New York State’s top-ranking transportation official on Friday announced immediate safety improvements will be made to a portion of Niagara Falls Boulevard that includes a deadly stretch of road where several pedestrians have been killed in recent years.
Paul A. Karas, acting commissioner of the Department of Transportation, announced the project following the publication of a Buffalo News story detailing crashes there and a national study that found pedestrian deaths have increased 67 percent across the United States on urban arterials like the boulevard.
Karas, in a news release issued Friday afternoon, said that “enhanced pavement markings” and will be installed at signalized intersections this year on the street between Tonawanda Creek Road, just south of the Niagara County border, and Kenmore Avenue.
No specific construction timeline was detailed in the release.
Amherst Town Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa on Friday applauded the state's announcement as a good first step towards mitigating a longstanding problem along the busy corridor.
"This is not a be all and end all, but it's something that needs to happen. Crosswalks need to be striped, so I'm glad they're doing it. I certainly hope they don't stop there," Kulpa said.
Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger agreed that the state's action would be only a first step.
"I think more has to be done. This is just part of the solution," Emminger said.
Emminger said he and Kulpa met recently with state representatives Assemblyman Roblin L. Schimminger, D-Town of Tonawanda; Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst; State Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo; and staff from the office of State Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, about crafting a strategy for mitigating the dangers for pedestrians crossing Niagara Falls Boulevard.
"We're all in agreement on doing a road audit on Niagara Falls Boulevard, starting at Ridge Lea all the way up to Robinson Road," Emminger said.
Kulpa said the engineering departments in Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda will also continue to review intersections along Niagara Falls Boulevard to see what other actions might be necessary to ensure safe crossings for pedestrians.
"We don't want to rest on our laurels with this quick fix," Kulpa said. "We want to do a full review of every foot of the corridor, especially the 2-mile stretch of it from the I-290 overchange, north to East Robinson" Road.
The “enhanced pavement markings” include high-visibility crosswalks, also known as ladder bar crosswalks. Those will be installed across Niagara Falls Boulevard and at several intersections, the transportation official said.
“We are conducting a pedestrian safety study on Niagara Falls Boulevard, but have identified safety measures we can implement immediately to help everyone share the road responsibly and safely,” Karas said.
Six pedestrians have been killed along a 1.7-mile section of Niagara Falls Boulevard, between the 1-290 and Tonawanda Creek, since 2013.
The most recent was Jennifer L. Duffin, 41, who was killed at about 1 a.m. May 12 while crossing the street between Inn Keepers Lane and Willow Ridge Drive.
Of the six deaths, police said two occurred between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. Other pedestrians killed were wearing dark clothing during non-daylight hours and walking outside of crosswalks, police said.
Kulpa said he was buoyed by an announcement earlier this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who said $62 million will be committed to the state's Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, a multi-agency initiative that will use engineering, education and enforcement campaigns to enhance pedestrian safety in communities outside New York City.
More than $22 million is planned for pedestrian safety projects on state roads – already underway – while $40 million is being invested to enhance pedestrian safety on local roads.
"We're hoping for somewhere around $300,000 that could go to fix pedestrian signals that are not functioning properly, or for new pedestrian signals at intersections that don't have them, but need them," Kulpa said.