Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven speaks before a crowd of residents who assembled at Glenmont Elementary School to discussed options for Babcock Corners. Photo by Ali Hibbs / Spotlight News
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GLENMONT — The Town of Bethlehem held a public meeting at Glenmont Elementary School on Tuesday, June 26, regarding the roundabout that will replace the four-way intersection connecting U.S. Route 9W with Feura Bush and Glenmont roads in Bethlehem Center by spring 2021. Approximately 40 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, the first of several that will take place as details of the project are considered over the next year. The project will also add sidewalks along Route 9W and Glenmont Road.
This intersection has long been a source of frustration for those who travel through it on a regular basis, due to increasing traffic congestion as well as its awkward alignment and blocked sightlines. When developing the town’s comprehensive plan in 2005, the Route 9W corridor was not only identified as an area expected to continue experiencing growth and but it was also recommended that the six-mile stretch from Hannay Lane in the north to Cottage Lane in the south be evaluated for possible improvements to accommodate increased traffic volumes. In 2008, the town conducted a transportation study on the corridor, building on land use findings and recommendations identified by the comprehensive plan, to “develop a focused and targeted U.S. 9W corridor transportation and land use vision and management plan.”
The results of that study recommended replacing intersections using signals to control traffic flow through that span with roundabouts. In 2015, after a number of traffic studies compared signalized intersections with roundabouts, the roundabout option was deemed the most desirable for improving both traffic flow and safety. The following year, after the state Department of Transportation announced that funding was available for traffic congestion mitigation and transportation alternatives projects, the town submitted a proposal to build a roundabout and sidewalks at the Feura Bush/Glenmont/9W intersection. The proposed plan was approved by DOT, which will provide funding for 80 percent of the project’s cost.
“We really want to hear from everyone tonight,” said Creighton Manning engineer Steve Godlewski, emphasizing that the project is still in the draft phase. “What are the priorities? Is it pedestrian safety? Is it vehicle safety? Is it reducing the amount of time that someone needs to wait to get to Price Chopper? Is it having a beautiful area with beautiful lights or fancy historic lighting? Or landscaping, or streetscaping. That’s the kind of stuff we want to hear tonight.”
Godlewski said that there are certain requirements the project must meet to in order to qualify for the state funding. “There are minimum requirements we have to meet, whatever alternative we do.” Easing traffic congestion and improving safety are among the things he stressed.
“We need to go through a detailed comparison of a traffic signal and a roundabout,” he said, “just to verify that the previous studies are still valid.”
Godlewski said that the town wants to know what concerns residents of the neighborhood have.
For example, “Is there a 100-year-old tree that someone’s grandfather planted that would be in the way if we put the sidewalk on the south side?” he asked. “That’s the sort of stuff we’re trying to find out. We want to identify impacts to private property owners. We haven’t done that yet. We have ideas, but that’s very rough data at this point. We’re going to meet with all those property owners.
“Last, but not least,” he said, noting that the state owns the roads, “is DOT coordination.”
Maps of the project area were available for attendees to look at in the back of the room where the meeting was held. Residents were encouraged to write comments on sticky notes and place them at areas of consideration.
Godlewski not only stressed that roundabouts are not traffic circles, but also discussed how municipal planners have gotten better at understanding and implementing geometric designs that slow vehicle traffic while promoting pedestrian and vehicle safety.
“One of the big benefits,” he said, “is that [roundabouts] have traffic calming 24 hours a day.” He explained how reduced speeds would make the intersection safer for pedestrians and dramatically reduce fatalities in the case of a car crash.
“There are thousands of roundabouts in the United States of America,” said Godlewksi. “Even more in Canada and the rest of the world. There’s years and years and years of operational data. Roundabouts have been installed for the last 20-plus years. They’ve been operating around the clock and, in that time, there has been one pedestrian fatality. Traffic signals have a much worse track record for pedestrians.”
Residents raised concerns about bicycle safety for experienced cyclists as well as young children. Godlewski said that, while an experienced cyclist may be able to navigate a roundabout, it would likely be safer for a 10-year-old to dismount and walk his or her bike through the intersection. He noted that there are certain features that could make the intersection more navigable for cyclists, such as dedicated lanes or a separate path.
To promote pedestrian safety, he said options such as raised crosswalks or flashing beacons that would alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians crossing the intersection have both proven effective.
One resident asked if the state Department of Motor Vehicles has been approached about educating drivers on how to navigate roundabouts. While Godlewski replied no, he did comment that it’s an issue everywhere in the country and something people are working to change.
Other residents voiced concerns regarding large trucks, speed limits, lighting, making left turns from residences or local businesses and the impact of construction.
“Liz Staubach, our economic coordinator, and I reached out to every business with fliers,” said Town Supervisor David VanLuven, “saying please come and participate. Because this is a project whose construction phase is going to have an impact on our local businesses. And so we need to work with those businesses to try to minimize that impact as much as possible.”
“A lot of our objectives are going to be shaped by what we hear from you tonight,” said Godlewski. “In terms of what your priorities are and what your objectives are.”