New solar signs to improve Sidney Center traffic safety

Allison CollinsOne of two solar-powered radar speed signs on county Route 23 entering Sidney Center is shown earlier this week. The signs were installed Monday.

Motorists in Sidney Center are being encouraged to slow down while driving in the Delaware County hamlet, thanks to two solar-powered radar speed signs installed earlier this week.

The signs, erected on county Route 23, were purchased using funds from the Sidney Center Improvement Group and a grant from Creating Healthy Schools and Communities.

Michael Sellitti, a Sidney Center resident and president of the Sidney Center Improvement Group, said the nonprofit organization has long mulled ways to reduce speeding in the hamlet.

“Really, safety has been at the core of the improvement group since its inception over 13 years ago,” he said, “and speeding is always at the top of the priority list. People passing through do not, in general, have consideration for the speed limit, despite efforts by the county … to install larger signs or signs that say ’30 mph ahead.’ Members … in the improvement group have always expressed concern about this and people in the community have been vocal about it for many years.”

Sellitti said the improvement group partnered with Creating Healthy Schools and Communities, a grants program under the auspices of the New York State Department of Health, about two years ago. Maureen Blanchard, project director with CHSC, said the program works in primarily low-income areas and is operating in the Charlotte Valley, Richfield Springs, Sidney, Unatego and Walton school districts.

“It’s always been our position to find solutions to problems without putting added strain or obligation on the town, the county or taxpayers,” Sellitti said. “We’re always looking for grant money and creative ways (to fund projects), and that’s how we got connected with the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities program.

“It took over two years of engaging with that program and working with the state, county and the town … to figure out how to do it, get the signs, find out who is going to maintain ownership and do the engineering to get them in place,” he said. “But Creating Healthy Schools and Communities covered the purchase of the signs and the improvement group covered the expense of hardware. It was a pretty substantial investment for us.”

Blanchard said providing the $9,911 for two signs aligns with CHSC’s mission.

“I listened to what they had to say about walking in their community and we scheduled a walking audit … in June 2018,” she said. “We looked at sidewalks, roads, crossings and … parents were very concerned about kids walking to the bus stops, because there are no sidewalks and cars would go very fast. I couldn’t fund new sidewalks … but my grant could fund these speed signs.

“My grant is about trying to encourage people to get out and walk and, to do that, we need to make sure communities are safe, so one of the biggest issues is speed,” Blanchard said. “If we can get people to slow down in residential areas, pedestrians have a greater chance of surviving a crash at lower speeds.”

Sellitti said he considers the signage part of a broader vision for Sidney Center.

“(Speeding) is a problem that a lot of these small towns and hamlets in upstate New York are experiencing, and people get in the mentality that they’re just passing through,” he said. “That’s part of what the larger effort of the improvement group has been for years — putting things in place to show people that something is going on here. We’re working toward making it a nicer, more vibrant place to live … (with) beautification projects and events to get people engaged and have more pride in their community, so that they then support things like this.”

Sellitti said that although the signs are “not a cure-all,” their data-collection features will likely aid law enforcement.

“They have the capability of capturing traffic data (such as) the time, the speed and the frequency at which cars pass,” he said. “That data gets transmitted over cell phone signal to the cloud and is then accessed by the relevant parties and sent directly to the county sheriff’s department where they can then analyze. The signs don’t capture personal information, like license plates, but relevant data so that law enforcement can put people there at times when there are clearly issues with speeding.”

Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said he’s seen the problem persist in Sidney Center. The average number of cars traveling through the hamlet daily, he said, was unknown at the time of the interview.

“There’s been complaints about speeding through the hamlet for a number of years,” he said. “We always try to set up speed details and position deputies during those times, and it works for a percentage of time when people see (drivers) getting stopped, but over time, the problem creeps back up.”

DuMond called the traffic signs “very effective.”

“If we determine that there’s a particular day of the week or hour of the day (for speeding),” he said, “that’s when we’re going to focus our enforcement.

“We generally recommend (this kind of sign) in areas that are prone to speeding,” DuMond said. “They work in other areas. They are effective at slowing people down and that’s what the residents are looking for. There’s a lot of children in Sidney Center and they just want to see people slow down and be more safe.”

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