Safety concerns at Amsterdam High School entrance on Miami Avenue prompt countywide efforts – The Recorder

TOWN OF AMSTERDAM — Local officials are working together to improve longstanding student safety issues on Miami Avenue during arrivals and dismissals from Amsterdam High School.

“I think it’s been a long time coming,” said Robert Purtell, Montgomery County District 9 legislator, on Thursday. “I think this is a case where local government needs to take action for the safety of the students and pedestrians along the Miami Avenue corridor.”

Although the high school has been at its present location for over 40 years, concerted efforts to address safety issues around the main entrance to the school grounds from Miami Avenue were not launched until a community member raised concerns to school and local officials this fall.

The combination of students traveling to and from the school along the busy thoroughfare leading to the Route 30 commercial corridor has created escalating concerns spurred on by growing pedestrian traffic in an area where vehicles often travel at a high rate of speed, according to Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith.

“Any time you put more cars and more people together, safety concerns are going to increase,” Smith said.

County officials took immediate action in coordination with the school district in the fall, repainting the crosswalk at the Miami Avenue entrance and installing new reflective signs with flags alerting motorists traveling in either direction of the approaching pedestrian crossing.

Deputies have been increasing their presence in the area around arrivals and dismissals as a visible reminder to slow down when approaching the heavily trafficked crosswalk.

Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Richard Ruberti is expected to remind students to do their part to maintain safety by using designated crosswalks while walking to and from school, according to Smith.

“Young adults, we want them to be as safe as possible going to and from school, there is an education part of this also,” Smith said.

Additionally, the Amsterdam Town Board recently approved a resolution for the installation of four new LED streetlights along the roadway to improve pedestrian visibility, especially for students traveling by foot during short winter days. The streetlights will be installed by National Grid, although the utility has not provided a timeline for that work.

Solar-powered flashing signs are also expected to be installed at the Miami Avenue crosswalk in the future to further boost visibility during school hours and remind motorists to stop for pedestrians.

Yet officials say more work is still needed to prevent a possible tragedy.

“We have had accidents obviously on that road before and certainly don’t want that,” Smith said. “We want to decrease those possibilities. We don’t want a situation where someone sustains serious physical injury or worse than that. It’s something none of us want.”

The Town Board took the first step in a months-long process to potentially enact speed reductions through the area by approving a resolution on Wednesday to lower school zone speed limits to 15 miles per hour during school hours on Miami Avenue, Saratoga Avenue, Midline Road and Saratoga Road.

Smith has drawn up paperwork to advance county approvals that are required before a decision can be made by the state Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Purtell approached the GASD Board of Education on Wednesday asking officials to consider working with the county Legislature to co-sponsor a state grant application seeking funding to install sidewalks where they are absent on sections of Miami Avenue leading to Route 30 and Locust Avenue around Rockton and Austin streets.

The recent restriping of Miami Avenue has reduced shoulders where pedestrians walk from around four feet to just 18 inches in some areas, Purtell said. The section of Locust Avenue without sidewalks rounds a bend in the road where there is little space to separate vehicles and pedestrians.

“If I were a student, I would have to think twice about walking,” Purtell said.

The school board responded favorably to the proposal, although no formal commitments have been made by the school district or county and town officials have not yet been contacted about the possible grant submission.

Efforts are still in the preliminary planning stages for the possible Transportation Alternatives Program grant application to the Department of Transportation, according to Purtell. No estimates for the potential cost of installing sidewalks or the size of the grant request have yet been determined. The legislator believes the grant program may cover 100% of project costs.

“I’m concerned about both the safety of children going to school as well as pedestrians walking to the Route 30 corridor along Miami Avenue where no sidewalks currently exist and high traffic and higher rates of speed,” Purtell said. “We have to discuss the priorities between the county and school district and decide what action to take as far as applying.”

Smith is hopeful all of the efforts currently being undertaken will improve safety for pedestrians and motorists. He added that sidewalks could help further those efforts.

“Sidewalks would certainly help give an appropriate place for pedestrian traffic to keep them out of the mix of vehicle traffic and it would encourage the proper use of crosswalks instead of jaywalking,” Smith said. “It definitely would be beneficial.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at aonyon@dailygazette.net or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.