Originally planned for 40 mph and, at its highest, posted for 50 mph, the roadway’s current design makes you feel as if walking would be quicker. While speed was not a factor in the tragic crash that led to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s subsequent reduction of the speed limit, speed has a tremendous role in the safety of any street. Current calls to raise the speed limit are shortsighted.
According to the New York State Department of Transportation, since the speed reduction it takes only one minute longer to traverse the entire Scajaquada corridor during peak travel time, a 6 to 7½-minute journey with drivers traveling at an average speed of 39 mph. Only 20% of vehicles travel the entire length; the rest use it as a cut-through. With the state’s recent announcement of a new process focusing on “identifying a community vision and the transportation to support it,” we have an opportunity to create a people-first transportation system designed for all users.
Per the state Department of Health, motor vehicle traffic injuries cost $1.1 billion annually and are the leading cause of injury-related death in our state. We looked at crash data for the main Scajaquada corridor for two three-year periods, before and after the speed reduction, using the state’s Accident Location Information System Database. Since the 30 mph speed limit was implemented, there has been a 35% reduction in the total number of crashes, including a 52% reduction in personal injuries, a 100% reduction in fatalities and a 31% reduction in property damage.
Time and speed are not the priority factors – better design and safe access are. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy just completed a five-year plan for park improvement priorities. One of the top issues identified was safe pedestrian and bicycle access to the parks.
Research reveals that a pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 40 mph has a 10% chance of surviving; at 30 mph, a 50% chance; and, at 20 mph, a 90% chance. This is one reason why the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition opposed the state DOT’s previous plan. To be posted at 30 mph but designed for 40 mph, the roadway would have been just like Niagara Falls Boulevard and exhibit the same poor safety outcomes.
While cities around the country remove their urban highways – including Rochester, Niagara Falls and Syracuse – instead of calling for an increase in speed, Buffalo should be discussing how our urban expressways negatively affect so many aspects of our city, from safety, to the economy, racial segregation, air quality, transportation, community access, environment and personal health; and not about saving one minute of travel time.
Justin Booth is co-chairman of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition.