Leaders of three community organizations took to the (virtual) floor at Monday’s City Council meeting to rally support behind their campaign to advocate for safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists in the city — including a proposal to lower the city’s speed limits from 30 to 25 miles per hour.
Schenectady United Neighborhoods President Tom Carey, Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger and Cycle Schenectady founder Art Clayman all urged the council and Mayor Gary McCarthy Monday in support of getting the city to adopt a “complete streets” approach to road design and safety.
“Our goal is a city where the streets are accessible and safe for everyone — not just those in cars,” said Carey, whose group is a coalition representing multiple neighborhood associations.
The goal of the initiative, Unger said, is to “put pedestrians and cyclists on an equal footing with the cars that race through our neighborhoods every day.”
The group’s priorities include a list of 20 specific actions for the city to implement. Among them are lowering the speed limit to 25 mph citywide and 15 mph in Central Park, adopting “complete streets” legislation, fully implementing the city’s bike master plan, allocating 2 percent of the budget for cyclists and pedestrians, increasing pedestrian safety around housing projects and senior facilities, providing safe routes to schools for all children, adopting design changes when replacing city streets and providing education for drivers, pedestrians, businesses and public employees.
Reducing the city speed limit would require permission from the state Legislature, and all three speakers urged the council to approach local legislators with the proposal.
“It seems the city’s 30 mph speed limit isn’t a ceiling, but a floor,” said Clayman, who cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics that state a pedestrian has a 10-percent chance of being killed or seriously injured when struck by a car going 15 mph, but that chance goes up to 50 percent when the speed increases to 31 mph. “Most drivers are well in excess of that. They need to slow down. There is little to lose and everything to gain from doing so.”
Carey highlighted that Schenectady “lags behind other cities in the region in providing marked crosswalks, bike lanes and other facilities that make a city truly walkable,” and that adopting the “complete streets” policies would help the city in numerous facets.
Not only would it make streets safer for the preponderance of community members who don’t use cars — children, elderly residents and individuals with disabilities were singled out — but, he added, an increase in walking and cycling would have both health and environmental benefits.
A more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly city, Carey said, is also key for the city’s economic future as a point of attraction for businesses and potential homeowners.
“A walkable city,” he said, “is an economically viable city.”
Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas’ report as chairperson of the City Planning and Development Committee also advocated that the city look into what can be done in terms of redesigning roads and traffic patterns to address the issues of speeding and dangerous intersections.
“I want to discuss it with the city engineer, the police chief and the mayor,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said. “We should be looking at it from a data-driven approach and use DDACTS [Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, a partnership between the NHTSA, National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance] to identify the most dangerous intersections.”
Unger said that every neighborhood in the city has identified trouble spots that can be addressed.
“When there are residents who spend summer evenings sitting on their front stoop at Church and Front streets, watching the close calls that happen every day, you know it is time to take action,” she said. “And, in this particular case, it would mean just adding two more stop signs.”
Focusing on the city’s neighborhoods with this initiative, Unger added, would also provide a positive signal to residents who are concerned that the city is expending its revitalization efforts in the downtown area, while the residential neighborhoods get “short shrift.”
“This initiative is a tangible way for the city to show its support for neighborhoods,” she said. “Further, it is just the right thing to do where the safety of your constituents is at stake.”
Clayman added, “People who live in lower-income neighborhoods want and deserve safe havens, just like anyone else.”
STARTING A DIALOGUE
In addressing the meeting, Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she felt moved to speak in response to the riots in support of President Donald Trump that breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The incident happened as a joint session of Congress met to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
“I feel like I really have to mention it,” Porterfield said, “because it’s heavy on my heart and I’m sure that all of us, or most of us, have been talking about what happened at the Capitol on the sixth of January.”
Porterfield cited that the last time the Capitol was breached by a storm of people was during the War of 1812, and labeled those in last week’s riotous mob as “domestic terrorists.”
“We really do have to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” she said. “We don’t agree on everything. We’re very clear about that. However, the answer to that question is not violence. It just is not.”
Porterfield said that conversations about the events were necessary, and she was working with a group that is planning a town hall to discuss it.
“People need to talk about this and hear different viewpoints about it,” she said.
Porterfield also raised the issue of the treatment by law enforcement of the largely white crowd at the Capitol protest in comparison to those who stepped forward to participate in Black Lives Matter protests throughout the summer.
That conversation, Porterfield said, is one that many will find “uncomfortable,” but that’s precisely why she believes it’s necessary.
“We need to really talk about how people are treated differently because of their race, ethnicity and background,” she said. “Those are conversations that need to be had. As we talk about this, we need to really look at how people are policed differently in different communities.
“We’re not going to solve all of that today, but I definitely want to bring it forward because it’s just trouble on so, so, very many sides, and we as elected know that it didn’t happen here, but we have a responsibility to at least address and talk about it.”
The only legislative matters on the agenda Monday were resolutions authorizing the sale of three properties — 238 Linden St., 313 Front St. and 1850 Albany St. — all of which passed.