Niagara Falls Boulevard is informally known as a speedway, at least to pedestrians sensibly hesitant about crossing from one side to the other. People have died trying. Something had to be done.
Leaders of the towns of Tonawanda and Amherst conducted a safety audit to examine the problem. The state Department of Transportation owns and maintains the road. It did not participate in the audit but has promised its own examination.
All of this work has become necessary following a half-dozen deaths of pedestrians trying to cross the road. As News staff reporter Stephen T. Watson wrote, “Niagara Falls Boulevard was built with motor vehicles, not pedestrians, in mind.” This is the main conclusion of the safety audit conducted by both towns, which share a border along the boulevard. The deaths of six pedestrians over the last five years spurred the audit.
Give supervisors from both towns credit for sending their people, and themselves, on a mission to walk the road, some for eight hours, early this summer. What they found may not surprise many familiar with the terrain: too few intersections with signals and crosswalks; insufficient lighting at night; too long a period needed for pedestrians to cross; and too many driveways and highway off- and on-ramps for pedestrians to navigate.
The most recent pedestrian death, in May, finally prompted the DOT to agree to immediately install some safety measures along the road, including restriping crosswalks and ensuring every crosswalk button is operational. The towns stepped up with their own measures, including short-term changes, such as adding extra lighting. All of this should have been done earlier.
Short-term solutions do not solve long-term problems. Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa talks about getting the state to make improvements and then committing to long-term improvements in that corridor. The audit primarily focused on the commercial, 2.4-mile stretch of the road from the intersection with Ridge Lea and Koenig roads north to East Robinson Road. Up to 53,000 vehicles travel that section of road every day. While it is a state road, the two towns control the lighting, sidewalks and use of land.
Six pedestrians have been killed on the boulevard since 2013, most recently Jennifer L. Duffin, 41, on May 12. Another 11 injury crashes were reported. It took until Duffin’s death for officials to walk the road and take account of its deficiencies.
The audit team found bus stops without benches, street corners that are not fully accessible for people with disabilities, uneven sidewalk surfaces, missing sidewalks, driveways too close to crosswalks, electronic countdown signs for pedestrians that don’t work and narrow marked crosswalks. Moreover, pedestrians have to walk too far to get to intersections that have signals and crosswalks and then they have to wait a long time to cross. Some signals are so short it can feel like a race to get across – one not everyone is going to win.
The DOT in June agreed to take its own emergency action along the boulevard and crews painted high visibility, ladder-bar crosswalks at every intersection with a signal, and repainted the stop bars at those intersections that will let drivers know where to wait until the light turns green.
The DOT has hired a consultant to perform its own assessment of the boulevard corridor, and it should be completed by next year.
Poorly constructed roadways cut off the natural beauty around us – consider the path of the Robert Moses Parkway, rechristened as the Niagara Scenic Parkway – and, in cases such as Niagara Falls Boulevard, create dangerous speedways for cars and especially pedestrians.
It’s good the towns and state are at last taking this problem seriously. But it shouldn’t have taken this long.