Proposed improvements in Westmere include flyover ramp, alleys

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Open-access, shared parking lots behind the businesses on Western Avenue near Palma Boulevard — Ikon Realty, Silhouettes Hair Design, and Empire Financial Services — allow customers to enter and exit at the corner traffic light, rather than slowing down on busy Route 20. Town planners hope to see more of these “alleyways” behind the businesses on the street, which they say help keep traffic flowing and are also good for the businesses.

GUILDERLAND — The town recently accepted a draft study proposing a number of changes that would improve traffic flow and pedestrian and bicycle access in the busy and crowded Westmere corridor.

Highlights of the study, which looked at the area from Route 155 to the Northway, include a flyover ramp built above the Northway that would connect Crossgates Mall and Stuyvesant Plaza; and “alleyways” that could be made behind the businesses lining Western Avenue by linking their parking lots.

Aesthetic improvements include landscaping at the Western Avenue entrance to and exit from the Northway and the planting of “street trees” along sections of Western Avenue.

The study was prepared by the IBI Group for the town and the Capital District Transportation Committee.

New transit center

One change, mentioned in the study, that is not simply proposed but definitely in the works is a new transit center that will be built at Crossgates Mall. This change is being made not by the town but by the Capital District Transportation Authority with mall management.

According to Michael Shanley, a partner in the Pyramid Management Group, which owns Crossgates, the transit center will be on the mall’s second level, above Burlington Coat Factory, between the food court and Forever 21. It will involve “all new construction,” he said, and will include a ramp up to the transit center that is open underneath.

“You can drive under it and walk under it,” Shanley said.

This transit center will be a hub, bringing in passengers from downtown Albany to the mall via a new, rapid “purple route” that will cut through the Harriman and the university campuses with fewer stops.

“Hopefully we will break ground in the next year or so,” said Shanley.

According to the draft study, construction will be finished and the line open as early as 2020 and will also involve CDTA’s constructing a busway, complete with pedestrian and bicycle paths, through both campuses. One effect of this change will be the extension of the Westmere corridor bicycle network several miles further east, according to the study.


This idea — for a ramp that would rise over the Northway, connecting Crossgates Mall and Stuyvesant Plaza — is “probably a long-range recommendation in the plan at this point,” said Capital District Transportation Committee Executive Director Mike Franchini.

There is no funding for the proposal at this point, Franchini said, adding, “One of the reasons we do transportation studies is to see what interest is out there in the community. If you don’t have a study and public support, you can’t go to the federal government and ask for grants.”


— From the Westmere Corridor Study 
Flying over: This drawing shows the proposed “flyover” ramp that would rise into the air from Crossgates, over the Northway and ending at Stuyvesant Plaza — actually at the end of Executive Park Drive, near the Northway. A flyover would link Crossgates with not only the plaza but also university, said Town Supervisor Peter Barber, and would keep pedestrians from having to cross the the “wide apron” of high-speed highway lanes that terminate at Western Avenue in Guilderland. 


Franchini estimated that a flyover might cost tens of millions of dollars. “We wouldn’t know until we had an engineer actually come up with a design, but one of the things we’d have to do is put some curvature in it, and that raises the price a little,” he said.

According to the study, the existing Northway entrance ramp from Crossgates Mall Ring Road could be incorporated into “a multimodal connection” to Stuyvesant Plaza, including a multi-use trail for cyclists and pedestrians.

Challenges include a change in elevation: the loop road is flat, but the grade to the bridge over the Northway would be steep. Another challenge is determining and resolving any safety issues related to attaching a multi-use trail to the existing structure; a safe way to cross the Ring Road would need to be provided, the study says.

There are also ownership issues, as the ramp structure is owned by the Department of Transportation, and zoning issues, since Crossgates is zoned General Business, and Stuyvesant, Light Business.

The study notes that the Guilderland Comprehensive Plan calls for a physical connection between the Ring Road and Stuyvesant Plaza.

Alleyways for improved traffic flow

The town is trying to create alleyways behind and parallel to Western Avenue, Barber said, that would allow cars to turn in at traffic lights and travel behind the buildings, through connected parking lots or other forms of “alleyways,” to reach their destinations.

“This is to stop some of the braking on Route 20 that makes everyone slow down” each time a driver wishes to turn in at one of the many businesses lining the road, Barber said.

One area where this has already been successfully done is Palma Boulevard, Barber said, where the businesses Ikon Realty, Silhouettes Hair Design, and Empire Financial Associates have all connected their back parking lots.

The owner of Silhouettes, John Bini, told The Enterprise that when he bought the building there was access to Palma Boulevard “and it was in our special use permit.” Then when Empire Financial bought their building a few years ago, “They opened up their parking lot, and we all agreed that we could use one access for the three businesses,” Bini said.

He noted, “I think it’s a great benefit, to be able to have access to the traffic light.”

Alleyways would have the additional effect of allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to go further through Westmere, the study notes, without walking or riding on Western Avenue.

The study also calls for better pedestrian access to the Farnsworth Middle School from nearby residential areas that would allow people to use back roads rather than Route 155. Similarly, the study calls for improved neighborhood access to Westmere Elementary that would bypass Western Avenue.

Street trees

In addition to its aesthetic component, the planting of street trees has a beneficial effect on traffic flow, said Martin Hull of IBI.

“The idea is to beautify and ‘calm’ traffic,” he said. “Evidence has shown that, if there are trees lining the road, drivers tend to drive a little bit slower.”

Couldn’t they just look at the buildings lining the road, and drive slower, he was asked.

“It depends on how close or far from the street things are,” he said.

As trees absorb carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen, they also absorb pollutants like nitrogen oxide, ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and ozone, according to a U.S.D.A. publication, “How Trees Clean the Air.”

Street trees would be planted just beyond the sidewalks in specific parts of Westmere, said Barber.

Ownership of the land just beyond the sidewalks varies, said Hull; some is privately owned, while other parts are owned by the Department of Transportation. In the case of private ownership, it “might be a matter of encouraging people to plant trees,” Hull said.

The space for planting trees along Route 20 is “mostly in the DOT’s right of way,” said Barber, “so the DOT would have to cooperate.”

Landscaping at Northway entrance

Known as a “gateway treatment,” this proposal is for landscaping, plantings, signs such as “Welcome to Guilderland,” and better upkeep of the now-overgrown areas at the end of the Northway at Western Avenue, said Hull.

“It’s a space not being used at all. There are unkempt, grassy areas there now, just weeds,” said Barber, adding that the town has been working with the Department of Transportation on the idea of putting in a gateway treatment. Barber said that this could also include lighting systems and possibly public art, all as part of an effort to “improve the appearance of the gateway area.”

The areas are mostly owned by the Department of Transportation, said Hull.

The last neighborhood

The town’s Comprehensive Plan involved creating a townwide vision, and then looking at the needs of specific neighborhoods, including rural Guilderland, McKownville, Carman Road, and Guilderland Center.

People recognized that there may be, for instance, issues in McKownville that are not issues in Guilderland Center, said the supervisor.

The Westmere study was the last neighborhood study still to be done under the Comprehensive Plan, Barber said.

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