Category Archives: Activisim

Assembly Transportation Committee Hearing on Complete Streets

Albany Bicycle Coalition joined many other Safe Streets Coalition members at today’s [10/3/22] NYS Assembly Transportation Committee Hearing on Complete Streets.  Under consideration were two bills not passed last session that would expand the types of road projects that are given Complete Streets consideration. 

I spoke with respect to Assembly Member Rivera’s bill.  That bill includes, when possible, Complete Sstreet design features in resurfacing, maintenance, and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.  My comments to the Committee appear below.

The second bill considered at the hearing (Barret/A08624) will expand the state’s current complete street design principles policy to include all state, county and local transportation projects that are undertaken by the DOT or receive federal, state or both federal and state funding.   Meanwhile, our local Assembly Member Pat Fahy has a bill (A8936/S3897) for additional state funding for Complete Streets that was passed by both the Assembly and the Senate but is not yet signed by Governor Hochul.  Assembly Transportation Chair Magnarelli expressed his hope that it will be signed soon.   We ask that all our readers contact the Governor’s Office encouraging her to sign that bill (call:  518-474-8390).

There were several other local participants. Our friend Patty Sawyer was among the mothers of victims of traffic violence who attended.  Guilderland Town Planner, Kenneth Kovalchik spoke to barriers thrown up to Complete Streets efforts in Guilderland/Crossgates projects and the Delaware Avenue Road Diet Project.  Ken Grey, Chair of the Complete Streets Advisory Board in Saratoga Springs spoke to efforts there and in favor of the bills.  Jeff Olson, a local e-charging entrepreneur with long experience in transportation spoke in favor of the bills and the need to avoid letting the mania for EV’s turn our roads into havens for killer EV monster trucks.  NY Bicycle Coalition Board Member and Albany resident Rosanna Coto-Batras also spoke eloquently of the need for the bills.

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If the bills get out of committee, I expect there will be some changes.  The unfounded fear is that nobody will be able to fill a pothole without a Complete Streets study.

Regards,

Ed Brennan

Ed Brennan

President, Albany Bicycle Coalition

389 McCormack Road

Albany, NY 12208

I am Edward Brennan.  I am a resident of the City of Albany.  In March of this year our Common Council voted unanimously in support of the passage of these Complete Streets bills as contained in the Crash Victims Rights and Safety Act package.  I am also President of the Albany Bicycle Coalition.  Our not-for-profit organization has been promoting bicycling and bicycle and pedestrian safety in the Capital Region since 2004.  

Every year we hold a local Ride of Silence along with organizations throughout the world remembering cyclists that perished on public roads.  Last year we began our ride with a service remembering over 40 cyclists, pedestrians and motorists that have died since the year 2000 on nearby Central Avenue that connects Albany and Schenectady. 

Central Avenue is something of a poster child for the need for Complete Streets in the Capital Region.  After so many deaths NYSDOT conducted a Central Avenue Pedestrian Safety Study that was published in 2015. Some changes were implemented but deaths have continued. I don’t doubt that it will take significant changes and probably large expenditures to make Central Avenue significantly safer.

My testimony however relates to Rapp Road, which is a road that many could use to avoid Central Avenue to get between the Town of Colonie and Albany and between Guilderland and Colonie.  Making Rapp Road significantly safer would have been much less of an effort than fixing Central Avenue.Rapp Road becomes Lincoln Avenue in Colonie where it intersects with Central Avenue to the North.Rapp Road leads to Crossgates Mall, an important shopping center to the South.Rapp Road goes through the Albany Pine Bush, a unique ecological area that has hiking paths connecting to both sides of Rapp Road and hikers can often be seen along Rapp Road going from one footpath to another.Rapp Road overpasses the NYS Thruway/Interstate 90 with a wide shoulder that is relatively safe for cyclists and pedestriansRapp Road is an endpoint for the Six Mile Waterworks Multiuse Path that allows cyclists and pedestrians to safely go under The Northway/Interstate 87  

Safe places for cyclists and pedestrians to cross Interstates deserve special mention because they are so few and far between and require significant capital expenditures. 

