Saturday, February 9, 2008

Roundabouts: Moving us Ahead or Just Around in Circles?

Recently, State DOT officials met with local leaders at SUNY Cobleskill to discuss future plans for Route 7 stemming from the bridge replacement at the western gateway to the Village. All kinds of bold new ideas were proposed for the Route 7 corridor from the Hess Station to the bridge. However, nothing is quite as exciting as the proposed roundabout on Route 7 at the intersection near the Hess Station. Honestly, I can’t remember being this excited about DOT repairs since…well ever!

A roundabout is similar in nature to a traffic circle, but not quite the same thing. The main difference being that roundabouts force incoming traffic to yield to traffic already in the roundabout. Traffic circles typically give incoming motorists the right of way.

Though the roundabout has the potential to improve the overall efficiency of intersections, they are not without their disadvantages. Cobleskill should do a lot more research on roundabouts before building one on Route 7.

As a traffic-calming device, roundabouts are all the rage, particularly in fast-growing suburban areas where residents want to slow down traffic. In this regard, a roundabout on Route 7 would force eastbound drivers to slow down as they enter the SUNY Cobleskill area.

There are numerous other benefits as well. Roundabouts have been found to be safer for motorists, as repeated research has found a lower number of accidents at roundabout intersections than at traditional intersections. They also eliminate the need for traffic signals which can range up to $50,000 a year to operate. They also reduce unnecessary vehicle idling which decreases pollution. They also allow motorists more options. If someone misses a destination, they don’t need to turn around backing in and out of traffic; they can simply drive all the way around the roundabout.

However, a major drawback is that roundabouts have been found to be unsafe for pedestrians, particularly bicyclists. They also present problems for the visually impaired as well. These concerns should not prevent roundabouts from being used, but they should be used to weigh the concerns of the community before a roundabout is built.

If prior local issues are any indication, the community-wide debate over the roundabout should be exciting, to say the least.

Aside from the proposed roundabout, local officials and DOT representatives discussed other traffic-calming devices for Route 7 near the SUNY campus, including center medians and landscaping measures.

A major theme discussed by SUNY officials, Dr. Anne Myers in particular, was the idea of developing the area specifically as a Village gateway. Some specific ideas, such as how to design the next bridge for example, were put out there. But there’s a lot more to discuss.

For example, what can be done to make the area more student-friendly? The loss of the P&C supermarket several years ago marked the loss of a major asset for SUNY students.

What are the possibilities of using college-owned land along Route 7 for a small pedestrian-oriented commercial district catering (not exclusively) but largely to college students? There could be a small grocery store, a coffee shop or a restaurant for example. It would provide a place SUNY students could walk to for convenience purchases that would also better link the Village with the college.

These and other concerns need to be brought to bear on the discussion in a forum that includes Village residents and college students in addition to a handful of college officials and local business leaders.


Anonymous said...

The Village of Cobleskill cannot become "student-friendly" until the Village Police become people friendly.

You can't drive through the village at night without being "stalked" and stopped by the local police.

Young people can't walk through the village at night without being harassed -- and occasionally assaulted -- by the local police.

Sean Thomaston said...


This is a HUGE problem. Even with a Mayor like Mike Sellers, it's difficult to reign in the police.

To a certain extent I think it's natural for police in a college town to have an adversarial relationship with students.

At the same time, any attempt to loosen enforcement of existing laws would probably be met with harsh criticism from permanent Village residents.

If I were him, I would just try and cut the police Department budget, a lot of which is going to subsidize police protection of Route 7 businesses outside the Village anyway.

Anonymous said...

I am not worried about "student friendly." Economically the students and the college contribute nothing to the area. If they did, Cobleskill would have a boom season during the school year, and that does not happen.

Sean Thomaston said...

Typical attitude, which explains why potential local assets get wasted and nothing ever changes (at least for the better).

Anonymous said...

The potential local assets would be...what? The students? Their simple presence in the county does not make them an economic or social asset. A 20 year old drunk taking a leak in my hedge is no more charming than a 60 year old drunk. Why don't these great ASSets make their presence useful? Offer to shovel sidewalks for old people. Clean a store window. Get out their with that youthful exuberance and make friends with the community. Why does the community have to expend all of its efforts to court them?

Sean Thomaston said...

Actually, their simple presence is an economic and social asset, and quite a substantial one at that.

