ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — After two pedestrian accidents on Monday night, one county legislator is sounding the alarm about pedestrian safety around Highmark Stadium, saying he wants to see significant changes made before next season.
Minority Caucus Leader Leg. John Mills says he’s been concerned about pedestrian safety around the stadium for decades. He wants to see major infrastructure improvements by next season and well before the new stadium construction is complete.
“We can’t wait until the facility is built and then decide to do it. The barn doors are open, the horses are all gone, let’s get down to the real infrastructure,” Mills said.
A 65-year-old Rochester man is dead after being struck by a car just outside Highmark Stadium Monday night, the Orchard Park Police Department said.
Police said the collision happened on Southwestern Boulevard outside the stadium at around 8:20 p.m., just minutes after the Bills game kicked off. Orchard Park police said they responded to the scene and located the victim lying in the street.
The second accident, police said, occurred at approximately 10 p.m. at the intersection of Milestrip and Abbott roads. They said a 36-year-old Buffalo man was stuck by a vehicle while he attempted to cross the street against the crosswalk sign. Following an investigation, police said, the vehicle had the right-of-way at the time of the accident.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office says there is decreased visibility at night in the area around the stadium. Drivers and pedestrians should take extra precautions, like when traveling through neighborhoods on Halloween.
“It’s a good comparison, in fact even more so. You have thousands of people on the streets and in some instances there are no sidewalks available, so they are on the shoulders,” Undersheriff William Cooley told News 4.
Leg. Mills is calling for wider sidewalks north on Abbott Road to Milestrip Road and south on Abbott Road past the Big Tree Inn, and better lighting. He spoke at a stadium community meeting in July of 2022 warning that the infrastructure needs to be changed to keep fans safe.
“Wide handicap sidewalks running from Southwestern Boulevard, north on Abbott Road up to Milestrip Road on both sides, on the Hamburg side and on the Orchard Park side because these are residents who have been suffering for years without proper ability to go up and down that road,” Mills said in 2022.
“I didn’t want to say I told you so, but I did. I’ve been singing this song since I was a councilman in Orchard Park in the 80s and 90s,” Mills told News 4 Tuesday night.
Now, he wants the state to pick up the bill.
“The state needs to help out here. They’re the owners of this facility now and they have deeper pockets than we do in the county,” Mills added.
There are no sidewalks along Big Tree Road and California Road, where Joe Dimarco owns Wings Event Center, which serves as a parking lot on game days. He wants to rebuild a pedestrian bridge over South Branch Smoke Creek that was taken down after 39 years.
“This day and age with lawyers and liabilities and everything, the Bills decided to take out the path. We’ve been trying to to come to some kind of terms. Let’s make a public access here for people, not just to park here, but for everyone who wants to drop their loved ones off,” Dimarco said.
The Bills play at Highmark Stadium at 4:25 on Sunday as they host the Jets. While it will be daylight when fans get to the stadium, the sheriff’s office warns it will be dark when fans depart. Drivers should take it slow in this area, and it also is asking pedestrians to be mindful of nearby traffic when walking to and from the stadium, using other safety measures like wearing bright clothing.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.