Making a Historic Village into a Strong Town

Maureen Morgan is a long-time resident of Ossining, New York who has been actively working to slow the cars and make streets safer in her community. Today, she shares a guest article about her efforts.

Albany Post Road aka Route 9 is the large 4-lane road running north-south on the right side of the image. Main Street is the commercial street running diagonally. (Source: Google Maps)

Albany Post Road aka Route 9 is the large 4-lane road running north-south on the right side of the image. Main Street is the commercial street running diagonally. (Source: Google Maps)

Ossining is a two hundred year old town and the first incorporated village in Westchester County, just north of New York City. It's located on the Hudson River and cut through by the Albany Post Road, a legendary roadway that begins as Broadway at the tip of Manhattan, wends its way through the Bronx, then through Sleepy Hollow (the Headless Horseman’s haunt), and finally through the village of Ossining on its way to Albany.

You would never guess the importance of this village as you drive through it; its speedway design discourages any thought of stopping. And currently, there's little to stop for— three nail salons, a lawyer’s office, a sports bar, various take-out food establishments and an empty bank. However, if you veered off the Albany Post Road to venture down Main Street, you would find the Crescent, a row of 19th Century buildings that are listed on the National Register. This is the part of Ossining that escaped the wrecking ball in the early 1980s, when 68 buildings on the main road and half of the buildings on Main Street were taken out in one fell swoop. It was called “Urban Renewal” back then, but as of 2017 there has been no renewal. On Route 9, the old Albany Post Road, there is a 1.3 mile four lane wide stretch through the heart of this old village that does nothing to move more traffic through the corridor while requiring multiple merges as the roadway constantly shifts from four to two, back to four and so on through all the river towns.

There have been two publicly generated campaigns to redesign this stretch of Main Street to match the two lane configuration on either side of the downtown. On both occasions the public became quite enthusiastic about the plan, and the board was favorable. But both projects died anyway.

The first campaign died following the involvement of a consultant. This is where many a project flounders. Here's how it usually goes: after being initiated by the community and local organizations, residents begin to see the merits of the project, and excitement grows. Then a consultant is hired. This professional person or company takes over the project and soon the enthusiastic, involved residents feel like they’re on the sidelines. Support begins to wane. In Ossining’s case, the project just drifted off as soon as the driving force of those who had initially conceived of it had been lost. 

An aerial shot of Albany Post Road (Source: Lael Morgan)

An aerial shot of Albany Post Road (Source: Lael Morgan)

 On the second attempt to return the roadway to its former walkable glory, it was the new mayor who sank the project. In a meeting with a contingent of the DOT in attendance (plus two members of the public who had been deeply involved in developing the project, as well as the mayor and his assistant), everything seemed to be going well. That is, until the DOT said there had to be a study—paid for by the village. Since there had been various studies already, the mayor put his foot down and said the village would not pay for any additional studies.  I wish he hadn’t closed that door in the midst of negotiating.  He might have convinced the DOT that the existing studies would suffice, but as it stands, neither side had the chance to negotiate for that.

Ten years have elapsed from that disappointing day. Now the Ossining Lions Club and the local Chamber of Commerce in Ossining have joined together in the third attempt to change the gateway of our historic village. Meanwhile, the village has come alive with a major residential development on its waterfront. New restaurants and entertainment venues have appeared.

But Highland Avenue (Route 9) remains a sad reminder of the late 80s theory of traffic management, which dictated that a street's only purpose was to move cars along as rapidly as possible. Since the four-lane segment of Main Street is only 1.3 miles long, that plan has been unsuccessful anyway, at least a peak travel times. However, it is successful in allowing vehicles traversing the area at low traffic times to tear through the village at 50 mph. The crash rate attests to the danger of this traffic design. We need to be reminded that we are all pedestrians when we get out of our car.

Because this portion of Route 9 is under-developed and not bringing in the usual property taxes and potential sales taxes, the residential tax base must make up for the shortfall in revenue – hence, the residential tax rate in this village is excessively high.

The changes made to Route 9 represent a prime example of how not to modernize historic communities. To be sure, some improvements need to be made, but they must be made considering the needs of people on foot as well as in cars. An example: Crosswalks need to be installed where pedestrians want to cross. Currently, mothers with strollers can be seen crossing in between four lanes of stopped vehicles on Route 9 because the painted crosswalk is inconvenient and does not consider where people actually want to go.

What should be done? I think the roadway needs to be returned to its historic configuration — two lanes but with the addition of a turn lane throughout. With the return to the original configuration, we'll regain countless curb parking spots, worth lots of money these days since building a parking structure can cost $30,000 per parking space. This proposed redesign in Ossining addresses the needs of people and cars, and I'm hopeful that this time we can make it happen.

Related stories

About the Author

Maureen Morgan was a musician in her professional life but since retirement has become deeply involved in transportation issues as they affect a community. She successfully led the campaign to stop an HOV lane on I-287 through Westchester County. She has been involved in the Ossining traffic calming project since 1999.  A resident of Ossining for thirty years, she lives one house away from Route 9.