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September 13, 2013 - 9:54am

DOT presents case for Suicide Corners roundabout, listens to residents' opposition

posted by Howard B. Owens in roundabout, Bethany, Suicide Corners.

Town of Bethany residents heard for the first time Thursday night details from Department of Transportation officials on their plans to build a roundabout at Suicide Corners.

There were dozens of citizens in the room. None seemed to favor the roundabout proposal, even after a stats-packed presentation by the state's leading specialist on roundabouts.

"Yeah, something needs to be done, but I don't believe spending that much money is the way to go," said resident Jeff Bloomberg. "I think there are cheaper alternatives."

DOT officials said they looked at all of the alternatives -- from rumble strips to four-way stops -- and concluded a roundabout, at a cost of $2.6 million, is the only solution that addresses all of the issues that have contributed to so many accidents at the intersection.

Where East Road and Route 20 meet, there is a hill to the west that provides less than ideal visibility while a driver looking to the east can see for up to a mile.

Ironically, nearly all the crashes involve cars and trucks coming from the east.

"People get fixated on the hill and even though they can see a mile down the road (to the east), they miss the car 100 feet away," said DOT Project Engineer Eric Thompson (inset photo).

For the study period, going back to the 1990s, there have been 36 total crashes at the intersection and three fatal accidents. There have been 18 right-angle crashes (meaning cross traffic) and 14 of those have involved westbound vehicles.

The agency has tried widening the intersection, adding more signs and adding bigger signs, but nothing, Thompson said, has really improved the intersection much.

There isn't much you can do about inattentive drivers other than slow them down and lessen the chances of right-angle impacts, officials said.

A roundabout does that.

Rich Schell (second photo), the state's roundabout specialist, said that on a nationwide basis, roundabouts have reduced accidents where they've been installed by nearly 40 percent. The number of injury crashes by 76 percent and the number of fatal accidents by 89 percent.

Colorado is one of the nation's leaders, with 200 roundabouts now, in installing such intersections.

Schell referred repeatedly a DOT-installed roundabout in Mendon. The intersection, like Suicide Corners, is rural and involves a heavily trafficked highway with a lot of truck traffic.

During one woman's comments, Schell again pointed to the Mendon roundabout and the woman snapped, "I'm tired of hearing about Mendon. Let's talk about here."

"Well, I like to talk about success," Schell said.

The most serious accidents at Route 20 and East Road involve either northbound cars blowing right through the intersection or making a rolling stop and then continuing.

Only a roundabout, Schell said, addresses both of those issues.

Schell played a video of at least a dozen accidents at intersections that had red light cameras installed. Repeatedly, cars didn't even slow as they approached the red light, even with tractor-trailers in their path or four or five cars crossing in front of them.

"Red light cameras do not save lives," Schell said.

There's simply no device that can be installed at an intersection that solves the problem of distracted drivers. 

"Everybody has had the experience of driving through an intersection and saying, 'Damn, I just ran a red light,' " Schell said. "A roundabout demands your attention and that is what's needed at this intersection."

Rumble strips might slow drivers, but that still doesn't mean they will be as attentive as they should be at the intersection. Rumble strips would not have saved the driver in one accident at the intersection who came to a rolling stop before proceeding.

Many area residents who have seen the roundabout at Oak Street question the raised red-brick median in the middle of the intersection. People have called it a design flaw and implied it's not well thought out.

The raised center serves a very important purpose, Schell explained after the meeting.

"That's important to keep cars from straightening out the curve and going 40 miles per hour through there," Schell said. "Curves dictate speed. There's a direct relationship. People don't like to hear their tires squeal, so putting a curb out there allows trucks to still get through but deflects cars and lowers their speed. Lowering speed is what it's all about."

Slower cars give drivers a better chance at driving defensively and more reaction time to avoid drivers who are ignoring the rules of the road, Schell said.

Even after Schell's presentation and a more than 30 minute question and answer period, the public speakers were uniformly opposed to the roundabout proposal.

"I am dismayed that the only solution that seems to be, at least according to the NY DOT, is a roundabout," said County Legislator Esther Leadley.

There was a sense, people said, that the decision has already been made.

"I think this meeting has been educational and it's got a lot of information," Frank Morris said. "I do think the DOT has turned a blind eye to everything but a roundabout. This meeting is just a formality. Your minds were all made up before we came in here. The input we put in here tonight, I don't believe it was welcomed and I don't believe it was taken seriously."

