Lark Street has long been one of the arts, residential and commerce centers in the city of Albany. Thursday night, officials gave the public a glimpse of what a re-imagined Lark Street might look like.
An open house and public presentation at Hackett Middle School gave residents the opportunity to review findings of the Lark Street Improvement Study, which began earlier this year. Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the idea is to consider all of the different users of the neighborhood. "A place where a lot of people live, a lot of people walk to work. There are great attractions on Lark Street, and so we want to look at what we can do to improve this district and make sure that it continues to thrive."
The study found the neighborhood has a high population growth rate, a high concentration of young adults and heavy “walk to work” pedestrian traffic. Considerations include stimulating local economic growth along with maintaining business and residential stability by employing streetscape-enhancing designs, calming traffic and strengthening connections to Washington Park and downtown.
Elizabeth King is with the study's lead consultant, Bergmann Associates. "A lot of the motorists and vehicles move very quickly through the corridor, which makes it challenging for pedestrians that are also using the street and bicyclists that are using the street to cross and share the space. Those traffic calming improvements are, some raised intersections at the signalized minor intersections of Hudson, Lancaster and State. And that essentially brings the intersection up to the sidewalk elevation, requiring the cars to ramp up, and pedestrians can cross at grade. So it improves accessibility for pedestrians. It'll address some drainage issues that are occurring at the bottom of the sidewalk ramps, it'll slow close cars down as they have to kind of come up six inches to go through the intersection."
City Planning Director Brad Glass says the public has made helpful suggestions. "Feedback has generally been positive. We were able to have some outreach directly on the street, so we touched based with a lot of people that were just walking by."
King says planners held a series of storefront open houses, visited 40 businesses during June to gather intel from Lark Street shopkeepers , and conducted a demonstration project in early October to give the public a feel for how proposed changes might impact the area.
Recommendations include adding artistic lighting and seating, curb extensions at intersections to shorten crossing distances, slow traffic, expand pedestrian space... and removing the cobblestone-paved intersections. "People really like the look of the cobblestones or Belgian blocks, but, we've heard a lot of complaints in terms of the fact that they're not very accessible. The gaps in between the cobblestones are excessive, bike tires get stuck in them. They haven't been re-grouted since they've been installed. And then a lot of neighboring residents also have mentioned that as traffic goes over the cobblestones, their buildings shake."
Repurposed stones would be used as part of new permeable sidewalk space.
Sixth ward Common Councilor Richard Conti points out that Lark Street is the main corridor of a vibrant downtown neighborhood. "This is an opportunity to really look at streetscape, make some improvements, look at issues like walkability, accessibility, and improvements that also will help out local businesses as well."
Conti adds it will be a challenge to incorporate adequate parking into the plan. Some 20 spaces would be lost but King says that represents a small percentage of available parking in the neighborhood. Lark would be narrowed and designated loading zones for trucks would keep the two-lane street clear for traffic in both directions.
Kyle Hagch lives on nearby Jay Street. He says improvements would make Lark more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and more accommodating as a night-life district. E "I think there's some fine details in the streetscape furniture that they're putting in, that can be addressed with more consistency across the board, but in general I think this is a really good step in the right direction."
The feasibility plan is to be completed in December. Next steps include obtaining additional funding and continuing to engage with the public.