Last month, the Western New York Section of the American Planning Association (APA) awarded
the City of Olean North Union Complete Street Transformation Project with the “Great Places in Western New York: Great Streets” award. We had worked on this project since 2012, and were thrilled receive this honor with our team partners from Mott MacDonald, Architectural Resources and SMA Consulting.
The North Union Complete Street Transformation converted a four-lane automobile-oriented arterial roadway into a two-lane “complete street.” between State Street and Main Street. The new street supports economic vitality, improves the environment with innovative stormwater treatment, and improves mobility, safety, and accessibility for all users. The street formerly had four travel lanes and 15-foot diagonal parking on either side, for a total curb-to-curb width of 82 feet. Wide lanes encouraged speeding, and seven signalized intersections within the project area forced vehicles to either make frequent stops or try to avoid red lights by speeding.
The project includes the following features:
- New water main lines and service lines.
- A new storm drainage system.
- A landscaped, tree-lined median.
- A separated roadway with a single travel lane and adjoining bicycle lane for each direction. With 18 feet of overall width, there is adequate space to pull over for emergency vehicles.
- Curb bump-outs that extend out to the edge of the 17 feet of diagonal parking, making pedestrians more visible when crossing the street.
- To reduce stormwater runoff, sidewalks and curb extensions include green stormwater infrastructure, including tree pits, permeable pavers, and landscaped bioretention areas.
- The seven traffic signals were replaced with five modern roundabouts. The other two intersections are right-turn-only, but with a mountable median for emergency access.
- New contemporary LED streetlights with banner posts.
- Pedestrian crossing signals at four mid-block crossing locations.
- Streetscape amenities including bike racks, benches, and trash/recycling receptacles.
State of Good Repair
North Union Street was the primary commercial and entertainment district when Olean became an oil boom town after the Civil War. Many of the downtown buildings date from the late 1800s or early 1900s. The underground infrastructure also dates from this time, and sewer line and water line breaks are common.
North Union Street was last reconstructed in the 1970s. Public infrastructure was in poor condition and beyond its useful life. Numerous pedestrian facilities did not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Sidewalks existed, but were generally in poor condition and lacked ADA accessible designs.
To address the poor state of the infrastructure, the North Union Complete Street Transformation included these project objectives:
- Replace outdated storm sewer and water lines.
- Replace the seven traffic signals with five modern roundabouts.
- Provide appropriate accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
- Add bicycle lanes to encourage cycling.
- Provide a cohesive public space through the addition of landscaping, lighting, and pedestrian amenities.
Large employers and educational and medical institutions supported the project, believing it will create a downtown that will attract students, residents, and visitors, and help employers recruit the most qualified employees. The completed project is now expected to help attract much-needed capital investment to the corridor’s adjacent real estate and attract new businesses and residents to occupy the current vacancies.
In October 2016, Jeff Belt, co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, said, “The project, of course, represents much-needed infrastructure, but it also represents a huge bet on the most effective economic development strategy working today, and that is the creation of a walkable urban place. Just think for a minute of all the wonderful assets of our city — our beautiful hills, our historic downtown, our wonderful neighborhoods. This traffic-calming, walkable streetscape project is going to tie it all together. It’s going to proclaim the unique authenticity of what’s wonderful in our city.”
The North Union Complete Street Transformation was designed to be eligible for Gold Certification under New York State Department of Transportation’s GreenLITES program (Green Leadership In Transportation Environmental Sustainability). Certification is currently pending. GreenLITES recognizes transportation projects and operations based on the extent to which they incorporate sustainable choices.
Environmental benefits of the North Union Complete Street Transformation include these:
- Improved air quality through reduced congestion and better use of modes, reducing vehicle hours of delay, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Better water quality by reducing runoff and improving natural absorption.
- A reduction of impervious areas by over 35% due to the addition of green median and permeable pavers.
- Enhanced cultural and historic resources by restoring property value and making private reinvestment viable and attractive.
- Reduced energy consumption by incorporating roundabouts to reduce congestion and electricity for powering traffic signals.
- A smaller carbon footprint due to the lower consumption of petroleum and increased walking and cycling.
- Olean is also under an Order of Consent with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce storm-related sewer overflows into the Allegheny River. The North Union Complete Street Transformation separated roof receivers from the sanitary system.
With 268 accidents occurring on a 0.6-mile segment of road over a five-year period, the accident rate on North Union Street before the project was 13.48 accidents per million vehicle miles of travel (mvm). That was over 4.6 times greater than the New York State average of 2.92 accidents/mvm for four-lane undivided urban roadways.
By replacing the seven signalized intersections with modern roundabouts to calm traffic and improve safety for pedestrians and drivers, the accident rate is expected to have a significant decrease. Studies in the US and Europe have shown that roundabouts help to reduce all crashes by 37%, fatal crashes by 90%, injury crashes by 75%, and pedestrian crashes by 40% (Washington State DOT). A reduction of this magnitude can save over $520,000 per year in accident related costs.
The community was engaged throughout the conceptual and final design processes with surveys, focus groups, public meetings, and updates to the project website. When City leaders and the public expressed concern about roundabouts, the consultant team arranged site visits to East Aurora and Hamburg. Project Advisory Committee members spoke with municipal representatives about their projects and toured the completed projects. During construction, an extensive community effort was developed to ensure that the public received regular updates on the status of the project and any traffic and/or parking changes. This information was disseminated through different media to try to reach as many residents, businesses and travelers as possible. The major forms of media used included:
- A project website (www.walkableolean.com) that provided background information as well as up-to-date Traveler Advisories and project-specific educational materials such as tips to navigate roundabouts, how rain gardens work, and information on the four Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons that were installed in the project corridor.
- A project Facebook page (@WalkableOlean) that was used to post information on local businesses, traveler advisories and project specific information.
- Traveler advisories that were distributed by email to local businesses and emergency services.
- Two construction guides, one for each construction year, that was. prepared and distributed at the beginning of each construction stage.
A Complete Success... Already!
The North Union Complete Street Transformation has completely changed the look of downtown Olean. Instead of a wide expanse of asphalt, there are now trees, shrubs and flowering perennials lining the street and in the center median. Instead of seven traffic signals creating stop and go traffic with drivers speeding from signal to signal, there are now five roundabouts that slow traffic and create a quieter urban environment. The City has new water service to all the businesses on North Union Street, a stormwater system that has less inflow due to the Green Stormwater Infrastructure that captures much of the street runoff, and efficient LED streetlights that reduce electrical consumption. Bicyclists enjoy using the 6’ wide bicycle lanes, and pedestrians can rest and admire the landscape on the numerous benches placed along the corridor. New businesses are locating to the downtown, and property owners are renovating their buildings. One of the largest employers in the region can still make the shipments that are so important to the economy of the region, and the citizens of Olean can continue the tradition of gathering on the street with their families each year to celebrate the start of the holidays.
The project has transformed the entire community, not just North Union Street. As Mayor William Aiello said at the project ribbon cutting: “The North Union Complete Street Transformation is a complete success.”
Read more about the awards program here.