SCHENECTADY — A popular state-crossing bike trail runs along the Mohawk River through Schenectady County, but the city of Schenectady has done relatively little to take advantage of it.
Not only are there few, if any, signs directing people on the Hudson-Mohawk Bike Trail to city attractions, but more than half the people who responded to a city-sponsored survey last year said they considered biking in the city "somewhat" or "very" dangerous, and barely 1 percent considered riding in the city "safe."
Those perceptions could change, as city leaders hope to draw more of the thousands of people who make extended trips along the bike trail into the city. They also plan to develop networks of on-road and off-road bike routes throughout Schenectady.
On Monday, the City Council is expected to adopt a new bicycle master plan that will begin to expand bike access, adding bicycle lanes and signs that will help visiting cyclists find their way around the Electric City.
"We are one of the few fortunate cities along the Mohawk-Hudson bike trail, so we are in a prime location," said Peter Knutson, assistant city engineer, who has overseen development of the master plan over the past year and a half. "We can actually help get people downtown and spending money and stuff like that."
The council's City Development and Planning Committee approved the proposed plan unanimously Monday. The committee is comprised of council members Ed Kosiur (chair), John Mootooveren and Marion Porterfield.
Council members said they approve of the plan, but they believe the city's cycling-development efforts also need to emphasize bicycle safety: that cyclists wear safety helmets and obey the rules of the road, from youngsters learning to ride to adults who commute by bike.
"I get the youth component, but I see more adults riding," said Council President Leesa Perazzo, noting she knows adult cyclists who've been hit by cars while riding. "Riding in traffic, flying down Broadway hill, no helmet ... the more we can get people adopting safe practices while riding their bikes, the better."
City Engineer Chris Wallin said the council needs to be aware that adopting the plan will bring changes that may encounter some resistance, specifically from people used to parking in areas that will be designated as bike lanes.
"This is hard. Not doing this is easy," he said. "This is changing, adopting this, and the city is changing, too. We have employees who don't own cars. We have people here who don't own cars. We have 500 more apartments that weren't here three years ago. Car ownership down, biking up, city different — bike lanes."
The 255-page plan was developed for the city by Alta Planning + Design of Saratoga Springs, using a $75,000 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee, the Capital Region's transportation planning agency. Knutson said it was the product of numerous meetings, including a public input meeting in June.
The plan is broken into three phases of work, with the first being "low-hanging fruit" improvements that can be accomplished relatively quickly, because the streets are wide enough to accommodate a bike lane or the work can be done relatively inexpensively.
Phase I projects include re-striping the road to establish bike lanes or shared-use paths on Broadway, Brandywine Avenue, Washington Avenue, Grand Boulevard, Crane Street and other city-owned roads. Shared-use paths are separate from the road but are shared with pedestrians.
Wallin noted that the city has applied for grant money to add bike lanes along Craig and Main streets, which could become the backbone of a Hamilton Hill neighborhood cycling network and create a bike link to the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. Phase I would also include new signs and other work intended to improve connections between the Mohawk-Hudson path and areas visitors might want to see, including downtown and the historic Stockade neighborhood.
Phase II projects, which Knutson said would require additional planning and be more difficult to accomplish, include establishing dedicated bicycle lanes along State, Union and Hamburg streets, as well as further development of neighborhood routes.
Phase III projects, which Knutson said would take the longest to achieve, would require coordination with railroads, the state Department of Transportation or other communities. Some are in areas where additional construction would be required.
"Our bike infrastructure is really so limited, we really want to close all the gaps that we have," Knutson said. He said the goal is to have bike infrastructure within a couple of blocks of everyone in the city.
The city's current bike plan was adopted in 2001, but Knutson said the plan should ideally be updated every 10 years or so.