troubling Pedestrian Safety Action Plan was finalized in July

Agenda-PedSafety I was surprised to see this item on the September 13, 2021 City Council Agenda. If the Council is approving a bid and contract for the pedestrian safety project, I speculated, the Schenectady Pedestrian Safety Action Plan must have been finalized. I had not heard anything about it since City Engineer Chris Wallin held an online Public Informational Meeting on January 19, 2021, seeking public input and soliciting written comments. [video of the Meeting] I submitted Comments on February 1st (Part 1; Part 2).

PedSafetyActionPlanCoverI asked Chris Wallin for a copy of the final plan, and he sent it to me on September 24th. Click on the image to the right to see the cover of the Contract Plan (Drawings & Notes), which has the date of July 2021, and a map of the eight affected intersections. I have not gone through every page of the Final Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, but concentrated on recommendations that I had made or that involve the Stockade. My impression, nonetheless, as with virtually every City proposal made to the public for many years, is that no significant change has been made to the original proposal. 

  • BumpOutNotes For myself, the most urgent problem with the Final Plan is that it continues to have so-called “bump-outs” at four intersections that will be flush to the roadway (curbless), and thus offer virtually NO added safety for pedestrians, while perhaps giving them a false sense of security, and incurring a large expense. The thumbnail image to the right shows the Notes to be used by the contractor when constructing the “bump-outs”.See the final section below, and see “our curb-less curb extensions” (July 24, 2020) for a full discussion.

Here are other, selective problems that I see with the Final Pedestrian Safety Action Plan:

Erie-UnionCrosswalk Erie & Union Intersection NOT Included. During the Jan. 19 presentation, both Suzy Unger, Stockade Association President, and Daniel Carlson noted their surprise that the intersection of Erie Boulevard and Union Street is not included in the $1.1 million project. I agreed with Unger and Carlson in my Comments (Part 1), as did Stockade resident Gloria Kishton, that Erie-Union is far too dangerous for pedestrians to be omitted from the Plan, and the fact that it was improved several years ago is no excuse to ignore it now. I wrote:

In my experience, it is deemed the scariest intersection downtown by most people living, working, shopping, or visiting in the Stockade.

The biggest problem is that turning vehicles do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalks, even when they are crossing with the pedestrian walk signal. I concluded:

SUGGESTIONS: For the lengthy crosswalks at this intersection to be safely navigated on foot (or in wheelchairs and similar devices) there must be a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) to give pedestrians an advance walk signal before the motorists get a green light [and wrongly insist they are entitled to turn despite pedestrians]. Or, as at State and Erie, all lights should remain red and no turns allowed during the walk signal cycle. Signs declaring “Yield to Pedestrians in the Crosswalk” would also help.

Those recommendations were not taken, and no changes have been made since January at the intersection outside the framework of the state-funded Action Plan. 

Union-Ferry Ferry St. at Union Street will continue to have signal lights, not stop signs. The final configuration at this Stockade intersection appears to be the same as in the proposal. The Engineer’s office did not take Suzy Unger’s recommendation that there be stop signs rather than traffic lights at the intersection. Suzy, who lives on that block of Union Street, believes that drivers speed up on that lengthy segment of Union Street in order to make the green light. Stop signs would require all vehicles to stop, every time, reducing speed and increasing safety. [Click here for a larger version of the notes at the bottom of the above Plan page.]

Broadway-UnionCorner

Union Street at N. Broadway was not added to the project. In Part 1 of my Comments, I also suggested that N. Broadway at Union Street (images above and below this paragraph), next to the Centre Street Pub, be included in the Action Plan. My frequent attempts to safely use the crosswalk at this corner have made me aware of the hazards. Because they are turning onto a one-way street, and expecting no oncoming traffic, and may be trying to beat a red light, the traffic turning south from Union Street onto N. Broadway is often speeding. Moreover, due to poles and a large utility box, drivers coming east from Erie Blvd. and the train underpass can have a very difficult time seeing pedestrians, while the pedestrians have their back to that traffic and have the same obstacles blocking their view if the do check behind them. In addition, just past the crosswalk on N. Broadway, there are often persons crossing the narrow street going to or coming from the Centre Street Pub or another pub on that block.

