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Mayor finds support for higher Scajaquada speed limit away from Delaware Park

The governor lowered the speed limit on the Scajaquada Expressway from 50 mph to 30 mph a month ago, after 3-year-old Maksym Sugorovskiy was killed and his 5-year-old sister critically injured by an errant driver who crossed the grassy median into Delaware Park.

But not everyone agrees the lower speed limit is needed away from the park.

Mayor Byron W. Brown has endorsed the idea of boosting the speed limit away from the park. The mayor said city engineers believe the speed limit on the Scajaquada (Route 198) should be increased in the westbound direction past the park, from Elmwood Avenue to the I-190.

An informal survey on the park’s Ring Road, a short distance from where the tragic accident occurred, found unanimous support for keeping the speed limit at 30 mph along the length of the park, but re-establishing a faster speed away from it.

“It makes sense to raise it,” said Henry Tilson. “The rest of the road is designed like a highway with on and off ramps. The only way I can drive it is with cruise control on 30. I used to go about 60 – it’s supposed to be 50 – and it feels like I’m going at a snail’s pace. Of course, people are passing me left and right.”

Drivers are generally obeying the lower speed limit.

During a one-hour period on Friday, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., nearly 600 cars on the westbound Scajaquada Expressway passed a speed-tracking device near Delaware Avenue and Hoyt Lake. That stretch has no guardrails.

Some 501 vehicles traveled between 30 mph and 39 mph, while 95 cars sped along between 40 mph and 49 mph. Only two cars and a motorcycle traveled more than 50 mph.

There are four speed-tracking devices along the expressway but only two were functioning Friday. Earlier that day, a police officer with a handheld speed-tracking device kept watch near the Delaware Park Meadows Golf Course.

Tilson, who lives near the park, said he’d be more in favor of a lower speed if the highway was converted into a parkway with calming features and pedestrian parking.

Carl Larson of Buffalo said a change is needed for safety because it’s dangerous for drivers to reduce speed abruptly from 50 mph to 30 mph as they merge onto the Scajaquada Expressway from the Kensington Expressway.

“It’s hard to slow down to 30 miles an hour,” Larson said.

Brown spokesman Michael DeGeorge said the mayor has heard from hundreds of people who live in and around the Parkside area, elsewhere in the city and in the suburbs, and the majority favor some type of increase in speed.

But neighborhood advocates say Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to make the speed limit a uniform 30 mph was consistent with their goal of converting the state highway into a slower-moving parkway. That idea has been advanced and proposed to the state Department of Transportation for years.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan said in a statement that state transportation officials told him Thursday that the lower speed limit was now settled.

“Just to be clear, having spoken again with state officials, the 30 mph speed limit on the Scajaquada is permanent and will not be changing in the future. The Scajaquada will become a parkway,” Ryan said.

“I have been very impressed with the response from the governor and the DOT since the accident, and their commitment to making this change occur,”

Ryan said. “There is more news to come,” he added, about DOT’s plans for traffic calming measures and a timeline for installation.

The Parkside Community Association supports redesigning the expressway based on a 2004 plan prepared by the City of Buffalo, which showed traffic calming measures extended through the whole length of the route.

But a slower expressway is not something LaKisha Willis and Steve Owens want to see. Taking a break from working out, they said they favor increasing the speed away from the park, and have been avoiding the reduced speed by taking side streets.

University at Buffalo student Kameron Jackson also thought the two different speeds – one in front of the park, another away from it – made sense.

“Everybody wins. This should be safer along the park, but you don’t want to hold up traffic,” Jackson said.

Jeff Friedman said the accident at the park “was a horrible thing to happen, and they had to do something to show the public they addressed the tragedy, and they did it quickly.”

But Friedman said that with a proper guard rail system in place to protect those at the park, which he felt was long overdue, and with a 30 mph speed from Parkside to the entrance off Lincoln Parkway, he saw no reason why the speed couldn’t return to 50 mph.

email: msommer@buffnews.com and dsirtori@buffnews.com