To some degree the very proposal of a roundabout can be traced back to a petition Tom and Debbie Douglas passed around several years ago.

And that's ironic, Tom Douglas (top photo) noted, because if the roundabout is built, it is his home that will be destroyed.

A firefighter, Douglas is all about safety, but he doesn't believe a roundabout is the logical next step for the DOT, not before rumble strips are tried.

"A simple solution, that I brought to you before, is rumble strips," Douglas said. "In 2004, I was standing right outside, on my front law and I watched that vehicle on East Road. I could see them. I heard the Jake brake. They were talking, having a conversation. They never even touched a brake. A rumble strip would have woken them up."

The couple has raised five children in their more than 200-year-old home. Even though DOT officials promise to do everything possible to find them a suitable replacement home to their liking, that's easier said than done, Douglas noted after the meeting.

He likes older homes, but doesn't want to repeat the massive amount of restoration work and expense he's already put into his house.

The house was once a road stop for weary travelers on historic Route 20.

Dave Carley, a town resident and architect noted that Route 20 was once the longest continuous highway in the nation. It's history goes back even further than English settlements.

The former tavern is more than just a building inconveniently located for new construction.

"It is a piece of our historical heritage in our town," Carley said. "(Tearing it down is) one of the things that happen and continues to happen across the country that we should not allow to happen. It's a beautiful old building."

UPDATE: There is a Facebook group now, Save the Douglas Home in East Bethany.

Dave Fleenor

Doug Yeomans
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From the story: "There isn't much you can do about inattentive drivers other than slow them down and lessen the chances of right-angle impacts, officials said. A roundabout does that."

So do rumble strips! Why not try them?

Jeff Allen
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With all the tax payer money spent on "feasibility studies" of intersection after intersection, we could have just installed signals at every crossroad in the state. That way there would be no more guess work, every crossroad you come to no matter how large, how small, how wide open or hidden, how busy or not, be prepared to stop no matter where you are traveling. All the added travel time will make commerce completely avoid NY altogether and we can enjoy quiet, peaceful roads.

Gary Diegelman
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So what are they going to call the intersection now? Suicide Circle?

cj sruger
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How about at least starting with runble strips, and a much more visable light, that light is pathetic, why jump into a 2 million$ project that takes someones home they have put years of their life into? Oh ya its government thats why

Doug Yeomans
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Lol CJ, those lights are highly visible. They strobe a steady pulse pattern and the brain quickly ignores them. They're visible from a mile away in each direction except from the west, but it's the north/south traffic that causes the problems by running the light.

One of the last accidents there happened when a guy northbound on East Rd made a wide right turn onto 20, directly into the path of a semi rig. One of the fatals I saw was a woman and her daughter in a silver SUV. The driver ran the light going north and they were broadsided by a rig traveling east.

The wide right was driver wtf. The fatal, I believe, would've been prevented if rumble strips had been in place.

Jeff Allen
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There must not be a palm to grease in the rumble strip industry

Aaron Henning
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To touch on what Doug said. Lights are highly visible. As to the double fatal in 2004. I remember it well was about 430 pm when sun can be really blinding on East rd. It had nothing to do with intersection, she just didn't stop. She didn't make it so kinda hard to know why she didn't stop. As for the intersection itself, I don't even think it is the most dangerous on 20 in Bethany. I think West Bethany crossing 20 to Molasis Hill is much more of a hazard with hill on 20. Also the turn off Telephone rd to rt 20 right by firehall has a blind corner that ive almost been hit a few times. My 2 cents is every accident I went to in 6+ years with Bethany was operator error. A roundabout would be no help. Not to mention forcing hardworking people to give up there home.

Howard B. Owens
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The thought that keeps sticking with me is -- every intersection is dangerous.

There isn't an intersection in the county that couldn't claim a life.

Rich Schell acknowledges that no traffic device is going to fix distracted driving.

A resident last night asked why not put in stop lights and ENFORCE them and Schell pointed out -- correctly, I believe -- that no amount enforcement can stop people from running red lights. A red light on 20 would probably give people going north-south a false sense of security because Route 20 traffic would have a high likelihood just to blow through the light.

So if you can't fix an intersection with a light, rumble strips or enforcement, there's a certain logical conclusion to go ahead and put in a roundabout.

