Road Cycling

GUEST COLUMN: City, county need to become more bike-friendly – The Daily Gazette

Regarding Brian Pelletier’s Oct. 19 letter to the editor (“Cyclists don’t belong on roads with cars”) arguing that bicyclists should stick to sidewalks and bike paths and leave the road to motorists like him, where does one begin?

A good place is with an effort like Cycle Schenectady, a new group that I and others have started to educate motorists, cyclists and policymakers about the rules of the road, the benefits of cycling and the need for bike lanes and other infrastructure to allow people to ride safely.
Cycling has a variety of benefits that make it a societal good.

It improves people’s health. It is beneficial for the environment, reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions. It eases traffic congestion and wear and tear on the roads.

Especially in a place like Schenectady, where many people can’t afford cars, it may be the only way they can get around and to work.

In 2001, the city of Schenectady adopted a bicycle master plan. That plan was never acted upon. Last year, the city adopted an updated version.

But the same fate is likely for this new plan unless someone continues to advocate for cyclists and makes sure it moves forward.

This is the major reason why earlier in the year, I contacted 15 people I know who care about cycling and asked if they wanted to be involved in a bike advocacy effort for Schenectady, similar to efforts that have been successful in Albany, Rochester, Buffalo and many other places.

To my surprise, most of them said yes. We have since held half a dozen meetings and are in the process of incorporating, becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and getting to work.

Our goal is to create a bike-friendly city and county in terms of safety, health, recreation, transportation, economic development and community building.

Bike lanes are vital; the city installed two good ones last year on streets in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood.

And the bike master plan calls for more of them. But Cycle Schenectady has a more ambitious aim than just bike lanes and other infrastructure: It is to create a true bike culture in Schenectady, where bicycles are not just tolerated, but encouraged and supported.

The new plan is an update of the earlier one, but improved and more ambitious.

In the last 18 years, as cycling has grown in popularity, many communities have become bike-friendly, and the planners who did the update benefited from new ideas, designs and practices.

Importantly, the plan calls for connectivity — to other bike lanes, off-road trails, and different neighborhoods.

Current lanes like the one on Nott Terrace end abruptly and unsafely. Connectivity is crucial if people are going to seriously consider using their bikes on local roads for recreation and transportation.

The new plan also calls for improvements in wayfinding, such as signs, maps and kiosks showing distances and routes.

In Schenectady, although the Greenway trail from Central Park through Vale Park to downtown has been open for years, there is still no signage directing people to it or telling people they are on it.

Signs provide important information to cyclists, and say to everyone that cycling is a valued and routine part of the community’s life.

Such things as installing more signs and bike racks are relatively easy to do, and they are two of Cycle Schenectady’s short-term goals.

Other objectives are getting the city to adopt Complete Streets legislation and appoint a bicycle advisory committee to make sure cyclists’ voices are heard when roads are repaired or rebuilt. This failed to happen with recent projects like the multi-million-dollar reconstruction of Erie Boulevard, which made no provision at all for bikes. Contrary to Mr. Pelletier’s view, we need more people cycling, not fewer.

And more would do it if we create bike-friendly communities where roadways are made as safe as possible for cycling, and motorists and cyclists respect and look out for one another.

That is the goal of Cycle Schenectady, and we invite others to join our effort.

Anyone interested in participating or supporting us, or wanting more information, should send an email to [email protected]

Art Clayman, now retired, was The Gazette’s longtime editorial page editor. He is a serious recreational cyclist and former bike commuter.