One of the 40 plus persons we commemorated at our last ride of silence was 39-year-old Jeremy Williams who was struck and killed on Central Avenue while trying to cycle through the Central Avenue Interchange with the Northway.  Making safe bike-ped crossings of Interstates isn’t cheap.  Where such safe crossings have been created you would think there would be reasonable efforts made to make them more useful.

The problem with this particular 0.6-mile segment of Rapp Road is that it gets a great deal of traffic and has a windy section with little or no shoulder.  Years ago, we saw Rapp Road was long overdue for some kind of major repair.  We wrote to our Mayor, sent many e-mails, spoke to local transportation officials and distributed a pamphlet we made about the need to improve safety along this short stretch of Rapp Road. 

We were surprised one day to find a project started. The road was milled down and quickly repaved.  We had no warning or chance for input though we had made ourselves pests about the road for years. There was no meaningful change to the shoulder.  Now motor vehicles have a fresh smooth surface facilitating higher speeds which are perhaps more dangerous to other users.  Unless someone dies here, I doubt the road will be looked at again for the next 20 years.

We need to expand Complete Streets considerations to projects like Rapp Road so we are not missing so many important opportunities to improve transportation safety.  Maintenance, Resurfacing, and Pavement Recycling Projects that extend the life of roadways make economic sense.  A Complete Streets perspective is still essential to make sure that extending the life of a roadway isn’t unnecessarily extending existing dangers to the lives of those that use those roadways.

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Filed under Activisim, Central Ave., safety

Earth Day Ride – April 23, 2022

Once again, the Albany Bicycle Coalition hosted the region’s Earth Day Ride, and as in past years, we offered climate and ecology insights focused on positive activities and facilities in our area.

Video highlights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOhttDdB_JE

We finished sign-in by 1:00 PM on Saturday, April 23 at the Corning Riverfront Park Boat Launch. The group of 27 departed shortly after on a 10-mile round trip which was mostly flat and on mainly low-traffic streets and bike paths, all based on CapitalNYBikeMap.com. We had informative talks at the Livingston Avenue Bridge, the South End Connector multi-use path, Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, DGS recycling center, and the warehouse district. The ride lasted 2 1/2 hours.

Signing In

Pre-ride safety briefing

Here is the route on Google Maps (divided into 4 parts for easier viewing)
1. Mohawk Hudson Bike Hike Trail (MHBHT); South End Connector; Radix Center
2. Radix Center; South End Connector; MHBHT to Menands
3. Exit MHBHT using new “Village of Menands Bike Connector,” parallel to entrance ramps, to Broadway (Google Maps not yet updated to show Connector route).
4. Riverview Center; Broadway; Simmons Ln; Erie Blvd; warehouse district

On the home stretch

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Filed under Activisim, Climate Change, Earth Day

85-Percentile Rule

The 85-Percentile Rule is a guide for setting speed limits but one that must be used with a great deal of discretion to prevent creation of unsafe road and streets.

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85-Percentile Rule – No, it’s not where you were on the math SATs but a way of setting speed limits on roads and streets. Departments of transportation define the 85-percentile speed as the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions. Traffic and Transportation Engineers use the 85th percentile speed as a guide to set the speed limit at a hopefully safe speed, minimizing crashes and promoting uniform traffic flow. Data are gathered using radar guns or other devices and then analyzed. Engineers take the observed speeds and eliminate the top 15 percent. The indicated speed is then at the 85-percent level (to the nearest 5 mph increment). This procedure – if the set speed is not excessively low – ensures that all drivers will be going at about the same speed with few opportunities for conflict. This, of course, means that 15 percent of the drivers are exceeding what the other 85 percent view as a comfortable and safe speed. So who is correct?