All the tuition money they spend (most of which comes from Pell & TAP grants and subsidized loans) amounts to a huge amount of federal and state subsidies to the local area that support salaries and community outreach programs.

Then there's the sales tax revenue generated by college student purchases.

This is not an exhaustive listing, and in fact, the real asset is underutilized: the potential for downtown businesses that cater to college students.

Keep in mind, it is the job of local businesses to come up with ways to service this market, not the other way around.

I wouldn't say that the "community" is obligated necessarily to "court" students. But they would be wise to make an effort letting the student population know what opportunities are available.

As for this remark: "A 20 year old drunk taking a leak in my hedge is no more charming than a 60year old drunk".

You don't have to find this behavior charming, but you should appreciate the fact that that 20 year old college student urinating on your hedges just spent a sizable portion of his/her disposable income in your community supporting a local business.

Also consider the fact that if a college student is urinating on your property, he or she is usually walking back to their dormitory and NOT driving, which is a lot more than can be said about some of our local drunks.

But back to the central argument of your post. I don't know exactly why Cobleskill hasn't really been able to parlay its student population into a more vibrant Downtown, a la Oneonta, Potsdam, Ithaca. I would say that two factors are responsible: a.) the relatively small size of SUNY Cobleskill's student body and b.) poor town-gown relations as exemplified by your little rant.

However, it would interesting to have a comparative study of Upstate NY's college towns and how they harness their "student assets" in order to create more lively town centers.

Oh and by the way...I'm sorry about your hedges.

Anonymous said...

Oh no. Not another study. Studies can tell you how to do anything, but then somebody has to GET OUT THERE AND JUST DO THE THING!

nycowboy said...

I regularly ride the roundabouts in Slingerlands on my bicycle, even in bad weather, and I've never had at any problems.

I do this going shopping, including having a backpack with groceries, and I've never had any problem.

You just have to have a little bit of confidence, and when you get a break in the traffic flow, merge in and out, like a car would. The traffic speed is slow enough, that if you know what you are doing it's not a problem.

Anonymous said...

The town will not realize any financial benefit from the students as long as they offer NOTHING to them.

Cobleskill's downtown is a complete joke compared to other college downtown areas. What businesses are the students going to patronize? The clock repair business? The thrift shop? The rundown movie theater that plays Disney movies as a standard of business? Give the students, and some of us residents, businesses that we want to frequent. And no, we don't need another pizza place or another hair shop.

Cobleskill presents itself as "dead" town. Other college towns offer a VARIETY of QUALITY businesses. They usually offer some sort of culture as well. This combination creates a "current" vibe in an area. Cobleskill's vibe is circa 1982. Maybe some of the residents should venture outside of the county for once, there's a whole other world out there. It's no wonder these kids find mischief, what else is there for them to do around here? If I came here as a 20 year old from downstate or the Albany area, I would probably spend most of my time in Cobleskill drunk too.

My relatives and friends come to visit from various areas around the state and the country. Want various outsiders' first impressions of this area? A depressed welfare ghetto. Count the dilapidated houses that line Route 7 and the side streets. Look at the condition of the buildings in the center of the village. You should all thank God that you have the college in town, otherwise you would have NOTHING. But somehow I get the impression that many would prefer to have it that way. Any attempt to further the area has resulted with the fools at the helm shooting themselves in the foot and squashing any sort of progress. 30K on a town plan, and all they've accomplished are installing planters and signs. Even something as simple as a farmers market ended up an ordeal. No economic catalysts in sight.

Cobleskill has so much potential, but unfortunately it is obvious that the powers that be, and many residents are resistant to much needed change. The students will not contribute to an area that offers NOTHING to them. Stop your bitching.

Sean Thomaston said...

There's a lot of good points in the above post.

Local attitudes play a big part in why the community so easily misses opportunities. Think back for example to 2002-2003 when the Internet cafe Maximum Megahurtz was attracting large groups of young people to the Downtown area. Instead of capitalizing on this interest, local businesses and the Times Journal dealt with this like it was a problem. Skateboarders downtown? Call the cops to haul 'em away.

At the same time, there is only limited potential in appealing to college students. SUNY Cobleskill only has about 2500 students (all though it is growing). I'm not sure we can expect to support a vibrant downtown like Oneonta with so few college students.

The biggest and best hope for the near future is to get some state money to replace facades and streetscapes.

If you can at least fool people into thinking something's going on, it might provide the economic kickstart needed.

