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What you need to know for 08/23/2017

Schenectady to see its first roundabout

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Schenectady to see its first roundabout

A roundabout will be built at the intersection of Nott Street and Erie Boulevard, addressing the awk
Schenectady to see its first roundabout
A rendering shows the proposed roundabout at the intersection of Nott Street and Erie Boulevard in Schenectady.

A roundabout is coming to Schenectady.

It will be built at the intersection of Nott Street and Erie Boulevard, addressing the awkwardly tight angle at which Nott Street hits the boulevard.

Instead of bringing traffic to a stop while drivers slow to navigate the turn, drivers will be able to smoothly turn through a roundabout to get there.

City Engineer Chris Wallin said the roundabout was the best solution for the angled intersection.

“The railroad bridge precludes us from changing the angle,” he said, adding that it limited “conventional options” like building a turn lane.

While the roundabout may make driving easier, the big question is pedestrian access. Wallin said that was the pressing concern raised at both public meetings on the topic.

“Their main concern was, ‘How do I cross?’ ” he said.

No one objected to the roundabout. “I think they’re growing in acceptance,” he said.

That said, crossing on foot isn’t going to be as easy as with traffic lights. There will be a crosswalk, and pedestrians will have a “refuge island” in the center of the roundabout, Wallin said. He also thinks cars will slow down before entering the roundabout.

“There’s a very pronounced curve,” he said, explaining that it’s designed to stop drivers from going straight across the roundabout, but would also force drivers to slow down.

“Lower speeds are better for pedestrians,” he said.

The main problem with crossing Erie Boulevard has always been its width. At the intersection, the boulevard is 75 feet wide, with four through-lanes and two turning lanes, as well as two bike lanes, Wallin said. The roundabout will narrow that to four through-lanes, but it’s still a lot of asphalt to cross while cars are speeding past.

“Seventy-five feet is a very long distance,” Wallin said.

But there are not enough pedestrians crossing there to justify a traffic light, he said.

He envisions a system in which pedestrians would wait for a break in traffic, hurry to the “refuge island,” wait for another break and finish crossing.

“You have to wait for breaks in traffic,” he said. “There are lights at Green Street and Maxon [Road Extension]. They will create the breaks in traffic.”

He has proposed building conduits into the roundabout so a light could be added in the future.

If a proposed casino is built nearby, and Mohawk Harbor becomes a thriving residential complex, he said there might be enough walkers to justify a light. But since the project is being mainly paid for by the state and federal government, with the city footing just 5 percent of the bill, the city is restricted in what can be done.

“We can only build to what we have now,” he said, explaining the state would consider the city to have “wasted” money if there are never enough pedestrians to justify a light.

The state has given preliminary approval to the project and is conducting a final review now, Wallin said. Once the plan is approved, the city will rip up Erie Boulevard next year to replace sewer and water pipes in the intersection.

The roundabout construction is slated to begin in fall 2015, after the new underground pipes have been installed, Wallin said. The late start means the project won’t be done by winter. It will be finished in spring 2016, Wallin said.

The spring start next year means traffic will back up on Erie Boulevard yet again, just after work is finished on the main section of the boulevard. Traffic has been bogged down on the boulevard at times for 21⁄2 years while Erie was rebuilt from Interstate 890 to Union Street.

Final budget figures for the roundabout have not yet been announced.

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