Today is a great day. Today I met Jim Jones, engineer for the Town of Tonawanda. Rarely do I come across someone who truly “gets it” when it comes to traffic calming, bicycle infrastructure, road diets, etc. Not to mention someone that is actually capable of affecting change, rather than simply pontificating. Jim was one of the lead advocates for the creation of the Rails to Trails bike bath that goes from Tonawanda, through North Buffalo, to the East Side.
Jim is currently attempting to transform a two-mile area of the Town of Tonawanda into a safe, ped-bike friendly neighborhood. He has set out to show residents the upside of installing a mini-roundabout where an outdated intersection exists (corner of Parker Boulevard and Decatur).
Earlier this week, Jim and his team set up a “pop up” mini-roundabout (a pilot project), to demonstrate the need for proactive traffic calming measures on the street, which was originally designed to accommodate cars traveling at a speed of 50 miles per hour. The idea is to show that by removing the traffic signal, and installing a sloped mini-roundabout, light traffic would then flow at 15 miles per hour. The crosswalks would be placed further in from the intersection. “Right now, cars speed through this intersection, and nobody waits for the light to turn green before crossing,” Jim told me. “We’re proposing a road diet, where cars would enter the mini-roundabout at much slower speeds. For people crossing at the crosswalks, it would be akin to navigating a Wegman’s parking lot – very easy, and very safe.
“Just replacing the signal alone is a challenge because it’s not warranted and funding options are thereby restricted. The general condition of Parker’s pavement surface isn’t that bad but we want to coordinate any rehab with a Complete Street approach.”
Parker is pretty torn up, and is in need of a redo. It’s the perfect time to introduce such a progressive plan. Unfortunately, change can be frightening for some people, who don’t understand the benefits of these types of traffic calming projects. Jim explained that the grand plan for the street is to install a second fully traversable mini-roundabout (accessible by emergency vehicles) at a second intersection (Parker and Harrison). Aside from the mini-roundabouts, Jim is calling for bike lanes and curb bumpouts. But before he can even apply for funding, he needs support from the community – hence the pop-up demonstration based on new urbanism thinking.
While these types of traffic calming initiatives are new for this region, they have been effectively and successfully demonstrated in other cities. Now, Jim is attempting to educate people about the benefits of this initiative. He’s hoping that people take the time to step back, do some research, and formulate educated opinions, instead of simply going with predetermined gut reactions. Everything that Jim is proposing stems from a Complete Streets initiative, where the public called for “friendlier” streets. Now, those plans are “knocking at the door”, and Jim hopes that people will “welcome them in”.
Currently, Parker is a 40 foot wide street. The intersection at Decatur is a crossroad between a residential neighborhood and a public park. Traffic studies have determined that there is no need for a traffic signal, due to the light amount of traffic. The poor condition of the street means that it must be addressed. The timing couldn’t be better to implement a forward thinking plan, that would help to create a more people-friendly street. “The four-way stop is grossly ignored,” said Jim. “If we can get this done, it would set a precedent for 25 intersections in the town. People want bike-ability. They want the street to be people friendly. Well, here it is.”
Personally, I think that this is an awesome project, and I’m a big fan of Jim’s enthusiasm and his expertise when it comes to building a safer community. He’s been an engineer for 30 years. He cut his teeth as a traffic engineer. But what makes Jim so special is that he continues to learn about best practice planning by researching what other cities are doing. He attended the CNU conference when it came to Buffalo. He doesn’t follow the dated AASHTO Green Book guidelines, which were predicated on the Eisenhower administration’s post WWII suburban growth standards. Instead, he adheres to the more current NACTO standards. “I consider myself a “plan-gineer”, Jim told me. “I’ve also been called an ‘evangelical traffic engineer’. And I’m not alone. There are others around the region that also understand the importance of these types of projects. We get together once a month for a think tank. Unfortunately, there is no regional planning – The County remains silent. There is no proactive planning, which was the idea behind One Region Forward. Regardless, I push forward, demonstrating the need for these forward thinking projects.”
“This project effort is just between Englewood and Sheridan,” said Jim. “Parker itself runs between Kenmore and Ellicott.” If it comes to pass, Parker will be a shining star in the realm of regional street plans. But without public support, the Town will simply reinstall a traffic signal, and everything will revert to “business as usual”. No matter the final outcome, I am very happy to know that there are street planners who understand what is truly best for people, not just cars. I was beginning to lose hope.