And DAMN, you're right about the movie theater. How many college students are going to come out to see Spiderwick Chronicles for (what?) three weekends in a row?

Anonymous said...

Hey - the theatre is not perfect but it is reasonably priced. A PG or PG-13 movie attracts a larger audience when you only play one film.

Anonymous said...

That theater is a dump. I haven't seen a screen covered by a curtain and framed by flags since the seventies. Went over the summertime and ordered a soda, handed me a cup of lukewarm flat soda, no ice. Smelly old uncomfortable chairs. Yes, the price is low, but you definitely get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

You say "dump", I call it "character". Ok, it can use some decor updating and it does not have the best snack bar in the world, but 2 people can spend $10 on tickets and snacks. If you want the "chain movie theater" go to Rotterdam, Crossgates, Oneonta.

Anonymous said...

Do not bash the one business downtown that creates pedestrian traffic and actually helps make the weak pulse of Cobleskill continue. Yes, I am speaking of the movie theater. It is busy and some people actually like the quaintness of an old style, village center theater. What - do you want them to close and have someone build a chain theater out by the new Lowes that we drive to? This business is actually within walking distance and it encourages people to - gasp- walk on the sidewalk. Come on Sean you should be praising the theater, not putting it down.

Sean Thomaston said...

Hey, I agree. The actual theater itself is awesome. Great atmosphere, great location, overall a great community asset. The only problem is that the guy plays about 3 to 4 good movies a year, and then plays Disney movies for at least three weeks each.

Why not play more than one movie a week?

Play the kid crap early and play real movies a little later. Why not midnight features?

It's a great theater, I just wish I had a reason to go more often.

Anonymous said...

The concept of an "old time" movie theater is a great one. It is a quaint and charming idea. However it should be updated and clean. I don't care how cheap it is I refuse to sit in filth. I would welcome a chain theater also, or a great drive-in theater would be even better. The problem with this town is there isn't much competition to keep standards high, and in the case of some businesses - costs for the consumer down. For instance, a Hannaford in Schoharie (while also providing those residents with a much needed business) would force Price Chopper to be more competitive in their pricing. Another theater in the county would force Park theater to become more creative in it's marketing approach i.e. weekend late night shows, Coby night for student discount shows, Sunday afternoon shows. The emergence of new business does not necessarily spell demise for older businesses if the owners have vision and can put that vision into motion. It is obvious that some businesses in the area rely on the fact that they are the only game in town, and do not put in the effort demonstrated by small businesses in more progressive towns.

Sean Thomaston said...

Hmm, a "little bit" of competition can be a good thing I guess. But in small towns, there's only so much pie to go around.

And I wouldn't say that Park Theatre needs to be "forced" to do anything.

His selection of movies is a little lame, but then again, most movies are lame anyway.

Why should he go out of business catering to pretentious jerks (like myself) who only like obscure or underground flicks?

If you actually have a problem with the decor or the quality of the seating, you're out of your freakin' mind!

And the above post belies a very naive view of capitalism and competition.

No business is going to come to Schoharie County to "compete" for a sliver of an already shrinking pie. The only businesses that come here are the one's that are big enough to hog the entire pie (i.e. Lowe's and Wal-Mart) and leave everyone else out in the cold.

I'm afraid I have to concur with a previous post; if you don't like Park Theater's seats, have fun driving to Rotterdam...

Anonymous said...

Right on - and I would hardly describe the Park experience as sitting in filth. A bit worn, but I have sat in much dirter theaters with food scattered all over in Oneonta, Rotterdam and elsewhere. Maybe some more film variety is in order but I won't pretend to know the owner's financial situation. Maybe they simply cannot afford to sink thousands of dollars into the business. I just do not know. It is easy to make statements that people should fix things up but it takes money that some people may not have.

Anonymous said...

Cobleskill is better than it was a decade ago.

Change does not happen overnight.

Just who is supposed to give you these business you want? Ever think about opening up something yourself?

I have traveled around and there are many places better than Cobleskill. There are also places that once had lively downtowns that are now completely dead and all that is available are chain stores.

So what if visitin' realtives can't find a starbucks or borders. We have slow growth here. Be careful what you wish for 'cause you may not like what you get.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the point is to promote sprawl. I have to say that I prefer locally owned businesses. But I agree that many of the businesses that we have are lacking in quality.

I'm not surprised that more businesses don't spring up. What economy is there to support them?

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our lives, and I am fairly certain that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further advances, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could see in my lifetime.

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