Posted by: David Giacalone | June 28, 2017

The City’s Bike Plan: a Crucial Battle for Riverside Park

 A Shared-Use Path in Riverside Park? The Safety & Comfort of Park Users, and the Soul of Riverside Park Are at Stake if a “Scared-Use” Path is imposed on the Park.

 . . .  Tomorrow, Thursday, June 29, 2017, the City of Schenectady will unveil and explain Bike Schenectady (Draft), the Schenectady Bike Infrastructure Plan. The public presentation of what is surely a near-final Bike Schenectady Plan makes the issues raised at this weblog last year very timely and the concerns quite urgent: see the post “does a bike path make sense for Riverside Park” (short URL: tinyurl.com/RiversideBikes). That post has been updated because of the release of the Bike Schenectady Plan, with additional description of the current (traditional) activity on the Riverside Park path.

  •  The prior posting, like this one, calls into question the conversion of the only paved path in a small, treasured neighborhood park (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), into a shared-use path to be used for two-way travel by cyclists and people on foot or in wheelchairs. The Riverside Park path has been used for generations by people of all ages almost like a “public square”, for many passive-park purposes. Bike Schenectady would make it into a “keep-moving”, connector thoroughfare, purposely attracting many cyclists seeking to move, in both directions, as quickly as possible through the Park, on its 10-foot wide path. A path that is an integral part of the enjoyment and experience of Riverside Park is, we fear, likely to become so unsafe and uncomfortable that it will scare away a large portion of its current users.
  • The earlier posting supplements this piece, which focuses more directly on Bike Schenectady.  Last year’s post describes the Path, the Park, and their use and users, along with DOT design standards for multi-use paths, and City Code sections relevant to bicycles and parks, and it contains discussion, photos and images.

below: Detail showing the Mohawk Harbor-Stockade portion the Schenectady Bicycle Infrastructure Plan Map, with the following points most relevant to Stockade residents and Riverside Park users . .

2Bikes-HarborArea

  1. Riverside Park shown as part of the existing off-road bike network
  2. Ingersoll Ave., a one-lane street with two-way traffic, shown as a Shared Lane road, for bicycle and vehicle traffic, along with a portion of Front Street stretching from River St. to Ingersoll Ave.
  3. Washington Ave., from Riverside Park to Union St., shown as a planned Shared Use Path; and
  4. Union Street from Broadway to Washington Ave. is shown as a Shared Lane road.

Slideshow of Users and Uses. Several dozen images of the Riverside Park path, with its many kinds of users and uses, can be found in the following Slideshow [which has been supplemented with additional scenes from a quiet Sunday evening in the Park, July 10, 2017]. Any decision about bringing large numbers of cyclists to the path and the Park must consider the impact on the current usage and users.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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The collages immediately below raise just three of the many factors to consider when deciding whether a Shared-Use Path could be made safe enough to make it appropriate for Riverside Park.

RiversideBikeTrees . . RiversideBikeSundayUsers . . RIversideBikeWashAve

Collages above: [L] Treasured Trees at Risk; [M] Sunday Users and Uses; [R] Unsafe interface with Washington Avenue. Click on each for a larger version. 

Victoria Walks, an Australian walking-advocacy coalition, has extensive experience with shared-use bike-ped paths in Melbourne. After reviewing the literature and research, Victoria Walks has come to important conclusions quite relevant to whether a shared-use path makes sense for our Riverside Park. See Shared paths – finding solutions (Victoria Walks position paper, May 2015), which is based on its comprehensive research paper, Shared paths – the issues. And, see “Footpaths are for feet“. Here are some quotes from Victoria Walks on Shared-Use Paths:

 “Victoria Walks has significant reservations regarding shared paths and how they impact walking, particularly by more vulnerable walkers. Generally, slow moving recreational cyclists may be able to share paths with walkers. However, walkers do not generally mix well with commuter or sports cyclists, who typically travel at higher speed.”

“Road managers should avoid converting footpaths to shared paths, as they may be ‘designing out’ the most vulnerable road users – older walkers and those with a disability.”

“Shared paths are commonly built for both bike riders and walkers, but they can be an uncomfortable place to walk, especially for children, disabled or older people.”

I’m old and not very nimble — it’s [a] frightening silent menace.”

[Elderly] “For those aged 75 and over, walking makes up 77% of their total physical activity. . .. The study included a survey of 1128 senior Victorians – 39% rated bicycle riders on shared walking or cycling paths as a moderate to major constraint to their walking. Cyclists on footpaths will deter seniors from walking and limit their ability to live their everyday lives.”

