- later history of Western Avenue and Route 20
in McKownville, from 1925
The major highway of Western Avenue (US Route 20 since
1925), slices the McKownville neighborhood in two. The McKownville
Improvement Association has since its founding in 1924 frequently
attempted to promote changes to mitigate the effects on the
neighborhood of this highway. Before 1941, the highway in
McKownville consisted of two lanes, overall just 18 feet wide, paved
with brick. Construction in 1940-41 widened the highway to four
lanes each ten feet wide, paved with concrete. This four-lane
widened section, as now, only extended 6 miles west to McCormacks
Corners (the Carman Road, Route 146 intersection). Some further
increment of widening must have occurred later; by 1978, the travel
lanes were 11 feet wide, shoulders 6 feet wide existed on both
sides, and the whole width asphalted.
After 1945, extensive development of housing in former farmland and
forest areas to the west in Guilderland created large increases in
daily commuter traffic through McKownville. Although the opening of
the New York Thruway in 1953 removed a large fraction of the
long-distance truck traffic, the fact that the Thruway was (and is)
a toll road, and that there is no convenient access to it from most
parts of Guilderland, resulted in much of the growth in commuter
traffic, from housing developments farther west, to pass through
McKownville on its way to and from the City of Albany. Daily traffic
volumes in recent times are upward of 20,000 vehicles per day in
this section of Route 20.
View west along Western Avenue into McKownville from east
of Upper Hillcrest Avenue intersection. Times-Union staff photo
taken May 1978.
As now, McKownville is entirely residental on the north side of
the highway from this point to near the Fuller Road corner.
Speed limit was 40, the same as today; gas at the Citgo was 60
Road conditions and widening of Western Avenue
The Association started discussing the widening of Western Avenue in
1933, prompted initially in part by the desire to install a sidewalk
on the south side of the road. A petition was circulated to support
the widening, but the State Highway Dept declined to approve the
sidewalk before they finished plans for the widening of the road,
and those plans were indefinitely delayed. In the later 1930’s, a
movement to widen Western Avenue to accommodate four lanes of
traffic became supported by a number of groups, particularly because
it was the main direct route out of Albany to the west, and traffic
congestion on the narrow
two lane road often had become very bad (average traffic count
in 1939 - 5,755 vehicles/day). In 1940 the Association submitted
petitions to support the widening of Western Avenue from the
Albany city line west to Duanesburg (reports in April 1940
Altamont Enterprise). That year New York State finally
acquired the United Traction Co. right of way of the southern part
of Western Avenue, and construction to widen it from two to four
lanes was completed by mid-1941.
The NY DOT repaved the road in 1976 and made plans in 1976-78 to
widen it beyond four lanes from the Albany city line to Route 155; opposition
by residents and the
Association was effective in helping to prevent this further
widening being done in McKownville east of Fuller Road.
A substantial refurbishment and improvement of Western Avenue in
McKownville occurred in 2006-2009, supported by the Association,
with new curbing and sidewalks installed on both sides of the
highway, repaving of the whole road, properly marked bike lanes, and
installation of pedestrian controlled traffic lights and marked
crosswalks at the University entrance, the Fire Department, McKown
Road, Parkwood Street, Fuller Road and Schoolhouse Road.
Traffic and pedestrian safety - speed limits and traffic
In August 1934 the Association requested
state troopers patrol Western Avenue to provide relief from
speeding traffic on Western Avenue, and met with an excuse (Nov.
1934) that inadequate staffing was available to enforce the law; in
November 1935 a note was made saying that state
troopers will patrol. At this time, the City of Albany posted
a speed limit of 20 mph for highways, including Western Avenue, and
Central Avenue (shown in the picture taken in 1930).
When Western Avenue from the Albany city line was widened to four
lanes in 1940-41, it appears no speed limit was imposed, which
resulted immediately in reckless driving and increased numbers of
crashes, deaths and injuries. A petition lead by
McKownville residents in September 1941 requested the Governor
and State police chief to impose and enforce speed limits, and to
install traffic lights at major intersections.
The response in December 1941 (Altamont Enterprise
report) was to impose limits of 35 mph from the city line to
Johnston Road, and 40 mph west of there, and to assign one trooper
to patrol the highway. No traffic lights were provided.
Repeated requests in 1949-51 by the McKownville Improvement
Association to have a traffic light put in at the Fuller
Road-Western Avenue intersection were each met with bland statements
from the State Highway Department that it was not justified, on the
basis of their opinion of the traffic conditions. The traffic light,
the first on the highway west of the Albany City line, was finally
installed in mid-1951.
At the meeting of Nov. 20, 1951 the Association decided to request
installation of a traffic light at Western Avenue and Norwood Street
as well as a stop light at Arcadia Ave. for the benefit of the Fire
Dept. This request was unsuccessful.
