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Costco: Gridlock Alert

If Costco gets built, it's a given: a huge increse in traffic on our already over-burdened roads.

It’s time to talk about traffic. And not a moment too soon – I don’t know how many of you had the misfortune to have chosen 202 to get around town this past weekend. Bumper to bumper, stop and go, inching along. To call it glacial would be generous – at least glaciers move. And what about the main intersection downtown? The wait at the light seems already so long – especially when it’s out of sight down the hill.

When it comes to Costco, traffic is the heart of the matter. All the other drawbacks – environmental and social – can be debated. But traffic can’t: the present reality is a road system that is already strained to the limit – or already past it, you might well think as you inch along mile after excruciatingly slow mile.

That Costco will add a deluge of new traffic is admitted by everyone. Even the developers. In the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Planning Board is right now reviewing, they admit to some pretty sobering numbers. By their own projections an additional 758 cars an hour will be dumped onto route 202. But in reality we can expect much more: experience has shown that a superstore typically generates 42% more traffic than the rate listed in the manual they used (the Trip Generation manual issued by the Institute of Traffic Engineers).

That’s over a thousand more cars an hour. But hang on: that’s an average for all the hours that Costco is open.  What matters to all of us is how many cars are going to be on our roads during the peak hours. Saturday, for example. When there are ball games at all the fields on 202-35. When, as this past weekend, it’s apple-picking time. Or to spend a glorious afternoon outdoors, at the FDR Park.

And the projections in the DEIS are more misleading than that. They don’t seem to include the extra traffic for that interstate-sized gas station, for one. And what about the trucks? It will take a constant parade of tanker trucks and semi-trailers to refuel and resupply the store. Unlike the automobiles, the Taconic isn’t an option – which means they’ll have to trundle along either the clogged 202 artery from Peekskill, or – much more likely – across 202-35 from Katonah. Through the middle of town, with a yield sign at an already overburdened intersection. Which means a cold start uphill into traffic. Just a detail? Not if you’ve had to sit behind one of those big rigs as the poor guy tries to inch into traffic and slowly gear up. Before coming to a crashing halt right up the hill at Baldwin Road – or the police station, just a bit further along. Or the school.

Except for a very few short distances, all of our town’s roads are two lane – and, according to what the town has been told by the State, they’re going to stay that way. Even that stretch of 35-202. There are vague plans to ‘improve’ it – trees, a turning lane – but it will remain a two lane road. If the state ever gets the money, they’re going to devote it to the long-term plan to finish the extension of the Bear Mountain Parkway to the Taconic. We’re told Costco is promising to upgrade the roads: a million dollars or so. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But apparently when it comes to roads, it doesn’t go that far: a few hundred yards, in fact. A new intersection at the Costco store, access ramps to the Taconic, four lanes. Yes, it will greatly ease the flow from the Taconic.

But what about all those other people who will be flocking to the superstore from across county east of us? Katonah, Bedford, Purdy’s, Mt. Kisco, Golden’s Bridge, 684, the Saw Mill – there’s a lot of people living over there, and they have only one route to get to Costco: 35-202. And that road is already a nightmare, as anyone knows who’s tried to make a left turn from the Post Office or the Urgent Care office building, or out of the A&P shopping center.

Yes, it’s true: you can always go the other way. If you’re local, we all know other routes. But traffic, as any engineer will tell you, is exactly like atherosclerosis. As the main arteries get clogged, traffic seeks out other routes, very quickly overloading side roads that never envisioned that kind of heavy use. You might think that since you don’t live next to 202, or 35, or 100, no problem. But just think of all your fellow townspeople taking those shortcuts – and if you don’t live on a dead end street, chances are good they’ll be going by your house. And out-of-towners, too: these days everybody has a GPS. And they’re all going to be going really fast because they’ve been sitting in a traffic jam and forced to take a detour they’re not familiar with. Don’t think so? Just ask the people who live on Hallocks Mill Road. And the traffic mitigation for them? A speed bump.