This is fine until the design speed and the posted speed are in conflict.

The Caveat – The catch is the “. . . speed at or below which . . . vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions.” When design speed – the speed that feels safe or comfortable for most drivers – markedly exceeds the posted speed, we are in trouble. Many people are comfortable driving faster than is safe for them and or comfortable for others especially when there are confounding factors. Those few who adhere to the posted speed will be passed where possible or “tailgated” when not. “Free flowing” also presents a problem if the rule is applied to streets that are, at times, free flowing but at others, not so much.

Built for 55 – Please go 30 MPH

Right Here, Right Now – A local poster child is Albany’s Washington Ave., an unnumbered State route. It was clearly built – designed – as a 55 mph road. Nonetheless, going outbound from Brevator St. to Rt. 155/New Karner Rd. it is posted at 30 mph (Brevator St. to Fuller Rd.) and 45 mph (after Fuller Rd.) These reduced speed limits are based on the increasing non-highway activity with University at Albany residences and crossing pedestrians, motels, medical and other offices, convenience stores, big-box shopping, social clubs, churches, the dump, and cross roads. There is talk of a massive rebuild of at least the Brevator-Fuller segment but no action to date.

Washington Ave. FLY over

So what went wrong? If we used the 85-Percentile Rule today with the current built up environment, one might guess that the speed thus suggested might well exceed 45 mph and certainly 30 mph. Just drive on it at the speeds posted currently to demonstrate this to yourself. Put another way, the world changed but Washington Ave. did not. We are in the 2000s, and it is in the 1950s. Rest assured that Washington Ave. is not the only such example in our area.

Death Alley – A similar situation is the so-called Cohoes Blvd. or Cohoes’s own “death alley.” Briefly, the State originally built I-787 to blast into the middle of Cohoes with ¾ of the city on the west side and ¼ on the east. The transition from interstate to city street was invisible with expected results. After many years and much pressure, the in-city portion was completely rebuilt featuring raised crosswalks or speed tables, lighting, a chicane, a multiuse side path, enhanced traffic control, a center median, turn lanes, and signage. When asked, a representative stated that NYSDOT would base the redesigned boulevard’s (new) speed limit on the 85-percentile rule. Coming into Cohoes, the posted speed is now 45 mph and then 35 mph. Whether or not drivers follow these limits is for others to judge.

Cohoes Blvd or I-787 – road, street, or stroad?

Driver Behavior – One source (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDYQaa3K_BA ) posits that the change from a street to a road challenges drivers to “shift mental gears” from highway mode – which is more or less unconscious, intuitive, and automatic driving behavior – to being focused, observant, engaged, and deliberate. So how does one force fit driver behavior to street conditions?

Appropriate Use – For rural roads and with no countervailing data (e.g., excessive crash data, blind curves, schools, pedestrian and cyclist traffic, no shoulders, many entries/exits) the 85-Percentile Rule is probably a good first step. Note that the term here is “roads” not “streets.”

Inappropriate Use – When we get to a “street” the situation changes. A road is a high-speed connection to get from here to there with a simplified environment with minimal cross streets and driveways, and no accommodation for pedestrians or cyclists.

A street is a complex environment used by people where cars are guests that have to be caused to be on good behavior. A street is not intended for fast motor vehicles as a thoroughfare but a place where people go – the end point of a trip. Setting the posted speed limit based on car travel speeds does not seem like an appropriate application of the 85-percentile rule. In fact, it’s a “cart before the horse” to set the speed limit AFTER the street is built. A better option is to decide on the desired safe speed and THEN spec the design (or alter an existing design).