By March 1963 a photo of Western Avenue taken looking west
from the Albany city line shows the speed limit on this
McKownville section had been increased to 40 mph; another photo
taken at that same time (clip to the left) shows the speed limit in
Albany across the City line was 25 mph; later this was increased to
In January 1964 a child living on Ayre Drive was killed crossing
Western Avenue. A prompt request
from the Town supervisor to the NY DOT to install a traffic
light at McKown Road and reduce the speed limit to 30 on Western
Avenue in McKownville was rejected
eight months later by the State Traffic Commission. A traffic
light at the McKown Road intersection was however installed in 1965.
In 1979, when the pole for the traffic light at the McKown
Road intersection was damaged by a car running into it, the State
Highway Department removed
the light not intending to replace it. The DOT reinstalled the
light only after a substantial protest by
residents, by the Association,
and the Town
Thereafter, it took a long time, till 2009, to obtain additional
traffic lights and crosswalks, at the firehouse, and at the Parkwood
Street intersection. The speed limit remains unchanged at 40 mph;
multiple efforts by the Association to have it reduced to 30 were
all unsuccessful, despite the road having had such a limit
immediately across the Albany city line since the 1960's.
In June 1926 the Association approved a recommendation for
installation of a sidewalk on the north side of Western Avenue from
the city line westward to the end of the existing sidewalk at
Knowles Terrace. In April 1933 permission was requested from the
State of New York to put in this sidewalk. In 1935 the permission
was obtained, but the cost of this project proved beyond available
During 1932, a petition for a sidewalk on the south side of Western
Avenue was not successful in securing the required number of
signatures. In 1941, the Association put forward a plan to be
presented at a public meeting for new sidewalks on both sides of
Western Avenue from the Albany city line to Fuller Road, and
Schoolhouse Road; this also appears to have found insufficient
support from residents.
The discontinuous and poorly repaired sidewalks on Western Avenue
remained until the Association from 2002 made a determined push to
get the sidewalks improved. Funds were obtained by County and State
representatives, and new sidewalks and proper curbs installed,
completed in 2009.
A public hearing was held 17 May 1927 by the Town to
establish the McKownville lighting district, after a petition was
submitted from McKownville residents, organized in 1926 by the
Association. Ten lights were installed along Western Avenue.
In 1932 it was reported that there were 17 lights in the district; a
motion to increase the brightness (to 250cp - candlepower) of those
on Western Avenue did not pass. In November 1935, an Association
resolution to substitute 250cp for 100cp bulbs in ten lights on
Western Avenue was passed, and these were promptly installed by the
A map of the McKownville Lighting District after its expansion
to cover streets west of Fuller Road, showing the location and
brightness of the lights then installed.
In January 1955 a letter was sent by the Association to
the Town Board requesting better lighting on Western Avenue
following the deaths of several pedestrians on the highway. A photo
taken in the later 1960's near Upper Hillcrest Avenue shows that
better lights (those still in place in 2022) had been put in
by that time.
One of the first issues the Improvement Association took up was the
provision of public transport, when in 1925 the United Traction
Company removed trolley service beyond the Madison Avenue - Western
Avenue intersection in the City of Albany. A bus service was
substituted, terminating at the Albany City line on Western Avenue,
the same place where the former Pine Hills-Country Club
(#4) trolley line ended. The Association organized a
neighborhood petition, signed by 190 residents, submitted to the
State Public Service Commission in June 1925. It requested the
granting of a franchise to the Capital District Transportation
Commission (which appears to have been an offshoot of the United
Traction Co) to extend their bus service to the Fuller Road
intersection. This request was successful, with the bus turn-around
located on the south side of Western Avenue in the yard of Ebel's
tavern, where it remained until 1950.
In October 1945 the Association circulated a petition to have all
night bus service provided by United Traction Co., who made a survey
and reported an insufficient demand to justify such a service (a
less formal request for all-night service had first been made in
1933, also unsuccessful).
During September and October 1949 special meetings were held on the
United Traction Company's proposal to cut the Western Avenue route
back to the City line or even to Russell Road. There was a large
attendance by Association members at a hearing in 1950 held by the
Public Service Corporation in the State Office Building in Albany.
The result was that the route was retained intact. In 1950, the bus
turn-around was moved across the road to the then vacant lots at the
eastern corner of Western Avenue and Fuller Road.
A petition was also presented to the Public Service Corporation for
bus service on Fuller Road. At the Association meeting of Sept 18,
1951 it was announced that United Traction Company intended to
operate a bus along Fuller Road for school children.
Discussion at the March 18, 1953 Association meeting resulted in a
letter sent to United Traction Co. asking for Western Avenue bus
service to be restored to previous schedules; the result of this
request was not recorded.
The Association records after 1954 do not reveal bus service being a
major concern, but these records are not complete.
The United Traction Company was one of several financially
struggling bus companies incorporated into the Capital District
Transportation Authority on the formation of the CDTA in 1970.
Bus service on Western Avenue to downtown Albany from McKownville (route
#10) has been maintained by the CDTA since that time, and is
still one of the important features that make the residential
neighborhood of McKownville a convenient and desirable place to
live. One welcome feature of the improvements to Western Avenue in
2006-9 was the installation of bus shelters at some stops. CDTA
representatives presented at Association meetings (in 2010, and in 2015) the
plans for future Western Avenue bus service.
Great Western Turnpike and
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