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As traffic narrows, accidents rise on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore

Kenmore, with state help in 2013, narrowed the traffic pattern on Delaware Avenue through the village from four lanes to two. The goal was to slow traffic.

But that same stretch experienced a big spike in property-damage, non-injury traffic accidents last year.

Is there a connection?

Police Chief Peter J. Breitnauer isn’t convinced there is.

“Unfortunately, Delaware Avenue has gone up almost double in accidents in the last year,” Breitnauer said. “They’re mostly fender-benders with cars using the wrong lanes.”

Kenmore police responded to 252 property-damage accidents last year throughout the village, but the biggest increase was on one of the village’s busiest thoroughfares, Breitnauer told village trustees last week.

There were only 44 accidents on the section of Delaware between Kenmore and Pullman avenues in 2014, but the number jumped to more than 70 in 2015, he said.

Back in 2013, the Village Board approved plans to redefine the traffic pattern on Delaware, a state-owned highway, including the addition of a left-turn lane in the heart of the business district. The aim was to slow traffic on Delaware as it entered the village northbound from Buffalo and southbound from the Town of Tonawanda.

The plan involved restriping about a milelong stretch on Delaware in the village to clearly identify two 11-foot-wide travel lanes; a 12-foot, two-way, center turn lane; and 8-foot parking lanes. The road, officially known as State Route 384, was designed for one travel lane in each direction. Before the change, however, motorists often traveled two abreast, north and south on Delaware.

At a public hearing prior to its approval, the proposal received unanimous support from business owners along Delaware. However, there were critics, such as Melissa Foster, president of Kenmore Village Improvement Society.

“We had initial misgivings for a number of reasons,” Foster said last week.

Prior to the restriping, she said, drivers could use four lanes on Delaware.

“What happened in the old configuration was that if you were turning, people could go around you,” she said. “The way it’s configured now, traffic stops.”

The result is that traffic backs up at peak driving times and there are more frequent accidents, said Foster, whose office is located on Delaware.

“It’s just harrowing. Almost every day you hear squeals, with people having near-misses,” she said.

Breitnauer insisted that it’s less dramatic than that. He said he was skeptical about a correlation between the increased number of accidents last year and the reduction of traffic lanes on Delaware.

“I don’t think so, because it certainly accomplished slowing things down on Delaware. We don’t have the speeders we used to have,” Breitnauer said.

Despite concerns that bicyclists were endangered by the new traffic pattern, he said, there is no evidence of that.

“We have had no bicycle accidents on Delaware Avenue. So that is certainly not a factor,” Breitnauer said.

He said that there was one accident in which a car traveling down Delaware crashed into a building last year, “but it had nothing to do with the traffic pattern.”

“Overall, we’ve been pretty pleased with how traffic has been progressing,” Breitnauer said. “It’s slower, for sure, and sometimes it backs up during the rush hours a little bit.”

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