Delaware Avenue businesses rally against overhaul


BETHLEEM – More than three dozen business names appear on a flyer that urges town residents on Tuesday to vote against what town signs declare as “Prop # 6” – a referendum which, if passed , would free up millions of dollars in funding for the Delaware Avenue redesign.

The leaflet published under the name “Bethlehem Coalition For Common Sense” is the latest in the heated debate that has lasted for months between those who support and oppose the project. The proposal, known as the Delaware Avenue Complete Streets Project, would cut a busy 1.3 mile stretch of Delaware Avenue that connects the hamlet of Delmar to Albany from four lanes to two with a turning lane in the frame. of a so-called “road regime” designed to reduce accidents and improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

But some business owners fear the project will cause more traffic and deter customers – a concern for those who have already survived a period of financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Making it smaller is going to make things so crowded,” said Patrick Stever, owner of Andriano’s Pizza. Andriano’s can be found at Delmar’s Four Corners, just west of the overhaul area. “I’m worried that people will find alternative routes and take the (Route 32) bypass instead. “

The $ 5.2 million project was first proposed in 2016 and finally approved by city council in April. However, bond financing approval for the proposal will be submitted to voters on Tuesday after nearly 1,500 residents signed a petition demanding a citizens’ referendum on spending the money. The city is applying for state and federal grants that would reimburse it for a large part of the costs of the project.

“It’s going to hurt businesses in the area instead of helping at the end of the day,” said Alex Linder, owner of Fortitude Strength at Delaware Plaza, which is on the part of Delaware that would be redesigned. “If it’s a high traffic area, it will force people to find alternate routes through the area or not want to come to that area. Many of my clients come here now for convenience.

Some business owners have also said they believe the city’s cyclists and pedestrians already have enough space with the Albany County Rail Trail, which runs along part of Delaware Avenue. However, these users must exit the rail track behind Delaware Plaza to continue to Delaware Avenue in Albany. Otherwise, the railroad no longer provides access to a road to South Pearl Street.

“I’m in the middle,” said Ayhan Celik, owner of Extra Napkin, who is in the overhaul area. “From a business perspective, it’s very difficult – we need more cars. But on the other hand, people want to enjoy a better life. How can you just ignore them? “

City supervisor David VanLuven calls the project a community initiative, noting that the city engaged residents and business owners in street talks in 2017, which ultimately led to the desire to achieve the Complete Streets project.

During the meetings, many participants pointed out the security risks that exist in the busy street. The number of road accidents is higher than the state average for similar roads, and with Elsmere Elementary School on Delaware Avenue, more parents were concerned about the safety of their children.

Responding to security concerns, say proponents of the project, is worth a little more traffic. A 2017 traffic study found that by removing one lane, the average driving time would increase by 50 seconds along Delaware Avenue during evening rush hours.

Delaware Avenue is four lanes after crossing the Normanskill Bridge from Albany, then turns into two lanes shortly after its intersection with Elsmere Avenue.

The city says if the referendum is rejected, it would mean Bethlehem cannot accept a $ 2.9 million grant for the project – which would mean no new sidewalks or crosswalks, only a redesign of the pipes. underground and sewer water and road repaving.

VanLuven says if the measure passes, there will be more community discussions and additional traffic studies.

Erin Svare, a city resident involved in the project since 2017, said she had friends who got picked up from behind when they picked up their children from elementary school. She says the Complete Streets project aims to make the road work not only for drivers, but also for people on foot, on bicycles and in wheelchairs.

“I’m a customer of these places – I want them to survive, I want them to thrive,” Svare said. “But research shows that… adding a turn lane would allow many more people to visit businesses from all sides of the road at any time of the day… and protected bike lanes can improve business. “

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