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
3 thoughts on “Mathiesen Cautions On Bike Lane Plans For Lake Avenue”
Thank you for standing up against the insanity Chris. I just wish you had done the same concerning Geyser Rd.
Bikes are on roads totally uninsured and cause accidents, why is this? People who ride bikes on the roads should all be insured.
As a bike rider, I have trekked for years on Lake Avenue traveling east along route 29 to Stafford’s Bridge Road before turning off onto less trafficked roadways. I ride in the narrow shoulder with my lights on and never imperiously assume my place on the road regardless of my “vehicle rights” (as a slow-moving vehicle) within not only the 30 mph lanes but certainly not within the 45 and 55 mph zones. I never ride traveling west on this strip against the setting sun which makes visibility of a bicyclist nearly impossible by the vehicles traveling in the same direction. This discussion of this section of roadway in question takes little accounting of the fact that both sides of this roadway already have minimal width street parking both in front of the church and residences. Signage that instructs restricted parking to corners of intersections suggests by omission that cars are permitted to park on these token shoulders.
I am a bit confused understanding how a dedicated bike lane would begin and end leaving one to imagine what happens at their terminus points. I presume that the bike route suggested by Dr. Mathiesen considers a specific flow of traffic, but it appears all too specific suggesting an undefined point of origin or destination.
NYS recently incorporated legislation (NY Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) – §1231) that permits access by bicycles on all roadways and dedicated bike lanes providing that the bicyclist assumes all the responsibilities of a vehicular driver. “Every person riding a bicycle …. upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” One might conclude then, that bicycles and their riders could be required at some time, to be inspected for safety equipment, their vehicles registered and that their operators licensed to follow all the laws which vehicles must adhere to, and if not, why not? Will traffic infractions by bicycle riders in vehicular traffic now be subject to enforcement by the police and fines because of this already mandated legislation?
Dr. Mathiesen also expressed empathy for the privilege of parking on the street in front of one’s own home, yet in zones that are single family, it should be understood that it is less a privilege than an expectation. Neighborhoods whose residents incorporate pre-existing non-conforming multi-use, multifamily structures both legal and noncompliant and unpermitted structures and who have sought relief from the city through zoning appeals or not, are required to satisfy their individual parking demands without a taking from their neighbors under the auspices of the municipality. We also have districts in the city where parking during the summer is exacerbated by the immense burden of on street parking and storage that originates from the racecourse, thus removing one’s so-called assumed privilege in these single-family zones for six weeks. Should we consider resident parking throughout these neighborhoods with an equal sense of concern? While we consider the problems of cycling on roadways throughout our city and specifically along this section of Lake Avenue/Route 29 might we also consider the very public but inaccessible rights-of-way (ROW) not only on this particular route, but throughout our public neighborhoods that prevent people from walking or maneuvering a wheelchair on a safe sidewalk with planting strips that are the necessary spaces to store snow in the winter, from both the street and the sidewalk? Encroachment on these public lands defies present concerns for safety, whether we discuss bicycles or pedestrians and the expense of widening roadways into the public ROW dedicated for safe passageways for pedestrians and the accompanying tree planting bed buffers. As for those narrow shoulders beyond the painted white lines along roadways dedicated often for road bikes and flattened squirrels, it would be welcomed if the jurisdictions involved could routinely monitor and repair these sidings that have disintegrated over time leaving dangerous potholes and mudholes that force bicycles into often faster lane of traffic.
This contemplative missive was not meant to be a can of worms, but I think that the learning curve for bicycles and vehicles will be a long one, always instructing bicycle riders to err on the side of safety. Cars are bigger, heavier and faster and slow-moving traffic is always slow-moving traffic. I don’t believe we’ve ever taken pedestrians walking along a roadway adjacent to an existing however inaccessible ROW as seriously, yet our city’s risk manager may consider that concern on our city streets as we work our way along this corresponding discussion within our pedestrian accessible streets and bikeway friendly municipality.