However, that same conclusion can be reached about any intersection. Why not Route 77 and Ledge? Why not 33 and 237? Why not Bank and Main?

Driving is inherently a risky task. You're putting your life at risk, and the lives of others, every time you get behind the wheel, no matter how good and safe of a driver you are.

I am convinced by the evidence that roundabouts are the safest intersection that can be devised. There is little doubt in my mind that the chances of another fatal accident at Suicide Corners is almost zero if a roundabout goes in.

But there's also no guarantee that there will ever be another fatal accident at that intersection, again, ever, and if all you do is lower the hill and put in rumble strips, I'm not convinced that won't be enough of an incremental improvement to greatly reduce the risk of a serious accident to a statistically tolerable level (at least the same statistical probability as Ledge and 77 or Clinton Street Road and 237).

But let's say if a roundabout would assuredly save just one life, then is the $2.6 million and removing a structure of at least some historical significance (and somebody's cherished home) worth it?

To the family that last that loved one, certainly, but as a matter of practical finance and statistical probability, taking all emotion out of it ... is it worth it?

Matt Hendershott
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I disagree. Once you put a roundabout in its only a matter of time before someone blows through it at speed. This isnt the city were people are doing 30. They are doing 60+ up to that hill toward T-Town. And to touch on the rumble strip Idea, this has been discussed. And the reason it is not being considered instead is because the state DOT is the ones handling this. Rumble strips on East road would be the counties responsibility and lets face it, no one is going to work together on this issue. They could grade off that hill, or many other things. The light alone has made a huge difference. But like Doug said, you can't fix driver error. People will still insist on not paying attention, and crawling through the intersection instead of committing to it and going. Even if a round about was the solution, how big is this thing going to be? There is plenty of room to one side that no need whatsoever is necessary for the Douglas's to lose their home. Its just some asshole pencil pusher with an "ill show you" attitude that is "handling" the situation by taking care of the person complaining, not the problem at hand.

Jeff Allen
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Howard, you reinforced my rather sarcastic point about putting a signal at every crossroads. The fact remains you could put rumble strips, a light, stop sign, flashing warnings, an air horn, AND a naked woman at an intersection and people would still barrel through it like it wasn't there. Distracted, thoughtless, and irresponsible driving are what most (not all) accidents are birthed in.

Kyle Couchman
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Matt I have to disagree with you on this. Take a look at the intersection in Syracuse which is the only large scale roundabout at 55mph that I can think of. They rarely if at all have accidents there. It is the intersection of 238 and 635 a major east west and a north south county routes. Add to that one of the shortest on, off ramps for the thruway and Thompson Rd a major commercial road in Syracuse and you have an intersection that had multiple accidents daily. I dont care who you are or how long you have been driving. Entering that circle you slow down. The accident stats can show that fact there as it has been in place for a while.

I do agree however with the anti round about crowd when it comes to the Douglas home. Either scale the thing down or offer him "Premium" for his home. With all the money the state wastes on BS they could make a very good deal. Or even offer to jack up and move the house to a different property nearby. Larger buildings than his have been moved sucessfully. Taking someone's property for what the State of NY would call "Fair Value" just doesnt sit well with me. Not when the milling down of the hill and rumblestrips havent been tried first. Such a thing should be a last resort after the other options have been exhausted. The only concern I can see with milling down the hill is how it is situated with prevailing wind direction and how easily it could drift in if it the road bed becomes lower than the rest of the rise....

Thats all I can think of for this subject.

Mark Brudz
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I had the occasion to visit my brother at the Thruway Authorities Buffalo Region Headquarters this afternoon. Strangely enough, they were discussing this issue after my brother peeked on the Batavian this afternoon. It was quite eye opening.

1. Every study, and there are many point to a roundabout as being the best and most cost effective solution. Not one study has shown 4-way stops or rumple strips as more effective in reducing intersection accidents. Only a stop light had equal results.

2. The Thruway guys told me, and these were the traffic engineers, that when you have a four way, there are as many as 8 places a driver has to look, and that is assuming none rolls through or runs through a stop sign. Where as in a round about, the driver only needs to be concerned with a view to the right and a view to the left.

3. Rumple strips are very effective when people doze off and drive toward the shoulder, however as a means to slow traffic, the driver still tends to look straight ahead and not view in all directions necessary, also in the northeast, rumple strips used as a means to slow traffic are subject to icing and wear in the winter creating a maintenance issue that actually adds to the long term cost.

