In the past year, the Village has engaged in a number of public discussions about the intersection at the heart of our downtown. PowerPoints and designs have been shared on the Village website and on Facebook. We have heard extensive comments from residents and business owners during public meetings, received dozens of emails, and read many many comments on social media threads. During tonight’s meeting we’ll provide updates on the subject during Continuing Business. I anticipate several members of the public will speak during Visitor Recognition. As with every legislative session, folks are invited to speak for three minutes on any topic of concern to the public. The meeting begins at 7:30pm at the Birdsall-Fagan Police Court Facility on Spring Street.
In the interest of bringing up to speed folks who are tuning into this conversation now, and to clarify some of the info that is in the public discourse, I’m offering a timeline below with links and brief notes of past public meetings. I am also including some of my observations, and what I’m continuing to learn about “modern roundabouts”. I have watched all of the BOT meetings on this subject again in the past week, but I don’t imagine other people will be inclined to invest the time to do that. Hopefully this post will offer some context for the current discussion.
How are we unique? How are we typical?
How are we typical? The NYS DOT has done studies of public acceptance of roundabouts both before and after construction. There is widespread public resistance to the idea of a roundabout before construction. There is a positive response to it once it is in place. This was certainly the case for the roundabout in Glens Falls, which is also located in an historic downtown area. This video shot in the Glens Falls roundabout, includes interviews with local business owners, police officers, and a journalist identifying a myriad of benefits they were surprised to be experiencing, including this statement, “What I think was not foreseen by a lot of folks was, [it’s] fantastic for pedestrians…plus it’s a signature thing for Glens Falls.”
It was Ossining’s Historic Preservation Commission Chair, Joanne Tall who called this particular roundabout to our attention because it too is located in an historic downtown. On May 3, 2016 several members of the Village Board and staff took a field trip to Glens Falls. We walked the full circle, ate lunch in a pub on an adjacent block, and bought coffee in a cute local shop. We spoke with staff and customers in the Glens Falls businesses to hear their thoughts on the roundabout. The last question I asked each of them was, “Was it a good idea to put in the roundabout?” Every one of them said yes. Our first hand experience served to reinforce the message of the Glens Falls video linked above.
This week I spoke with Richard Schell, the NYS DOT expert on roundabouts, and told him of the decision we are facing about which path to take in the reengineering of our downtown intersection. He reviewed the current plans from Maser Consulting and took a look at our downtown on Google Earth. He too noted the numerous similarities between Ossining’s five-corner intersection and Glens Falls. We spoke particularly about concerns for the pedestrian experience and the impact on our local economy and sense of community. The Glens Falls experience speaks to how their roundabout has enhanced the sense of community as well as revitalized the local economy. I was surprised and reassured to learn that of the 130 roundabouts in NYS, there have 0 accidents involving pedestrians.
What’s unusual about our consideration of installing a roundabout in this location, is that the idea was not introduced as a solution to an overwhelming amount of traffic congestion. (Everyone agrees that Rt 9 is the epicenter of our traffic headaches. Progress on that front has begun and will continue in a parallel path.) Rather, it’s simply a choice we are facing–an updated conventional signal or a modern roundabout? We need to pick one. Which is better for us in this location?
So why bother?
Variations of this question come up a lot. “A solution is search of a problem” is a common refrain on Facebook that sums up that sentiment well.
The Village needs to upgrade the intersection, primarily because of the change in traffic flow when we made Spring Street two-way. That change was implemented as a pilot in August of 2014. This decision was recommended by the Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2009. The change was made permanent when the Board passed a law in 2015.
So, we are in a position of needing to update our intersection which does not reflect current standards for signalization and pedestrian crossing, or our current traffic flow. Our options are either a half million dollar upgrade of a conventional signal or a modern roundabout. The cost is about the same. The traffic flow is better with the roundabout. The current “grade” for the functionality during peak times for vehicle traffic is a C. A new conventional intersection will still be a C. A roundabout will be an A.
