DOT repaints road to create ‘refuge area’ on Route 20 at library

— From Guilderland Public Library Director Timothy Wiles

State Department of Transportation crews work, on Route 20 at Mercy Care Lane, to restripe the existing area in between the four lanes of traffic, changing it from yellow cross-hatching to bright white turn arrows.

GUILDERLAND — A crew from the New York State Department of Transportation spent Thursday morning on Route 20 in front of Mercy Care Lane, repainting the short, narrow strip that was previously marked with yellow hatching, to show bright white turn arrows in both directions.

The newly designated lane is in the center of the busy road — Guilderland’s major thoroughfare — and still has two full lanes of traffic on each side. Where cars previously needed enough clearance from both sides to make it directly into the westbound traffic lane — the hatch marks signified that they should not wait in the center of the road. They now have the option of heading into the center of the road to wait in the newly marked lane.

Bryan Viggiani, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Transportation, referred to this as a “refuge area.”

Viggiani said that the new pavement markings on Route 20 by the library, and also further west near the town hall followed a conversation the DOT regional director, Sam Zhou, had with Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy a few weeks ago, in which the assemblywoman raised concerns that were raised to her.

“We were happy to speak with the assemblywoman and happy to address these concerns with these actions,” said Viggiani.

Fahy said this week, “DOT has been very responsive.”

A passing zone was changed to a no-passing zone east of French’s Mill Road on Route 20 near the town hall. The yellow center-line pattern was changed to a double yellow line, Viggiani said. “Previously, passing would have been allowed as indicated via a single ‘dotted’ yellow line, or a solid yellow line with a parallel ‘dotted’ yellow line,” he explained.

Also, in conjunction with the town of Guilderland, the DOT installed a pair of radar-controlled “Your Speed Is” signs, which alert approaching drivers in either direction on Route 20 near the town hall to their vehicles’ speed. Similar signs were also installed in Guilderland Center on Route 146.

Curtis Cox, deputy chief of the Guilderland Police, said the four signs will be up in their current locations “probably for a couple of months,” while enforcement is also stepped up there, “in hopes of changing speeding behavior in those areas.” Then, Cox said, the signs may be moved to other areas where speeding is a problem.

Viggiani concluded of the changes on Route 20 just to the west of the town hall, “This was done in the name of trying to reduce speeders there and increase safety and motorist comfort.”

As for the changes near the library, Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber said, “We asked DOT to help with left turns by extending the ‘safe zone.’”

“We’re surprised and delighted, of course,” library Director Timothy Wiles said of the changes near the library, adding, “We knew it was coming sometime. We didn’t exactly know what was coming, until we saw it.

“It should make life easier for those heading west out of Mercy Care Lane,” Wiles continued. “And incidentally for those heading east as well because, if you get behind someone turning left, you have to wait, you know.”

The restriping may improve visibility and act as a cue to drivers that cars may, at some point, be sitting in the newly marked lane, waiting to merge westbound, said Viggiani.

Librarian Dustin Wilder said that he sometimes turns left onto Route 20 at lunchtime, when he goes to Stewart’s to get something to eat. “There’s pressure on you, because people are trying to turn right behind you,” he said. “Plus, it’s hard to tell which lane the cars going west are in,” he added.

Not everyone was as enthusiastic.

Tom Ragone, owner of Guilderland Printing at Route 20 and Winding Brook Road, has long complained to the town’s boards about the frequency with which cars that are unable to turn left out of the library turn right instead, to go to the traffic light at Winding Brook Road. They use his parking lot as a turnaround,  Ragone said, despite his signs asking people not to.

His lot is too close to Route 20, and turning around there is unsafe for his customers and other drivers, he says; he has witnessed a number of accidents there, including one less than a month ago.

“They can put in turn arrows all they want,” Ragone said. He explained that the way to solve the problem is to create a full-fledged turn lane or to install a traffic light at Mercy care Lane.

Hopes for future access to traffic light

The turn arrows are an initial step, Barber said, that the DOT was able to add to its schedule of spring road maintenance, at the urging of the town.

Barber said that the longer-term plan is to open another option to drivers wanting to turn left out of Mercy Care Lane.

Mercy Care Lane starts at Route 20, serving as an entrance to the library parking lots. It then runs behind the library and out to Winding Brook Road. It serves two St. Peter’s Health Partners facilities located behind the library — one is a nursing home and the other is a drug rehabilitation center.

Drivers wanting to turn left could go out to the traffic light at Winding Brook and Route 20, if the road were open, but the end of it that comes out on Winding Brook has been barricaded since the end of 2017.

When the barricade went up, Barber said this week, he contacted the attorney for First Columbia, which owns vacant land, but no buildings, on Mercy Care Lane, and which erected the barricade.

Barber asked the company, he says, to reopen the road and improve it for safe use by library patrons.  

St. Peter's Health Partners was planning, as of several months ago, to change the layout of its parking lot for Our Lady of Mercy Life Center and indicated willingness to improve the part of Mercy Care Lane that it owns as part of its amended site plan application, Barber said, noting that St. Peter’s Health Partners has not yet submitted an application.

When Barber learned about the facility’s plans, he said, he asked the town’s highway department to review the status of the road. The highway department confirmed that it would be able to improve the road to town standards using its own paving equipment.

As a result, Barber said, the town is working with both St. Peter’s and First Columbia on a transfer of the road to the town. He expects to receive paperwork from First Columbia “in the near future” for dedicating its part of the road to the town, which will allow, he said, for removal of the barricade.

The portion owned by St. Peter’s Health Partners will be dedicated to the town after St. Peter’s improves the road, which it plans to do once its amended site plan is approved, Barber said; it is his understanding that that work will occur later this year.

All of these measures, Barber said, are part of a concerted effort by the town to improve safety in the area. He noted that Guilderland secured a grant to install a sidewalk on Western Avenue that will extend from Regency Park to the library and improve safety for pedestrians who make their way on foot to the library, traveling along Western Avenue, often from apartments on or near Route 155.

Updated on May 30, 2018: Comments from Tom Ragone were added and our original references to a new left-turn lane on Route 20 in front of the library were changed to more precisely indicate that it is not a new lane but just the same area with new markings.


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