Public policies that appear on their face to be “no brainers” often turn out to be far more complex than first appears. Such is the case with the proposed dedicated bike lanes for Lake Avenue. In a very thoughtful letter to the editor in the Saratogian, past Commissioner of Public Safety, Chris Mathiesen, cautions against the currently proposed plan.
In his letter he make reference to a “bike sharrow.” This is a “non dedicated” bike lane. It is marked in a way to advise drivers of the potential presence of people on bikes. It also shows people on bikes the best area to ride in. This is in contrast to the more rigorous “dedicated” bike lane where no other activity such as parking or cars is allowed..
I emailed the current Commissioner of Public Safety, Peter Martin, seeking his assessment of Chris’s concerns. To date I have not heard from him. If or when I do, I will post his response.
Lake Avenue Bike Lanes
During 2017, the section of Lake Avenue east of East Avenue was re-paved. The Public Safety Department is responsible for striping the traffic lanes and a request was made that the striping be done in such a way that would allow for dedicated bike lanes between St. Clement’s and East Avenue. Traffic regulations consultant and Public Safety Garage foreman Mark Benacquista met with me on site to discuss his options before starting the striping project.
After my discussions with Mark and after going door to door to determine the neighborhood opinions on the traffic and parking regulation changes that would be necessary for bike lanes, I decided that bike lanes should not be placed on that section of Lake Avenue. The factors that I had to consider included the irregular width of the street which is quite narrow in certain areas and the requirement that, without expensive widening of the street, bike lanes would make necessary the elimination of on-street parking on the north side of Lake Avenue from St. Clements to East Avenue. There is a heavy demand for parking due to East Side Rec activities. While some neighbors were in favor of bike lanes despite the loss of parking, others were opposed. Ultimately, I felt that it was not fair to take away on-street parking from residents and business people who had enjoyed this privilege for many years and to place heavier parking burdens on narrow adjacent streets such as Ritchie Place, Forest Avenue and Pinewood Avenue.
Our department also determined that a bike sharrow would not be a safe alternative because of the heavy tractor-trailer use on Lake Avenue which also serves as state Route 29. It was suggested that Caroline Street might be a safer and more workable alternative for bike traffic. I also suggested that sharrows on York Avenue from Ritchie Place to Circular Street and ultimately through an alley and on to the major bike trail on High Rock Avenue should be considered. Hopefully, these and other alternatives can be considered. Nearly everyone would like to see better accommodations for bicycles.
It should also be noted that the truck traffic on Lake Avenue exists because of the decision of the Town of Wilton not allow trucks from Route 29 to use a small portion of Weibel Avenue and Route 50. The Route 29 truck route for traffic going west to east is posted to avoid Lake Avenue but instead to proceed out the Arterial to the Loudon Road ramp and then on to Weibel Avenue. Unfortunately, truck traffic going east to west on Route 29 cannot follow a similar route without Wilton’s cooperation.
Mark Benacquista has recently retired after 29 years with the Department of Public Safety. During my tenure as Commissioner (2012-17), I found Mark to be a great source of information on traffic regulations as well as an effective and knowledgeable manager of the Public Safety garage. He also advised the City’s Planning Department and land use boards. Many thanks to Mark Benacquista.
Christian E. Mathiesen