When people hear the term “roundabout” they often think of large, fast, dangerous rotaries. A “modern roundabout”, particularly a single lane roundabout like this would be, are significantly safer for both vehicles and pedestrians than conventional intersections. The Wisconsin DOT offers this video about roundabouts, including data about the safety of roundabouts, particularly for pedestrians.
Timeline of the Public Discussion of this Intersection
At the April 22, 2015 work session Peter Russillo of Maser Consulting presented the preliminary designs for a conventional signal. During that meeting it was confirmed that we would need to wait until 2016 to begin construction.
Peter Russillo next attended on August 26, 2015, with an updated design for the conventional signal. It was at this time that Trustee Quezada asked the consulting engineer to explore the possibility of a roundabout in this location.
Our first public meeting when we discussed the possibility of a roundabout in Ossining’s downtown was during a special work session on October 21, 2015. This topic begins at 1:07. There was no cost estimate at that time. But there was an indication of advantages for both pedestrians and vehicles, as well as beautification and improved air quality and reduced environmental impact.
On October 28, 2015, Peter Russillo joined us for a community meeting at the Ossining Library where the agenda focused on our downtown. Peter begins speaking at :38. At the end of the meeting there are additional questions from community members regarding the potential roundabout.
Peter Russillo returned to the Village a couple of weeks later to participate in an Office of Emergency Management meeting with Ossining’s our first responders. OPD, all three OFD chiefs, OVAC and a number of Village department heads were present. Not surprisingly, the top questions involved the ability for large apparatus to navigate the roundabout, as well as the ability for emergency vehicles to quickly get through the intersection. Peter had gotten the dimensions of our largest ladder truck and confirmed that it can make every turn. In fact, a roundabout allows the large trucks to make a turn that a conventional intersection prohibits. The ability to move quickly through the intersection would actually be helped by there not being a line of cars queuing up at a light, which is common during rush hour. At the January 13, 2016 meeting Captain Craven speaks publicly about the improved safety for drivers and pedestrians with a roundabout.
At the December 9, 2015 work session, we invited several stakeholders in the community to speak, including representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Fund Council, and downtown business owners. Much of the conversation focused on concerns regarding parking and pedestrian safety.
The January 13, 2016 work session focused on how to mitigate parking. (Begins at :12) There would be some loss of parking with a roundabout. The Village is working to balance the real impact that parking has on the success of downtown businesses, with the recognition that a supply of adequate parking is an inherent challenge in dense downtown villages like ours.
This past summer the Village created 14 new spots in the heart of downtown by redesigning the lot in front of the post office. There were also two spots added to the Brandreth lot. Regardless of how we proceed with the future of the intersection, a benefit of this public discussion is that we worked to make better use of our existing space.
Captain Scott Craven stated about the proposed roundabout, “From a police perspective, we consider this safer…it reduces points of conflicts for pedestrians.” For his full comments tune in a :51.
We also heard from Historic Preservation Commission Chair, Joanne Tall who asked us to consider how the roundabout would change our relations between trees, and sidewalks, and how we navigate the intersection as pedestrians. These questions are particularly relevant as we continue work toward place-making in our downtown. It was at this meeting that she first drew our attention to the Glens Falls roundabout.
During Continuing Business of the January 20, 2016 meeting we renewed our discussion about the intersection. It was during this meeting that the Board determined not to move forward with any construction in 2016. Instead it was requested that we have Peter Russillo of Maser Consulting bring the roundabout design up to about the 30% stage so that we would have equivalent information about both a conventional intersection (which was already to this stage) and the roundabout. It was also requested that there be a new traffic count study performed so that we can reflect the impact of the Spring Street two-way.
On May 3, 2016, several of us from Village government went on a field trip to Glens Falls. Here’s a link to some of what we observed in the roundabout and crosswalks. Here’s a link of my walk back from the pub. It begins on the pedestrian splitter island, looking up the block at the roundabout. They’ve chosen to extend their splitter island a ways down the street and added a crosswalk in a spot to reflect how pedestrians actually use the street.
Our most recent public meeting discussing the roundabout was the October 13, 2016 work session. This topic begins at the :12 mark.