Union-NBroadwayA . . Union-NBroadwayb

WatchForPedestriansThis intersection could be made much safer for pedestrians rather easily (and cheaply). The large utility box and trash receptacle could be located better (e.g., raising the utility box seems quite workable). And, signs warning of crossing pedestrians would also help. 

  • Even if not in the Action Plan, such changes at N. Broadway should have been made in the many months since these Comments were submitted. In fact, many of the elements of the Action Plan seem so obviously needed, it is a shame they were not resolved years ago, at intersections so close to City Hall and along busy, highly-visible roadways and busy sidewalks.

Misnamed Bump-Outs Won’t Increase Safety . . see Giacalone Comments Part 2

BumpOutDetail&Notes . . . typical design and element requirements for the “bump-outs” in Schenectady Plan.

I’ve been arguing, since expensive brick pavers were installed at four Union Street Stockade Intersections in July 2020, that without having curbs along the outer borders (or at least bollards) these misnamed “bumpouts” can have none of the hoped for traffic calming and pedestrian safety benefits associated with true bumpouts.  True bumpouts extend the sidewalk and curb (bump them out) into the roadway, effectively narrowing the street at that location, shortening the crosswalk distance for pedestrians, forcing wider turns, and preventing parking at and near the corner (to open driver and pedestrians sight lines). See the posting “our curb-less curb extensions” (July 24, 2020), which has many images, discussion and explanation, with text from and links to relevant materials. 

  • Rather than increased safety, pedestrians and those in wheelchairs or strollers, or with bikes, may have an unwarranted increased sense of safety, when in fact they are simply standing in the street when waiting on the on the reddish surface of the non-bump-out (no longer with even the protection of a standard curb between yourself and moving traffic)

protectpedestrians-001

For almost a year and a half, I’ve asked Stockade Association leaders (who had requested true bump-outs with curbs, see image above, but accepted the curbless versions that were installed), and City Engineer Wallin how the flush-with-the-pavement “corner tattoos” [Editor’s phrase], in any way increase safety. No one has suggested to me likely or even potential safety benefits — not even with tongue in cheek. 

Nevertheless, I will offer one tiny potential benefit of the current design: Unlike with the  Stockade version, no genuine bricks are being used for the pavers. Instead, they will be embedded “surface applied thermoplastic.” That surface may be more skid resistant than bricks. I am not sure if they would be better than customary road surface pavement. And, pedestrians should be on the sidewalk or using the actual improved crosswalk, not standing on the new red surface.

Mr. Wallin spoke correctly at the Information Meeting when he said “I wouldn’t say bump-out” when describing the Stockade pavers at Union and Ferry Streets. This collage shows the “improved” Stockade corners with their brick pavers. Consider for yourself whether or how-ever they might increase pedestrian safety.

stockadecurbless-1 

My conclusion in July 2020 was that “No Standing Here to Corner” signs would have been far more effective and far less expensive. The City did eventually put up such signs, and we can attribute pedestrians and drivers being able to better see each other to the signs, not the red bricks. Even with the No Standing signs, delivery vehicles regularly park on the flush pavers when needing an open space.

Moreover, at the Information Meeting, Mr. Wallin offered the rationale that curbless works better for maintenance and operations, but hat does not justify the expense in the name of pedestrian safety. Moreover, as shown in my web posting, there are true bump-outs in many places in the City (e.g., Union at Dean, on the Proctors Block), and plow drivers and other operations staff appear to be able to handle them very well.

Finally, are we supposed use the State safety dollars just to make interesting red pavement at the downtown intersections? Surely the dollars could be better spent for safer streets for pedestrians. The novelty of the red embedded brick pattern will not only quickly fade, but so will its coloration, given our winter weather and the many large vehicles that will drive over the new patterns as they cut tight corners or strain to navigate a corner.

