Robert Davis had seen enough. A string of recent accidents at the intersection of State Route 300 and Plains Road in Shawangunk left the Gardiner resident determined to fix the problem, and within two weeks his actions made a major impact. On July 11, Davis launched a petition on Change.org that called on the New York State Department of Transportation to switch the blinking traffic light located at the intersection to a fully activated traffic light in order to cut down on collisions in the area. On July 24, the DOT informed Shawangunk Supervisor John Valk that in the wake of the agency reviewing accident reports from the intersection, the state intended to switch the light on.
On Monday, a crew from the state agency inspected the intersection, and the DOT decided it was prudent to flip the light to its fully-functional mode. “They’re going to assess the intersection to make sure everything is safe before they turn the light on,” Valk said on Monday morning. “But they are going to turn the light on. They have one or two accidents there a week.”
Within a day of Davis establishing his online petition, over 80 community members had added their names to the request, and 10 days into the project, 330 residents had signed on to the proposal. Davis, 26, was surprised by the number of responses to his petition and the passionate responses his web page had attracted. “I’ve heard from volunteer firefighters who’ve been at accidents, from accident victims themselves, from parents, bus drivers,” he said. Davis was thrilled to hear the news this week that his petition had its intended effect.
“I’m very pleased because potentially lives could be saved,” he said. “I think the whole community coming together, that showed the state that they should reconsider their decision.”
Previously, motorists travelling on Plains Road received a blinking red light as they passed through the intersection, but drivers headed both ways on Route 300 only saw the blinking yellow light. Davis believed the setup at the intersection was calling out for a standard red-yellow-green light to alleviate the current situation of drivers inching out on Plains Road. “I think there’s poor visibility on Plains Road and there’s a lot of traffic on Route 300,” he said. “So people just pull out at the last second because they can’t really see on Plains Road. I’ve had people pull out while I’m driving on 300 right at the last second.”
The Town of Shawangunk had petitioned the state several times to install a full light in the area, but had consistently received pushback. “We’ve inquired about it four or five times already and we keep getting the same answer back,” Valk said. “They say that it doesn’t warrant it and to just have the police enforce the speed limit there.” The town made another push two years ago to rectify the situation, but the DOT conducted a traffic study and concluded in January, 2016 that the traffic volume in the area was too low to justify a tri-color signal.
This time around, when the town contacted the DOT about the issue, the public pressure was also growing for the state to act. “In this case, I think the private citizen outcry is more important than government,” Valk said prior to the state’s decision. “Because they just don’t listen to us as much as private citizens. The petition and the phone calls from citizens is very important.”
Frank Riess has a prime vantage point of the area in question, as his business, Riess Appraisals, sits right on the corner of the intersection. Riess has watched in frustration as the state has ignored his pleas to upgrade the light. Riess has footage of a half dozen accidents that have occurred in the intersection in recent months. “We call every time there’s an accident and they won’t turn it on,” he said. “The last accident that we saw was a four-car accident, so we called the state and they came down. We asked ‘If you have the light here, why won’t you just turn it on?’ One guy told us ‘You have no idea what goes into installing a traffic light.’ We said the light is already there and then he hung up on us.”
Riess says the solution to the safety problem at the intersection had been incredibly simple all along. “It is a functional stop light, all they’ve gotta do is flip a switch,” he said. “They installed that light and made it functional about six months ago when they were working on the bridge on Route 52. They had 10 guys from the state there for two weeks installing that light. They turned it on – red, green. Then they turned it back to flasher and left.” Riess believes that a full light at the site would have eliminated the spate of recent crashes at the intersection. “A traffic light would have saved every one of them,” he said. “Luckily no one’s been hurt badly yet. They say there’s not enough traffic to warrant a light, but there’s enough accidents to warrant it.”
In addition to the DOT, Davis was also in contact with the office of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and Ulster County Legislature Chairman Kenneth Ronk, and now his efforts to increase safety on local roads have paid off.
By Ted Remsnyder