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Foss: How to make cities more walkable

Foss: How to make cities more walkable

Foss: How to make cities more walkable
Well-maintained street surfaces are crucial to making a neighborhood pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
Photographer: GAZETTE FILE

Don't get me wrong -- it's great that the city of Schenectady is working on a study that will look at ways to make the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. 

Cities should be walkable. 

And bikeable. 

But do we really need a study to tell us how to make Schenectady more walkable and bikeable?

Don't we already know what needs to be done to make it easier to get around on foot or by bike? 

Now, a study might generate new and interesting ideas for improving the stretch of road in question, the Craig Street/Main Avenue corridor between Albany and Crane streets. 

But a lot of the solutions are pretty basic, and plain as day to anyone who's ever walked or biked through Hamilton Hill or Mont Pleasant. Here are some that I came up with off the top of my head: 

1. Fill in the potholes and pave over rough patches of road. 

Potholes aren't just a problem for cars.

They can be a major hazard if you're on a bicycle. I've steered around many a pothole while biking through urban areas, and I consider myself lucky. You can paint all the bike lanes in the world, but if those lanes are filled with holes and rough patches, they won't pass muster with cyclists. 

2. Fix the sidewalks and make sure they're clear of snow and ice. 

A week ago, I wrote extensively about the need to do a better job clearing snow and ice from sidewalks during the winter, so I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself. But a community isn't walkable if the long stretches of sidewalk are routinely covered with ice and snow. The problem is compounded at crosswalks, where snow piles up and pedestrians are forced to clamber over tiny hills. 

Of course, many of Schenectady's sidewalks are in poor condition, which makes them difficult to navigate even in the best of weather. Remember, sidewalks are supposed to be accessible to all -- people in wheelchairs, parents pushing strollers, seniors -- not just young, able-bodied adults. 

In Schenectady, property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks in front of their homes, but the results are spotty, at best. A proposal, tabled last month by the City Council, would have allowed neighborhoods to create sidewalk-improvement districts and essentially pay the city to upgrade their sidewalks. 

I wasn't wild about this proposal, because it forces residents to foot the bill for what should arguably be a city service. (Don't Schenectady residents already pay enough in taxes and fees?) Regardless, it was at least an attempt to do something about the poor condition of the city's sidewalks, which will continue to crumble without intervention. 

3. Make sure crosswalks are clearly marked and encourage people to use them. 

A lot of crosswalks aren't easy to see, because the paint has faded. This is a problem. Another problem is the out-of-control jaywalking you see in a lot of heavily trafficked areas. Public education about why it's better to use a crosswalk than tempt death by darting out into better streets might help curtail some of these behavior. 

4. Get cars to stop speeding down corridors with a lot of pedestrians and cyclists. 

Are people ever pulled over for speeding on Crane Street? I'm sure they are, but the last time I walked around over there, I was struck by how fast people were driving, the distance between crosswalks and the overall difficulty I had crossing the road. 

It didn't feel especially safe or inviting, two things that deter people from walking or biking through a neighborhood. A plan for calming traffic and periodic crackdowns on speeders might make biking and walking in Mont Pleasant more appealing.  

One of the key advantages of living in a city is that you can get where you need to go regardless of whether or not you have a car. 

That advantage is greatly diminished when streets are filled with holes, when the sidewalk is slippery and covered with snow, when cars drive too fast and hardly anybody ever uses a crosswalk. 

As I said, I'm not opposed to a study to tell us how to make Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill more walkable and bikeable. 

I truly believe some good ideas could come out of it. 

But we already know what needs to be done to make it easier to get around these neighborhoods, and it's pretty basic, obvious stuff. 

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

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