Officials push safety a week before schools open

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Jeffrey Jamison, counsel to Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, reported that, from last May, when the Guilderland BusPatrol program became operational, to the end of June, 1,500 people in Guilderland alone received violations from passing school buses.

GUILDERLAND — “Today is the plea; tomorrow are the fines,” said Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy as she stood with county and town officials by a big yellow school bus in front of Pine Bush Elementary School on Thursday morning.

The press event was to both celebrate a new sidewalk on Route 146, that runs from the new roundabout to the school, as well as to stress the importance of safe driving as children return to school on Thursday Sept. 7.

Fahy, who helped secure state funds to build the sidewalk, said that the hours before and after school are the most dangerous times for pedestrians.

Guilderland Police Chief Daniel McNally said he would be increasing patrols next week at pick-up and drop-off times.

“I’d like to warn motorists to slow down, to avoid distracted driving, to be aware of low-light situations and visibility issues, to take some extra time and adjust their commute times …,” said McNally. “Let’s all do our part to keep our kids safe.”

He stressed that Route 20 east of Route 155 is not a divided highway as some motorists think. Therefore, drivers must stop when they see a school bus stopped with its red lights on.

This past year, Guilderland was among the first districts to join Albany County’s BusPatrol program. Schools that join the BusPatrol program have their buses equipped, for free, with cameras.

 Bus Patrol explains that stop-arm cameras identify illegal passers by their license-plate numbers. Tickets are issued to a vehicle’s registered owner unless the automobile is proven stolen during the time of the offense. If someone other than the vehicle’s owner was driving at the time, the owner can request a transfer of liability.

Ninety-five percent of drivers do not contest their ticket after seeing video evidence of their violation, the company says.

According to state law, traffic approaching from either direction must stop for a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing. The first-time penalty for illegally passing a school bus is a $250 to $400 fine, 5 points on the driver’s license, and/or possibly 30 days in jail, according to the state’s Operation Safe Stop.

“It’s pretty alarming,” said Inho Suh, Guilderland’s transportation supervisor, of the number of violations.

He also made a plea for anyone who wants to drive for the district, to call him. “We’re looking for bus drivers like every district in America,” he said.

Jeffrey Jamison, counsel to Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, said, “The staggering fact is this: 7,500 pedestrians die each year.”

Jamison said that, over 30 years, the trajectory of pedestrian deaths was going down but two things changed that. Over the past decade, the number of child pedestrians has risen over 11 percent.

Also, Jamison said, “Post-pandemic, all pedestrian deaths have been increasing. It’s time to change the narrative.”

He said of Albany County signing on to the BusPatrol program, “It’s not about the money.” The county keeps 40 percent of the fund from fines, which McCoy said earlier would go to safety and education initiatives. The participating school districts get no funds from the program.

Jamison reported that, from last May, when the Guilderland BusPatrol program became operational, to the end of June, 1,500 people in Guilderland alone received violations from passing school buses.

“That number is staggering and it needs to change,” he said.



The two new roundabouts on Carman Road were mostly funded by a federal highway safety improvement program to replace lighted intersections with accident histories. At the town’s request, the scope of the $3 million project was expanded to include the new sidewalk on Carman Road from the new roundabout to the Pine Bush Elementary School, which was funded by a state grant secured through Fahy.

 The $375,000 Multi-Modal grant was used to build the sidewalk along Carman Road between the new roundabout at the intersection of Carman Road and Lydius Street and the Pine Bush Elementary School.

Several officials at Thursday’s event praised Guilderland’s grant writer, Donald Csaposs.

In 2017, Csaposs had written a letter to the Enterprise editor, explaining the high cost of sidewalks.

“Sidewalk construction is very expensive,” he wrote. “A five-foot wide concrete sidewalk that complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other code requirements costs about $180 per linear foot, and that cost assumes that there are no difficulties like acquiring private property because a right-of-way is too narrow, no underground utilities, no stream or ravine crossings, and no other topographical impediments.

“Constructing one mile of sidewalk on just one side of a street, with no impediments, costs around $950,000.”

On Thursday, Guilderland school Superintendent Marie Wiles said, “Our very first responsibility is to keep each and every one of our students safe and … we cannot do that alone.”

She said the schools have a “powerful partnership” with the police to solve and prevent problems.

“It takes a village to make a great school district,” said Wiles.

Christopher Sanita, principal of Pine Bush Elementary School, agreed that a large part of the district’s mission is to have students feel safe and be a part of the school community, which improves academic outcomes.

“Removing barriers, even ones that may seem insignificant, like a lack of safe sidewalks, can make tremendous strides to this goal,” he said.

Sanita said the new sidewalks also addressed an equity issue.

“For those families who don’t drive or have access to a car,” he said, “safe sidewalks are an issue of equity.”

The new sidewalks will improve regular attendance, Sanita said, as well as making it possible for families that don’t drive to attend evening events at the school.

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