Residents Search For Response To ‘Malta-fication’ of Their Neighborhood
ROUND LAKE – To the east of the Northway’s Exit 11 sits a beloved historic village in the Town of Malta. Founded in 1867, lovingly maintained and treasured to this day by just over 600 residents and countless thousands of annual visitors alike.
Just west of this village is a modern vehicular / biker / pedestrian phenomenon: the roundabout. Only one exists here today, just east of the Northway and by all accounts it is serving its proper purpose, which is primarily to allow vehicles exiting the Northway to bypass the village and efficiently travel to routes 9 and 67 and the Luther Forest Tech Park.
But sometimes, too much of a “good thing” can work against the problems they were intended to solve, perhaps with dangerous consequences.
A good portion of village residents, as well as those living and running businesses around Round Lake Road believe this is what is about to happen to them, and they hope that they are not too late to stop it.
“I’m disgusted with the process,” said resident Elwood “Woody” Sloat, a long-time resident and a 25-year veteran of the New York State Police. In that capacity, Mr. Sloat has investigated traffic flow patterns and countless numbers of vehicle accidents. “The primary concern should be public safety in making decisions, and that is not what is happening here.”
At their last meeting of 2013, the Malta Town Board voted to go ahead with the construction of two more roundabouts along Round Lake Road –two points only about 1,500 feet apart on the west side of the Northway. Town Councilperson John Hartzell cast the lone vote against the measure and cited resident’s concerns for safety as the primary reason for his vote.
Mr. Sloat and I walked the two intersections / future roundabouts. He knew intimate details, the nooks and crannies of each. Later, area residents Kathleen Eitzman and Valerie Manley joined us. All three were vocally active against the roundabouts as the proper solution for these intersections.
They did all the right things. They made their feelings known at every possible meeting. They gathered over 250 signatures of area residents. Today, they felt that it apparently did no good.
“I feel we are being stepped on.” Sloat said, and the other two were quick to nod in agreement. “Only John Hartzell came down, met with us and looked at this area,” he continued. “I spent more than half my life investigating traffic and I am convinced it is the completely wrong solution (for these two intersections.) It is very likely to make a bad situation worse. A roundabout is not a turnkey solution to every problem.”
“The Town Board accepts an engineer’s report, and the people who live here have to live with the consequences. It’s as if the people directly affected had no weight.” Sloat concluded.
The two intersections each have their own properties, but there is little doubt that as they stand today they have multiple danger points that could use corrective action. Whether a roundabout is the best solution is certainly a matter of dispute.
The first, at the corner of Ruhle / Raylinksy Roads and Round Lake Road, is about 1,000 feet west of the Northway. At this point, it is a very busy two-lane intersection with no turn lanes and a traffic light with no turn arrows. At the northeast corner, there is a busy Stewarts Shop with two entry/exit points – one on Round Lake, one on Ruhle.
Further down on Ruhle, a pediatric medical practice has had to resort to homemade ‘slow’ and ‘stop’ signs (which are legal on private property) to handle the number of cars that pivot into the lot and turn around because they have no means of getting out of Stewarts and heading west on Round Lake Road. Across from this building is a marked crosswalk to a popular mini-golf course which many children and families use, but there is no stop sign.
Some brave drivers make a left turn out of the Stewarts lot at the Round Lake exit point to head east to the Northway, but this is a difficult maneuver at all times and nearly impossible during peak traffic periods. Making a left turn from Ruhle to head west is no bargain either. With no turn lanes or arrows, maybe one or two cars can get through this way per light change.
A roundabout would appear to address some of these problems, but the primary beneficiary would be to establish the primacy of east-west traffic flow along Round Lake Road. Yet a roundabout placed here would bring additional concerns, according to Sloat.
For one thing, the roundabout turnoff onto Ruhle will, by necessity, be perilously closer to the Stewarts entry/exit. Because the roundabout will also eliminate the Round Lake Road eastbound access point, more cars will likely be queued up to leave at the remaining one. Moving this entry/exit point further away from the turnoff is not feasible due to utility box placement and other factors according to the engineer’s report obtained by Saratoga TODAY.
Further, the consulting engineer’s (Creighton Manning) report said that a 36-foot ‘splitter island’ (a raised or painted traffic island that separates traffic) length would still be safe, though the report indicates that a minimum length of 50 feet is acceptable and 100 feet is desirable.
So imagine this: a vehicle heading west on Round Lake Road signals for a turnoff onto Ruhle. A driver who is looking to exit Stewarts, perhaps having already waited awhile to get clear sailing, sees the vehicle with it’s turn signal still on from the turnoff and wrongly assumes it is heading into the Stewarts lot, when it is planning to continue.
I must admit that I’m no engineer, but Mr. Sloat certainly appears to have a compelling argument that a roundabout is a more expensive and less effective solution as opposed to strategically placed turn lanes, traffic light arrows and stop signs around this intersection.
But about 1,500 feet to the west is another intersection where you don’t need an engineering degree to see that a roundabout is overkill, in the manner of shooting a hummingbird with a bazooka and claiming you deserve a marksman’s medal.
The intersection of Chango Drive and Round Lake Road is a three-way intersection without a traffic light or stop sign. It does have a painted crosswalk across Round Lake Road, which an able-bodied person would have to be brave to cross.
On the south side of Round Lake Road is a major shopping plaza with the area’s primary supermarket (Hannaford) and Ms. Manley's salon. On the other side, a semi-assisted living facility for seniors. Behind the plaza is Chango Elementary School, where many children could be walking to school.
As currently constituted: a recipe for disaster. But is a roundabout likely to improve anything? Sloat makes a case that it could be even worse.
“Pedestrians crossing roundabouts are never desirable. These structures are designed to establish the primacy of vehicle traffic flow, in this case east-west along Round Lake Road.” He notes.
“Would you want a loved one, a senior, a child crossing a roundabout?” Sloat concludes, “they have no right of way and in many cases drivers have less reaction time.”
Kathy Eitzman has a double-whammy against her at this intersection. In addition to safety and quality of life concerns for the area her family has in lived for years, her home sits adjacent to this intersection.
She’s also an associate real estate broker, so when she asks:
“When was the last time you heard of a home on a roundabout being desirable? When has it ever increased a residential property’s value?”
You get the feeling she already knows the answer.
But the answer to “what’s next?” for these three citizens who have spent their whole lives working through the system is unclear at this point. It’s hard to imagine them lying down in front of the bulldozers in protest, yet it’s hard to imaging them take the Malta Town Board’s decision lying down.
The two roundabouts are projected to be completed sometime in the fall of this year. This is the epitome of a developing story and we’ll report on those developments as events unfold.