suns along the Mohawk

BIKE SCHENECTADY: a Crucial Battle for Riverside Park

update (June 22, 2018): You can see our summary of the County’s Trail Extension Feasibility Study, here. Its suggestion of giving Riverside Park a two-path reconfiguration, separate paths for pedestrians and for cyclists, seems promising. Of course, we need to see details to evaluate the impact on the Park and its users.

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 A Shared-Use Path in Schenectady’s treasured Riverside Park? The Safety & Comfort of Park Users (as well as cyclists), and the Soul of Riverside Park, are at Stake, if more and faster-moving bicyclists are allowed on the Park’s only walkway, as is proposed in Bike Schenectady, “The Schenectady Bike Infrastructure Master Plan” (2017) . The significantly increased volume of traffic, change of pace, and reduction in safety are likely to create a “scared-use” path, frightening away many current users, especially the most vulnerable (the very young, the elderly, and disabled, and their caretakers), as well dog-walkers, sunset-seekers, and romantic strollers.  For the majority of current Park users, it will end or spoil practices enjoyed for decades by many generations, without measurably improving the City’s bicycle infrastructure. As is argued in the Gazette OpEd column “Preserve Riverside Park for pedestrians” , we should instead preserve, promote, and enhance what is best about Riverside Park by officially making it a Pedestrian Sanctuary.

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 procedural update (Oct. 17, 2017): The Final version of Bike Schenectady, the Schenectady Bike Infrastructure Master Plan, was posted without fanfare at the City’s website on September 5, 2017.

It was approved October 18, 2017, by the City of Schenectady Planning Commission (with its Chair, Mary Moore Wallinger recusing herself due to her leading role as designer and proponent of Bike Schenectady). Peter Knutson, representing the City’s Department of Engineering, assured the Commission that no segment of the Planned network would be constructed without first having more public comment on specific plans, after assuring that design guidelines are met.

The proprietor of the website submitted Comments to the Planning Commission re Bike Schenectady, asking the Commission to recommend changes or additions to the Plan explaining the types and needs of pedestrians and protecting Riverside Park from imposition of a shared-use path, without at least first having a study of its pros and cons and impact on the Park and its users. The Planning Commission ignored the recommendations.

Bike Schenectady was adopted by the Schenectady City Council on December 11, 2017. See “Schenectady bike infrastructure plan adopted: Master plan includes 3 phases” (Daily Gazette, by Stephen Williams, Dec. 12, 2017).

Original Posting

 . . .  Tomorrow, Thursday, June 29, 2017, the City of Schenectady will unveil and explain Bike Schenectady (Draft), the Schenectady Bike Infrastructure Plan. [click here to see the Final version.] 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.

below: Detail showing the Mohawk Harbor-Stockade portion of the Schenectady Bicycle Infrastructure Plan Map . .

Slideshow of Users, Uses, and Conditions. 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, and Sunday afternoon, Earth Day 2018.]. Any decision about bringing large numbers of cyclists to the path and the Park must consider the impact on the current usage and users.

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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.

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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.”

 

from Walk21Sydney.net

 

Suggested Analogy  . .   Wouldn’t continuing the longstanding ban on riding bicycles on the path of Riverside Park, and enforcing the Ordinance, 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 both the wider, more street-like Jay Street Pedestrian Mall and Stratton Plaza (behind Proctors), which also was once a City street?

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

 . . also at Stratton Plaza . 

. . cyclist walks bike on Jay St. [R] . . 

      . . even bike-oriented colleges know the advantages of walk-only zones on paths with many pedestrians . . 

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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:

 

 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 startled 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.

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). See this quote from the “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). .  . . .  . 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] 

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

 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.

 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.

 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. For example:

 

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 Let’s Make Riverside Park a Pedestrian Sanctuary. As is argued in the Schenectady Gazette Guest Column “Preserve Riverside Park for pedestrians” (May 4, 2018, by David Giacalone; click on the above screenshot of the Column, or here for 2-page pdf. version):

Let’s preserve and promote what is best about Riverside Park by making it a pedestrian sanctuary so that users can continue to stop and chat, walk dogs, or view the river. Those with bicycles could enjoy the park as a park, by dismounting and walking their bikes, or staying awhile.

 . . . When the Mohawk River Trail reaches Riverside Park, cyclists should dismount and walk their bikes the short distance across the park, or use any of the five streets that dead-end at the park to connect with the on-road bike path.

Close-by parking and lack of significant inclines and barriers at the end of those five streets make Riverside Park especially accessible for older and younger park users, and therefore especially appropriate as a pedestrian sanctuary.

 

 Raise Your Voice & Your Pen. 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 Dorp Done Deal. Although Bike Schenectady has been approved as setting forth a framework, each segment of the City bike infrastructure is still being evaluated, with the Mohawk River Trail segment undergoing engineering and feasibility studies.

  1. Let members of the Schenectady County Legislature know your opinion about Riverside Park’s relationship to Bike Schenectady. Consider contacting Members such as Anthony Jasenski, the Chair; Karen Johnson, who lives in the Stockade and champions the needs of the elderly and disabled; Rory Fluman, who focuses on Intergovernmental Relations, as well as Parks, and the needs of the elderly and disabled; and Richard Patierne and Randy Pascarella, who serve on the Public Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mr. Patierne also chairs the Parks and Playgrounds Advisory Committee.

  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.

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