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April 2, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

April 2 , 2007

Rotary Death For Pedestrians And Bicyclists

The Mayor finds a new and creative way to
destroy our neighborhoods

On one end of my neighborhood is a big intersection. This is where our own Morton Avenue crosses Delaware Avenue and becomes Holland Avenue. Jerry Jennings wants to replace this intersection with a roundabout. Also called a rotary.

The Mayor’s intentions about our intersection came out during a presentation by a bunch of Traffic Planners. These people were meeting with the Delaware Avenue neighbors and merchants who are involved with watching over the upcoming renovation of Delaware Avenue.

Delaware and Morton/Holland:  Why Shouldn't The Autos Stop For Us?
Delaware and Morton/Holland:
Why Shouldn't The Autos Stop For Us?

It seems that The Traffic Planners from the State Department of Transportation (DOT) had wanted to put several roundabouts on Central Avenue.

“No way,” said The Mayor.

“But,” said The Traffic Planners, “because the City of Albany is receiving federal money for these roadway renovations on Central and Delaware, we are ‘required by law to take a hard look’ at roundabouts. Where can we plant one of these things?”

So His Majesty pointed at the part of the City that he hates the most. My neighborhood. And no doubt He chuckled mightily.

The plan is to replace the existing intersection with a two lane circle with four auto traffic feeds. The two directions of Delaware Avenue will be one lane, while the auto feeds for both Morton Avenue and Holland will be two lanes.

In theory, auto traffic never stops at a roundabout. Thus it “flows more smoothly.” The motorized vehicles just keep going right through the walkers and bicyclists. In other words, we locals will only be allowed to cross the intersection safely if we are driving an automobile.

Pedestrians will be required to detour an extra eighty feet or more in order to cross the street. Barriers will be erected to prevent pedestrians, particularly school children, from interfering with auto traffic by crossing the circle itself. There are four schools within two blocks of the intersection, and several more a little further out.

I can’t show you specifically how the proposed roundabout is supposed to look. Even though plans for this thing are already drawn up and circulating among The Traffic Planners, the public has been allowed little more than a glimpse. It’s mostly a big secret. But some of the details have been revealed.

We know that this nasty thing will take up a whole lot more territory than the present intersection. The plan is to cut deep into Lincoln Park and destroy the gazebo and about half of the tennis and basketball courts. The answer to the next question is that these people are absolutely not allowed to do that to our park. Not very easily.

They Want To Destroy This Part Of Lincoln Park
They Want To Destroy This Part Of Lincoln Park

During another recent meeting, First Ward Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro pointed out to The Traffic Planners that Lincoln Park is a park. You can’t take land out of a park unless the NY State Governor and both houses of the State Legislature agree to authorize “alienation” of the park land.

The Traffic Planners all smiled down at him. “That doesn’t matter,” they said. “The City is on board.”

“It does matter,” said Dominick. “You can’t take park land without going through the alienation process with the State. And even if all three branches of State government agree, the process takes a long time.”

The Planners practically laughed at Dom. “We don’t have to worry about that because The City owns the land.”

Dominick raised his voice in frustration. “Who owns the land is not important. The State has to agree. And the alienated land has to be replaced with land of equal size and value.”

The gaggle of Traffic Planners smiled deprecatingly and shook their little heads, giving credence to my contention that Traffic Planners are idiots. Meanwhile, several City officials, including Bill Bruce, sat in the back of the room. They all knew that Dominick was right, but none of them said a word.

Oh, The Traffic Planners act like they have all the answers. Roundabouts, they say, are statistically proven to reduce severe auto traffic accidents and fatalities. Exactly why is not understood, except that roundabouts are “traffic calming.” From my own driving experience, I take this to mean that the driver has to slow down because he/she is baffled by the stupid circle.

Nowhere in Sweden: where roundabouts belong
Nowhere in Sweden: where roundabouts belong

I grudgingly admit that roundabouts may very well improve traffic flow and safety way the hell out in the middle of nowhere. If there are no pedestrians or bicyclists anywhere nearby, rotaries may be a good idea. While rear end collisions may greatly increase, fatal front end smash ups do go down.

But if they shove their rotaries inside of a City like Albany we get serious problems.

The Traffic Planners become very vague when you ask about pedestrians. That’s because there is almost no data available in the United States on pedestrian safety in rotaries. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because The Traffic Planners in the US are afraid to compile accurate statistics. Here’s how a University of Knoxville study put it:

The paucity of pedestrian safety data may be also explained by documented intersections being located where little pedestrian activity occurs. Furthermore, unconventional intersections like roundabouts do not have easily identifiable categories in accident reports. Hence, what data that may exist cannot be identified in US accident databases.

Isn’t that convenient? A little further along, the same study makes this absolutely wonderful comment:

However, some advocates for roundabouts point to the scarcity of pedestrian accident data as evidence of their efficacy as a safety treatment.

Well now. The picture is starting to come into focus. Instead of using my neighborhood to collect pedestrian accident and death statistics, I’d like to suggest that The Traffic Planners plant these things in front of their own houses. Go collect death statistics from your own suburban automobile slums.

According to the few available studies, the idea is that if auto traffic is slowed down by the “traffic calming” effects of the rotary, then fewer pedestrians die when they get hit. However, in order for the rotary to improve the flow of auto traffic, the cars are not supposed to stop.

So, if the autos are required to slow down and stop for pedestrians and bicyclists anyway, does that not make the roundabout unnecessary? As far as I have observed, the current intersection already requires auto traffic to stop. I’m calling bull-stuff on The Traffic Planners.

