It took four years but, finally, there is a pedestrian-activated traffic signal at the Amherst intersection where 13-year-old Erin Suszynski lost her life when she was hit by a car while on her way to a playground.
After being installed in late September, a three-way traffic signal, with buttons that allow pedestrians control of the light, became fully functional early Thursday afternoon at Maple and Culpepper roads, according to Amherst Town Engineer Chris Schregel.
Erin's father Jerry Suszynski says he'll visit the crossing Saturday morning to celebrate the long-awaited traffic safety device that he hopes will save the life of someone else's child.
"There should be a good amount of people there," Jerry Suszynski said of the event he's planned at 10 a.m. to thank all those who pushed for the light. "We're basically celebrating the fact that it's in."
On June 9, 2012, Erin was with two friends when they tried to cross five lanes of traffic on Maple near the playground at Maple East Elementary School. A Jeep struck Erin and one of her classmates, who survived. Erin, who suffered injuries to her brain stem and pelvis, lingered at Women & Children's Hospital for 11 days before her parents took her off a ventilator.
"She would have graduated from Williamsville South (High School) last year," Suszynski said. "Four years ago, we set up a scholarship fund in her name, but I don't know that we're going to continue that."
Erin's family did, with the assistance of many friends and neighbors, set up a fund called Erin's Crossing that sought to pay for the installation of a pedestrian crossing at Maple and Culpepper. They raised over $100,000, money that was never used for that purpose. So the funds will be disbursed to other local charities, said Suszynski.
"We plan on donating to local organizations and hospitals that help our community," he said.
Despite the funds that were raised, there were a lot of complications encountered before some type of pedestrian safety feature was created at the intersection where Erin was killed. The town performed a traffic study at the site and received consent from Erie County, which owns Maple Road, but the project never got off the ground because of the impracticality of installing a pedestrian crossing and lack of funding for it. In the end, former Town Councilman Mark A. Manna sponsored a resolution requesting the town start the process for a crossing and signal at the town's expense.
"We had to go through a lot of things to determine what we could put in there. There were several different solutions. It's mainly for pedestrian usage. We looked at a HAWK signal, but this wasn't a good application because of the three-legged intersection," said Schregel.
In the end, the town went with a pedestrian controlled, three-way light.
"Culpepper does not receive a lot of traffic, so it favors the Maple Road traffic heavily," Schregel said.
Amherst Town Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said the length of time it took to get a pedestrian safety device at the intersection was not unsual.
"I would say it takes years to do. Right after the event, the family did some fundraising to put up the funds for some sort of pedestrian-activated device and we attempted to do a pedestrian activated device. I don't know why. I never understood the engineering issues, but it didn't work out," said Weinstein.
"It's a county road, so we needed the county's permission to do anything. It evolved into a full-scale traffic light, which was not what they wanted, nor what I wanted. We wanted something just for the safety of pedestrians without impacting a lot of cars on Maple Road. There's a traffic light two blocks to the east and one block to the west, one at Hopkins Road and one at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. Now there's three traffic lights in three blocks," he added.
The supervisor concedes that there were some delays after the appropriate traffic safety device was determined. The town had to hire designer then put out a bid for the construction of the device.
"Then the winning bidder walked away from it and I think we kept their bid bond. Another contractor took over. So there were delays in the beginning when we were trying to decide what to put up there," Weinstein said.
In the end, the town paid $155,000 to install the traffic signal with funds generated through the town's capital improvement program.
Suszynski said he and others approached State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, to try to push for a law that would require safe pedestrian passage to any sports complex, playground, school or outside gathering place.
"That's the sort of thing I would like to keep going with, but you need people to lobby for it and we don't have the money for that. It's a good cause, but there has to be a lot more larger donations than what we're dealing with now. At this point, we won't be able to do that by ourselves," Suszynski said.
"If you think about kids trying to cross these four or five lane highways to get to a park that's open to the public, they should have some kind of safe access," he added.