EDITORIAL: Union Avenue changes create legitimate concerns

A person uses a crosswalk to cross Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. City officials will be hosting a public discussion about proposed changes to the popular road on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. at a location to be determined. 
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A person uses a crosswalk to cross Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. City officials will be hosting a public discussion about proposed changes to the popular road on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. at a location to be determined. 

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Change is good … unless it’s not.

Saratoga Springs officials need to keep that awkward sentence structure in their heads as they consider potential changes to Union Avenue, the most storied and stately gateway into the city that passes in front of century-old houses and the historic thoroughbred race track.

Any changes they make will somehow have to satisfy disparate constituencies in the city who are concerned with history, aesthetics, recreation and quality of life, traffic congestion, neighborhoods, tourism and public safety.

The public will have their chance next month to discuss and provide feedback on a proposal for enhancements along the roadway that may include construction of bike lanes on Union Avenue between East Avenue and Circular Street.

The goal of the project is to connect Union Avenue to upcoming state Department of Transportation improvements between East Avenue and Henning Street.

Initial proponents of the concept argue that providing more access for pedestrians and cyclists will enhance the gateway to the city; encourage more people to walk and bike to Saratoga Race Course; and make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, who already use the corridor, by slowing down vehicle traffic. They argue there’s room in that space for not only bike lanes, but a turn lane and even more trees.

Early opposition to the plan comes from those concerned about making already heavy traffic congestion worse, especially during the summer track season. Narrowing the existing traffic lanes to accommodate bike lanes would create a more dangerous situation for cyclists and motorists, more traffic would spill into the neighborhoods, and the addition of bike paths would spoil the historic Union Avenue streetscape, they argue.

We agree that making traffic corridors more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists with the creation of bike/walking lanes can enhance a community. Making downtowns more inviting by making them more “walkable” has in many cases expanded public access to downtown areas and boosted struggling downtown economies.

And concerns about public safety as cars share more space with bikes and pedestrians can be alleviated with protected bike paths, crossings enhanced with barriers and flashing lights, and more vigilant traffic control to reduce vehicle speeds.

As for spoiling the historic streetscape, we’re not sure how a bikeway will do that. Union Avenue is hardly the dirt road with horse-and-buggies it was when the track and many of the homes were built. It’s got sidewalks, traffic lights and crosswalks, just like any modern roadway in a historic community. Are they worried about garish paint colors for the bike paths and flashing stoplights?

The lights already exist, and bike paths don’t have to be bright pink and day-glow green to be safe and effective.

There are legitimate concerns about the volume of vehicles, especially during track season, and about the speed at which they travel.

How will the bike lanes fit in with the typical track day, when thousands of visitors are walking along the roadway and crossing the street at various locations, and when hundreds of vehicles are turning in and out of parking lots and side streets?

Do neighbors have a legitimate concern about traffic spilling into their streets to avoid congestion on Union created by the new bike path? They might.

One could argue bikeways and track traffic are incompatible. But cyclists using bike paths in many urban areas regularly deal with traffic, side streets, parking lots, driveways and pedestrians crossing back and forth. How would this be any different?

Before making any improvements, the city will need to bring in a traffic engineer to provide accurate information about vehicle congestion and speeds, as well as access to and from the parking lots and side streets.

There are many concerns to address and a lot of public input to be solicited before the city makes any changes to the vital Union Avenue corridor.

Change is good … unless it’s not. That’s what this will ultimately come down to.

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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