LEWISTON — When former Niagara County Legislator Lee Simonson looks at the Village of Lewiston, he sees a beautiful community with a lot to offer — but he also sees a glaring obstacle standing between the village and its ability to reach its aesthetic potential.
Last month, Simonson released a "Sign and Wire Pollution" report detailing his concerns that the abundance of signage and phone and power lines are detracting from the charm of the village. In the report, Simonson promotes relocating the cables and wires underground and removing much of the signage in the village.
"There are two big issues that need to be address that go to the core of what Lewiston stands for – its history, its character and its future," Simonson wrote in the report. "First, we need to get right of the utility poles on Center Street and Water Street. These poles, electrical wires and cables, are suffocating our very way of life and stifling our potential."
"Second, we need to get serious about the explosion and proliferation of public signs. Street signs are popping up all over the place as state and local officials think that another sign is going to solve another problem."
When it comes to clearing up the poles and wires, Simonson points to Niagara County's Canadian neighbors in Niagara-On-The-Lake, which he said began moving their electric, phone and cable lines underground decades ago. He says that it will require "an aggressive, several-pronged and multi-year approach."
He advocated for combining the village's future water and sewer replacement projects with the process of moving wires underground and eliminating utility poles. He also said the village needs to get on the federal government's list of infrastructure projects that are in line to receive funds from Washington D.C.
Simonson also suggested working with Empire State Development, a government agency that promotes economic development across New York, and also applying for funding from the local Niagara River Greenway Commission. He also suggested working with the state on road improvements already planning, mentioning that Albany already has plans to make improvements to Center Street by 2022.
"This is a perfect time to work with state and utility officials in coordinating those improvements with 'undergrounding' (the process of moving wires underground) at several strategic locations, with a combination of local, state and Greenway money," Simonson said. "And hopefully some federal infrastructure funds thrown in."
Taking aim at the signage in the village, Simonson said the entrance to the village would lead visitors to believe they're entering an industrial hub. He said the gantry that marks the start of Center Street is "oppressive" rather than welcoming, with a large sign that directs visitors toward the I-190 or the Niagara Scenic Parkway, and away from Lewiston.
The report also points to various other signs throughout the village that Simonson feels are misleading, obsolete, redundant or just plain unnecessary. Instead, he advocated for condensing and simplifying directional signage. He suggested labeling various Seaway and bicycle trails along with existing signs denoting where one can find, restaurants, fuel or hotels.
He also took aim at bright yellow pedestrian crossing signs, which he said have don't little to curb an upward trend in pedestrian-motor vehicle fatalities.
"The Transportation Research Board discovered many years ago that 'the fluorescent yellow-green signs, although more conspicuous, produced no improvement in yielding behavior or motor vehicle-pedestrian conflicts,'..." he wrote. "In other words, the old, and less obtrusive, black and white crossing signs worked just as well."
Simonson again pointed to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which he said has far more pedestrian traffic but with far fewer crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signs.
The Niagara Gazette reached out to Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch for comment on Simonson's report, but she did not respond before press time.