What struck me about the conversation was that no one in the room had a stake in the game, they were just speaking from a pure engineering and a multitude of years experience in traffic control.

They also pointed out that the roundabout added to the exit on the 290 on grand island, is now 2 years old and has outperformed expectations as far as better traffic control and reduction in accidents there, they further brought up Mendon, which was a very similar situation as the route 20 issue and again, the results exceeded expectations.

These guys were unanimous in stating the roundabout was the way to go in this situation. And again, no stake in the game but a plethora engineering and traffic control experience. Just sayin

Mark Brudz
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Kyle, you are absolutely correct about carrier circle in Syracuse, It is absolutely amazing how traffic flows through there at 55 or 60 miles an hour with relatively few accidents

Aaron Henning
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Have any of them seen the intersection in question? Having driven through it many many times I personally don't consider it dangerous. A focused non distracted driver should have no problem there. I personally responded to 2 accidents considered at the intersection that were caused by people trying to go around a turning vehicle.

Mark Brudz
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Yes some of them have.

The point is that while a focused driver should do alright, just think to yourself, how many people have you seen roll through stop signs or make right turns on red without stopping as you drive almost anywhere.

My question to you Aaron have you ever seen a roundabout operate in areas where people are traveling 55-60 mph going into the circle like in Syracuse or Massachusetts. They work, and traffic flows freely

Aaron Henning
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I can't say I have Mark. While it may not cause a traffic problem, to me it doesn't justify forcing good hard working people to leave their home.

Mark Brudz
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Now that Aaron is another question that has to be weighed carefully and if things go the way they are should be compensated above market value for sure.

That is however, based on emotion, the discussion at the thruway was purely the engineering and science of proposal.

Balancing public need, property rights and yes the emotion of the effect on that particular family is a decision that I am thankful that I do not have to make and is one that has to be well considered

Dave Olsen
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I drive all across NY state and I can tell you the roundabouts work the best. Hands down. However, taking a family's home away is never right. Plus Howard, Jeff and others are right, there will always be accidents and bad driving. Always.

Eminent domain is one the most egregious acts of aggression & tyranny by government.

While I believe it's true that a roundabout would be safer, forcing it where the local folk don't want it is wrong.

Scott Blossom
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Unfortunately, I deal with roundabouts (traffic circles) everyday. The Buffalo area is full of them and they are a pain in the backside with drivers who either don't know how to navigate them, or flat out don't care. The self-importance attitude seems to prevail out there.

I would like to however point out an intersection that was altered to a four way and things greatly improved. Also the times when the problem was "fixed" by farmers before the change.

All of us in the Byron and South Byron Fire Depts. knew it as the Famous (or Infamous) Four Corners. Everyone else knows it as Rt262 and Byron Rd.

Too many fender benders to count that the fire depts. weren't called for, and quite a few serious wrecks where injuries were severe, and sadly lives lost. After countless complaints and useless DOT study, after study, after study. It took the deaths of children to get action.

The problem with that intersection was primarily northbound Byron Rd. The issue that we knew from the start was too much visibility. Yes folks, I said too much visibility. Sounds nuts doesn't it, but it was true.

When northbound, you had clear vision of 262 both ways. A simple glance and you knew if it was clear or not. But a glance was never enough. Vehicles can blend into the background and not register with your eyes. Otherwise known as a form of highway hypnosis.

Sun glare played a factor with the traffic on 262 causing the occasional turning onto Byron Rd in front of oncoming traffic. But northbound Byron Rd was the major culprit.

So how did farmers "fix" it? Via regular crop rotation and planting corn. Those were welcome years for us in the fire service. As the corn grew, 262 was obscured, you could not see the traffic and you had to stop and look down the road once you cleared the corn field.

When visibility was wide open we had a lot of accidents, when it was blocked, things were quiet till harvest.

That is how too much visibility causes accidents.

It is now a four way stop, after the blood of children was spilled.

I would now like to point the virtue of that four way stop. Before it was there, only one driver had to screw up. Now it takes two drivers to screw up before sheet metal crunches. Simple as that.

To extra stop signs and extra reflectors did not cost 2.6 million dollars.

The result, a couple minor benders as area drivers got used to it (no different then before actually). And, it has been very quiet since.

