Schenectady County

City trying to be more green

City employees are finally getting a bike rack, putting an end to their days of hauling bikes up mar
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City employees are finally getting a bike rack, putting an end to their days of hauling bikes up marble stairs and stashing them in crowded offices each day.

The equipment couldn’t come at a better time. As gasoline prices rise, more and more people are talking about biking to work — even though many city employees would not save much money because they live less than four miles away.

Zoning Officer Steven Strichman is so dedicated to non-motorized transportation that he even uses his bike to pick up his daughter at the nearby St. John the Evangelist School. They ride home together, and then he bikes back to finish his work day, throwing his bike back into his office before racing out to meetings.

Likewise, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden hauls his bike up two flights of stairs and has figured out the CDTA bus route so that he can avoid biking home in the dark when city meetings end late.

At first, he liked the idea of being environmentally friendly by biking instead of driving.

“We’ve become too dependent on oil,” he said. “We need to stop, if you will, being slaves to the oil. It is a finite resource.”

But when gas hit $3.90 a gallon, it was suspicions of price-gouging, not environmentalism, that moved him to pedal to work.

Now he wants to avoid using gasoline to make a point, even if he has to spend more money on buses than he would spend on fueling up his car. “We need to send a message to the oil industry that we’re tired of paying these prices,” he said.

His personal consumption decrease isn’t likely to trigger concern in Saudi Arabia — he lives only a few miles away from City Hall. But the world’s biggest producer of oil is worried about people like him. Saudi Arabia recently announced that it would increase production because officials were concerned that the high prices would persuade many people to cut back on their usage.

That fear may be realistic — after all, Van Norden said he didn’t think about biking until May. But Strichman said he’s been avoiding the car for years.

“I try and walk whenever I can. I think it’s a good thing to do for my health and the environment,” he said. “And it sends a good message to my daughter: we don’t have to be dependent on the car for everything.”

He said he thinks bike racks will encourage other city employees to bike to work. But what the city really needs, he said, is bike racks outside local businesses.

Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said the agency may add racks to its parking lots, which are scattered throughout the downtown.

“It might be a natural spot,” he said. “But we’ve been more focused on creating trails, connecting the disconnected parts of the bike trail and creating the new trail through Vale Cemetery to downtown.”

He, too, is thinking about biking to work more regularly, although he insists it has nothing to do with gas prices or the environment.

“I have biked here. I did it for the exercise. It’s only two miles, but it’s better than nothing,” he said.

limited impact

But even the city employees who bike to work still end up using plenty of gas during the work day. Van Norden drives to Albany for some court cases and Strichman must drive to houses throughout the city as part of his zoning enforcement duties. Others, including the police, spend their entire workday driving.

The city is spending 45 percent more on gas this year than last year — going from $620,000 to $940,000 so far, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.

But none of the driving can be avoided, he said, adding, “We still have to pick up garbage five days a week.”

It’s a hot topic. At Monday’s Schenectady City Council committees meeting, Councilman Joseph Allen asked for ideas on how to reduce gas consumption. Allen suggested a four-day workweek, but Olsen and Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the city would need to provide services every day.

City officials are taking steps to make their diesel vehicles more environmentally friendly — but they will also become less efficient.

“We got a grant to retrofit the diesels,” Olsen said. “It will reduce our carbon footprint. But it’ll probably make them less fuel-efficient.”

The change will get the city’s biggest polluters up to the current emissions standards, which Olsen believes will soon be required.

“They’re grandfathered now, but it’s going to be made mandatory at some point,” he said.

There was one piece of bright news: the city won’t have to pay for the improvements. A $100,000 state grant will cover the work.

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