Nyack Resident Responds to New Cycling Signs on 9W

Residents living along Route 9W learned this week that lawmakers and the state transportation agency will be posting signs warning cyclists of the danger of the route.

The side of the car which bears the imprint of Janet Martinez when she was struck in June about 500 feet from Marilan Lund’s home

This decision, agreed to between Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe and the state Department of Transportation sidesteps the more difficult and politically unpalatable step of reducing the speed limit, enforcing a large truck ban, and stepping up police enforcement along the roadway that claimed the life of Janet Martinez, 53,  on June 10, 2012.

The signs will warn cyclists that the road is not safe, and will suggest an alternate route along Piiermont Road which lies below Route 9W.

But resident Marilan Lund and others who live nearby have been asking Assemblywoman Jaffe for more than one year to help achieve reductions in the speed limit as well as better enforcement of speeds and the large truck ban.

Their effort was in response to another fatality that occurred closer to Palisades, NY but also on Route 9W. At the time, the DOT performed a test of speeds on the roadway in question from South Nyack, to Sparkill, NY.

Their findings, based on a one time measure of speeds in the late morning at three locations failed to include speeding during morning and evening rush hours. The data was collected at 10:30 am, 10:40 am and 10:54 am, and measured “averages,” of car speeds.

A DOT spokesperson, Sue Stepp said that on the basis of that test, a determination was made that drivers are not going more than an average 47 mph (7 mph over the 40 mph posted rate in some locations,) based on one low speed recorded of 26 mph–which for all intents and purposes, could have been the post man traveling from one box  to another. The other speeds measured were as high as 60 mph.

No median speed was reported in the test, suggesting only 2 data points were collected for each site. A copy of the study detailing the methodology is not available except through a Frreedom of Information Request.

Reviewing the department’s methodology with a law enforcement personnel, he scoffed at the study: “Everyone knows you have to collect data for over a week for it to be legitimate, and that includes rush hour speeds–and on that road they speed like crazy,” said the officer who has managed studies in his own command but did not want to have his name used for this article.

Janet Martinez with her daughters Kristina and Jesica (courtesy of the family)

“Nowadays we are more in the position of verifying the speeds that are there,” said Stepp, who said there was no federal or state hard and fast formulas for establishing speed limits. However, the number of access points –such as driveways and entrances–have more to do with establishing a speed limit than residential density, the curvature of the road, or the shoulder width. The DOT in other words, trusts drivers to establish safe speeds. But what they don’t take into consideration is that drivers aren’t the only ones on the road.

And the department’s standards also have little to do with the evidence presented when measuring the effect of speed on fatalities. 

A 1999 European Transport Safety Council report identified that for any speed over 35 mph, a pedestrian struck is 10 percent more likely to die for every 2 miles per hour above that speed–so that by the time they reach 45 mph, they are 100 percent likely to be killed–a fact shown to be true in the crashes that have occurred there.

Those numbers fairly much assure that any resident–forgetting about cyclists for the time being–who is gathering mail from their mailbox, has a 100 percent chance of being killed along Route 9W if they are struck by a motor vehicle  going the average reported speed.

The same study revealed that enforcement and notification of enforcement are the best ways to reduce speed, and that motorist speed is the number one cause of pedestrian fatalities.

The DOT also said they had no plans to widen the section of roadway from Sparkill to South Nyack.

The signs will be going up this week. They are bound to cause confusion for drivers who won’t know–or realize that Route 9W continues to be an official interstate bike route, and therefore by law, cannot restrict bicycle traffic. Below is Ms. Lund’s reply to the incentive:

As a resident here since 1978 and someone who drives 9W every day, I think the DOT is being disingenuous in its stated reasons for not lowering the speed limit. A comparison of the speed limits on different parts of 9W as well as on Route 9 in Westchester reveals that 9W between Sparkill and South Nyack is about the only section of 9W that is 1) continuously curving, 2) narrow with sections where there is little or no shoulder, 3) fully residential on both sides of the street, 4) has parked cars and trucks (such as the omnipresent landscaping trucks) where is no provision for parking, and 5) active bicyclists, who will continue to use it, notwithstanding new signage. And yet our speed limit is higher than many other stretches of road that seem far safer to me. It seems to me that comparing the road conditions and speed limits would be important in our argument. Can we do this, or must we hire a consultant?
HOWEVER, that said, I think the issue of enforcing the current speed limit and truck ban is something we can focus on immediately, and would provide increased safety for everyone, including bicyclists, while the speed limit can be discussed and studied in a thoughtful (no doubt time-consuming) way.
In recent years there has been a marked increase in huge trucks (plenty of 18-wheelers), many of which are undoubtedly violating the 10-ton ban. I cannot see how oil tankers, the giant trucks hauling 8-10 cars, and the like have local delivery as their destination (which are exempt from the ban). The mere fact that there is no longer a sign on the south end near the state line, advising of the ban, and the sign on the north end (near Nyack Hospital) is crumbling and so decrepit as to be illegible from a moving vehicle, is an indication that the DOT does not support the ban (which we knew from the last meeting with the DOT). Since Janet’s accident and the town meeting I have seen the Piermont Police checking trucks a couple of times—bravo. We need to keep the pressure on them to do this, so that the word can get out to the truckers. And we need new and better signs immediately.
[There is now a construction crew at work on 9W just south of my house, I think at the exact place where a truck went over the side of the road some years ago. According to the flagman I spoke to, the DOT is building a wall there. But wouldn’t it be more sensible to enforce the truck ban and reduce the possibility of such accidents in the future?]
As for speeding, unfortunately, as the police admit, they make no attempt to enforce the speed limit. There are numerous places where a police car could sit (the shoulder at my house, 1037, is a perfect example), especially at rush hour, which I think would slow down many drivers. Ticketing some flagrant speeders would help even more. This should be continued indefinitely

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