BTW: I have asked Mr. Wallin if I could see bid sections showing what the “bumpouts” will cost, but have not had a reply. Perhaps the media or City Council members could look into this clear waste of State funds granted to help make Downtown Schenectady safer and thus more walkable.

our curb-less curb extensions

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John Coluccio & curb

Intro: It’s been a month since I wrote Schenectady Signal Control Superintendent John Coluccio, asking whether the new Stockade “bump-outs” will protect pedestrians despite having no curbs. A week later, I again wrote Mr. Coluccio, cc’ing City Commissioner of Services Paul LaFond and Stockade Association leaders, among others, asking if there are any Rules of the Road concerning whether or when vehicles may drive over or park on such bump-outs. Because I have received no reply from the City, and no substantive response from the Stockade Association, I’ve had to do my own research and draw my own conclusions. Below are my findings.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/curblessbumpouts

follow-up (August 19, 2020): No one at City Hall nor on the Stockade Association Board has yet replied to my questions about the rationale and efficacy of curbless bumpouts. I took the two photos in this collage on August 15, 2020, and added some editorial comments.

CurbsNeeded

IMG_1881 additional follow-up (September 9, 2020): The City has erected “No Standing Here to Corner” signs to compensate in part for the lack of curbs. See See https://tinyurl.com/HereToCorner

With NO CURBS or SIGNS to PREVENT PARKING on the bump-outs, the Stockade versions are significantly less likely to provide the hoped-for improvement in visibility of and by pedestrians, and may give a false sense of safety (especially to children). Although the bricks are prettier than asphalt, without curbs around the bump-outs, they are still part of the roadway for use by vehicles.

WITHOUT CURBS, Union Street is not actually narrowed in the Stockade, and vehicles (including bicycles) are likely to drive over them, especially when a larger vehicle is making a turn into a street where another vehicle is stopped.

  • hazardsignThe safety goal of having a shorter crosswalk to traverse with the bump-out is compromised when a pedestrian or wheelchair occupant is waiting for traffic on a curbless bump-out, as curbs offer an element of safety to those waiting to cross, and also require vehicles to make a wider turn. To the extent that a real curb-extension prevents parking close to the crosswalk or intersection, they allow drivers to see waiting pedestrians. That benefit is lost if vehicles are parked on a curbless bump-out. Curbs let all know that the “bump-out” is part of the sidewalk, not part of the roadway.

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  • CURB-EXTENSIONS are Traffic Calming Devices that attempt to slow down traffic and increase visibility by narrowing the roadway, shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians, and preventing vehicles from limiting sight-lines by parking too close to the intersection. By definition, Curb-Extensions, and their “bump-out” subset at intersections, extend the curbline, using curbs (or other “vertical elements”, such as bollards, or  planters), to delineate an extension of the sidewalk and corresponding narrowing of the roadway and thus to guide traffic and protect pedestrians.
  • Bump-outs at other Schenectady locations all have curbs — with, of course, handicap access ramps. See, for example at Upper Union St and Dean Street, and along the Proctor’s Block, and the block of S. Church Street between State and Liberty.
  • As shown in the collage immediately below, the only illustration of a bump-out in the Stockade Streetscape Plan shows a prominent curb. Furthermore, the City’s experiment last year, at an intersection near City Hall, with analogous curbless painted pedestrian safety zones (which were a lot less expensive), added temporary bollards to help make the space safer (see Gazette article, Sept. 22, 2019).

