Albany is forging ahead with plans to radically remake a busy stretch of Madison Avenue. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas was at the College of St. Rose Wednesday night for a public meeting on the “road diet.”
The new plan has Madison Avenue changing from the current four lanes, two in each direction, to a three lane configuration: one in each direction separated by a central turning lane.
Five design alternatives were reviewed over a five-year period by the firm Creighton Manning. The consultants narrowed those down to two road layouts. The decision to go with so-called "conventional" bike lanes of the sort Albany already has over separated or "protected" lanes was deemed the most practical. And there are many reasons: cost was one factor, but also the loss of 45 parking spaces by going conventional versus 200 eliminated if the separated system were used.
In 2004, Pine Hills Neighborhood Association President Virginia Hammer introduced the concept of lane reduction on Madison Avenue. "Even though we might be a little disappointed that we didn't get protected bike lanes, it certainly put protected bike lanes on the map, and people really understand what it is now and they're talking about it."
Mayor Kathy Sheehan feels the right choice has been made. "I listen to the experts. And the experts who looked at this project, who are big bike advocates across the country, said that for this road, the conventional bike lane is the right treatment."
Albany received approximately $475,000 in federal funding for the project. Jeff Pangburn, senior project manager at Creighton Manning, told the crowd: "The city really only has to pay between 10 and 20 percent of the overall cost, it's a great improvement for society, so the state DOT and the federal government are pitching in quite a bit on this corridor, which is great to see."
Funding will cover three blocks from Allen to Partridge streets. The plan is to get the project under way before the end of the year. Studies forecast the bike-friendly upgrade will encourage more pedestrian traffic as well.
Some residents who spoke out during a public comment period took issue against the quest to increase bicycle ridership along the Madison Avenue corridor; one man noted that cyclists are rarely seen along Madison and didn't think a "build it and they will come approach" is a smart one. The study shows changes to the street will cut the accident rate by 25 percent.
Other concerns include: emissions, parking for deliveries to businesses, emergency vehicle access, loss of parking spaces for businesses, and possible impacts on Washington Park. One business owner suggested making fixing sidewalks a priority of the project.
Planning is under way to fund Phase II of the project: Pangburn says lobbying is already going on to secure grants and other funding sources. He believes the city administration chose the best alternative: the "complete streets" solution. "That had the most benefits for the most users in the corridor, and will really help change the character of the neighborhood on Madison Avenue. It's a great first step, it's a safer solution than what's out there today and it'll be a great improvement for bike accommodations, so it was a win-win I think for all the groups out there."
City cycling enthusiasts don't agree and are now shifting their efforts into a higher gear: Rossana Coto-Batres is a member of Albany's Protected Bike Lane Coalition. "We think that a conventional bike lane is a missed opportunity for Madison Avenue, but we are excited to transition into a new group. We are forming ‘the Capital Region Complete Streets’ as the new group and we are hoping to get more people involved."
With the name change comes an expanded focus: a pledge to advocate for safe transit for all people regardless of their age, socioeconomic status, ability, or mode of transport. The group finds the city’s preferred design with conventional bike lanes puts riders directly in the “door zone,” the dangerous area for bicyclists between parked cars and moving traffic. Cyclist Jason D'Cruz: " … one danger in being on your bicycle in the road, is that people getting out of a parked car and opening up a door, can be right in the way of the cyclist."
Meantime, Mayor Sheehan labels the Madison Avenue Road Diet "a traffic calming project," which doesn't mean that protected bike lanes are a dead issue in Albany. "Far from it. We're already doing preliminary engineering studies on doing protected bike lanes on Broadway. We're looking at Clinton Avenue, we're looking at our overall paving schedule in determining where can we get protected bike lanes that will work for the roadways, for the widths that are already there."
Sheehan adds Assemblywoman Pat Fahy is working to get money into the state budget for bike projects.
Capital Region Complete Street's first meeting will be held March 24 at 7 p.m. at the Washington Avenue Branch of the Albany Public Library.