HAMILTON: Extravagant Roadside Memorials Are Dangerous and Must Go

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By: Ken Hamilton


An infectious smile, a rescuer of small animals, he’s someone who lost his life while loving the same.  That’s how two of Tommy Burket’s personal friends described the 23-year old man to me. How could your heart not go out to girlfriend Ashlyn Allen for her loss of such a wonderful guy? Burket was killed Sunday, August 25th, 2019 in a motorcycle collision on Pine Avenue near Packard Court – just several yards from where a year earlier on April 11th, 55-year-old Alvin King was the victim of a hit and run.

 However, King languished and died at Erie County Medical Center some 5 months later. His family still feels the sting of their loss, but the simple memorial to King is a living one that resides in the red rose petals of their hearts and in the lilies of their memories; seemingly nothing compared to the one that Ashlyn has erected in memory of her Tommy. While Ashlyn’s is physically larger and   more extravagant than  the gentle one of King’s, hers is one that is more likely to cause another family to lose a loved one in that very same spot as yet another driver hurls  through a red light  and hits an automobile – possibly with babies in it – as that driver is distracted by Burket’s behemoth of  bereavement. 

 While any such roadside memorials are a distraction to drivers, extravagant roadside memorials are dangerous and they must go. How much worse will Ashlyn feel, and how little honored would the spirit of Tommy be, not if, but when such a catastrophe occurs because of it?

 The Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council’s management system measures traffic counts in Erie and Niagara County.  Their 2013 data shows that the short westbound stretch of Pine Avenue, where the Chevy Suburban reportedly went through the red light at the intersection where it crisscrosses the eastbound lane of Pine Avenue, through which Burket was riding his motorcycle, is the 3rd busiest stretch of road in the city. It has an annual average of daily traffic numbering 24,000 vehicles.

 The Niagara Expressway’s 2011 data barely doubles that at 56,000 vehicles; and the traffic that stream by TOPS International on Niagara Falls Blvd comes in 2nd at 27,000 vehicles.

 But both the I-190 and the area at the 56th Street bridge is better designed and safer than the area in front of Packard Court. There is nowhere on those two roads that they cross themselves.

 As you can see, aside from the broadness of Niagara Falls Blvd and the distances between dedicated pedestrian crossings in the LaSalle section of town, there is no street more dangerous than the one in front of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority’s Packard Court, where the pedestrian King, and motorcyclist Burket, both lost their lives.

 Burket’s monumental and ever-changing memorial is more apt to increase the chances of another unfortunate death than it is to save even one life.

 It’s time for the city to see that it is properly and safely dismantled.

 Nonetheless, my heart still goes out to Ashlyn – all while not wanting her heart to be broken by, in essence, needlessly causing yet another death.


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