Schenectady County

Gripes spur traffic change

That late-night burger will be within reach even after a roundabout and a park-like median changes t

That late-night burger will be within reach even after a roundabout and a park-like median changes traffic along Erie Boulevard, according to the revised plans for the street.

Drivers would be able to whip around the median to the east side of Erie Boulevard via a U-turn just before the I-890 entrance. The change has been proposed in response to a stack of written complaints from nearly every business owner on the street.

Most of the angry comments centered on the fact that customers heading south on Erie Boulevard from State Street could not get to Lyle’s Hoagies, Wendy’s Restaurant, the First National Bank of Scotia or any of the other businesses on the far left-hand side of the street. They would have to drive past, enter Interstate 890, and create their own U-turn back onto Erie Boulevard by crossing five lanes of traffic.

Response from the business owners ranged from polite — “This will be extremely inconvenient,” wrote Mark Ferry of 120 Erie Blvd. — to infuriated.

“I think it is a HUGE WASTE OF MONEY and will accomplish nothing,” wrote Sabrina Heilman of AFLAC, 112 Erie Blvd. “With no easy way to access this side of the street coming from State Street, this will force businesses to move.”

Schenectady City Council members indicated last week that they, too, aren’t eager to support the plan as written. Mayor Brian U. Stratton said he’s gotten the message. A new draft already in the works will be done within weeks and will be presented in early September.

“You’ll see some significant changes,” he said. “We are providing accommodations. Many of their concerns and observations have been taken into consideration as we fine-tune the plan.”

The plan still includes a roundabout at South Ferry Street and a wide, park-like median in the center of the boulevard. Business owners have been generally supportive of the city’s goal of improving aesthetics on the boulevard, which is so wide and bare that it is often likened to an airport runaway.

Stratton said the aesthetics are his main focus.

“Erie Boulevard is the most recognizable and significant entrance to the city,” he said. “It really is oversized. It’s really about making the city beautiful again.”

City Council President Margaret King is supporting the plan for that reason.

“I like it,” she said. “I think it’s going to make a much nicer entrance to the city.”

Other council members said they want to see the project go forward, but expressed frustration at the lack of information they’ve been given on the controversial issue. Stratton and his engineers have not briefed the council as a whole, although some members have been given private, one-on-one briefings and King was named to the mayor’s committee to work on the plan. She is the only council member directly involved with the planning.

Councilman Gary McCarthy said the process was orchestrated to force the council to accept a design without making any changes.

“The council has to approve it, but the mechanism has completely bypassed the council. The council should have a more integral role,” he said. “You’ve got to be realistic — it’s too far along in the process. The council’s going to be forced to rubber-stamp it.”

Councilman Mark Blanchfield asked if there is a solution to the business owners’ complaints.

“It’s a legitimate concern, but I’m not a traffic engineer,” he said. “I’m at a bit of a loss to come up with a constructive response.”

Councilman Thomas Della Sala agreed, saying that if he has to vote on a project that every property owner objects to, he needs to know that the plan is necessary.

“When the whole community is against something, I’d like to know we’re doing the right thing. The public isn’t always right — sometimes you have to do things because they’re the right thing to do. I’d like to know if this is,” he said.

Councilman Joseph Allen is convinced that the roundabout plan should be thrown out.

“There’s a list of different businesses that are on Erie Boulevard that are 100 percent against it. So why is this in the plans?” he said. “It creates problems for the business owners. I’m not in favor of it, never have been in favor of it from the first time I saw it.”

The roundabout plan has also generated controversy because the city would have to make space for the large rotary by demolishing an adult bookstore and a gun shop near South Ferry Street. Owner Rocco Palmer has publicly said that he thinks the roundabout was designed solely to get rid of his Another World bookstore. He would move to lower Broadway if the city takes his property through eminent domain.

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