Covering a 2,200-mile cross section of the United States, US Route 62 runs right through the historic center of the Village of Hamburg, New York. The route functions as the Main Street and public bus route of the village, and is regularly used by motorists, trucks, pedestrians, school buses, and bicyclists. Historically, significant crashes were common at intersections along the route, with one study recording two fatal collisions in the village in as many years. The Village of Hamburg also suffered a seven percent loss of population in the 2000s, and the village center merchants were struggling economically as facades from the 1960’s and 1970’s deteriorated with age.
In the early 2000s, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) had initially proposed rebuilding Route 62 to respond to concerns about future traffic congestion. The plan proposed adding crosswalks at intersections, while simultaneously widening travel lanes, reducing on-street parking, and adding a turn lane, for a total of three lanes. Concerned about these potential outcomes, the people of the Village of Hamburg worked with the NYSDOT to implement traffic calming measures instead.
John S. Thomas, mayor of Hamburg at the time, invited Florida-based walkability expert Dan Burden to lead a design charrette to envision an alternative plan, which proposed traffic calming elements such as roundabouts. As the people rallied and worked with the NYSDOT, their interests were represented through the formation of the Route 62 Committee, which included citizens, business leaders, and officials. During the Village’s vote on the two plans, the traffic-calming alternative won the majority vote (4-1).
NYSDOT built the traffic-calming alternative, which employed four roundabouts at the major intersections of the thoroughfare. The roundabouts have slowed traffic, decreased delays and congestion—and still allow for expedient movement of 500–600 heavy freight trucks a day. Colored buffer lanes help narrow the travel lanes and separate moving vehicles from parked cars. Other improvements included mid-block pedestrian crossings, additional on-street parking, and street trees. Concurrently with the project construction, the state invested in facade improvements to replace the deteriorating facades along the corridor, and the village adjusted its zoning laws to encourage the development of more engaging storefronts along the street.
All these changes have contributed to a more pedestrian-friendly experience that encourages street life along the corridor. So far, the colored buffers have been identified as one of the most successful elements of the project, as they effectively narrow the travel lanes and encourage users to park closer to the curb. Bicyclists use the buffer space as well.
Completed in 2009, the project has resulted in a 60% decrease in crashes and 90% decrease in serious injuries. Unexpected by the State, the project has also catalyzed far-reaching social and economic benefits for the village, which has seen a steady increase in population and public programming. These include a farmer’s market, outdoor movie nights, garden walks, a street music festival and other events. The high level of commitment among residents has made all the difference in this project—the landscaping of the new town center has been solely maintained by village volunteers.
The Hamburg project is a prime example of how grassroots community engagement can result in unique and effective solutions to unique local issues. The project also demonstrates how the right thoroughfare design can effectively address transportation, social, and economic issues. In 2010, Hamburg was recognized with an America’s Transportation Award in the Northeast Regional Competition, and has been cited as a model for collaboration.
"Our entire village is transformed. Not a day goes by in my store I don’t hear about how everyone loves our village. This project fulfilled every expectation and then some."
— Laura Hackathorn, Village Trustee (Institute of Transportation Engineers report)
"This project has the potential to have far-reaching and positive effects on the quality of life for village residents."
— NYSDOT (Institute of Transportation Engineers report)