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.