By Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods
For The Daily Gazette
For years, Schenectady has marketed itself as a walkable city, but the reality has fallen short of that claim.
Every Schenectady neighborhood has streets that are unsafe for pedestrians and bike riders due to poor design or neglected maintenance.
Speeding and dangerous driving are commonplace across the city, and sidewalks are often in such poor condition that people have to walk in the street.
This is especially true in the winter, when many sidewalks are left uncleared for weeks at a time.
Schenectady lags behind other cities in the region in providing marked crosswalks, bike lanes and traffic calming measures that make a city truly walkable.
Fortunately, there is a solution.
In recent years, planners across the country have recognized that our communities are out of balance, and have developed an approach know as Complete Streets.
Complete Streets are designed to be safe and convenient for travel by automobile, foot, bicycle and transit, regardless of age or ability.
This approach has been endorsed by a host of organizations and government agencies, including AARP and, for state highways and projects funded with state money, the state Department of Transportation.
Now, it’s time to bring this approach to our neighborhoods.
Catching up to other cities on complete streets will take a commitment from the entire community.
That’s why Schenectady United Neighborhoods and Cycle Schenectady have formed the Safe Streets Coalition to to make our city safe for pedestrians and cyclists. We call on Mayor Gary McCarthy and the City Council to implement the policies the city has already adopted in documents such as the Smart Cities plan and the Bicycle Master Plan, and to adopt a neighborhood speed limit of 25 mph.
Our goal is a city where the streets are accessible and safe for everyone, not just those in cars.
Properly designed streets promote good health while increasing mobility.
When traffic is slowed down and streets are designed to protect pedestrians, kids can safely walk to school, seniors can move about with more confidence and more people will get out and get exercise.
The air will be cleaner if more people walk instead of drive.
This can even help fight global warming by reducing vehicle use.
It is also an equity issue.
Schenectady’s lower-income neighborhoods contain higher proportions of children, elderly and people with disabilities.
These groups often rely on public transit and don’t have cars. It isn’t fair that age, disability or poverty should put many city residents at greater risk of being seriously injured or killed by a speeding vehicle due to the lack of adequate pedestrian facilities.
A walkable city is an economically viable city.
Local development agencies recognize the importance of crosswalks and bike lanes in attracting new businesses and young professionals to the city.
Streets that are safe for walking and biking will help build on the progress made downtown.
And, slower speed limits don’t significantly increase travel time, since cars usually just race from one street light or stop sign to the next. In fact, when complete streets policies are adopted in business districts, local shops typically see an increase in sales from increased visibility.
Police enforcement is one way to create safer streets, but police efforts are hindered by streets designed for high speeds.
Design modifications to slow down traffic and make our streets safe for all pedestrians and bike riders should be adopted in all parts of the city. Public education should also be provided to remind everyone of traffic rules.
These approaches are less costly and more effective than relying on police enforcement alone.
Recently, the City Council took an important first step by endorsing pending state legislation that would authorize cities to adopt speed limits lower than 30 mph.
Now it’s time for city government to step up and incorporate bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly policies into all city operations.
Safe streets create a healthier and more equitable community, a better business climate and stronger tax base.
Don’t we deserve that?
Tom Carey, a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, is president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods.