By DANIEL KITTREDGE Should Rolfe Square be made a northbound one-way street? An ordinance amendment seeking to institute that change was continued, pending completion of a traffic study, during last week's meeting of the City Council's Ordinance
Should Rolfe Square be made a northbound one-way street?
An ordinance amendment seeking to institute that change was continued, pending completion of a traffic study, during last week’s meeting of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee.
It appears highly unlikely that city officials will ultimately back the move. The administration of Mayor Ken Hopkins, representatives of the city’s Police and Fire departments, and several members of the council all voiced opposition, citing concerns over emergency response times and the impact of the one-way shift on Rolfe Square businesses.
But the consideration of the measure, and the decision to delay any action on it, has led to a new back-and-forth between the council and mayor.
Hopkins, ahead of the Ordinance Committee’s meeting, issued a statement calling on council members to reject the one-way proposal for Rolfe Square.
Following the vote, he issued another statement indicating he was “disappointed” in the decision to continue the matter. The mayor rejected the argument from members of the council that the city’s charter requires completion of a traffic report – and mandates a two-month window be provided for that process – prior to action on a proposal like the Rolfe Square ordinance. The provision of the charter the council cites, the mayor asserts, requires a report only before adoption of a traffic ordinance, not rejection of one.
“A bad idea in June will still be a bad idea in September,” the mayor said.
His statement continues: “The city’s top public safety leaders urged defeat of the ordinance out of legitimate concerns for delays to emergency response time by the routing of police and fire apparatus through more indirect alternative routes. When a resident on Bryant Road is having a heart attack, seconds count and families want emergency cardiac care as soon as possible. If there is a fire in South Auburn, any delay could mean the difference between saving a life or a family’s home and cherished possessions.”
On Tuesday, Council President Chris Paplauskas responded.
“The mayor’s statement on the Rolfe Square vote is full of hyperbole,” he said. “I am against the Rolfe Square one-way, but the charter is clear. We must allow time for the traffic engineer to give a report back to the council. We are six months into the mayor’s administration, and they either don’t understand the rules we have to follow, or are trying to make up their own rules. The council must be allowed to follow the legal requirements set forth in the charter we all took an oath to uphold.”
The city’s charter includes this language regarding traffic-related ordinances: “No ordinance shall be adopted by the council and no rule, regulation or order shall be made except a temporary regulation or order to cover a particular emergency, unless a report has been made previously on the matter by the bureau of traffic safety or unless it shall have been referred to the said bureau for at least sixty days without action by the bureau.”
The Rolfe Square one-way proposal is sponsored by Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain, who represents the area. During last week’s discussion, she said she decided to pursue the change based on feedback from constituents and concern over safety on Rolfe Square.
The one-way designation, she said, would “transform this neighborhood into a people-friendly and safe destination.” At one point, she held up several business cards she said she had collected from local business owners supportive of the change.
“This ordinance is about making sure that our elders and children, families, can be no longer afraid of driving or taking a walk to Rolfe Square … It is about easing the traffic for a more friendly and safer Rolfe Square,” she said.
Germain also cited the March incident on Aqueduct Road in which a woman walking her dog was struck and killed by a vehicle, saying she wants to avoid “another tragedy” involving pedestrians in the city. Police have called the incident a “tragic accident,” and no charges were filed against the driver.
Others took a sharply different stance on the Rolfe Square proposal.
Fire Chief James Warren and Police Maj. Todd Patalano both expressed concern over the impact the change would have for response times in emergencies.
“It would greatly impede our response times, and as you know, seconds count for the Police Department,” Patalano told council members. He also questioned the need for one-way traffic on Rolfe Square, based on the department’s data.
“We don’t see any problem [on the street], and we’d be highly opposed to [the change],” he said.
Franklin Paulino, the city’s director of economic development, also spoke in opposition to the one-way proposal. He said he, too, had spoken with business owners in the area, and they were opposed to the change due to concerns over “losing visibility.”
“They’re coming out of the pandemic, and they’d be losing a lot of business and a lot of clients,” he said.
Anthony Moretti, Hopkins’s chief of staff, also addressed the committee, suggesting that the recent improvements made to Rolfe Square – including the planting of new trees and installation of new lighting and sidewalks – have boosted pedestrian safety.
“Not only are the improvements beautiful, but we feel that there’s been improved safety,” he said.
During the council’s discussion, Citywide Councilman Robert Ferri said he had received three calls from Rolfe Square business owners, all in “vehemently” opposed to the one-way proposal. He rejected the idea that instituting a new traffic pattern would curb speeding in the area.
“I’m not saying there isn’t a speeding problem on Rolfe Street … Speeding is a problem in every city in America,” Ferri said, urging that “far deeper thought” be given to the ordinance amendment. He also suggested alternative traffic calming measures and pedestrian-friendly enhancements could be pursued.
Paplauskas during the meeting said he agreed with the assessment of public safety officials and would oppose the change.
He added, addressing Germain: “I certainly appreciate and understand how hard you’re working to make Rolfe Square better and make improvements.”
Citywide Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli also spoke in opposition to the change, saying Rolfe Square is “filled with business that needs two-way traffic to thrive. She also cited the opposition of public safety personnel.
She then inquired about the lack of a traffic study, saying the council would do a “disservice” by voting on the matter without the traffic engineer’s feedback. She inquired with Department of Public Works Director Ken Mason, who cited the 60-day traffic report window in the charter while acknowledging it is “routinely ignored.”
“I don’t feel comfortable, while I have my own opinion on it, voting on this without that done, because we’re going against the charter,” she said. “We’re council people, we’re listening to professionals.”
She added: “I appreciate councilwoman Germain’s commitment to always work for her constituents and trying to make things safe.”
Council Vice President Ed Brady of Ward 4 also thanked Germain for bringing the matter forward – calling it “forward thinking” – although he indicated he would oppose the one-way change.
Ward 6 Councilman Matthew Reilly was the sole member of the committee to vote against continuing the Rolfe Square proposal until September, echoing Hopkins in questioning whether the additional time would change anything.
He did describe the one-way proposal as an “innovative idea.” He also said he agreed with Renzulli regarding the need for “more concrete rules” in terms of how traffic-related proposals are considered, although he viewed the Rolfe Square one-way as a “unique case.”
“We just need to have a process and do things the right way each time,” he said.
On Tuesday, shortly before the Herald’s press time, Reilly issued a statement announcing a press conference with Hopkins to be held Wednesday afternoon at the intersection of Park Avenue and Rolfe Square.
In the statement, Reilly calls the proposed one-way change for the street a “dangerous move by Councilwoman Germain.”
“While Mayor Hopkins, his administration, and dedicated city staff worked tirelessly on the Rolfe Square Revitalization, Councilwoman Germain is working hard to tear it down and sabotage the Mayor’s efforts at beautifying Rolfe Square,” the statement reads. “That is why I will stand with Mayor Hopkins and anyone else that wants to protect our businesses and keep our citizens safe.”
The Ordinance Committee last week also continued three other traffic-related ordinance amendments to provide time for traffic reports. One, sponsored by Germain, would add language to the city’s code regarding electronic crossing signals. Another, also sponsored by Germain, would place a “no truck entrance” sign from Reservoir Avenue onto Aqueduct Road. The third, sponsored by Paplauskas, seeks new “no parking” areas along Village Avenue.