    • When a comment was left online complaining about hitting a bump-out with a tire when turning onto Jefferson St. near Morrette’s, the response does not reassure the commenter that there will be no curbs to hit, but instead notes that getting used to the new arrangement will make the intersection safer for pedestrians.
  • The Stockade Streetscape Plan itself has virtually no discussion of bump-outs. There is a Traffic Calming Map showing proposed locations. In the Plan Appendices, however, responses to resident comments concerning bump-outs, are instructive although eerily repetitive. [Screenshots of the three relevant pages can be found at the bottom of this posting.]
    • The Glossary (Appendix A), gives this definition: “Bump-out. A visual and physical narrowing of the roadway where the sidewalk is extended to shorten the crossing width for pedestrians. Also known as curb extension or bulb-out.” Of course, without a vertical element such as curbing, there is no physical narrowing.
    • In addition, Appendix F states that “bump-outs, if designed properly, will be one of the most effective means of providing pedestrian safety.” (emphasis added). Furthermore, the Streetscape Plan asserts often that “The City will not approve a bump-out that cannot be designed for both safety and function.”
    • TEST STUDY? When a resident at a public meeting on the Streetscape suggested that a “test study be done,” the Plan commenter replied (at 86), “This may happen prior to permanent installation of bump-outs, similar to the “test” at the Liberty and Jay Street intersection.” There was no such test study, but merely a complete installation of all proposed bump-outs.
  • New York State and Federal design guidelines for curb extensions make clear that they do not mix well with storm drains, and must be located with them in mind. Nonetheless, most of the Stockade bump-outs incorporate existing storms drains. Since the City and Stockade Association have not revealed their design strategy to us, the most likely conclusion is that there are no curbs because curbs would block water from reaching the storm drains and working around them is just too expensive.
  • The failure to design the Stockade bump-outs around the existing storm drains, or to slightly relocate the existing storm drains to accommodate the bump-outs, is especially surprising, given the fact that the blocks in question underwent so much excavation, refilling, and resurfacing over the past year.
  • At p. 85 of Appendix F, the Stockade Streetscape Plan correctly notes:
“The proposed design concepts and considerations have generally accounted for the needs of all users, but the details must be confirmed through the design and engineering process”
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  • That statement raises the question: Was SA in the Design Loop? Did the City ever inform the Stockade Association Board about the problem of storm drainage and the use of curbs, or visa-versa? At the very least, the subject should have been addressed earlier this year when City Council approved the Stockade Streetscape Plan and basically incorporated it into the City Zoning Code.
  • When did SA leaders know we were getting curbless bump-outs that were in effect not bump-outs or curb-extensions at all, and were less likely to achieve their safety or traffic calming goals? If SA was surprised when the first one went in without curbs, why did they not ask for the process to immediately stop? The SA president lives on that stretch of Union Street.

CONCLUSIONS

These are Not Curb-Extensions. The Stockade does not have bump-outs/curb-extensions at its Union Street intersections. It has very expensive brick designs installed at those corners, with no comparable expectation of driver compliance with the goal of less speed when going through the intersection or making turns, nor of parking further back from the intersections and crosswalks than has become traditional in the neighborhood, to enhance pedestrian safety through “daylighting“.

COSTS. Even without hand-laid brick, bump-outs are not cheap. The Federal Highway Administration pedestrian safety guide states that: “Curb extensions cost from $2,000 to $20,000 per corner, depending on design and site conditions. Drainage is usually the most significant determinant of costs. If the curb extension area is large and special pavement and street furnishings and planting are included, costs would also be higher.”

Were curbs abandoned by City designers due to the extra cost of working around water drainage problems? If so, were responsible officials and neighborhood representatives told that safety goals were being greatly compromised?

No Rules of the Road. No wonder neither the City nor SA Board has given us Rules of the Road for curbless bump-outs. “Curbless bump-outs” is an oxymoron. They are non-existent creatures unknown to motor vehicle departments and roadway design teams. Therefore, to salvage at least a bit of the original neighborhood safety goals, signage and education are needed explaining that the bump-outs may not be parked on or driven over.

IMHO:

Very Expensive and Hard to Maintain. The inlaid brick designs are: 1] Not historically correct in a neighborhood that had cobblestones, not brick, streets; 2] Too similar to bricks used nearby for crosswalks (i.e., entering the Stockade at Erie Blvd. and at State and So. Ferry St.) that are meant to be driven over, and have been shown to quickly loose their aesthetic appeal; 3] Known to be difficult and expensive to maintain, especially under winter conditions, and thus given up by other cities.

BAD DEAL for the STOCKADE: For the past few years, Stockade Association leaders have been pulling their punches or acting like cheerleaders when dealing with City Hall. Some observers have felt their goal in not rocking the boat was to achieve acceptance and payment for the Streetscape Plan, especially the bump-outs and other traffic calming measures. If that was their goal, too much was given away in Association effectiveness and self-esteem given the bumpy results.

There must be a lot of lessons to be learned here. And, there should be accountability for the poor results.

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From Stockade Streetscape Plan, Appendix F, Final Public Workshop – April 22, 2019 Meeting Comments & Online Comments: