The promise of slight changes to the Erie Boulevard plan has not appeased the longtime business owners who see their livelihoods threatened by a proposed roundabout.
More than 30 of them met Thursday and agreed to fight for the complete removal of the roundabout from the $14 million Erie Boulevard reconstruction plan.
Some admitted that they had been wooed by the mayor’s changes to the plan, particularly a promise for a U-turn near Interstate 890. And a possible delivery road behind the businesses nearly won them over.
But they decided that the roundabout would so greatly hamper customers’ ability to get to their businesses that they couldn’t support it under any circumstances.
The issue is so grave, they said, that they see themselves in a battle against the city with their livelihoods at stake.
On Thursday, they spent four hours with an attorney and a professional engineer getting help in developing tactics to fight off the roundabout.
Their main problem with the traffic circle is that it blocks southbound customers from reaching businesses on the east side of the street.
Customers heading from State Street onto Erie would be unable to stop at Lyle’s Hoagies, Wendy’s Restaurant, the First National Bank of Scotia and other stores on that side of the street. They would only be able to access those businesses if they merged onto Interstate 890, crossed five lanes of traffic and re-entered Erie Boulevard.
“Do you think they’re really going to do that for a $5 sandwich?” said Lyle’s Hoagies owner Doreen Pitsas at Thursday’s meeting. “I don’t think so.”
Mayor Brian U. Stratton tried to head off those complaints two weeks ago by announcing a change in the plan. Customers could make a U-turn just before entering I-890 and whip around to the other side of the street, from which they would have easy access to those stores.
Planners are also considering a service road behind the affected businesses, which would allow tractor-trailer deliveries without tying up Erie Boulevard. They could also use that space for employee parking.
It was nearly enough to convince Pitsas to switch sides.
“It would be perfect. That would be good for me,” she said.
But after some thought, she added regretfully that she still wouldn’t be able to support a roundabout. The service road, after all, sweetens the pot for business owners only.
“It won’t help my customers,” she said.
Other business owners said the mayor should go back to the drawing board and try something new. They offered some ideas, saying he should focus on the economy instead of beautification, his stated goal for the street.
“How is it going to attract new businesses?” said AFLAC sales manager Sabrina Heilmann. “Think about that. If a new store comes in, how can they make money?”
A roundabout, with a possibly harrowing U-turn, would not help new businesses grow, she said.
Pitsas said Stratton had the right idea when he began lobbying for state and federal money to improve the street.
“Slow traffic down so people can see the businesses, yes,” she said.
But business owners said the city doesn’t need to spend $14 million to accomplish that. Placing a traffic light at the intersection with Church Street would have the same effect, they said.
They weren’t too impressed by the idea of beautification, either. They said they’d prefer it if the street stayed the way it is — wide enough to be an airport runway and with little greenery amidst the concrete.
Lou Buhrmaster said the mayor should also get rid of the wide median planned for the center of the street. It’s designed as a narrow park and in Stratton’s view makes the street look much prettier.
But Buhrmaster said it’s just not practical because it stops drivers from crossing the street to get to businesses.
“Erie Boulevard is not a walking street anymore. People drive. They are not going to be able to get places,” he said.
A U-turn would help, he said, but he doesn’t think it’s enough.
“The U-turn is not the ultimate answer. It’s an improvement over what we had [in the plan], but we’ve got to get rid of the roundabout,” he said.
Stan Ducharme of Schenectady Hydraulics, whose driveway would be blocked by the roundabout, agreed.
“I think they’re just trying to shut the bookstore down,” he said.
The adult bookstore on the street, Another World, would be demolished to make way for the roundabout. Bookstore owner Rocco Palmer would also lose the other building he owns on the street, which he leases to Special Arms & Munitions. He plans to move his bookstore to Broadway if the city uses eminent domain to force him off of Erie Boulevard.
Palmer organized Thursday’s meeting to get business owners to join him in opposing the project. But he didn’t have to try too hard — the owners were almost unanimously opposed when the roundabout was announced last November. Most of them wrote letters to the city listing the reasons why a roundabout would hurt their businesses.