Local Matters

Community Sponsors

Suicide Corners

November 2, 2013 - 9:47am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Bethany, Suicide Corners.

Letter:

The unbelievable has happened! The Roundabout for East Rd. and Rt. 20 in Bethany is officially cancelled. The DOT has withdrawn the plans for the roundabout and went with what the public wanted, a more practical, fiscally responsible and incremental approach.

Debbie and I wish to whole heartedly thank all of our family, friends, neighbors, strangers, officials and the media who supported us during the past 5 years as we opposed this project and fought to save our home.

Thanks to the almost 10 thousand people who signed our petitions or the facebook page to support our effort.

Thank you to Senator Michael Ranzenhofer & Assemblyman Steve Hawley, who with NYS DOT representatives Eric Thompson and Kevin Bush crafted a compromise to benefit the public. I think Washington could learn a lesson here.

Thank you to Genesee County Legislators and all of the other County officials who, with the Town of Bethany Supervisor and Town Board members would not let our fight die and kept the pressure on.

We wish to extend a special thank you to Jamie McClurg for creating “Save the Douglas House” Facebook page.

Again, a thousand thank yous to all for your help in saving our 200 yr old home while still improving the safety of the intersection. We are so grateful for all the support we have received.

Sincerely
Tom and Debbie Douglas
 

October 30, 2013 - 3:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Bethany, Suicide Corners.

A group of local officials met with staff members of the NYS Department of Transportation in Bethany today and learned the state is dropping plans to turn Suicide Corners -- the intersection of Route 20 and East Road -- in Bethany into a roundabout.

Tom and Debbie Douglas would have lost their home -- a former hotel more than 200 years old -- if the state had gone forward with building a roundabout.

Tom Douglas called The Batavian after the meeting, ecstatic to learn he and his wife  won't lose their home, which they've put so much time and effort into restoring.

"I'm really amazed," Douglas said.

He said the DOT will release a formal announcement today.

The new plan is apparently to increase signage and lighting at the intersection.

Legislator Esther Leadley said she spearheaded bringing today's meeting together to lobby one last time against the roundabout, but gave a lot of credit for bringing things together to Legislature Chair Mary Pat Hancock.

"Mary Pat's got a lot of clout," Leadley said.

Both Douglas and Leadley expressed a sense of surprise that the state actually listened to the concerns of Bethany residents.

"I have represented the folks in Bethany and all those who drive along Route 20 and I'm pleased that it's worked out this way," Leadley said. "I have problems with people who, or who at least I think, don't hear. They call a hearing and it's just kind of whistling Dixie. Very clear, though they conveyed at the hearing that they were not listening to us, in fact they did listen. I'm delighted. I'm happy for Bethany."

UPDATE: Press release from the DOT:

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) today announced it will enhance signage as part of safety improvements at Route 20 and East Road in Bethany, Genesee County.

In response to public comments, agency officials have decided not to construct a roundabout there. They met with community leaders today to discuss the decision and next steps.

NYSDOT originally proposed a roundabout to reduce the frequency and severity of motor vehicle accidents at this intersection. After receiving comments from local residents and community leaders, NYSDOT is developing a new plan that will include enhancing approach signs that warn drivers of the stop signs on East Road.

“This project is a great example of how public involvement works,” NYSDOT Regional Director Bob Traver said. “We informed the community about this intersection and our recommended improvements. In response, the public commented and drove our decision to change our plan.”

NYSDOT presented the safety needs and a recommended solution to the community at a public hearing on Sept. 12 at the Bethany Town Hall. Information was also available online at www.dot.ny.gov/20eastroad

NYSDOT will continue to emphasize the importance of motorists to follow the rules of the road when approaching all intersections. Motorists should not drive distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

UPDATE: Assemblyman Steve Hawley called and said that he and Sen. Ranzenhofer also lobbied the DOT to change its position on the roundabout.

"We didn't think that it was A, something that was going to work, and B, the cost of the project was onerous and expensive, and C, the taking of a house that old was objectionable, and D, the board and town residents had been quite clear about their concerns," Hawley said.

Hawley said his office became involved in the issue in the fall of 2012, when it was clear that redistricting was going to put Bethany in his district.

"There were many people working on this. DOT has listened and has done the right thing," Hawley said.

September 13, 2013 - 9:54am
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

September 9, 2013 - 1:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Bethany, Route 20, Suicide Corners.

Press Release:

New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) officials will host a public hearing Thursday to detail proposed safety improvements at the intersection of Route 20 and East Road in the town of Bethany, Genesee County. NYSDOT will present the preferred alternative for the project, which includes construction of a modern roundabout and lowering the hill.

The public hearing will convene at 6:30 p.m. at the Bethany Community Center, located at 10510 Bethany Center Road. A short project overview including engineering, traffic and environmental, and right-of-way aspects of the project will be presented. Verbal comments will be recorded and written comments will be received.  Comments received by September 23 will be made part of the official project record and evaluated prior to finalizing the design alternative.

Highlights of the project design proposed under this alternative include lowering the profile of the hill on Route 20 just west of the intersection as well as building a modern roundabout to replace the existing dual stop signs and flashing red light. A roundabout will require vehicles approaching the intersection from both roads to decrease travel speeds. More information about the safety benefits of roundabouts can be found online at www.dot.ny.gov/20eastroad.

Accident statistics since 1998 show 36 total collisions including three fatal crashes. The accident pattern shows right angle and sight-distance related collisions, mainly from vehicles entering the intersection from East Road and often times failing to yield. The purpose of the project is to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes at this intersection.

