A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
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Albany Needs Bike Lanes Now
Time for the politicians and planners to wake up and
This Earth Day weekend, on Saturday, The Wife finally hauled my
sorry butt onto a bicycle. It was an exemplary Spring day, and
the day of cycling that she had planned involved no major hills.
Thus, I had no viable excuse for avoiding this ordeal. My grumbling
That woman has turned into an urban radical bicycle advocate,
much to the annoyance of local politicians and planners who are
used to her endless activism on behalf of these Karner Blue Butterflies
out in the Pine Bush. That’s how it started for her some
thirty years ago. One thing led to another, and now she wants all
major routes in the City of Albany to have bicycle lanes on both
sides of the street, separated from the auto lanes by curbs.
My Underused Bicycle
You see, it's like this. The pretty blue butterflies can’t
survive without the sand dunes and wild blue lupines on which they
live. So that meant stopping “developers” and corrupt
City officials from destroying the Pine Bush for profit. To do
this, she became deeply embroiled in State environmental law and
policy. It also meant plunging head first in the toilet of Albany
City electoral politics.
But people have to live and shop somewhere, while “developers” and
politicians have to make money somehow. So The Wife developed the
idea, “If we want to preserve our green spaces (and put an
end to sprawl) then we have to make our urban areas livable.” So,
next thing you know she’s showing up uninvited to City planning
sessions and demanding livable neighborhoods.
In short order she’d realized that all planning in Albany,
up to this point, has been centered around automobiles. The results
of auto-centrism have been undeniably disastrous, thus it must end. It became clear to her that in order for Albany to
survive, the City has to become a walkable and bikable community.
Can This Bug Ride A Bike?
So now she has become a hardcore supporter of public
transit. And at the same time she has started to use her bicycle for more daily
tasks, even in lousy weather. She’s saving the blue butterflies
by riding her bike. And that’s why she browbeat me onto my
bicycle, a transportation device which I had successfully avoided
using since last August.
It takes courage to ride a bike in City traffic,
especially in un-bike-friendly Albany. The City currently has about
100 feet of bike lane on it’s streets, beneath the underpass at the
bottom of Madison Avenue. That’s it. Yet more and more people
are using bicycles to get around town, even in the dead of winter.
Sitting here glancing out the window at Ultraviolet Cafe on Delaware
Avenue, I’m astounded at how many bicycles are going by.
Some are kids on the sidewalk, some are “Class A” bicyclists
with helmets and all the latest gear speeding by with the auto
traffic. I’ve noticed that people of every sort and economic
class use bikes in Albany. Without a doubt, more people are biking
in Albany than ever before.
Our first stop on Saturday was noontime breakfast sandwiches at
Scratch Bakery on Madison. (We got started a little late that morning.)
As we sat outside at the iron tables eating and reading the papers,
The Wife wouldn’t shut up. “See? There goes
another bicyclist. There’s two more. He should be wearing
a helmet. See how many there are? There’s another one...”
One morning several years ago, The Wife got nailed by a hit and
run driver near Giffen School at Green and Rensellaer Streets.
I’d had breakfast all ready for her, and I was starting to wonder why she hadn’t
come back from her ride on the bike path down by the river. That’s
when the doorbell rang.
Albany police officer Glen Asher, who happens to
be son-in-law to the folks who live across the street from us,
stood at my door holding The Wife’s mangled bicycle. Before
I could say anything, he said “She’s OK. Her leg is
a little banged up. They’re
taking her up to Albany Med.”
When I found her sitting on an examining table at the emergency
room she started bawling on my shoulder. Her knee was hurting,
but she was over it in a week. Compared to some of the other people
I saw in that emergency room, including two grim parents holding a baby
that showed no visible signs of life... I tell you, she was just
She did manage to catch the plate number of the car that hit her.
But naturally, no surprise, the Albany Police bureaucracy had no
interest in tracking down the perpetrator. I guess it was her own
fault that she was riding a bicycle on the streets.
