Roundabout - Update

Dear Islanders;

In the next week or so, the DOT will begin some work on the roundabout. I’ve talked about the impending changes before, but I want to provide you with some more detail so you know what to expect.

The engineering design will not change

I know some of you are wishing that the whole thing will get torn out, but that’s not going to happen. When I met with the DOT, I was able to brainstorm with them and share the many ideas that Islanders have offered to me over the past year or so of campaigning and time in office. We talked about speed bumps, enlarging it, and just tearing it up and starting over.

But they convinced me that the current design works. Even if it's not perfect, it’s significantly more efficient than the old stop light (something many of us know from experience). And they referred me to videos of roundabouts in other towns designed just like ours where large vehicles drive up onto the beveled concrete. And I have to admit, after hashing all this out with a room full of DOT engineers (armed with statistics), I walked away thinking, “Yeah, they’re right. The thing works, especially in that small space.”

The DOT agreed that the roundabout needs to improve

They convinced me, but I also convinced them of a few things myself. I referred them to pictures of beautifully maintained and manicured roundabouts that look and feel much different than the one in GI. I then showed them our roundabout. Instead of a welcoming entrance-way for the town, for much of the year our roundabout looks like the front yard of an abandoned home with plastic bags, cigarette butts, weeds, and all. Right now, the flowers inside are blooming – but they are surrounded by what looks like dead brush. And take a look in July. Or how about February? Pretty bleak. The only thing that’s missing is an old car on cinder blocks. 

Here’s the thing folks, the maintenance of the roundabout is the duty of the town. And we just don’t have the manpower to keep that thing looking sharp given its current landscaping. I know what some of you may be thinking, “What are my taxes for?” Well, it’s a good question. We could reallocate resources, but the “What do I pay you guys for?” argument is a little too easy. 

It’s more than just manpower. There’s the question of skill. And unless we commit a significant amount of focus to that space, it will never look like some garden in Niagara on the Lake because of it’s a labor intensive design. Given these practical realities, I worked with the DOT to create a better landscaping scheme. And I also got them to throw in a few other things too.  

A river rock center

The DOT listened, considered all of this and came back with several ideas. We finally agreed on putting down river rock at the center (which can be easily maintained) with some appropriate (low) shrubbery. I would like to place a decorative art piece there as well, which the DOT will allow as long as it does not distract from traffic or attract selfie takers into the danger zone of oncoming traffic. But getting something like that built will take time.

My plan is to work with the high school on the centerpiece. If you have been to the high school recently and saw their new technology wing, then you know what they are capable of. It looks like Google’s HQ in there with walls of amazing student projects (skateboards, surf boards, robots, and cutting-edge creative art designs). I’m not sure you could find that type of craftsmanship elsewhere easily. So instead of doing the easy thing and just putting up an old fashioned “Welcome to GI” sign, I’m hoping to tap the creative talents of our youth.

But here’s the part I’m most proud of. In my discussions with the DOT we talked about speed bumps to slow down traffic coming into the roundabout circle. They told me that they could not do that for a number of reasons. Instead, they suggested bushes to create a calming effect and slow down traffic, i.e., let people know you are no longer on the thruway. I came back and said, “Let’s skip the bushes. How about some trees?”

A majestic white oak entrance way  

I did not ask for just any tree. I asked for white oaks. It is said of these amazing trees that they are the king of all trees—their wood so precious, their appearance so majestic. Sure, there are many beautiful trees that fit the soil and natural habitat of GI. But is there any tree closer related to the history of our island?

Once upon a time the island was covered with these magnificent trees. Now there are just a few left. New York State literally waged a war on the early inhabitants of Grand Island to get access to these trees. Whitehaven Road used to be home to one of the greatest sawmills in the nation, where Grand Island’s mighty oaks were prepared to become everything from impressive sail ships to whiskey barrels. Some of the orphan Irish boys who escaped the famine to come and work on the Erie Canal came to harvest the wood. They made up a teeming league of teenage lumber jacks, chopping and hauling the wood that helped transform our nation.  

As those trees grow stronger, so will we

Bringing the trees back will help remind us of the many forgotten eras of Grand Island’s truly unique history. And really, is there anything more beautiful than a tree-lined street? But please remember the trees will be small when they first go in. As they grow taller and stronger, the trees will remind us of the progress we are making as a Town. And as we hopefully accent the trees with lights, the art piece mentioned above, and other amenities, our front door will transform from a wasteland to a wonderful gateway. 

We need your help!

These changes (although humble), will be significant. They are significant not so much because of the immediate impact, but because of the direction they point us in. We must clean up the Boulevard. As I said before, I want to hit three spots: the front, the middle, and the back door (near Kelly’s—more on that soon!). Over time, the rest will fill in. And as we put our efforts into it, things will begin to change. Property values will go up. Old places will close. Slowly, but surely, new and more beautiful places will rise up.  

To help this process, we need your help. An Islander recently contacted me to ask me if they could take care of some of the trees near the roundabout. I said, “Sure, just don’t get hit.” Well, this woman, Bobbi Cushing, the self-described “tree lady of Grand Island” spent several hours last week out there alone picking up garbage and trimming the trees. In addition, I noticed that several Islanders got together on Earth Day to collect garbage. So I thought, “Wow. All this interest in making our Island look better? How can we pool our efforts?

So I decided to start the “Grand Island Guardians.” That’s right. I want to get together a group of volunteers every month or so to collect trash and further beautify the Boulevard. So I’m calling out to the Kiwanis, the Rotary Club, the Lions and the Boy Scouts, and to whatever other group might have some ideas and interest in helping us pick up the old tires, plant some more trees, and collect the garbage. 

If you are interested in GI Guardians Project, call Cyndy at Town Hall at 716-773-9600 x658 or email her at cmontana@grand-island.ny.us. We will be in touch. Trust me when I say, it’s amazing what a little hard work, some garbage bags, some gritty fingers and determined souls can do!

With highest regards,

Nate

- as first appeared in the Island Dispatch