Ann Falco made a special trip to visit downtown Batavia Friday afternoon to share her many thoughts about sections of Bank Street being safe to cross -- or not.
Members of a county health committee had set up displays of potential future curbing, lights and artistic license to demonstrate ways to help slow down traffic and make crosswalks a more viable way to cross over from the east and west sides of Bank Street at three points between Main Street and Washington Avenue.
“I came just for this,” Falco said as organizers were wrapping up their survey stations. “It’s a joy to drive down Park Road. I want to see that replicated here.”
Falco said that she didn’t want to use the crosswalk leading closest to the Senior Center, and therefore she spoke to The Batavian as organizers were on the opposite side of the street moments before it began to rain.
She had given the matter careful time and consideration, writing down a page's worth of notes about what’s been done on Park Road at the crosswalk in front of Batavia Downs Gaming. Falco appreciates the small, young trees every five to six feet along the road, the speed bumps before and after the crosswalk, yellow warning cones with reminders to “stop” when pedestrians are in the walk — three of them at the Downs — and decorative street lamps and flags, she said.
In similar fashion, why can’t Bank Street have speed bumps, more warnings to motorists, and decorative embellishments, she wondered. She hopes that her suggestions will be taken.
Emily, who asked that her last name not be used, was pleased with the new look on Friday. She takes that crosswalk all the time to YMCA, and she liked the new, albeit temporary, setup.
“It definitely made me go slower when driving and definitely alerted me of the crosswalk,” she said. “I work at the Y, and one of the worst parts is crossing the street. Anything they can do to make it safer is a good thing.”
She was one of the 94 people that gave positive feedback during the nearly four hours the Genesee Orleans Health Department staff surveyed walkers.
“Everyone loved the set-up. They said the greenery was really pretty,” Emily Nojeim said. “They want safer places to walk.”
She had ticked off 93 people by about 1:45 p.m. after beginning at 10 a.m. She and fellow staff members also asked why people chose that crosswalk over another makeshift one set up several feet north, and most people said because they parked directly across from it in the lot.
Parked on the sidewalk at the other crosswalk, County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari had tallied up 70 pedestrians.
“They said it was more functional, and it’s a pretty artistic crosswalk. With the bump-outs, it’s a shorter distance to walk, they said. ‘It’s about time’ we had this, and ‘this is where I used to jay-walk,’” Oltramari said.
There were two people that said his group members were wasting their time and that people will cross wherever they want to, he said. A delivery driver suggested that they reconsider the turf with straw curbing directly across from the Senior Center, as it makes a convenient place to park the truck for deliveries, and a grassy area may not be optimal for that, he said.
So how did this all begin?
“We had a 10-week course that was funded through the Health Department. And it's to help with reducing instances of chronic disease. So the health department received this grant, it's actually funded originally from the CDC, and it goes through this not-for-profit organization. Five of us took this 10-week online course to learn how to promote walkability in our communities,” he said. “And this is kind of like our final project, we're required to do a popup demonstration somewhere. So we took an existing site design that the city had proposed for this road. And we decided to implement that with temporary materials like we got turf donated from Batavia Turf, and we got straw wattle, that's got straw inside to kind of show where the curbs are. And we got lighting, to show where the new street lighting would be, and planters, to sort of present where some of the things like trees might be, and the new curb extensions. It helps promote walkability but makes it safer to walk across Bank Street and more enjoyable, also, to walk down on the sidewalk.
“So hopefully, some of the comments and the feedback that we get as a result of doing this pop-up will inform the decision makers at the city that will finalize the design for the street when it gets finally redone in a year or two.”
There’s an expected surge in traffic on Bank Street with the impending new police facility right on Bank and Alva in the next year or two, and the Healthy Living campus on the opposite side behind where the current YMCA is now to be completed by the end of 2024. City officials have an infrastructure project planned to coincide with the developments, at which time there would also be upgrades to the streetscape layout.
Given that this was a county-led project, why was it only implemented on Bank Street?
“We needed to come up with this because walkable places are usually located in villages or cities. The county really doesn't have jurisdiction over those roads. We don't have anything as a county that we could implement on a road like this. So it was just an opportunity that we had,” he said. “So if the village or another village or hamlet or something like that wants to do something like this before they finalize their final street design, we can sort of roll this up and do it in a different community. So that's part of the process; the grant setup was basically to create a committee that could serve to be as kind of informed decision makers along in other parts of the county that might have designed something that will have other communities to kind of take advantage of their knowledge.”
So what’s the next step?
“So we have to create a report. We'll present that to the city as well, just as a document for them to review. And then, hopefully, they'll take that into consideration as to the design of this road,” he said. “And then, like I said, hopefully, other communities take advantage of the knowledge that our team has gained through going through this process, and maybe we can implement this somewhere else in the county.”