It didn't take long to find out what brought Sen. Chuck Schumer to a Post Office parking lot in Amherst on Tuesday morning.
Moments before Schumer was to speak, a motorist exiting the parking lot at 5325 Sheridan Drive attempted a dangerous – and illegal – left-hand turn onto the westbound lane of Sheridan, but the traffic on the busy road resulted in the SUV lingering in the middle of the road. The vehicle was in the potentially receiving end of a "T-bone" collision from cars heading east, and while there wasn't an accident, it resulted in halted traffic and honking horns.
The exit of is just one of the aspects of the small parking lot at Sheridan and Essjay Drive that has led to several accidents in recent years. Schumer called on the U.S. Postal Service to work with Amherst and local businesses and entities "to remedy the dangerous mistake USPS created."
Amherst has heard persistent complaints from residents about the parking lot and has devoted resources into pursuing solutions over the past six years, but said it has not received adequate response from the Postal Service.
"That's why I'm here," said Schumer, who also wrote a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan regarding the issue. "The Post Office is a stubborn, old bureaucracy, and you need a sledgehammer or a jackhammer to get through to them. I'm going to be that jackhammer."
When contacted for a response to Sen. Schumer's comments, a USPS spokesperson told The Buffalo News: "The USPS will continue to work with town officials until such time as we reach a mutually agreed upon resolution."
"We are urging Postal Service representatives to review the potential solutions presented to them by the Town of Amherst to make this area safer," said Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa. "The Post Office is an entity unto itself. It's a tough nut to crack. It's not just like bearing down on a developer, but I guess like with a development group, you have to go to their bosses – and that's where we are."
According to Schumer, there have been 33 car accidents and 11 injuries in the area around the parking lot since 2011, when the Post Office moved its retail operations from the adjacent Williamsville Place Plaza to 5325 Sheridan, which had been a postal distribution facility. The parking lot was reconfigured at that time, with two exits turned into one and the small lot becoming part of a one-way traffic flow.
The confined lot and one-way traffic for busy post-office traffic causes several spots for error, including possible head-on collisions in what is supposed to be a one-way entrance from Essjay and similar head-on dangers as some traffic enters the lot from the Williamsville Place Plaza.
The singular exit to Sheridan has a no-left-turn sign, which requires drivers to turn right onto Sheridan when leaving.
"You can only turn right," said Schumer, "but no one's doing it. That's endangering the residents of this beautiful, lovely town of Amherst."
Even when drivers turn right, many have taken to driving over curbs and turning down side streets and doing U-turns in residents' driveways.
"As residents, we understand we live across from a commercial property, but since the reconfiguration, it's been a competition for us – a competition for people's safety," said Barbara Sanchez, a resident of Waterford Park, a cul-de-sac on the north side of Sheridan that ends up receiving a lot of traffic due to the post office exit. "There's been property damage to the end of our street because people use it to turn around."
The town engineering department developed nine alternative solutions, said Traffic Safety Coordinator Christopher P. Schregel, before settling on one that would create entrances and exits at both Essjay Road and Sheridan Drive. The proposed layout would still have a right-turn only onto Sheridan, but it would allow drivers seeking to head west to return to Essjay to take advantage of the traffic signal.
"I'm delighted to see this level of recognition," said area resident Claude Welch, who wrote to the town – which responded – and the Postal Service – which didn't – with his concerns four years ago. "But I'll be even more pleased when we get the protection of the light over there."