The Draft Design Report is now available for public review. It is a comprehensive document that presents details of the preferred design alternative along with all the required supporting engineering evaluations and environmental studies.  A copy is available for viewing at the Bethany Town Hall or at the DOT Regional Office, located at 1530 Jefferson Road in Henrietta.  Portions of the report are also available on the project Web site at www.dot.ny.gov/20Eastroad  .

Construction for this $2.5 million project is scheduled for the summer of 2015.  Under this proposal, traffic would be maintained on Route 20 with construction of a temporary by-pass road. East Road traffic would be detoured.

The location for the meeting is accessible to people with disabilities. If anyone requires special accommodations to participate in this meeting, please contact Eric Thompson at 585-272-349.

October 19, 2011 - 6:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in roundabout, Bethany, transportation, Route 20, Suicide Corners.

Suicide Corners has a reputation, and as the name implies, it's not a good one.

While accidents may not be frequent where East Road crosses Route 20, when they have occurred -- at least until a few years ago -- they've been deadly.

There were fatal accidents at the intersection in June 1998, April 1999 and June 2004. One was a triple fatal and another a double fatal.

After the 2004 accidents, Bethany residents gathered 2,633 signatures asking the NYS Department of Transportation to do something about the intersection.

Their thought -- regrade Route 20.

The state's response: No physical changes to the roadway were necessary. The DOT put up bigger and brighter signs.

There hasn't been a fatal accident at the intersection since, only fender-benders, according to Tom Douglas. He said accidents have been reduced by 36 percent.

Douglas, who with his wife, Debbie, raised six kids in a 200-year-old house (formerly an inn with a second-story dance floor) on property abutting Suicide Corners.  He and his son personally witnessed the 2004 accident, which claimed the life of an infant and two other people (inset photo from the memorial on a pole across East Road from the Douglas residence).

Now, seven years after the last fatal accident, DOT officials have apparently decided it's time to take more drastic measures to make the intersection safer.

The proposal: A $1.8 million traffic circle, a roundabout like the one on Oak Street in the City of Batavia.

If the project is approved, Tom and Debbie Douglas will lose their home. The state will seize their property through eminent domain (providing fair market value and relocation expenses).

About a quarter of the traffic circle will be on their current property, with the roadway through the area moving moved southward several dozens of feet.

Tom Douglas said not only will his family lose their home, a home with some local history, he doesn't believe the project serves any useful purpose.

"Statistically," he said, "It's not needed."

Lori Maher, public information officer for the DOT in the Genesee Region, said what the DOT is looking at is the entire history of the intersection, not just the past few years.

"That (no fatalities since 2004) doesn't mean that the problem is corrected and we should walk away from it, so we are pursuing a safety improvement program," Maher said.

But she said that doesn't mean the state will necessarily build a roundabout and that the Douglases will lose their home.

The proper corrective action is still under review and state engineers may yet determine that a roundabout is not the best solution (weighing, in fact, the serious decision of proceeding with eminent domain on the Douglas property).

The project, however, has been funded for construction to begin in the summer of 2013.

There will be public meetings and ample time for the public to provide feedback on the project, Maher said, but because fact-finding is not yet completed, no dates for those hearings have been set.

Douglas, town building inspector (Debbie is town clerk) and Bethany Town Supervisor Louis Gayton also question the wisdom of spending money on a roundabout when the Bethany Town Center Road bridge over Route 20 is in such drastic need of replacement or repair. Chunks of it regularly fall off onto Route 20.

"One of these days, somebody is going to get injured," Douglas said.

The main issue, Douglas said, isn't the traffic on Route 20. It's drivers on East Road, mostly northbound drivers, blowing through the intersection.

Douglas and others have suggested rumble strips on East Road, but both the state and the county highway department have rejected the idea as impractical.

"They think people will just drive around them," Douglas said. "But if they're driving around them, they're slowing down. It would still alert them to the intersection."

Gayton wonders if the roundabout will even improve safety.

"Trucks come through there at 60 to 65 mph," Gayton said. "Now they've got to slow down to 15 mph. I don't need to tell you what will happen."

Tim Hens, the county's highway superintendent, in an email sent Monday to county legislators obtained by Douglas, also questioned the DOT's decision.

This is not set in stone yet as it has to muster a public review process and final board adoption, but if adopted, we stand to lose funding for three bridge projects in the immediate TIP period covering 2011-14. This may only be the tip of the iceberg if new transportation reauthorization is not clear by the end of the year.

I did find it odd that they decided to keep the NEW Rt 20/East Rd (Suicide Corners) roundabout in the plan versus EXISTING bridges that are deteriorating. I know there has been loss of life at this corner, but not sure the roundabout is a popular solution with many local people.

Maher said, however, that the funding sources for bridges are different than the funding sources for intersection improvements. If an improvement -- roundabout or not -- for Suicide Corners isn't approved, then the $1.8 million slated for the project will just go to another intersection in the Genesee Region in need of improvement.

Sheriff Gary Maha, who attended a May 24 meeting with the DOT where the plan was first presented said he will leave the decision about how to improve safety to the experts, but he does know the state is increasingly using roundabouts throughout the state to improve safety on major roadways. He just visited two in Saratoga Springs.

"There's been a lot of serious accidents there over the years," Maha said. "I support anything that could improve safety in the area, certainly."

Subscribe to

Calendar

S M T W T F S
 
 
 
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
11
 
12
 
13
 
14
 
15
 
16
 
17
 
18
 
19
 
20
 
21
 
22
 
23
 
24
 
25
 
26
 
27
 
28
 
29
 
30
 
31
 

Copyright © 2008-2019 The Batavian. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service
 

blue button