- above: Riverside Park’s only path has for decades been used for many leisurely pedestrian and passive-park purposes. (Click on the collage for a larger image.) It is only 10-feet wide, and is bordered by many trees, benches, a children’s play-lot, and the Pump Station & Esplanade. Also, morning fog is not a rare occurrence along the Path.
This evening, the Schenectady County Legislature will almost certainly pass a resolution to authorize acceptance of a grant from the New York Department of State for an ALCO Trail Extension Feasibility Study — extending the Trail from Mohawk Harbor, under the CSX trestle and through Riverside Park. Legislators have touted it as 1.5 miles of uninterrupted bike path connecting Freedom Bridge in Glenville to the Great Western Gateway Bridge (Rt. 5) and Scotia. Many people have said that it would be “nice” to have a bike path through the Park. Others see the connected trail as another way to make Mohawk Harbor more marketable as a place to live, work, shop and play.
- My request and hope is that those conducting the Feasibility Study and the County Legislature will seriously consider what a bike trail used by commuters on bicycles, and other cyclists going at high speeds, would mean for this small gem of a park, which is often praised for its low-key ambiance, and which has but one narrow path through it, that has been used for decades by individuals, couples, and families of all ages, on foot, for multiple purposes.
Riverside Park is on the southern border of the residential Stockade Historic District, along the Mohawk River. [click to see the Google Map of the Park] It is only about 7 acres in size, a narrow wedge stretching about 0.7 miles. Indeed, for most of its length it is only 100 to 200 feet wide. The one path through the park is only ten feet wide.
. . the path is bordered by large trees and passes only a few yards from the kiddie lot . .
The letter to the left appeared in the Times Union Getting There column (Aug. 22, 2016), and is by cycling advocate Paul Winkeller, the Executive Director of the New York Bicycling Coaltion. (Click on the image for larger version.) It states his concerns about the hazards he sees as inevitable on our shared bike-ped trails without significant public safety education and enforcement. Mr. Winkeller wrote about stand-alone bike-ped trails (often constructed along railroad beds or canal tow-ways), but his concerns seem even more cogent and urgent with regard to the proposed bike-ped path through an existing, small, passive park like Riverside Park.
PARK SAFETY. The bicycling safety rules for all Schenectady Parks appear to be reasonable and appropriate. They require that bikes only be used on Park driveways-roadways, and at a speed less than 15 mph. Similarly, citywide provisions ban those over ten years old from using a bicycle on a public footpath or sidewalk that is intended for use by pedestrians (see Code sections below). Ignoring those limitations, and indeed encouraging bicycling in Riverside Park, without at least providing a separate pedestrian path (an alternative suggested in the City Urban Bike Route Master Plan), seems inappropriate and ill-advised. “Feasibility” of the Trail extension must take into account the City’s policy for preserving the safety of its park users.
DESIGN STANDARDS. The NYS DOT Highway Design manual for bicycle facilities (Chapter 17 Bicycle Facility Design, Revision 83, June 24, 2015) is cautious about constructing facilities that mix pedestrians with bicycles. It states that:
“Whenever possible, shared use paths that are intended to accommodate pedestrians and higher speed users (bicyclists, inline skaters, etc.) should be designed to minimize the potential for conflicts. Where separate facilities are not feasible, a shared-use path should incorporate additional width, signing, and possibly striping to minimize conflicts.”
Importantly, the DOT Design Manual states:
The Department’s minimum recommended width for shared-use paths is 4 m.
Four meters is 13.1 feet. Another two-foot graded safety edge is recommended on each side of the path. (see this screenshot from the Schenectady Bike Master Plan.) As stated above, the paved path in Riverside Park is only ten feet wide. And, with trees lining it, and benches, and the limitations imposed by the Overlook/Esplanade and Pump House, it is difficult to envision room for a trail of adequate width, much less for safety signage needed along the trail.
Finally, the disruption of existing uses of recreational space, in addition to the possible safety issues on the mixed-use trail, and for the nearby narrow roads of an historic district, are exactly the sort of negative impacts that would have to be addressed and mitigated, in the required Environmental Impact Statement, if a proposal to extend the Trail is presented to the Legislature. The essence of Riverside Park is its beauty, relative tranquility, and the leisurely pace enjoyed along its pathway and the River, which were praised by the editor of Architect Forum as “probably the finest thing of its kind in America.” (Dec. 1961) Likewise, the Schenectady City Council stated in its 1998 Resolution that “to change its special nature would deprive visitors and disadvantage the homeowners who are the caretakers in this Historic District of national importance.” I hope that the Legislature will ensure that its Feasibility Study takes these important factors fully into account, with ample opportunity for public input as part of the Study process.