The portion of Niagara Falls Boulevard that separates Amherst and Tonawanda north of the I-290 has a well-earned reputation as both a congested thoroughfare for motor vehicles driving on it and a deadly gambit for pedestrians trying to get across it.
According to a new national study, it also has a lot of company.
Pedestrian deaths on arterials like Niagara Falls Boulevard increased 67 percent in the United States between 2009 and 2016, according to the report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The report said almost the entire increase in pedestrian fatalities in the United States occurred on the 4 percent of streets that are defined as arterials, wide roads in cities and suburbs designed to carry heavy traffic traveling at or near expressway speeds.
It also contained another nugget that is applicable to the boulevard: Deaths on arterials increased 54 percent during “dark conditions.”
Six pedestrians have been killed in recent years along a 1.7-mile section of Niagara Falls Boulevard. The most recent one was Jennifer L. Duffin, 41, who was killed at about 1 a.m. in mid-May while crossing the street between Inn Keepers Lane and Willow Ridge Drive. Of the six deaths since 2013 on Niagara Falls Boulevard, police said two occurred between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. Other pedestrians killed were wearing dark clothing during nondaylight hours and walking outside of crosswalks, police said.
That's why the towns of Amherst and Tonawanda have undertaken a street lighting project in that area. The nearly $1 million project between the two towns calls for the construction of new lights from I-290 to the Niagara County border, a distance of just over 3 miles. It is expected to be completed by the winter or spring of 2019, officials say.
“The plan is to ‘bid it’ in December,” Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said of the addition of new light poles along Niagara Falls Boulevard. “We’re a month ahead of schedule.”
Wen Hu, a senior research transportation engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a Virginia-based nonprofit, and co-author of the pedestrian safety report, said extra lighting is a good way to improve pedestrian safety along the boulevard. She added, though, that government agencies can do more to prevent fatal pedestrian crashes.
She said lowering the speed limit, or using traffic calming devices, including the installation of new speed cameras, can work well for a road like the boulevard. The speed limit for the majority of Niagara Falls Boulevard between the 290 and Tonawanda Creek is 45 mph.
“These have been proven to be effective (techniques),” Hu said of calming devices.
Representatives of Tonawanda and Amherst’s planning and engineering departments met Monday to discuss Niagara Falls Boulevard safety and road improvements.
Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said the two municipalities are asking state Department of Transportation officials to conduct a separate road audit of the boulevard.
Better crosswalk markings could be recommended during that audit, among other things, Emminger said. Niagara Falls Boulevard is maintained by the DOT.
Under a separate nine-page road map for a planned redevelopment of the street, supported by both Amherst and Tonawanda, the towns have agreed to examine the busy residential and retail area. Improved street lighting is part of the road map’s charter.
Kulpa said he preferred not to speculate on what additional safety improvements could be made to the road under the charter. But the supervisor also said some “content” recommended in the Insurance Institute report could be part of the plan.
The report found that road diets, median crossing islands and pedestrian hybrid beacons could be particularly helpful for people walking across deadly, urban arterials.
Pedestrian hybrid beacons are traffic lights designed for midblock crossings and uncontrolled intersections.
Both Amherst and Tonawanda understand the importance of improving safety along Niagara Falls Boulevard, Emminger said, and there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.
“There’s no easy solution to that corridor,” Emminger said.