Editor’s note: This article was originally published online on Saturday, March 7 at 2:40 p.m. It was updated on Monday, March 9 at 3:28 p.m. to include more information and voices from Jim Giacone and Jim Foster.
DELMAR — Business owners along Delaware Avenue expressed concern about the upcoming road’s Complete Streets Project at a public forum in the Normanside Country Club on Thursday, March 5.
There was a general consensus throughout the meeting that road safety, maintaining communication among residents and businesses and improving infrastructure on Delaware Avenue’s 1.3-mile stretch from Elsmere Avenue to the Normans Kill Bridge were important.
Business owners are worried customers will be discouraged from coming during and after construction, that road detours will affect traffic on nearby streets and it hurting businesses’ bottom lines.
The meeting was mainly led by Jim Giacone, the owner of My Place & Co., who said he did not like the road diet’s planned restriping — from the existing four-lane road to two opposing traffic lanes, a middle two-way left-turn lane and two opposing bicycle lanes.
He was also worried about the potential increase in peak hour traffic in the late afternoon.
However, he said, “Let’s be clear. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who doesn’t love Bethlehem. I was born and raised here, and we are 100 percent for pedestrian crosswalks, safer roads, ADA-adaptability and connectivity.”
The meeting attracted dozens of residents and key officials like Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven; all four Town Board members; Robert Leslie, the town’s director of planning; Elizabeth Staubach, the town’s economic development coordinator; and several state Department of Transportation staff.
Leeanne Shade, owner of Choices Hair Studio, was concerned that construction and the road’s planned two-opposing-lanes approach could deter customers.
“I have to worry about [my] employees that have been with me for a very long time and are very loyal. I owe it to them to make certain I’m looking out for their interests,” she said. “My salon, because people do make appointments, often has me receiving calls from people who are on their way but stuck in traffic. And that’s with four lanes here.”
Stephanie Kosnick, owner of InFerno NY, wondered whether the construction and restriping would affect local emergency respondents; she believed that having two opposing lanes would feel tight and increase more traffic.
“How are they going to be able to access accidents that most likely will occur during rush hour when there are more people crammed into that space?” she said. “The fire trucks and ambulances are pretty big.”
VanLuven understood their concerns and said, “The three desired outcomes are greater safety for vehicles, greater safety for pedestrians and greater safety for cyclists. In addition to that, we want it to also benefit businesses which I firmly believe it will.”
He added he knows of business owners who support the project but did not attend the meeting, implying they may “feel harangued and bullied and just don’t want to deal with it” because of those who oppose it.
Town Board member and volunteer Elsmere Fire District firefighter Jim Foster said, “What I’m horribly afraid of is putting crosswalks along this corridor when we have data that shows the number one cause of accidents is distracted driving. … I live in fear of the day when I respond to that fire truck and there’s a tragedy on that corridor because we sprinkled some crosswalks and I think everyone here can see we can do better from a yielding-to-pedestrians-at-crosswalks perspective.”
Attending business owners offered suggestions like temporarily restriping the road for a year to test whether a road diet is successful; restriping the road’s stretch to have two lanes coming from Albany, one lane to Albany and a two-way left-turn lane in between; lowering the current speed limit to 30 mph; and encouraging bicyclists to use the nearby Albany County Rail Trail.
VanLuven and the Town Board members said residents can continue to reach out with their ideas or concerns. While the project’s final design process is ongoing and an engineering consultant has yet to be hired, residents and business owners can expect more communication from the town as it hired the Albany-based Baker Public Relations firm in January to craft a strategic communications plan for the Glenmont roundabout project.
Set to be finished by April 1, this plan will be a template the town can use for future major roadway construction projects, like the road diet, to keep residents, businesses and customers in the loop about construction updates and traffic detours.
The $5.2 million Delaware Avenue Complete Streets Project or road diet will not shorten the road’s physical width though. According to the town’s website, construction will commence in late 2021 or 2022, depending on the state DOT’s paving schedule, and an engineering consultant will be hired in winter 2020 to help work on the project’s final design.
For more information, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/830/Delaware-Avenue-Complete-Streets-Project.