You cannot just ask for good behavior (e.g., “30 MPH” [please], “Share the Road” [please], “School Zone – 20 MPH” [please] ) you have to design out bad behavior. Drivers do not constantly adjust and re-adjust their speed based on the roadside signage. Instead, they cruise along at a comfortable rate (e.g., the design speed) partially based on what other nearby drivers are doing. The street’s DESIGN is a much more effective speed control than a sign buried with all the rest of the roadside garbage signs that transportation officials believe will offset inappropriate street design. The message from the street’s design is clear with no static; that from the sign (e.g., 30 MPH) has to force its way through a very noisy channel with dismal results.

Back to Our Sample – Washington Ave. becomes a street at roughly Brevator St./Rt. 85 heading toward downtown Albany. That is, the nature of the right of way changes from a road to a street with people, residences, schools, shopping, offices, churches, restaurants, and pedestrian/bicycle traffic. Put another way, Washington Ave. transitions from a road to a “stroad” – a thoroughfare that is neither a road nor a street. This is why, for example, 20 mph speed limits with vehicle speed displays in school zones are a failure – nothing in the road design says “slow down!” As an historical aside, Washington Ave. once had a center median but it was removed in the 1930s – too bad!

This is a street

They are INTRAstates – In many towns and cities in the USA with street layout dating to the 19th, 18th, and even 17th centuries, streets have become stroads with inappropriate outcomes for all concerned. Even with interstate highways – which have morphed into INTRAstate highways – motor vehicles entering or leaving cities have caused this “stroadization.” Cars come flying off 4-lane, high-speed roads (with a 4-lane, high-speed mentality) and are then faced with narrow, winding, people-filled streets with traffic lights, double-parked cars, snow piles, people trying to cross, squirrels, children going to school, and so on. Without proper STREET design, the result is chaos and, frequently, property damage, injury, or death. Albany, as but one example, is completely ringed and bisected by 4-lane, super highways – 787, 85, 90, NYS Thruway, and 87. Each both feeds traffic into the city but also is a goal for those leaving. “Drive time” has become “all the time.”

High car speeds intrinsically mean greater chances of injury or death for pedestrians or people on bicycles and compression of driver reaction time to the dynamic nature of a street. The solution? There has to be something that tells drivers that (1) the road (or highway) has now ended and (2) the street has now begun. These “somethings” can include narrowing of the road or travel lanes, speed tables or speed humps, vertical objects like trees, center medians, or chicanes.

This is a street. This is a human. That is a bicycle. That is a cross walk. That is an ADA curb cut.

Conclusion – The 85-percentile rule is a starting point for determining posted speed limits. It is probably appropriate for roads. It is the wrong rule when there are safety and social concerns that supersede the desire of people in cars to “get through here as fast as possible.” Streets are for people. Parks are for people. Intersection crossing are for people. Stores, restaurants, offices, apartments, and houses are for people. A traffic engineer who applies the 85-percentile rule to urban or suburban streets might consider a career shift.

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Notes – Strong Towns coined the term “stroad” to explain dangerous, multi-lane thoroughfares that are in every city, town, and suburb. They are what happen when a street – a place where people interact with businesses and residences and where wealth is produced – is combined with a road (a high-speed route between productive places). https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/3/1/whats-a-stroad-and-why-does-it-matter Strong Towns (https://www.strongtowns.org/about ) supports people across the United States and Canada who are advocating for a radically new way of thinking about the way we build our world.

Resources –

85th Percentile Speed Explainedhttp://www.mikeontraffic.com/85th-percentile-speed-explained/

Understanding the 85th Percentile Speedhttps://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/7/24/understanding-the-85th-percentile-speed

The Wrong Way to Set Speed Limitshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bglWCuCMSWc

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Filed under Activisim, Editorial, Product Review, Washington Ave.

Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act

Your support is essential to the success of a major new roadway safety campaign. Even if you do not ride a bicycle and do not walk except to and from your car, roadway safety still has to be a concern. Please take a few minutes to sign on to the campaign here – http://nysafestreets.org.  and select TAKE ACTION.

