McKownville Improvement Association
- 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.
        Avenue view to west into McKownville 1978
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 cents/gallon.

detail from Western Avenue view 1978

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 lights
signs at
        Albany City line on Central Avenue 1930
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.

      side of Western Avenue 1963 at the Albany City line
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 30.

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 supervisor.
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 means.
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. 

Street lighting
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 Town.
1946 - 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.

Public transport
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 McKownville
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