[Goal] Victoria Walks strongly supports: “The community and government working together to find solutions for both walking and cycling, while ensuring pedestrian safety is not compromised.”

 [Speed] “Evidence suggests that cyclists do not necessarily slow down when they share a path with pedestrians. A study from Sydney and Newcastle found the average speed of cyclists on footpaths was 21 km/h [13.04 mph], exactly the same speed as cyclists on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h [31 mph] or less.”

 . . suggested analogy: Wouldn’t a ban on riding bicycles on the path of Riverside Park serve the same purposes (safety, comfort, peace of mind of people using the space while on foot, etc.) as Schenectady’s ban on cycling on the wider, more street-like Jay Street Pedestrian Mall?

JayStNoBikes

. . Jay Street pedestrian walkway – No Bicycling Allowed . . 

Walk-Only-Zones-ASUTempe      . . are walk-only zones & times an option? . . 

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FHWA materials on the planning and design of shared bike-ped paths, from “Federal Highway Administration University Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation” (Publication No. FHWA-HRT-05-133, July  2006; see Chapter 19, Greenways and Shared Paths), confirm that our common-sense concerns about the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists on a path set in an established park are quite relevant and valid. With its mix of customary “pedestrians”, who are in reality park-users who happen to be on the paved path, it seems clear that the planned shared use path in Riverside Park is inappropriate, absent severe restrictions on cyclist speed.  Indeed, such restrictions may only be achievable by requiring that bicycles be walked through Riverside Park.

The FHWA Course referred to above is almost 500 pages long. But, click here for a 7-page set of excerpts from the Chapter on Share Used Paths.  Here is a sample of relevant points:

  •  “The popularity of many urban paths has shown that large volumes of pathway traffic, with a diverse user mix, can create congested and conflictive path conditions similar to that on urban highways. Therefore, planning and design of shared-use paths must be done with the same care and attention to recognized guidelines and user needs as the design of on-roadway bikeways and other transportation facilities.”
  • “Shared-use paths are typically used by a diverse set of users representing different travel modes, using different types of equipment and traveling at different speeds (see figure 19-1). It is important to understand, even within the basic user categories of bicyclists, pedestrians, and skaters, how diverse path users can be.”
  •  “In addition to diverse users and a variety of equipment used, shared-use paths serve a wide variety of trip purposes. User behavior, such as travel speed and willingness to make stops, varies considerably with different trip purposes. Especially in urban and suburban areas, paths are routinely used for commuting to work or school, running errands, visiting friends, getting exercise, observing nature, and seeking recreation and enjoyment of the outdoors.

     “Moreover, people of all ages and abilities use and enjoy shared-use pathsfrom the very young to the very old, from the novice cyclist to the marathon trainer. Accommodating and balancing the various needs created by this diverse user market is a central challenge for today’s shared-use path planners and designers.” [emphases added]

  • “Too often, agencies charged with creating a shared-use path fail to understand or adopt a crucial pathway planning principal—that by definition, shared-use paths serve both transportation and recreation functions. As such, they must be planned and designed to be a part of two systems of community infrastructure: parks and recreation, and transportation.”
  • The most common feature of many greenways is a trail…with so many types of users in the United States, there are many types of trails, and elementary though it may seem, it is important to distinguish among them. All greenway trails should be compatible with the natural landscape and its functions.

 

WalkBikeInParkW Despite its 79-page length, the draft Bike Schenectady Plan shows no indication that our City and County planners and politicians have considered how different from a policy, practicality or public-relations perspective it is to impose a shared-used transportation function on a path used for more than a century for passive-park recreational purposes, as compared to “merely” constructing a path through a hitherto unused or underused portion of land along a river, or through a new development, where a culture of shared-use etiquette and expectations can be nurtured.

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Similarly, the Plan spends considerable space discussing the attitudes and goals of various types of cyclists [see page 2-1, which describes four basic types, including Strong & Fearless(<1%) and Interested But Concerned (60%)]. But, not a word is presented to suggest there are also very different kinds of pedestrians, with greatly different ages, abilities, activities/goals, and tolerance for the presence of cyclists. Most important, there is no indication that the Schenectady Bike planners appreciate the possibility that a significant number of current and potential users will be literally scared away by cyclists in any large numbers going through the Park at more than a very leisurely pace. Mothers with strollers or a handful of youngsters to control, and the elderly or the vision-impaired, who can be started into a fall even without a collision, are two such groups. 