So go ahead and shave down that useless hill, leave the family home alone, add two more stop signs, added warning signage both ways on 20, and change the amber lenses in the light to red.

Sounds simple, but it works.

Mark Brudz
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Hundreds of farms and homes were displaced to build the NYS Thruway, I remember when the Allegheny Reservoir was built in the early 60's my father drove me through and again hundreds of farms, homes and even two villages were raised in order to build the reservoir. 1000's of families were displaced.

I will always be against eminent domain for the purpose of malls, resorts and other economic development, that said, there are times when eminent domain is prudent in the case of infrastructure. (Reservoirs, major highways etc.)

The real key factors in such cases should always be public safety, transportation infrastructure that benefits the larger region and/or nation as a whole and nothing else. That said, the real issue here is does the danger of loss of life outweigh the uprooting of a family, that decision is way above my pay grade.

If that does become necessary, does the compensation adequately replace the family in questions loss, and mind you memories, heritage and the fruit of ones labor are at times priceless. Likewise, so is the value of human life. For each inattentive driver technically at fault, there were also innocent victims as well. This particular instance is more than a tough call, it is a gut wrenching one.

John Roach
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Mark,
Well said.

Aaron Henning
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That is a good question Mark. Route 20 is just a dangerous road. Semi truck traffic at 55+ is dangerous. There are dozens of serious accidents on 20 every year throughout the county. And every other truck traffic route for that matter. Its crazy to single out that intersection because of a nickname.

RICHARD L. HALE
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I brought this up a few times before........off set East Road, so there is no cross road intersection. Canada has very few cross roads.

You could get rid of the hill, bring East Road (north bound) around behind the house in question, and bring it out to Rt 20 several hundred feet to the east. Or East Road (southbound)visa-versa.

When was the last time you heard of a person getting broadsided at a "T" intersection?

(I know Doug.....YOU stuck with your original idea.....I'M sticking with mine...lol)

Mark Brudz
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You may stick with that if you wish Richard, but take a second and do some math.

Rerouting several hundred a road to offset the intersection, lowering a hill about 10 feet over a 1 mile stretch, I am not a DOT numbers cruncher but it seems to me that just might cost a bit more than $2.6 Million,

The cost of new road, which would be necessary for your diversion and hill reduction alone is about $5,000 per ft if I recall correctly, it isn't the same as just placing a new coat of asphalt, Just sayin

Howard B. Owens
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Rich Schell addressed the off set idea. It would make the intersection more dangerous as any traffic that needed to continue north/south would enter Route 20 at a lower rate of speed and then turn off.

The fact is, roundabouts work. They are by far the best intersection device. Any argument otherwise is simply ignoring facts.

But as others have said, there's a serious question about whether eminent domain should be used in this case. There's no way I can endorse eminent domain. I wouldn't have endorsed eminent domain to build the Thurway.

But to argue against a roundabout, property issues aside, just makes absolutely no sense.

Dave Olsen
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I am also opposed to eminent domain in virtually every case. I won't say always, but truthfully I can't think of one where it is justified. It's always about money. The thing to consider is if it's a good idea, then the authority needing the land should be able to sell the idea to the landowners and get them to all agree. Taking any personal property by force or the threat of force is wrong and essentially socialistic.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..."

from the Declaration of Independence. "consent of the governed" being the key point here. So many of the founders' great ideas have been horribly abused & debased.

I know why the Eminent Domain clause was put into the 5th Amendment, but it has been abused so egregiously that it now should be removed or repealed.

Jerry Buckman
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Thinking back to my reckless teenage driving years, a rural roundabout would've presented challenging opportunities. See who could drive through it the fastest, stay in it the fastest. The roundabout would've been fun on icy winter days too! Sorry Howard, your rural roundabout might save some lives but it might cost others too.

Howard B. Owens
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The logical fallacy here is called "appeal to extremes."

http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/30-appeal...

Jerry Buckman
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Sorry...nice try, but do not concur. Please provide an example of a rural roundabout and how it worked out.

Mark Brudz
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It is funny that you use Bo Bennet's fallacies Howard, I know Bo very well and have for years, in fact I was at one time a minor partner with him in a venture. He used his own "appeal to the Extremes' Theory many, many times. He is a remarkable young man.

RICHARD L. HALE
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Sorry Mark, I thought maybe we were trying to save lives.......not money. My bad.....

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