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Foss: City bike plan a bold step forward

Foss: City bike plan a bold step forward

It's an approach to planning that represents significant philosophical shift
Foss: City bike plan a bold step forward
Bicyclists ride along a designated lane on Craig Street in September 2016.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Back in April, I spent some time at Schenectady's Electric City Bike Rescue, hanging out with the dedicated volunteers who teach people how to fix up old bicycles and get them back on the road. 

For people who don't own cars, these bikes are often a godsend — a way to get to school, or work, or around town. 

Unfortunately, biking around town can be a challenge. 

Reading through the city of Schenectady's bike infrastructure draft plan, released last month, I wasn't surprised to see that people don't think Schenectady is an especially bike-friendly city.

According to the online survey used to gather public comments during the plan's development, 42 percent of respondents found that biking in Schenectady was somewhat dangerous. 

Sixty percent of respondents felt that inconsiderate motorists deter them from biking on the streets, while 60 percent felt that poor roadway conditions prevent them from biking on the streets. 

I've biked around Schenectady, and it's not all bad — it's often possible to avoid the city's busier corridors by mapping out alternative routes that use side streets and paths. 

But you can't always do this, which is why navigating Schenectady on two wheels can feel unsafe. 

And when bicycling feels unsafe, people aren't going to do it. 

That's why the city's bike infrastructure draft plan is such a welcome development. 

Right now, the city's bike infrastructure is stuck in the past. 

The draft plan brings it up to date, establishing bike lanes and new connector paths throughout the city and calling for bike safety education programs to teach people how to ride safely and legally. 

Perhaps most importantly, the plan calls for the city to adopt a "complete streets" policy that would require Schenectady to create roads that are safe for all users - cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. 

It's an approach to planning that represents a significant philosophical shift, and would ultimately make the city more livable and easier to navigate. 

Other promising ideas including installing bicycle lanes on Broadway between Congress Street and Edison Avenue and installing lighting along the trail that runs through Vale Park and keeping it open in evening, so cyclists can access it. 

The plan calls for designated bike routes throughout the city, noting that there is "a lack of routes in the western and southern areas of the city." Connecting the city's different sections is key to making Schenectady a more bikeable community, and the plan's focus on neighborhoods is one of its strong suits. 

One area that isn't addressed is the city's new Amtrak station, which is expected to be completed in 2018, and how it might complement the city's cycling infrastructure. Will cyclists be able to park their bikes there for extended periods of time? Will Schenectady-bound travelers be encouraged to bring their bikes along and explore the area on two wheels? 

Critics might wonder whether it makes sense for Schenectady to invest so much time and energy in its bicycling infrastructure. 

I maintain that it does — that if you build bike paths and other cycling amenities, people will use them. 

Cycling is a fun hobby. 

But for many people, it's much more. 

You don't have to look to hard to see the people who use bikes to commute to work, or get to appointments, or visit friends and relatives. They're everywhere - and the city's bike plan envisions the safer, user-friendly system they deserve. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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