 Likewise, there is no indication of an appreciation by the authors of the Bike Schenectady Plan that (1) factors making a 10-foot wide shared path in Central Park acceptable do not exist at Riverside Park (such as, other paved spaces for stopping to chat or to observe the sights, scores of acres upon which to play, and a fenced playlot); (2) a much wider path would be needed in Riverside Park to ensure the safety and comfortable use of its path by pedestrians or cyclists. For example, the predominance of dog-walkers along the path, often with more than one dog at a time, needing to stop and wait for a dog to do its doggie business, makes quick action and movement, and constant attention to approaching bikers, by the dog walkers quite problematic. And, (3) “education” without consistent “enforcement” activity, is most unlikely to change the behavior of a significant proportion of bicyclists who fail to indicate their approach orally or with a bell.

In our posting last year, we made this observation concerning bicycles and safety in our Schenectady parks:

SchdyCode-Bikes-ParksPaths 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 montage 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.

BikeSchdy-ParkPathCode The draft Bike Schenectady Plan text speaks of “policy” changes to the Schenectady Municipal Code that would “open access to park pathways to bicyclists.”  Thus, the Policy section states (App. D, at D-11; emphases added):

Park Path Policy 

The current codes for the City of Schenectady prohibit bicycle use of paths and trails within the parks in the City. This greatly inhibits the ability for bicyclists to travel to and through the parks, which generally offer much greater comfort than street riding. However, the issue of pedestrian comfort and safety arises when discussing the opening up of paths to bicyclists

For this reason, it is recommended that the City of Schenectady adopts a policy where bicyclists are allowed to use shared use paths that meet the criteria outlined in the Guidance Chapter and an engineering assessment of the trail corridor shall be conducted before any trail is opened to bicycle use.

  • This is an admission that the current Schenectady Code, by its plain language, does not permit bicyclists (unless under 10 or handicapped) on paths such as the one in Riverside Park. For over a year, Schenectady’s Corporation Counsel, Carl Falotico, has failed to explain to the author of this post (a fellow lawyer) his assertion that he is “comfortable” saying that cyclists are permitted on paths like the one in Riverside Park. When asked recently (late June 2017) about the call for a Code change in Bike Schenectady, Mr. Falotico stated his office had no part in writing the Plan and he did not know why they would call for such changes.
  • smallquestionmark Of course, the inconsistency between the Bike Planners’ conclusions on the lawfulness of cycling on park paths and their setting up a demo project through Riverside Park, is curious, as is the cognitive dissonance of Riverside Park being shown on the Plan map as already being part of the City’s off-road bike network.

 There are doubtlessly many more points that could and should be made, and many other factors that have apparently been overlooked by Bike Schenectady proponents who are more focused on creating a transportation option for cyclists than on the impact to a special neighborhood park. Readers with different experiences, recreational desires, and physical needs than the author of this website surely can make a litany of relevant concerns. What is clearly at risk is changing the very essence of a Park celebrated for generations for its beauty and tranquility. For example:

  • On January 26, 1998, a Resolution of the Schenectady City Council resolved, that Riverside Park “is recognized as a unique component of the [Stockade Historic] District and best serves residents and visitors as a quiet place to view the natural beauty of the Mohawk River.”  In addition, the Resolution stated that “to change its special nature would deprive visitors and disadvantage the homeowners who are the caretakers in this Historic District of national importance.”
  • Indeed, with its combination of urban waterfront beauty and relative tranquility, Riverside Park was praised by the editor of Architect Forum as “probably the finest thing of its kind in America.” (Dec. 1961) 

 If you are concerned about the impact of a shared-used bike path in Riverside Park, please do not merely smack your head or give up in despair over another Silly Schenectady Scheme and its Dumb Done Deals. Beyond attending the June 29th Public Meeting at the Central Library, effective input  may be impossible (given the “open house format”), we suggest:

  1. Leave Comments at the Bike Schenectady website, which encourages public input. Give reasons rather than just conclusions, please. This posting, and our prior one on the topic, as well as the resources below, should give you plenty of ideas for points to make, if your common sense alone seems inadequate.

  2.  Ask the members of the Schenectady City Council to take charge and responsibility for the designating of the Riverside Park path as a part of the City’s off-road cycling network. They recently helped rescue a large part of this special Park from use for a new sewage pumping station and did not enjoy being surprised by the proposed on-the-park proposal from the Mayor and his consultants. I think they are as surprised as we here in the Stockade to learn that the Bike Planners consider Riverside Park to be an existing part of the off-road cycle network. The bike path could do far more damage to the usage and essence of the Park. Click on thumbnail list to the left for contact information, and committee assignments.
  3. Let the media know of your opposition.

. . Share this posting with this shorter URL: http://tinyurl.com/RiversideBikes2

. . and, consider posting our sign(s), online or in the real world:

NoScaredUse

WalkBikeInParkW


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