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After tragic pedestrian accident, Hamburg looks to improve safety

Marguerite O'Neil had been shopping at Dollar General on Lake Avenue in Hamburg when she was crossing the street to go home to her apartment.

She never made it.

The 66-year-old was struck and killed Dec. 6 as she was attempting the midblock crossing she had made many times before. Her family is still trying to come to terms with her unexpected death.

"It takes your breath away," said O'Neil's father, Ronald, adding "she was probably Christmas shopping."

And now the Town of Hamburg is hoping to install a crosswalk with flashing lights at the site in front of Our Mother of Good Counsel Apartments for low-income elderly on Lake Avenue.

The idea is getting high marks from O'Neil's family and others concerned about the safety of pedestrians.

Nearly 12,000 cars travel that section of Lake Avenue each day. It's not as busy as a Niagara Falls Boulevard, but the Town of Hamburg is dealing with the same issues as Amherst, Tonawanda and countless other communities that experience pedestrian accidents: how to make roads safer for people who are walking.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that nearly 6,300 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2018, the most nationally since 1990. Midblock accidents are the most common type of pedestrian-motor vehicle crash, according to the New York State Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.

Three Erie County communities have installed high-intensity activated crosswalk beacons, known as HAWKs, at midblock points. They are on Sheridan Drive and Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, on Ridge Road in Lackawanna and on Main Street in Williamsville. There also is a rectangular rapid flashing beacon on Englewood Avenue in Tonawanda.

A state Department of Transportation study of Niagara Falls Boulevard also recommended adding accessible pedestrian signals and push-button controls, more visible crosswalks, midstreet pedestrian islands and lowering the speed limit. The study came after six pedestrian fatalities on the road in five years.

Our Mother of Good Counsel Apartments opened just outside the Blasdell village line in 1989. The recently renovated three-story building has 39 one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens, and is close to a pharmacy, the post office and stores. A Save A Lot grocery store is in the Shoppes at Lake Avenue plaza on the opposite side of the street. A Dollar General store is even closer to the apartments, directly across the street.

And residents of the apartments cross the four-lane street at midblock daily, often with canes, walkers, scooters or wheelchairs. Most of the residents do not drive, said James Lonergan, chief operating officer of Delta Development, which manages the apartments.

He said the apartment and Dollar General parking lots are well-lit, causing a darker spot in the road where residents cross. Motorists coming from Abbott Road to South Park Avenue are headed down a slight incline, and may be looking toward the South Park signal and intersection instead of pedestrians in the road. Having the ability to hit a button to turn on lights at the crosswalk will help, he said.

The traffic signal is about 0.2 miles away, which is a long way for those using a cane, he said.

"If you're dragging a cart or a walker, every couple feet make a large amount of difference," Lonergan said.

The apartments were quiet the evening of the accident, he said. But residents still need to go to the stores.

"At the end of the day, they know they’re going to have to cross that road, and there’s that much more anxiety knowing something like this happened," Lonergan said.

Philip McMullen of Blasdell said apartment residents sometimes have a difficult time crossing the street, and motorists pulling out of the plaza parking lot have to be cautious.

"When you're making a left turn out of the parking lot, it's difficult to see," he said. "It's definitely an issue."

The Hamburg Town Board directed its engineering department to determine where the crosswalk should be located and how much the crosswalk and a flashing beacon or HAWK light to alert motorists will cost. Since the road is owned by Erie County, the plans must be approved by the county.

"I think it's a good idea," said Sandy Fulton of Hamburg. "Even a red light, that would be great."

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