Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cove Whitney Memorial Deathway

As the corpses continue to mount this year along the heavily traveled section of Route 50 running between downtown Saratoga Springs and the shopping sprawl of Wilton, city leaders are left scratching their heads for ideas as to make the stretch of road a bit safer.

Well here’s a hint: how about building a goddamn sidewalk?

Putting in sidewalks would have been a logical deduction after 21-year-old Skidmore student Phillip Ecklstein was picked off and killed on the Cove Whitney Memorial Highway near Gick Road by a patrolling Saratoga County Sheriff’s deputy –who we all know wasn’t speeding. If not then, perhaps after 28-year-old Melvin Jones was nailed four months later, again on Route 50 about a half-mile closer to town near East Avenue.

The knee-jerk response of city officials was to blame the streetlights lining the highway for being in a quasi-operational state. After a brief witch-hunt, state and city lawmakers agreed to replace the bulbs at a cost of $65,000 in order to stead the tide of death barreling down the ill-fated road.

On a side note, $65,000 of state taxpayer dollars for lightbulbs? Those must be some pretty sweet light bulbs.

But with Route 50 lit up like a Roman candle Thursday night, another pedestrian was struck and killed, this time directly in between where Jones and Ecklstein were hit. Again, investigators cited lights that “go on and off intermittently” as one of the causes of the accident.

The truth is that no amount of light along the road at night will prevent these accidents. As any experienced driver would attest, street lights will only help illuminate what your vehicle is about to plow through when traveling at speeds in excess of 60 mph as most traffic does along the highway.

To solve the problem, state Transportation officials point to 2010, when a thorough reconstruction of the road is slated and proper safety measures can be instituted. However, given the recent spate of accidents –all which are quite clearly related –perhaps this time table should be moved up for the safety of the public.

While there’s legally no pedestrian traffic allowed along Route 50, people are increasingly using it as a foot path between the affordable neighborhoods on northern fringe of the city and downtown businesses. And with the continued expansion of downtown proper along Excelsior Avenue –the road running directly parallel to Route 50 –don’t look for the pedestrian traffic to abate anytime soon.

So there are two options on the table for lawmakers and transportation officials to consider. First, bitch about the lights, replace some bulbs and wait for the next poor bastard to get drilled by a hurtling vehicle. Or second, light a fire under the asses of the state transportation department in order to speed up their normal glacial pace of doing business.

After all, two dead bodies and an invalid generated from the same stretch of road is a fairly compelling reason to bring in road crews to start addressing the problem. Or they can wait another four years, which, at the present rate of carnage, will create an additional eight pedestrian deaths and four serious injuries. Then maybe they could bust out skull and cross bones signs and rename the road the Cove Whitney Memorial Deathway.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cant believe the Saratogian actually reported that the lights work "intermittently".....a real piece of useful information, just like a grown-up paper would provide. I wonder what the status of the Melvin Jones case is. The driver takes off and shows up two days later w/ his lawyer pleading ignorance. Apparently the driver had just left work which would seem to eliminate the possibility of a high BAC.......but that doesnt really provide any insight into whether he lit up a 'fatty' the second he got in his car after work. I wonder if they got a urine sample, which I believe shows traces of THC for days after ingestion?

6:29 AM  
Anonymous Jim Zack said...

It should be noted that these fatalities and injuries occurred while a pedestrian was attempting to cross the CV Whitney Memorial Highway (aka "the Arterial" and "Highway 50"), not while walking along the highway. Thus I'm not sure that sidewalks along the highway would have been afforded them any protection. The hi-voltage lights do kick off and restart periodically. But there are no facilities to assist pedestrians in safely negotiating the crossing: no crosswalks, no pedestrian-accomodating signalization, no yellow pedestrian crossing signage on the highway, and no pedestrian bridge or underpass. Such a gross oversight in the Spa City is inexcusable especially when the City is looking at a Downtown Transportation Plan that seems to focus exclusively on the T-5 and T-6 transect zones of the Downtown stretch of Broadway while not considering how such revamping will affect the outlying linkages to the gateways at Van Dam and Congress Park. Not everyone is going downtown! They aren't going downtown to spend disposable income at Talbots, Starbucks, the Gap, and Borders; they are just trying to get from Point A to Point B (one of which is probably where they live) as efficiently as possible. While their type of transportation and the purpose of their trips might not add to the coffers of the treasury, it is not hard to imagine the effects of publicity regarding these deaths and injuries on the notion that Saratoga Springs is a walkable city (one of the lures of this town).

While calming traffic along the downtown portions of Broadway is a commendable goal, tolerating the deaths and crippling injuries along Highway 50 should be addressed as Priority One.

Saratoga Healthy Trasportation Network has been active in developing mitigation strategies for acknowledging that even in an automobile-centric transportation system, there ought to be safe options for those who, either by choice or necessity, walk or cycle in our city. SHTN presented our Draft Bicycle Plan--which included provisions for safe pedestrian travel as well--to the City Council last month. With uncanny prescience, in his closing statement, Ian Klepetar posed the question to the Council: "How many more deaths will it take [to make Saratoga Springs a safe place to walk and ride]?"

Maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and motivate our City leaders to action.

7:21 AM  

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