Claire Nolan Interacts With Another Bicyclist
The accident may have been minor, but for two years she was afraid
to ride on City avenues. But eventually her sense of responsibility
made her venture out into the hostile streets to brave the suburbanite
SUVs. That, and a lot of peer pressure from her new found friends
at the Albany Bicycle Coalition (ABC,) particularly her bright
eyed friend Claire Nolan, who is willing to bicycle anywhere.
So here I was pedaling around town with The Wife. I have to admit
that it was an easy and quick way to get around. But of course,
this was a sunny Saturday. The real test would be how well I would
survive self-absorbed suburbanite traffic on a weekday in cold,
slippery rain. I’m not sure I want to risk my life fighting
for space on the crowded “rush hour” roadways.
It is for precisely that reason The Wife is demanding that the
current roadway projects in Albany incorporate bike lanes. It’s
a chicken and egg thing: which comes first, the bike lanes or the
bicyclists? From what I’m seeing, the demand for safe avenues
for bicycling is already there. Install the bike lanes, and people
who have never bicycled before will be out on the streets.
Why not? Imagine every major thoroughfare with bike lanes five
feet wide on either side of the street, separated by curbs, between
the sidewalk and parked cars. Washington, Western, Clinton, Morton/Holland,
Second Avenue, Hackett, Manning, New Scotland, all should be easily bikable.
And that’s just for starters.
Right now, The Wife is agitating for bike lanes to be incorporated
into the Delaware Avenue reconstruction plan. The space for the
lanes would come partly from narrowing the auto lanes slightly,
which would slow auto traffic. As far as I've heard, everyone along
Delaware wants slower traffic. The rest of the space for the bike
lanes would come by taking a few feet from the lawns on the north
side of the street. Most sidewalks would retain the same width.
On street auto parking would not be cut back.
I am delighted at how many people who live, work or travel on
or around Delaware are enthusiastic about her idea. Indeed, the
idea of bikable neighborhoods seems to have caught on all over
the City. I am continually astounded at how community activists
routinely include bikability in wish-lists for their own neighborhoods.
Of course, that view is not shared by our elected officials. Most
of our “representatives” want fast driving and parking
at any cost. Nor are bikable communities conceivable to planners
and consultants, who want to do hair-brained things like replace
intersections with deadly
roundabouts. These people understand
nothing other than suburbanization and sprawl. They are badly out
of touch with urban voters and taxpayers.
But what we want or don’t want may soon become secondary
to what we need. The price of gasoline has gone up sharply in the
last month, and despite attempts by government officials to deny
reality, analysts say it will continue to rise this summer. The
era of cheap gas is about to end.
This means that we are all going to have to learn how to get around
Albany more often without internal combustion engines. That is,
if we all don’t want to go broke. Ethanol can never be produced
in enough quantity to replace gasoline. Electric car technology
has been effectively suppressed for the near future. As for the
hype about hydrogen powered fuel cell cars, don't hold your breath.
So what are the alternatives to driving autos? Walking is pleasant
and healthy, but it sure is slow. Local busses are usually inconvenient,
and in most parts of Albany dismal or nonexistent. As for trains
and streetcars, we only have ghosts.
That leaves bicycles, which are cheap, easy and very flexible.
They can go almost anywhere at a moment’s notice. Anyone
in reasonable health can operate one. Indeed, operating a bike
is an excellent way to maintain reasonable health.
The Wife's Beloved Bike, Unmangled
As gas prices rise, middle class suburbanites will start trickling
back into the City, raising Albany’s population. (Actually,
they've already begun.) These financially squeezed immigrants will
be looking for alternatives to spending money for gasoline. It
is not hard to see that demand will continue to steadily rise for
City streets that are safe for bicycling. Current planning initiatives
that do not include bicycle lanes will prove inadequate a few years
If Albany wants to prosper in the foreseeable future, then we
need to accommodate expanding bicycle traffic. This is the beginning
of the decline of the automobile, and the dawn of the age of bicycles.
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