it doesn’t.”
Another main concern was how during the planned 2021-2022 construction timeframe, it may deter customers from reaching their usual local businesses along Delaware Avenue which could have a negative economic impact. “When they had all that construction after the landslide on Delaware Avenue, most of our tenants were down by about 60 percent,” Nolan said. “People can’t stay in business like that for a ton of different reasons like insurance and it would make people not want to come to [Delaware Plaza] as much. This construction would really affect us.”
Prominent local figure Steve Peterson, who organized the meeting, brought up the possibility that even after construction finishes, former customers may have grown accustomed to not doing their business along Delaware Avenue at that point and they may not return at all. There was also concern that the to-be-rerouted traffic would cause traffic congestion on parallel-running or nearby roads, which would negatively affect residents there.
The idea of a road diet itself was also criticized because the attendees believed that road diets do not always work in every type of road setting, and it would not help alleviate traffic on Delaware Avenue. A common situation they envisioned was that since the project would technically have just two opposing traffic lanes, if a vehicle slows down to make a turn or a bus stops along the road, it would force all vehicles behind them to also slow down or stop, which can lead to a congestion. They also worried that with many vehicles making frequent turns along Delaware Avenue, a cyclist or pedestrian is bound to get struck; they also believed that the road diet design would prevent emergency vehicles from making its way through traffic quickly whenever necessary.
Finally, the attendees agreed that there should have been more transparency from the town government regarding the project. Peterson recalled that shortly after the project was originally approved by the Town Board, “I said to myself, ‘I wonder how many of the businesses here know about this?’ So I went out the next week and went door-to-door, and the answer was the same throughout from everybody: ‘I heard about that. That went through?’”
Nolan said that her father was “furious” that no one from the town government had reached out to him regarding his perspective on the project. She also said that she and her father have a scheduled meeting with Town Supervisor David VanLuven and Planning Division director Robert Leslie sometime this week to further discuss the project.
Looking ahead, the attendees plan to have a followup meeting, hoping more local business owners along the affected Delaware Avenue will attend, within a month. They also began making plans to start an outreach effort to gather more residents’ support in opposition to the project, such as with social media and a petition which they could present to the Town Board later on. Despite their dissatisfaction with the project, they still maintained that they were looking out for local businesses, and pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
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