In Saratoga Springs, more people cross Broadway each day — getting from a parking deck to a coffee shop, say, if not to a bar — than drive on the city’s main thoroughfare.
There’s enough of both vehicles and pedestrians that it’s wise all-around to be wary. As I like to say, if you just assume someone will do something stupid while walking or driving, it’s gratifying how often you’re right.
There are 18,000 street crossings on a normal day — and we’re not even talking about when 30,000 people jam into the city for chowder, or the height of the summer season when visitors are either celebrating track winnings or drowning their sorrows.
Crowds of pedestrians mixing with tons of vehicles may be a good problem for the city to have — but a potential problem the mix can be.
The city Pubic Safety Department last fall hired Greenman-Pedersen Inc., an Albany engineering firm, to look at whether to make changes to Broadway traffic patterns. The original purpose was to determine whether dedicated left turn lanes made sense to keep traffic moving, but people reacting to the study worry more about pedestrian risk.
Greenman-Pedersen’s bottom line: Things could be a lot worse, and major changes might only make them so.
“Considering the number of vehicles and pedestrians we have, the system we have now works pretty well,” said Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen.
The most radical idea in the study, to prohibit left turns off Broadway at the intersection with Lake Avenue and Church Street so traffic doesn’t back up behind waiting vehicles, was almost immediately dismissed by the City Council as unwise.
Creating dedicated left turn lanes there got a similar reception, since it would require eliminating as many as 33 parking spaces located close to Broadway businesses.
And despite a general feeling that something bad is going to happen with so many pedestrians and vehicles mixing on Broadway’s four lanes, Greenman-Pedersen found there has been no recent history of pedestrians being hit.
Despite that, both Accounts Commissioners John Franck and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said they regularly see dangerous encounters, especially at the Broadway, Church and Lake intersection, whose signal pattern they said can be confusing.
“I can tell you, I have not walked there a day at lunchtime when somebody has not been almost hit or killed,” Franck said.
Madigan said the problem isn’t just at the Church-Lake intersection, although it is the city’s busiest pedestrian and vehicle corner.
“All through the corridor, especially during the peak season, you have pedestrians walking while cars have the green light to make either a left or a right and they don’t realize that the cars are going, and the cars don’t realize that pedestrians have the right of way,” Madigan said. “I’ve seen people in peak season run across Broadway because they were afraid they were going to get hit.”
Pedestrians do, of course, have priority by state law, but it is an unwise pedestrian who asserts that right against moving traffic.
Mathiesen said he’ll be listening to what people have to say about the study before making any decisions, but he believes things work out as long as both drivers and pedestrians are paying attention and following the law.
“People need to understand it is a busy street,” he said. “It’s important for drivers to understand there are pedestrians in the street, and also pedestrians need to pay attention to the walk lights.”