Schenectady County

Lower State in Schenectady seen as residential village

The dreams for lower State Street include turning side streets into walking paths, building three


The dreams for lower State Street include turning side streets into walking paths, building three new parking garages, adding hundreds of residences and somehow convincing developers to pay for the work.

The plan may not come to fruition, but city workers have now created a full design for the area, in hopes of using it to encourage specific development that could eventually turn lower State Street into a booming village.

It might take 10 years. Or work could start in months. It all depends on whether anyone is willing to invest.

“I think it could happen,” said city Zoning Officer Steve Strichman, who worked on the proposal released this week. “I think it could be built out in 10 years. Things could start in two years. Look at downtown — things started in 2001, 2002, 2003, and then suddenly in 2004, boom!”

He also thinks developing residences in the lower State Street corridor could provide the fuel downtown needs to support retail — the final step in the reinvigoration desired.

“I think that’s the problem with Schenectady, why downtown doesn’t function like Saratoga. We need more residences downtown,” Strichman said. “This could be almost a commuter village.”

The high-speed bus route to Albany being built now could make it easy to live in Schenectady — where renting and owning are cheaper — yet work in Albany, he said.

The plan also highlights solutions to several problems in the area, in the hopes that the city could offer to fix infrastructure in exchange for residential and commercial development. Among the needs: more parking.

“I know,” Strichman said. “Despite the fact there’s parking all over the place and it’s all paved, there’s not enough parking.” Three garages could maximize parking while allowing green space in other parts of the neighborhood, he said.

To facilitate a village-like feel, the plans calls for three small side streets to be closed. Railroad Avenue and Water Street would become walking paths, while Fuller Street would become open space. To make up for the loss of their cross-connections, Erie Street would be extended all the way through the neighborhood.

“So you kind of have a grid pattern you didn’t have before,” Strichman said.

The plan also addresses the perennial problem of heavy trucks rumbling through the narrow streets of the nearby Stockade. Entrances to the historic district on Washington Avenue and South Church Street would be decorated with narrow gateways to discourage tall, heavy trucks.

State Street itself would only change slightly. New sidewalks are proposed, as business owners have urged. The street would also be narrowed to one lane between the bridge and South Church Street.

“Because right now, one lane is butting into the back of the buses,” Strichman said. “We’ll give the buses a separate lane. The street will be narrower. It will be easier to cross.”

Other plans require some approval from the state Department of Transportation — and that may be long in coming. Strichman wants a better way for students to cross Washington Avenue in front of SCCC, even though crossing there is not advised because the road is an entrance and exit ramp to Interstate 890.

Strichman said he wants a design that will acknowledge reality — that many students cross there, despite the traffic. DOT has not yet agreed to that.

He also wants a far more expensive change: getting rid of the ramps altogether.

“That exit should not be there,” he said, referring to the Washington Avenue interchange. He thinks the I-890 exit should be rebuilt to curve around SCCC, entering near the bridge.

“But it would cost $20 million and [the highway] is not even close to the end of its useful life,” he said. Still, he plans to start lobbying for a change now — even if DOT doesn’t need to rebuild the highway for 50 years.

“We might as well start now,” he said. “We have to start fostering the idea that it’s wrong. It never should have been there.”

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