[The New York State Department of Transportation plans to widen Union Avenue from Henning Road to East Avenue. The state project will include adding bike lanes to this section of the street. With this in mind, the city has hired consultants to work on redesigning Union Avenue from East Avenue to where the street ends at Congress Park.The city project is referred to as Enhancing Union Avenue.
Not surprisingly, this has generated some controversy as Union Avenue serves as one of the gateways to the city, and changes will have an impact on the Saratoga Race Course.
The following is the first of two posts from different perspectives addressing the issues. For this community to come out of this process as a winner will require our citizens to inform themselves about the issues and engage in thoughtful and civil discourse.
On February 9, 2023, at 6:00 PM, the city will be convening a workshop to discuss proposals and seek feedback from the public. The location has not yet been determined. I would encourage the readers of this blog to attend.I will post the location once it is announced.]
[This first piece is by Jim Martinez. Jim Martinez is a registered architect and lifelong resident of this city. A stalwart preservationist and founding member of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, he has authored many articles about our surviving resources and their stewardship. "More offerings on the table cannot help but enlighten and satisfy a hungry and deserving diner’s conscience."]
Cyclists are not tethered to Bike Lanes
New York Times sportswriter Red Smith’s answer to the question, how do you get to Saratoga Springs? was, “Turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years.” Mark Seal wrote in Town & Country magazine, “Going back 100 years, remains the key to the kingdom.” The fantasy world that Mr. Seal wrote about, from the perspective of the summer visitor, is that person, temporarily transported in time to a place that thunders every summer, providing a sense of the world that maintains, a quiet elegance of a hometown quality, unobtainable anywhere. For over 180 years, this migration has witnessed this almost sacred landscape we know as Union Avenue, which itself has been witness to the horse loving society and a community whose residents who have maintained their stewardship of the city entrance threatened occasionally by challenges of unbridled growth and novelty.
Turning right brings the visitor and residents not only to the only city entrance in those 175 miles from New York unadorned with bright advertising lights, but instead to an inviting forested corridor with a calming tree planted median strip. This National Register Historic District comprises of both the Racecourse Area District and the Union Avenue District. Beyond the Racecourse, this wide boulevard of apartments, condominiums, bed and breakfast and family residences survived the Skidmore and Verrazano Colleges withdrawal to miraculously maintain its wonderful residential quality which all of Saratoga can today be proud.
Today, we must consider yet another dubious bike lane seemingly to nowhere from nowhere, with targeted traffic studies and seductive promotional panels of how best to alter this two-block boulevard giving little actual thought to the bicyclist who must “share the road” according to NYSDMV (https://dmv.ny.gov/about-dmv/chapter-11-sharing-road), on the remaining approximately 95% of the other city roadways, including from beginning to end of this proposed bike route.
Several years ago, our city memorialized in their “Complete Streets Plan,” just how incomplete our public roadways are with respect to year-round pedestrian public sidewalk rights-of-way (ROW) and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, let alone, now promoting disconnected seasonal bikeways. One must consider how cyclists arrive at these lanes and what happens to them when the bike lane ends. I must wonder where these users of these bike lanes come from given most of our neighborhoods do not include one. It seems that bike lanes are only for Eastside residents, as none of them have been proposed for other neighborhoods of the city?
Furthermore, should our city have a complimentary mandatory educational program at the middle school or part of a public education strategy to instruct bicyclists that “sharing the road” with motor vehicles is now law, and that the cyclist now assumes all the privileges and responsibilities of a licensed motor vehicle operator, including, adhering to all traffic controls, pedestrian crossings, signaling intentions, equipment requirements and staying to the right of all overtaking vehicles in single file?”
Most recently, the new Excelsior Avenue Bike path oddly juxtaposes automobile traffic with a parking lane for cars and a bike lane that squeezes by the parked vehicles on the right alongside the curb. I would say it is a blind spot for someone coming out of the right front or back seat of a vehicle onto a cyclist’s sanctioned path. Then the rider “with all the responsibilities of a licensed motor vehicle operator” continues its journey by sharing with the pedestrian’s ROW, considering that partnership is most always prohibited on all other city sidewalks. What could go wrong? Additionally, should we question whether these pedestrian/bike paths to Excelsior Park are to be maintained year-round as required by the City Code?
During the public comment period at the 17 January 2023 City Council meeting, a presenter discussed traffic concerns and the volume of traffic during the seasons of Saratoga but failed to present a cogent argument that by altering this historic majestic broad avenue to three lanes, it would somehow provide a bucolic two-block boulevard for vehicles and cyclists with its “calming effect” of reduced traffic lanes. Double laned roadways with dividing islands provide a safer and have a greater calming effect than a proposed wide avenue with undivided two-way roadway. A proposed turning lane at either end would be fine and appropriate, as is the consideration that existing street parking afforded the many repurposed educational buildings to residences will be maintained and unaffected by the current proposal.
As NYSDOT plans to resurface Union Avenue, by widening the shoulders and creating bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks from the Interstate to East Avenue, there will be no parking along that section given its zoning, nor will the cyclist have a dedicated lane beyond that point. Where does the cyclist riding east go when the lane ends? Must they cross four lanes of traffic to return on the other side to utilize a bike lane? The traffic control stop light is hundreds of feet beyond the planned bike and sidewalk proposal at the junction of Henning Road and the entrance to Yaddo. Choosing to continue past the Interstate’s acceleration onramp to continue their journey beyond Yaddo, towards the Waterfront Park and points east within the municipality, cyclists will be on their own along the 45-50 mph highway.
I own four mechanical bikes, but because of my age, I only ride one at a time. I have always shared the road with vehicular traffic and schooled my children to realize that cars and trucks traveling at 30 mph are the bigger bears on the road. I find the current address of empowering cyclists to rightfully enter the roadways through a fractured plan of dedicated bike lanes along with the unenforced responsibilities that are promulgated by DMV in traveling with vehicles no less than dangerous.
I suggest instead that the city consider a tree planted median strip from Nelson Avenue to Circular Street, an extension of the heralded corridor treatment from the Interstate, with the appropriate openings at street cross street locations, providing the desired calming effect and maintaining traffic flow as it exists. Turning lanes at each end would be appropriate. Cyclists will simply share the road as they presently do on all the remaining city thoroughfares abiding by the rules established by NYSDMV.
Finally, should we also be addressing those stealthy electric bikes that need some regulations as they travel emboldened and unbridled on sidewalks when their bike lanes end or when the street poses more of a challenge be a part of the discussion? Enforcement and risk management should be a part of any discussion that places the potential liability on the municipality through potentially sanctioned overzealous and sometimes myopic proposals. Perhaps broadening the discussion examining the collateral issues and liabilities would be best than focusing on one desired objective.