Schenectady Zoning Officer Steven Strichman is passionate about bicycling, but he never expected to find himself trying to turn through heavy traffic next to a highway entrance.
But that’s where he ended up during this week’s bicycling challenge, an idea he created to investigate the possibility of bicycle commuting.
Strichman said he would go everywhere by bike — or bus, if necessary — and avoid his car for a full work week. He challenged Gazette Reporter Kathleen Moore, who managed to stay on her bike for all but one trip during the week. He wound up driving two of the five days, partly because his teenage children wanted rides to school.
But even three days of commuting won him over.
Two-wheeled travel wins reporter over. Click HERE.
“It’s actually pretty easy to do once you’re doing it,” he said.
Strichman had hesitated to rely on a bicycle partly because he uses his car at work to get to meetings and events elsewhere in the city. He wanted to discover whether it was truly possible to do all of that by bike.
He found that it didn’t take much longer to get where he needed to go — Schenectady’s small size meant it was almost as quick to bike and lock up near the location as it was to drive and then search for a parking space.
But as a city employee, it reminded him that the city still has a long way to go.
The city needs to add bike paths near Crane Street and Interstate 890, he said. And until the city paints bike lanes on the main streets of Mont Pleasant and Bellevue, he said, cyclers will never feel comfortable there.
The city already has a bicycle master plan, which was intended to guide improvements when the city rebuilds key roads.
But the plan was written long ago. This week, Strichman printed out the plan and gave it to the Engineering Department to make sure it is not forgotten as the city embarks upon several multi-million-dollar road projects this year.
The main focus of the plan is on adding bike lanes at busy intersections, so cyclists who want to continue straight won’t get snarled in traffic trying to turn.
Strichman didn’t ride in a single bike lane this week because there weren’t any on the roads he used.
He could’ve used one when he took the new express BusPlus to Albany for a doctor’s appointment. After getting his bike off the bus rack, he had to negotiate the intersection of Everett Road and Central Avenue, as well as riding past the entrance and exit ramps for I-90.
“It was a little uncomfortable,” he said. “I rode in the shoulder, crossing a major freeway entrance, crossing over to turn. I wasn’t happy with my solution, but I made it.”
In Schenectady, some bike commuters say the intersection of Nott Terrace, Union Street and Union Avenue is the most in need of a bike lane.
Union Avenue comes into Union Street at an angle just above the Nott Terrace intersection, leaving drivers and cyclists confused.
“We think it’s the most horrible in the city,” said Mary Moore Wallinger, a cyclist who works at Synthesis downtown. “It’s very unclear — you’re in the middle of it and it’s not clear where you should be, and the cars aren’t paying attention because they’re focused on going left, then right.”
Bike commuter and Union College professor Andrew Morris said bike lanes would also tell drivers to give bikes room on the road.
“A big part of it is establishing legitimacy for bikes on the road,” he said.
He’s also not fond of the potholes and cracks on the city streets, although he acknowledged that last year’s paving blitz made a big difference. The city paved 10 miles of main roads last year and will pave another 10 miles this year.
But many roads are still rough, so he recommends slightly wider tires than normal for city bikes.
“You’ve just got to get big tires if you’re going to do it,” he said.
He, too, found that it is faster to pedal to his destination than it is to drive and find a parking space. But mainly, he rides because he doesn’t want to drive.
“It’s more about not wanting to use the car,” he said. “And it feels better.”