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Officials look to reduce serious crashes on area streets and roads

Officials look to reduce serious crashes on area streets and roads

Focus is on reducing crashes on local road system
Officials look to reduce serious crashes on area streets and roads
Photographer: Shutterstock

CAPITAL REGION -- Research indicates that crashes on rural roads follow a pattern: A single vehicle, a dark road and a curve.

The combination leads to what's known as a "lane departure" accident, which can result in serious injury or death.

In urban areas, where vehicles are typically going more slowly, the typical serious crash is much more likely to result in the serious injury or death of a pedestrian.

Reducing both kinds of crashes was discussed at a Regional Safety Plan Summit in Colonie on Wednesday, as the Capital District Transportation Committee and consultants work to develop the region's first-ever traffic safety strategic plan.

"Every day in the paper, you read about crashes," said Michael Franchini, executive director of the CDTC, which oversees federal transportation funding for the region. "I think a lot of people in the public say, 'It won't be me. I'm a good driver.' That isn't true. It can happen to anyone."

The goal is to complete the $175,000 study, which focuses on ways to reduce serious crashes on county, city, town and village roads, by the end of the year.

Sandra Misiewicz, a CDTC senior transportation planner, said that while extensive crash data is available for state highways, similar statistics aren't generally kept on local road systems, and one of the goals is to start to develop that data.

In the four core Capital Region counties -- Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer -- there were 30,405 total crashes between 2011 and 2016, of which 15,996 occurred on county or local roads, according to information developed by consultant VHB, an Albany traffic and engineering firm.

Of those crashes, 1,810 involved serious injury or death -- 127 involved at least one death. Some initial conclusions have been drawn about the nature of serious crashes.

"A higher percentage of crashes occur on dark roads or on a curve. The majority involve a single vehicle," said Alanna Moran, a VHB senior traffic designer. "Weather doesn't seem to be a factor."

There's also a consensus among police and traffic engineers that speed and alcohol use are the No. 1 and 2 contributing factors.

During a panel discussion, experts offered their insights on factors they think are contributing to crashes.

"The most prevalent group in crashes is young males, and the time is in the late afternoon, early evening," said Regina Doyle, an associate transportation analyst with the state Department of Transportation.

Since many accidents of all kinds occur at intersections, VHB senior project analyst Frank Gross said it may be more effective to make low-cost changes like better signage or changed lane markings at many intersections, rather than doing major reconstructions at just a handful.

"Low-cost safety improvements are key," agreed Jim Mearkle, a traffic engineer for Albany County.

Police generally believe cellphone use or texting is a contributing factor to many more crashes than statistics show, since drivers will deny using the devices and police only get court orders to inspect a phone's use in extremely serious cases.

"That is way underreported," said Colonie Police Lt. Ken Pero, who supervises the department's traffic safety division.

Pero said vehicle-pedestrian fatal accidents have dropped on Central Avenue in Colonie, a fast-paced multilane highway that was once notorious for the number of people hit and killed while crossing the road. Physical barriers to funnel people to crosswalks, the closure of two motels known to house transient residents and a state educational campaign have all helped reduce incidents there, he said.

"Probably 85 [percent] or 90 percent of [fatalities] were caused by human error," Pero said.

The city of Schenectady, which used to routinely allow developers in the downtown area to close sidewalks, is having to rethink that policy because the downtown now has much more pedestrian traffic, said City Engineer Chris Wallin.

"Sidewalks in the city are an issue," Wallin said. "In Schenectady, they are the homeowner's responsibility ... We have a lot of people who walk in the road."

The state has also been putting a new emphasis on pedestrian crossing safety and, earlier this week, awarded funding of $1 million for Schenectady to improve 10 signalized intersections; $400,000 to Clifton Park for pedestrian crossing improvements around Clifton Park Center; and $660,000 for pedestrian facilities improvements in Gloversville.

Misiewicz said reducing the number of serious accidents will reduce the costs to society, to the families involved and to law enforcement.

"This is the starting point. We're going to be drilling down a lot more," she said.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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