Saturday, November 29, 2008

US 20 in New York: Truck Protest in Skaneateles

Here is a news story about a truck protest, which took place on US Route 20 yesterday in Skaneateles, New York. US 20 is called Genesee Street in Skaneateles, and the city is on one of the Finger Lakes, west of Syracuse.

A video of the protest can be found here.

Parade of trucks draws big crowd
By Christopher Caskey / The Citizen Friday, November 28, 2008 11:44 PM EST

SKANEATELES - Hundreds of people lined Genesee Street in the village of Skaneateles early Friday afternoon to watch a parade. Some of them held signs, and some of them waved American flags. Many of them just stood on the sidewalk and gazed west, waiting to catch the first glimpse of the caravan.

The crowds descended upon Skaneateles to watch a parade of trucks rumble and honk along Route 20. The caravan was organized as a statement of protest against a proposed set of state regulations that would keep truckers from using certain rural, upstate routes as shortcuts.

Approximately 150 to 200 tractor trailers and diesel trucks drove in line from Waterloo through Skaneateles as part of the rally. The first trucks started rolling through the village at 12:45 p.m., and the parade lasted approximately 30 minutes.

The protest was staged on the same day as the kickoff for the Dickens Christmas, a village-wide festival that lasts through the holidays and is a popular event for both locals and out-of-towners.

Many of the spectators lining the street came in support of truckers, raising signs of encouragement and cheering as the drivers slowly ambled through town, one after another.

“It was a great sight to see when we came into the town,” Vincent Gramuglia, who has claimed to be one of the organizers, said after the rally. “I think it was a great success.”

Gramuglia is part of the Mohawk Valley Chapter of Truckers and Citizens United, the organization that staged the event. According to the group, the point of the rally was to protest regulations proposed by Governor David Paterson and the Department of Transportation to keep heavy trucks off of many rural roads.

The convoy proceeded along Route 20 for much of the way, though Route 20 is not restricted by the regulations. But many of the organizers have pointed to the village of Skaneateles as a symbol of anti-trucker sentiment.

Gramuglia clarified Friday that the organization does not have anything against the people of Skaneateles. It's the “small group of people” who are trying to dictate what goes on in the village, he said.

That “small group” is the Upstate New York Safety Coalition Task Force, a collection of regional residents and officials who rallied for the regulations. The coalition has contended that the trucks lessen the quality of life, wear down the region's infrastructure and create environmental hazards.

But truckers like Gramuglia say they are being unfairly targeted and that they have a right to use the public roads. The regulations would financially hurt the trucking industry, and that economic pain would pass onto consumers, Gramuglia said.

“We would like to try and sit down at a round table and and discuss this situation before it gets more out of hand,” said Gramuglia, who added that industry representatives are meeting with state officials next week in Albany to discuss the proposal.

David Card, of Skaneateles, also participated in the convoy. An owner of a trucking company himself, Card said it's time that people stop trying to take rights away from others.

People talk about keeping trucks on the Thruway, Card said. But if that happens, higher fuel costs and tolls will be more local and non-local companies can handle, he said.

“If we lose this, what's next?” asked Card, who said he knew of at least 25 or 30 local truckers who participated Friday. “These roads are paid for by people like myself.”

Spectators come to show support, concerns

While the day's main spectacle was the afternoon caravan, the streets were crowded by late morning. Some people formed clusters on corners and along sidewalks to claim a spot for watching the demonstration. Some meandered in and out of shops.

At noon, a crowd formed around the Sherwood Inn as the Dickens characters announced the start of the festival and sang Christmas carols.

Erica Leubaner, of Marietta, stood with a group of about 10 friends and family members to support the truckers' cause. As dairy farmers, Leubaner said her family depends on trucking in the area. Any rules that affect the trucking industry negatively will affect her family business in the same way, she said

Leubaner added that the first day of the Dickens festival was the perfect time to hold a rally.

“Any time people want to make a statement, they have to capitalize on a time when there's going to be a captive audience,” she said.

Skaneateles resident Jim Lanning was also there to support the truckers. He stood on the side of Genesee Street carrying a “Welcome” sign.

A truck driver himself, Lanning said local officials have been “harassing” local truckers for some time. This is ironic, he continued, considering all of the local merchants get their goods through commercial trucking.

“I think we can all get along together in harmony if we try,” Lanning said.

Not all the spectators were against the tighter restrictions, though. Skaneateles residents. J.D. and Darlene Lawson both raised signs imploring truckers to keep off routes 41 and 41 A.

The Lawsons live on Route 41, they said, and the trucks often come speeding down the road without much regard for the residents.

“That's a county road, not a state highway,” J.D. Lawson said.

He also said it was “disrespectful” of the trucking organization to hold the rally on the first day of the Dickens festival.

Skaneateles resident Bob Werner stood next to the road to watch the trucks. Events like these don't happen in the village every day, he said.

However, Werner said he understands the issues raised by local residents over the safety and environmental effects from heavy truck use in the area.

“Sometimes (the trucks) will tip over, and that can be a major concern,” Werner said.

Very few incidents, local officials say

Despite the large crowds and dissenting viewpoints, the trucks came and went with very few incidents. After the convoy passed through Skaneateles Police Chief Lloyd Perkins said that multiple New York State Police and Onondaga County Sheriff's officials were present in and around the village.

The truckers have a right to use the roads and a right to protest, Perkins said. The elevated force, he continued, was present to maintain public safety.

“I think it was very smooth,” sad Perkins. “I know that 99.9 percent of these truckers are great people.”

However, law enforcement did intervene a bit before the convoy reached Skaneateles. According to the state police, troopers in Auburn arrested John Cardinell, 69, of Weedsport and charged him with disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.

Cardinell was one of the truckers in the convoy, according to the state police, though no police officials were available Friday evening for further comment.

State police in Auburn also gave out three other tickets when drivers stopped their rigs in the driving lanes and held up traffic.

After the event, Skaneateles Mayor Bob Green described the rally as a “peaceful” demonstration. Green said he hoped the increased foot traffic benefited local merchants and gave the village's annual holiday festivities some added publicity.

“I hope they feel like they accomplished something,” said Green, who noted that he thinks the truckers' issues should be taken up with officials in Albany, not Skaneateles.

“I do think their focus could have been better utilized finding solutions instead of spending a day and using fuel for a demonstration.”

An active participant in the Upstate New York Safety Coalition Task Force, Green said he expects the group to continue their efforts to restrict heavy truck traffic on rural, upstate routes.

In fact, coalition members met with officials in Albany two weeks ago to discuss the regulations, he said.

“After today's display, I think the coalition will become larger and louder,” Green said.

The US Route 20 Blog homepage can be found here.

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