As I said, we can debate all the other aspects of Costco, but not the traffic. If that thing is built, the cars and trucks will come. It’s a given, and it will be an unmitigated disaster. Literally: even just using their rosy projections for autos, and then adding all the trucks, the future with Costco is a huge increase in traffic. But our roads are already carrying more than they can bear. It’s simple math, really: more traffic, more roads. That’s the tried and true way things were done – last century. But all that we’ll be able to do, once that behemoth on the hill is a reality, is do what we’ve always been forced to do in the past: make it work. And the only way to do that, if we’re being honest, is to extend the expansion of 35 all the way from Route 100 to the Bear Mountain Parkway. Four lanes and a huge new intersection in the middle of town.

This is not just a concern for the Planning Board. Where is our Town Board? Why the deafening silence? This is a matter of critical importance to the residents of Yorktown, and the businesses that depend not just on us but people from out of town coming here to shop, eat at our restaurants, use our parks and amenities.

I, for one, would very much like to hear in detail how they plan on handling all this traffic and the congestion that threatens to swamp us. Not vague talk: real plans.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bill September 27, 2012 at 05:36 PM
You ignore the fact that there are 6 lanes underneath that Taconic overpass and most of them are not being used but clearly could be. The state has done nothing to improve traffic on 202 and here we have a proposal offering to give millions of dollars towards improving it. It's not like this is a road that the state has tried to fixed and has been unable to. It's a single lane road that improvements can easily be made to in order to alleviate the traffic. It is not Route 6 thru Mohegan where you have retail on both sides of the street and it cannot be widened. And I'll give you another voting outcome. I will vote against anyone who votes against Costco. So will others.
Scott Petricig September 27, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I have to say that even though Costco may not be the best fit for the area, and the environmental concerns may be real, the traffic issue seems way overblown. This is ONE store, and most people will likely be doing shopping there in the middle of the day, or after rush hour, or on weekends. Personally, I wouldn't be stopping by there on my way home from work (if I were to join the store at all). The 750 cars per hour is a worst-case count, right? This means at the peak shopping time. Not all day long. I don't think it would be any better if a dozen stores, offices, and maybe residential housing went in that location. It would probably be worse. Look at the Cortlandt Town Center. Sure, the traffic there sucks. But it's only in the vicinity of the CTC and only during the peak hours. And there are dozens of stores there! Traffic going up the Route 6 hill has been horrible ever since I was born, and back then it was the Westchester Mall and didn't get half as many shoppers. I think the real issue at hand is that Route 202 NEEDS IMPROVEMENTS. This needs to be what people are fighting for. Development is going to happen, one way or another, and regardless of what it is it's going to add traffic. Costco is not going to be the death of Yorktown.
Bill September 27, 2012 at 06:13 PM
That is correct, the additional number of cars on weekdays when traffic is really bad would be much lower than on weekends when it is not overloaded. And the amusing thing to me is that the office complex that is currently in the comprehensive plan for that location (which the "smart growth" people tell us is great) would generate most of its traffic during the time when traffic is at its worst -- during rush hours! How could such a thing have been approved in the plan if it was as well thought out as we're lead to believe? It does not sound very smart to me! Also, remember that all of the dire predictions ignore the improvements that will be made because Costco is funding them.
Ralph Warren September 28, 2012 at 02:23 PM
I also have problems with the estimate of cars. Assuming a car is a customer, 1000 cars in an hour would mean that Costco would have 20 cashiers each processing 50 customers in an hour. That couldn't happen even if each customer had only 1 item. 600 an hour means 10 cashiers would process 1 per minute, 20 cashiers would process 2 per minute. Crazy numbers. Don't let Costco in unless the roads are improved. But with improvements, even with Costco, we may be better off than today.
Bill September 28, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Correct, Ralph. The numbers do not pass the "sniff test" (to use a technical term). Even at 600, it's 10 cars entering an leaving every minute, and 10 customers entering and leaving every minute. There's no way that makes sense. I believe that best case the numbers are counting trips, so 600 would actually be 300 coming and going. Based on other posts here and in other threads, I am sure the numbers are being used to cast the most unflattering light on the project.

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