As for bicyclists, roundabouts are proven death traps. According to a study done by the Florida Department of Transportation:

The introduction of roundabouts leads to a slight reduction in pedestrian casualty accidents, yet increases bicycle casualty accidents.... Bicycle accident rates at roundabouts are 15 times those of cars, and pedestrian accident rates are equivalent to those of cars.

As for two lane roundabouts like the one that they are proposing in my neighborhood, the same study has this to say:

Accident studies found that multilane roundabouts are more stressful to bicyclists than single lane roundabouts... In comparison, multilane roundabouts are not as safe as single lane roundabouts, since pedestrians have to cross a larger distance.

Rerouting bicyclists in a wide arc around the rotary is even more deadly. Studies show that the best plan for bicyclists is to take their chances by riding with the autos through the circle. And praying, because the autos never stop.

The “slight reduction in pedestrian accidents” can be easily explained by the fact that pedestrians are scared away from trying to cross these things. As for blind people, check out this quote from a study by Bill Baranowski, a leading advocate of rotaries:

While roundabouts may be an asset to traffic planners in controlling and slowing the flow of traffic at intersections without using traffic signal, the absence of stopped traffic presents a problem for pedestrians with vision impairments in crossing streets. Pedestrians report that vehicles at roundabouts, as well as other unsignalized crossings, often do not yield for pedestrians.

The purpose of The Mayor’s proposed roundabout at Delaware and Morton/Holland is to facilitate auto traffic through the intersection at the expense of the pedestrians and bicyclists, most of whom live in nearby neighborhoods. Therefore, The Mayor is providing a service for suburbanites at the expense of our safety.

He wants this killer to be planted astride two of the most important pedestrian commuter routes in the City, effectively sealing them off.

Working people who live in the South End trudge daily up Morton Avenue and down Holland to their jobs in and around University Heights and the hospitals. Most households in the South End do not have reliable auto transportation, and currently mass transit is effectively unusable along this corridor. It seems to me that The Mayor does not want people in my neighborhood to work.

Thus it appears that the sole advantage to sticking this roundabout in the middle of the City is to allow suburbanites to tear faster through our neighborhoods without stopping. Except for one problem. It won’t even do that.

Twice daily, five days a week, automobiles piloted by suburbanites temporarily clog the streets that feed into this intersection, and also the nearby corners at Morton and Oneida Terrace, and at Holland and Hackett Boulevard. But the traffic jams are not caused by this one intersection. The trouble is caused by too many suburbanites driving too many gas guzzling vehicles. No amount of traffic planning will ever relieve that basic nagging problem.

One Block Away At Morton And Oneida, 10:30 AM Thursday:  What Traffic?
One Block Away At Morton And Oneida, 10:30 AM Thursday: What Traffic?

That's what it's all about. The Mayor wants Holland Avenue to become a suburban style automobile slum imbedded inside the City. And a suburban style rotary fits in nicely with this dumb plan. Look at how he and his minions on the Common Council are trying to illegally spot zone Holland Avenue to “highway commercial” designation.

If The Mayor and the The Traffic Planners really gave a damn about those of us who live here, and sincerely wish to improve the flow of traffic at the corner of Delaware and Morton/Holland, they would adopt the following measures:

1) Strictly enforce no right-turn-on-red at this and nearby intersections.

2) Narrow both Morton and Holland in order to force auto traffic to observe the speed limit of 30 mph, or better yet, less.

3) Create adequate mass transit so as to reduce the number of suburban vehicles clogging the intersection at rush hours.

But I seriously doubt that any of these people give a damn.

I listened to The Mayor on his Friday AM radio show just before the St. Patrick’s Day snowstorm. The impending snow had him worried. There was the parade the next day, and several events at downtown venues that might have to be canceled.

The Mayor told us repeatedly that the streets had to be kept open for “the visitors,” which appears to be His term for suburbanites. I heard not one single word from Him about providing for those of us who live here in Albany during the storm. Not a word.

A pox on “the visitors.” That’s my opinion.

On his radio show, The Mayor takes phone calls from the public. So that morning, The Wife decided to call in. To her surprise, after the required twenty minutes of commercials and blab, The Mayor took her call first.

“Okay Lynne, go ahead,” He said wearily.

Almost certainly He expected her to start nattering about his latest attempt to expand The Dump out in the Pine Bush. Instead, she demanded to know why He wanted to plant a roundabout in our neighborhood.

I gotta admit, the guy is good. A real politician. He fielded the surprise question without saying a damn thing.

“Right now it’s just a proposal, nothing is set in stone,” He waffled. He then inaccurately called the intersection “Delaware, Holland and Hackett,” which doesn’t exist on this planet. “But give the rotary a chance. I want you to attend the meetings and find out more about it.”

Ha. He told The Wife to attend more meetings. Right. That woman attends more meetings than she visits the bathroom. That’s an awful lot of meetings. She practically wears out the toilet.

The only real solution is to reduce the number of suburban autos on our streets. Decent mass transit must become available, and then those “visitors” must become accustomed to using it. Or better yet, make it possible for the smarter suburbanites to live inside the City of Albany. They can walk or bicycle to work. And they can pay their taxes and make their purchases inside our sustainable urban community.

I have a vision of the future, maybe five or ten years from now. Gasoline will be permanently well over five bucks a gallon, or maybe ten. Or more. Property values in Colonie and Clifton Park will be collapsing as suburbanites stream back into Albany, desperately trying to buy up houses that could have been had for next to nothing back in, say, 2007.

One of those returnees will be a Traffic Planner. I can see him walking up to the top of Morton Avenue, past 150 year old houses that he can’t afford, and stop dead at the impassable rotary at Delaware, baffled by what he sees.

“What kind of lame brained shortsighted idiots,” he'll say out loud, “would put such a stupid thing in the middle of a city?”


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