suns along the Mohawk

DOES A SHARED-USE BIKE PATH MAKE SENSE FOR RIVERSIDE PARK?

below: scenes along Riverside Park’s only paved path (click on it to enlarge);

right: Google Map of the Park and vicinity . . 

 . . update (June 28, 2017): On June 29, 2017, the City of Schenectady will unveil and explain Bike Schenectady (Draft), the Schenectady Bike Infrastructure Plan. (Click image to the left for Public Meeting flyer). See our posting “The City’s Bike Plan: a Crucial Battle for Riverside Park” (June 28, 2017), for specifics relating to the Bike Plan and Riverside Park, a Slideshow with four dozen photos of users and usage of the Park Path, and additional commentary and sources.

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Original Posting

 This evening (Oct. 11, 2016), 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. Some 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. Cycling advocates stress it will complete a shared use path that stretches from Albany to Buffalo NY (as if, a cynic might say, that would be a pinnacle of Western Civilization).

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 6 acres in size, a narrow wedge stretching about 0.3 miles. Indeed, for most of its length it is only 150 to 200 feet wide. The one path through the park is only ten feet wide.

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. . the path is bordered by large trees and passes only a few yards from the kiddie lot . .

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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.

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Sch’dy Code re Bicycling

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 to right; click on it for a larger version). 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 NYS 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. [Click to see this screenshot from the 2001 Schenectady Urban Bike Master Plan, which shows a cross-section of a Shared Use Path. The text, at p. 28, states, “Typical cross sections provide a minimum of 3.0m (10 ft) wide firm surface with 2 foot wide graded shoulders on both sides of the trail. Nonetheless, the Figure erroneously labels 10′ as “recommended.”) As stated above, the paved path in Riverside Park is only ten feet wide, with no graded shoulders. 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.

Follow-upGiven the expected users of the Riverside Park path, the 2012 AASHTO guide, which is the standard that NYS DOT uses, would require more than a 10’ wide shared use path (in addition to 2’ buffers, and 3’ clearance for signs and trees). The current AASHTO guide (2012) was described in its Overview document (at 39) as having more “nuanced guidance on widths” than its prior edition, and calls for wider paths where a high percentage of users are pedestrians. Here is what the 2012 Guide says:

AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (2012) 

Chapter 5: Design of Shared Use Paths

5.2.1 Width and Clearance

The minimum paved width for a two-directional shared use path is 10 ft (3.0 m). . . . 

In very rare circumstances, a reduced width of 8 ft (2.4 m) may be used . . . . 

Wider pathways, 11 to 14 ft (3.4 to 4.2 m) are recommended in locations that are anticipated to serve a high percentage of pedestrians (30 percent or more of the total pathway volume) and higher user volumes (more than 300 total users in the peak hour). [emphasis added]

 

 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.