An advisory committee comprised of both residents and town officials was formed in 2011 to prepare a Malta Round Lake Road Corridor Plan which the Board would ultimately approve and adopt as part of the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Paul Cummings, a community planner at Chazen Companies, along with Don Adams from Creighton Manning Engineering, presented the committee’s concept plan at the public hearing.
Cummings said traffic studies were conducted along the 1.25 mile “corridor” of Round Lake Road, including the intersections at East Line Road, Chango Drive, Hearthwood Drive/Malta Mall Driveway, Ruhle Road/Raylinski Road, the Round Lake Road and I-87 Exit 11 SB intersection, the Curry Road/I-87 Exit 11 NB intersection, and the Curry Road/Round Lake Bypass intersection to determine the traffic conditions and improvements that may be needed at those crossroads. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) requires a consideration of roundabouts for the plan, and as the town and advisory committee formed the concept plan with “complete streets” in mind—that is, roads that consider the needs of all users of roadways, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, motorists and citizens of all ages and abilities—roundabouts were chosen as the safest plan for all roadway users.
The committee examined existing pedestrian safety and access issues and opportunities, along with ways to improve the aesthetics of the corridor through attractive landscaping, lighting, and site design improvements, Cummings added.
The completed studies show that due to different growth factors in Malta, traffic at these intersections will increase by 30 percent within the next ten years.
NYS DOT actually favors roundabouts as the preferred method of road improvements, as opposed to adding extra turning lanes, which is the alternative design offered by the committee in their concept plan. NYS DOT supports the use of roundabouts because of federal data that indicates that signalized intersections are less safe for pedestrians. Signalized intersections have 16 potential points of contact with pedestrians, whereas roundabouts have only eight, and if a vehicle/pedestrian accident does occur in a roundabout, vehicular speed is typically far less than at a signalized intersection, according to Adams’ presentation during the public hearing.
Cummings also added that though conventional intersections cost less to build, roundabouts usually cost less over time due to less maintenance needs such as replacing poles, lighting and energy costs of lighted intersections. Roundabouts also are more fuel-efficient due to less vehicle-idling time.
The current Round Lake Road concept plan offers one single-lane roundabout at the intersection of Round Lake Road and Chango Drive and a second single-lane roundabout would be located at the intersection of Ruhle Road and Raylinski Road. Bike lanes, sidewalks, and pedestrian connections will be created throughout the corridor. The project would cost $4.75 million of federally-allocated funds.
The alternative design includes the development of a two-way, left-turn lane on Round Lake Road from Chango Drive through to Exit 11 southbound (where a new traffic signal will be placed), creating a three-lane section for a segment of the corridor.
Support for the alternative design was strong in the crowd at the Town Board meeting, as many stated concerns about the safety of roundabouts for the elderly and the children, particularly at Chango Drive, which is near the elementary school. Many of the residents also added that they feel people do not slow down when going through the roundabouts, and any pedestrians attempting to walk through them could still get seriously injured—one resident even made a semi-serious joke that “pedestrians would be playing Frogger to get across those roundabouts.”
Another speaker and area resident of 34 years, Val Manley, spoke to the fact that many residents are still learning how to drive through Malta’s infamous roundabouts.
“If we lived in a perfect world, we would have roundabout school,” she said. “I would feel much safer if we had a turn lane there, and I would also like to have a stoplight for my grandson if he was going to cross that road.”
“[Roundabouts] are a system that rewards movement bordering on aggression,” said local resident Mark Spitaro. “I’m embarrassed to say I probably wouldn’t notice pedestrians while driving through one. That’s just how these rotaries are designed: to move a lot of traffic through.”
“The plan does still consider the non-roundabout options as a viable alternative,” Cummings said. “The design phase of the project will require additional public input and hearings, and that more accurate engineering-level data will be used to reevaluate the entire plan, which is only a concept at this point.”
With that in mind, it is now ultimately up to the Malta Town Board to decide whether or not to make roundabouts a part of their official concept plan and decide if ‘the town known for its roundabouts’ will continue to stay true to its motto.