County officials are seeking public input for a federally funded project aimed at improving the safety of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail’s intersection with Route 5S in Rotterdam.
Among the changes proposed as part of a $148,000 realignment are making the trail more perpendicular to the road and shortening the distance to be crossed. The project also proposes to cut brush back for better visibility and to discourage vehicles from parking in an area nearby the trail to prevent them from obscuring the approach to the intersection.
New signs are also proposed to help alert motorists of the crossing, which is in an area where traffic routinely moves at speeds well in excess of the posted 40 mph speed limit. The county is hosting a meeting to gather input and ensure the grant money creates improvements that satisfy some of the concerns regularly expressed by people who regularly use the trail.
“It’s still in the design phase,” said Ray Gillen, Schenectady County’s economic development and planning commissioner. “The goal is to get input.” Poor visibility and a lack of signage at least partially caused an accident at the intersection that claimed the life of 73-year-old cyclist Al Fairbanks, who was struck by a vehicle as he crossed the roadway in November 2006. Fairbanks’ 10-speed is now painted white and remains chained to a wooden barrier by the crossing for much of the year, as both a memorial and a cautionary warning to other cyclists passing through.
A 2008 study funded by the Capital District Transportation Committee recommended narrowing the curb cut of Old Crawford Road at the intersection by the trail crossing and moving it west to improve the line of sight. Also suggested were traffic-calming devices, such as weave-pattern markings on the roadway on both approaches to the trail.
The grant requires a 20 percent match by the county. Improving the intersection is regarded as a valuable step in the ongoing effort to improve the bike path through western Schenectady County.
Further west from the intersection, county officials are considering a project to build a tunnel that would carry the bike path beneath the tracks leading to Pan Am Railways’ freight yard by Scrafford Lane. The project would help connect the bike path with rights-of-way acquired by the state that formerly held train tracks between Rotterdam Junction and Amsterdam in neighboring Montgomery County.
“It’s an important link in the bike-hike trail,” Gillen said of the intersection changes. “It’s a sizeable piece of funding to do what needs to be done at that intersection.”
Some believe the proposed changes would be helpful, but not helpful enough. Fred Thompson, a member of Friends of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail who knew Fairbanks well, believes more drastic changes need to occur at the crossing to prevent another tragedy from occurring.
“It’s a little discouraging, to tell you the truth,” he said of the proposal.
Thompson believes light posts would help illuminate the approach to the crossing better. He said signs warning motorists of the coming intersection should also be placed farther away, so drivers have more time to react.
“There’s not much we can do about slowing cars down except to warn them,” he said.
Thompson also wants the county to remove large posts from the center of the trail that have also caused bad accidents. In June, 62-year-old Kathy Botelho suffered major injuries after striking one of the posts on her bicycle and died about a week later.