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It shouldn’t have taken a tragedy to shield Delaware Park from expressway traffic

A family and a city suffered one of the worst tragedies imaginable this weekend. The family of Maksym Sugorovskiy lost a young member to a surely preventable accident, while Buffalo and the state of New York are forced to acknowledge that years of foot-dragging about the problem of the Scajaquada Expressway played a role in the loss of a life.

It happened Saturday when a Chevrolet Malibu plowed off the Scajaquada and onto Delaware Park’s adjacent Ring Road. There, Mary Sugorovskiy was walking with her two children and paused so that Stephanie, 5, and Maksym, 3, could swap places in the stroller. The car struck the three of them.

Maksym died, despite the efforts of others on the scene. Stephanie was critically injured, but appears to be recovering. Mary sustained minor injuries. The driver – who, for reasons not explained, remains unidentified – is cooperating with police. He has told authorities that he fell asleep at the wheel.

The exact chain of events in this tragedy remains a mystery for now. A preliminary estimate suggests the car was traveling between about 55 and 65 mph, although sources emphasized that is not a definitive finding.

What is known, though, is that the Scajaquada has long been a tragedy waiting to happen. It is narrow and winding. It cuts through the heart of Buffalo’s largest and most popular park. Exit and entrance ramps are angular and short, offering little time for crucial speed adjustments.

That made the expressway’s speed limit of 50 mph a risk, especially when accounting for the undeniable fact that many people drive faster than the speed limit, and sometimes significantly faster.

That changed Sunday. At the urgent request of Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered the speed limit lowered to 30 mph on the 3.25-mile expressway. That will add less than three minutes to travel time on the expressway. Other safety measures are also being added, including the installation of jersey barriers and guardrails.

It all could have been done any time over the past 10 or 20 years, while elements of the community were begging for changes that would improve safety on the road and help to restore the historic park it cleaved in two. At least it is being done now.

This makes for a good, if belated, start on important changes to the expressway, but whatever happens in the near term, a longer view is also necessary, and everything should be on the table. The goal should be to create as safe a roadway as possible while maintaining practical routes across the city and stitching the park back together.

And, in case the need isn’t already agonizingly obvious, the goal should be to do it as quickly as planning allows.