The Erie Boulevard redesign is going back to the drawing board and may not see the light of day for seven months or more, Clough Harbour designers told local business owners Thursday.
“We want to make sure we get it right, not get it fast,” said Clough Harbour marketing director Mark Tebbano.
He also indicated that the new plan may not include the roundabout that was so thoroughly opposed by the Erie Boulevard business owners. And Mayor Brian U. Stratton — the strongest advocate for the roundabout — said he may be willing to consider a different plan for the street.
“We may have one with a roundabout and one with a conventional intersection and ultimately find out which one works best for us,” he said.
Stratton has never before indicated that he might consider an alternative to a roundabout, and business owners who have battled him for a year on this issue said they consider his comment to be a victory in itself. But they don’t expect to sign a peace treaty any time soon.
The Erie Boulevard business owners have hired an engineer and an attorney, elected spokeswomen and hashed out strategies to win their cause. Nothing has been left to chance. They even dress alike for council meetings as a visual reminder of their numbers.
On Thursday, they presented two formal engineering plans, drawn up by business owners, which they said their group had approved. Their goal is to find a better way to use the $14 million in state and federal funds already committed to the reconstruction of the road.
They argued that their plan is safer than a roundabout for both pedestrians and drivers while still allowing cars to reach businesses on both sides of the street.
Clough Harbour’s original design had called for a median down the entire last block of Erie Boulevard — between State Street and Interstate 890 — with a roundabout in the middle to allow drivers to turn around. That would have made it impossible for southbound drivers to reach several businesses without maneuvering through the I-890 interchange.
The business owners’ plans offer slightly narrower sidewalks and a wider median with turning lanes. Clough Harbour believes that almost half the accidents on the road are caused by a lack of turning lanes — cars stop in the driving lane while they wait for traffic to clear.
“The fact that you can get your car out of the driving lane into a turning lane reduces the number of rear-enders and side-swipes,” said Manuel Montal. “It serves the purpose of getting you out of the line of traffic.”
The business owners’ plans also call for a regular traffic light on Erie Boulevard, rather than the current light that is only activated when pedestrians want to cross. Since it is rarely used, many drivers don’t notice it and drive through it even when it turns red.
“A working traffic light would help calm traffic. The dedicated crosswalk would then be viable,” Montal said.
The City Council, which must vote on the final plan, seems to be leaning toward the business owners’ design. Councilman Thomas Della Sala thanked Montal for bringing “concrete ideas,” while Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard said his design was far better than what she called Clough Harbour’s “suburban” plan for the city street.
“I have a concern with this serpentine design,” Blanchard said, referring to Clough Harbour’s original streetscape. “I think it’s suburban. This is an urban street, and I think we should celebrate that. The grand boulevards in our great cities are straight.”
She also said a bike path is not compatible with a roundabout, and of the two, the bike path is essential.
Both Blanchard and the business owners also called for a larger design, one that would stretch past State Street on Erie Boulevard. The majority of the accidents on the boulevard occur at the State, Liberty and Union cross-streets.
Blanchard told Tebbano that his designers should find a way to make those crossings safer, particularly for pedestrians.
“You probably know lots of tricks to make it easier,” she said.
Tebbano said afterward that the business owners had offered “very good ideas.”
“We have not settled on a design,” he said. “We will help the city come up with the optimal plan.”