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Editorial: Solutions are in sight to make Niagara Falls Boulevard safer

Niagara Falls Boulevard, a major retail thoroughfare that divides Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda, is deadly for pedestrians. Six people have been killed in six years trying to cross the street.

Now the Department of Transportation has completed a study of a 6.5-mile stretch of the road, from Tonawanda Creek Road to Kenmore Avenue, paying particular attention to the section north of the Interstate 290 ramps.

The changes proposed by the state can’t come soon enough.

The DOT recommends $2 million in improved pedestrian signals and controls, making crosswalks more visible, building pedestrian islands at the halfway point in crosswalks and reducing the speed limit in the northern portion of the roadway to 40 miles per hour.

Engineering work for the changes will start this year, the state says, and construction will start next year.

The towns have additional ideas. In early summer of 2018, supervisors from both towns walked the road themselves for hours. They found too few intersections with signals in crosswalks; insufficient lighting at night; long periods of time needed for pedestrians to cross; and too many driveways and highway off-and-on ramps for pedestrians to navigate.

Niagara Falls Boulevard is the state’s responsibility; it is a state road. But the towns control lighting, sidewalks and the use of their land. The towns say they plan to reduce the number of curb cuts on some properties and install dozens of new streetlights on both sides of the boulevard. The new street lights are supposed to start appearing later this year.

Even bigger changes — such as reducing the number of driving lanes — will require further discussion, the DOT says.

One of the great conflicts in modern cities is how to accommodate both motorists and pedestrians in densely populated areas. It isn’t just a problem in places like Manhattan and Chicago’s Loop. Heavily trafficked suburban thoroughfares like Niagara Falls Boulevard can be just as dangerous as Broadway in New York City. But because cars rule the suburbs, the accommodations for pedestrians are often weaker.

It is good news that the state and the towns of Amherst and Tonawanda are acting. Niagara Falls Boulevard needs to be made safe for those on foot, on a bicycle — or in a wheelchair.

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