State taking Ferry, Walnut down to one lane

Cars travel through a construction zone on Walnut Avenue near 22nd Street on Monday afternoon. 

The New York State Department of Transportation has unveiled a major project that will fundamentally alter two of the the Falls' major roadways. 

In a presentation to members of the Falls City Council, DOT engineers laid out a plan to reduce both Ferry and Walnut avenues from two lanes to one, add a bike lane to both streets, add curb bump-outs at dozens of intersections along both roadways, replace curb ramps at most of the 78 intersections involved and mill and repave both roads.

Construction is expected to begin in fall 2022, with work completed by winter 2023. Department of Transportation officials did not place a price tag on the project.

The major impetus for the project, state officials said, was a recent safety study of the streets, from Packard Road to Main Street, that showed the two roadways are simply not safe for either drivers or pedestrians. The DOT determined that accident rates on both Ferry and Walnut avenues are well above statewide averages.

On Ferry Avenue, 11 out of 40 intersections had an accident rate above the state average in 2018. The accident rate was above the 2018 state average, in 2018, at 16 out of 38 intersections on Walnut Avenue.

DOT engineers also told council members that "pedestrian facilities" on both streets do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And they said that the pavement on both roads is "approaching the end of its useful service life."

The state's safety evaluation showed from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2017, there were 100 crashes on Walnut Avenue and 76 crashes on Ferry Avenue. The largest percentage of those crashes, 42% on Walnut Avenue and 44.7% on Ferry Avenue were "overtaking" collisions. 

Data from the state also showed that 55% of the overtaking collisions involved motorists turning left from the wrong lane on the street.

An analysis of the volume of traffic on the streets, compared to the capacity for traffic, conducted by the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, showed that both roadways, even at peaks hours, operate at between 0.18 to 0.21 capacity (1 is consider full capacity for a roadway). 

The analysis showed that reducing the streets to one lane would only increase the capacity calculation to between 0.26 and 0.37 capacity. Still far below a roadway packed with traffic.

A level of service analysis of the DOT project showed that the length of time needed to travel from Packard Road to Main Street would only increase by between 2 to 9 seconds, even during peak hours. 

Both streets currently have a 10-foot wide parking lane and two 12-foot wide driving lanes. The project would maintain the parking lanes, create a 5-foot wide bike lane, one 12-foot travel lane and leave a curb offset. 

Curb bump-outs will be installed at the vast majority of intersections as a "calming measure" to reduce vehicle. The speed limit on both streets is expected to remain at 30 mph.

There will be 16 bump-outs on Ferry Avenue and 13 on Walnut Avenue. DOT officials said one lane of traffic will be open on both streets during the construction period. 

A public information meeting on the project is expected to be held in December.

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