As motor vehicles have grown larger, with increases in distracted driving and speeding, more cyclists and pedestrians are being seriously injured and killed. While we have seen some minor improvements to pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, our roads are still largely designed and built to carry motor vehicles and are unsafe for all other users.

Nicholas Richichi, age 53, 10/29/07

For these reasons, the Albany Bicycle Coalition has joined Walkable Albany and a statewide coalition of bicycling and other road safety advocates in our common effort to pass the NY Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act (CVRSA). The seven bills in the CVRSA will permit municipalities the option to lower their speed limits, mandate 3-foot clearance when passing cyclists, support Complete Streets initiatives that improve road safety for all users, better educate drivers to protect vulnerable road users, and provide support to those personally impacted.

As part of The New York Safe Streets Coalition’s launch of the campaign for the CVRSA, Albany Bicycle Coalition released the following short video:  https://youtu.be/2qpVRHWNd1A.

For further CVRSA information, see http://nysafestreets.org.

The complete set of bills in the CVRSA are as follows:

Speed Limit Authorizes cities, villages and towns (outside NYC) to reduce the speed limit to twenty-five miles per hour.S02021 (May)A01007 (Paulin)
Sammy’s Law Allows lower life-saving speed limits in NYCS524 (Hoylman)A4655 (Gottfried)
Complete StreetsIncreases state funding where the municipality agrees to fund a complete street design feature. S3897 (Kennedy)A8936 (Fahy)
Complete Streets MaintenanceIncludes, when possible, complete street design features in resurfacing, maintenance, and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.S5130 (Kennedy)A7782 (Rivera)
Safe PassageRequire drivers pass bicyclists at a safe distance of min. 3 feet.S4529 (Harckham)A547 (Steck)
DMV Pre- Licensing CourseEducates NY drivers about safely interacting with vulnerable road usersS1078A (Gounardes)A5084/7032 (Gallagher)
Crash Victim Bill of RightsGuarantee rights & a voice for crash victims and their loved ones in legal proceedingsS8152 (Hoylman)Glick

Join the Push for Safer Streets for All – To do your part in pushing for safe roads, you need to contact both of your state legislators to express your support for the Crash Victims Rights and Safety Act.

Since many organizations that are not primarily involved with cycling, walking, or roadway safety should still have an interest in this initiative, you may want to sign your organization on to the campaign. You can complete this form.

Diva De Loayza, age 40, 6/6/07

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Filed under Activisim, Death on the Road, safety, Support the Cause

Forward Motion into 2022 on Bicycles

TO: Friends of Cycling and Good Living in the Capital Region:

The salutation “Friends of Cycling and Good Living in the Capital Region” expands our collective focus beyond just bicycles. We all need to engage in the larger issue of livable cities. This movement benefits all – residents and visitors – whether they be walking, riding, bussing, jogging, skateboarding, or just sitting.

This focus addresses the broader issues of street safety, air and sound pollution, environmental degradation, affordable (and accessible) housing, and access to food, services and facilities. Aside from the goal of safe connections for people on bicycles, we operate on the unarguable principle that anything done to benefit cyclists will benefit all road users.

Our overarching intent is to update on the bicycle-related scene in our area or to provide information that will stimulate thinking about bicycling as a major component in “livability for all.”

Whenever possible, the entries have a link or a contract (name, email, phone) or a bibliographic citation. Occasionally, the link will be to graphics offered by the source or on this Albany Bicycle Coalition blog.

We also try to encourage your patronizing our several local bike shops. We all know that it is sometimes easier and occasionally cheaper to buy on the internet but always remember – Amazon or some bike shop in South Carolina will not be available to help you with a maintenance problem or to guide you in the purchase of accessories tailored to you and your specific bicycle. (See https://albanybicyclecoalition.com/resources/local-bike-shops/ )

See you on the road and in the streets this year.

Ride On!
Little girl with face mask riding a bike in the street during the coronavirus pandemic

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Filed under Activisim, Comings and Goings, Support the Cause