By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — A much-debated and long-awaited Pine Avenue traffic signal finally made its debut this week to the delight of two prominent Niagara Falls families who pushed for its installation.
Members of the Antonacci and Colucci families joined city officials on Monday in formally dedicating a new pedestrian traffic signal and crosswalk in front of the Como Restaurant in the 2200 block of Pine Avenue.
The "Mario Antonacci Crossing," which took several years to install, honors the memory of the former Como Restaurant co-owner who was critically injured after being hit by a motor vehicle as he attempted to cross the street on New Year's Eve in 2004.
Antonacci's relatives, including his daughter and three sons, said they hope the light will serve as a reminder to pedestrians walking in the area to always proceed with caution and put safety first.
"It's a great thing that my father's memory will maybe help the safety of this community," said Antonacci's daughter, Marion Bartley.
"We wish it would have been done years ago," she added.
The 77-year-old Antonacci was struck by a car while attempting to cross Pine Avenue on his way into work. His daughter said he spent 95 days in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries. Following his death, family members lobbied city officials for traffic safety improvements on the block.
In 2011, city lawmakers directed former City Engineer Jeffrey Skurka to proceed with the installation project, despite opinions from state transportation officials and guidelines from the federal transportation office that suggested no such light was needed in the area. In March 2011, the city's own traffic advisory commission denied a request for permission to install the signal.
Council members eventually adopted a local ordinance authorizing the light's installation and clearing the way for the installation project to move forward. Work started late last year and was completed this month. The signal is pedestrian activated.
Councilman Sam Fruscione, an advocate for the light's installation, said there have been 32 accidents in the area since Antonacci's death, including six involving pedestrians. Fruscione, who was joined at Monday's ceremony by fellow project supporters, Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian and Councilman Robert Anderson Jr., said the project cost about $85,000 in city funds.
He suggested it was money well spent, adding that other lighting improvements made by the city in recent years should help improve pedestrian traffic on Pine Avenue as well.
"It's definitely a safer and better place on Pine Avenue than it was before," he said.
Bartley read a statement on behalf of the Antonacci and Colucci families, thanking Fruscione and his fellow council members for making the crossing a reality. She was joined by her brothers, Mario II, Louie and Frank, Mario Antonacci's sister, Adeline Colucci, and his nephew, Dominic Colucci.
"Nothing can bring my father back, but there is a sense of closure," Bartley said.