Saturday, February 28, 2009

Re-thinking Albany's Approach to Street Design: ABC's Opinion for the TU

Re-thinking Albany’s Approach to Street Design

City streets are a public space – used by residents, merchants, trades people, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike. Regrettably, in Albany we have been led to believe that replicating the interstate highway system within the city limits is progress. It is not. Such an approach does not promote open spaces and improved quality of life for residents and visitors. This is failed transportation engineering from 30 years past. The American Institute of Architects’ Sustainable Design Assessment Team Report states specifically, “As the city of Albany has grown, many people are less connected to its open spaces, not only because of the greater distances created by sprawl but also due to the growing reconfiguration of the region around automobile travel over the years. This is reflected in many different ways: traffic signal times do not allow people to cross streets comfortably, major streets need more bike lanes, and other streets need traffic-calming measures.”

Now we hear that Albany Medical Center’s continued expansion is to be accompanied by converting Holland and parts of New Scotland avenues from two to four lanes. Neighbors and other city residents stand firmly and unequivocally against this prospect. In fact, the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association is proposing a well-researched, widely supported lane reconfiguration of Madison Avenue from Manning Boulevard to Lark Street. It calls for the reduction of the number of motor vehicle traffic lanes from four to two. This reconfiguration allows for the presently provided on-street parking, the addition of bicycle lanes (thereby reducing dependence on cars with attendant parking issues) and better access for buses and their riders. This federally supported configuration provides for turn lanes (eliminating dangerous lane changes and long backups), improved access for emergency vehicles, and two through-travel lanes for motorists. The Madison Avenue corridor, which cuts through the densely populated (roughly 10,000 residents—the same as the city of Watervliet) heart of Pine Hills, contains many businesses, churches, entertainment venues, and both senior and student housing – all of which generate substantial pedestrian traffic. All 29 Albany neighborhood associations, the College of St. Rose, the New York Bicycling Coalition, and the Albany Bicycle Coalition endorse this “lane management/traffic calming” proposal.

Because the stretch of Madison Ave. from Manning Boulevard to Lark Street is short, the cost to re-sign and re-stripe Madison Avenue will be modest. The addition of bike lanes leading to enhanced bicycle safety will increase cyclists’ use of Madison Avenue (State-designated Bike Route #5) and will reduce parking congestion – always a problem in Pine Hills. Studies show that converting from four lanes to two lanes does not increase the drive time but actually tends to reduce it. Coupling this with improved safety, reduction in speeding, growth in business, and improved quality of life leaves no doubt that this is the best future for Madison Avenue. We are convinced that it will serve as a model – as shown on Manning Boulevard – of how Albany should approach all its street designs. Albany’s Manning Boulevard, between Western and Washington, has benefited from low-cost re-striping that returned the street to a pleasant thoroughfare by eliminating speeding and lane jumping, and providing a marked pedestrian crosswalk.

Albany’s future depends on a progressive - rather than regressive - way of approaching quality of life issues such as this, using methods like those described here. It will not be well served by creating more lifeless, dangerous thoroughfares.

SUBMITTED BY: Dan Curtis, President, Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, and Lorenz M. Worden, spokesperson, Albany Bicycle Coalition. 2/28/09


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