On Tuesday, June 3, Town of New Paltz officials and the New Paltz Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee (BPC) hosted a public meeting at the New Paltz Community Center to discuss options for a path dedicated to use by bicycles and pedestrians, leading from the western end of the Carmine Liberta Bridge to the entrance of the Wallkill View Farm Market.
According to BPC spokesman Bill Weinstein, who opened the meeting, the public information session was part of a planning process funded by a $17,000 Greenway grant to the town. But construction of the path — envisioned as potentially one component in the Mohonk Preserve’s Gateway project — is by no means a done deal. “This is just the first meeting, in which we’re floating the idea of a bike path,” Weinstein said. “It’s about what a plan could look like.”
Meeting facilitator Susan Jainchill, a consultant from the environmental, planning and engineering firm AKRF of White Plains, reiterated that theme of tentativeness. “What we’re doing here tonight is to share information, but also to get input from you,” she explained.
Jainchill said that the town’s long-term goal is to create a route that will connect the Village of New Paltz to the mountains while affording cyclists and hikers a safer way to travel than Route 299 or its narrow shoulder. Weinstein noted that there had already been several serious accidents along the first eight-tenths of a mile west of the bridge, where the first phase of construction is envisioned. Besides connecting downtown New Paltz with the Mohonk Gatehouse, the next phase of the route is intended to make it possible for kids to walk or bike to the county fairgrounds and the Field of Dreams on Libertyville Road.
Jainchill said that AKRF had already “performed an inventory and assessment” of the first leg of the corridor and presented its findings and recommendations to town officials. For reasons that she did not specify, only the property to the north of Route 299 is under consideration as a potential site for the path. The land north of the 50-foot-wide Department of Transportation right-of-way is owned at present by the Open Space Institute, she said. The land trust is in the process of transferring the parcel to a private owner, but creation of an easement suitable for a trail will be part of the new deed.
The possible routes for a bicycle/pedestrian trail present a number of design challenges, Jainchill said, including steep slopes near the roadway, a drainage ditch, wetland areas, utility poles and the “complex intersection” where Mountain Rest Road empties onto Route 299. She called the intersection “overengineered,” with “large radii” that “signal cars to go quicker” as they round the turn. “We could revise the roadway geometry, but that’s out of our scope,” she noted, nor is burying the power lines an achievable short-term goal on the town’s budget for the project.
The meeting, at which attendees eventually broke up into teams to identify their priorities for the project, addressed some possible solutions to the busy intersection issue, including the construction of a roundabout or other traffic-calming device. But Jainchill pointed out that one of the potential routes identified by her firm for a combined bicycle and pedestrian trail would be set back a considerable distance from Route 299, skirting the wetlands on their west side before moving back toward the road on the western end of the .8-mile stretch. If the town selects this option, trail users would cross Mountain Rest Road about a quarter-mile away from the dangerous intersection.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Jainchill went over the pros and cons, point by point, of two potential routes that AKRF has designated Option A and Option B. Option A would widen the pavement and extend the shoulders on Route 299 to accommodate a dedicated lane for fast-traveling cyclists — the “Spandex crowd,” as one participant put it — and create a parallel, buffered walkway for pedestrians and slower cyclists slightly to the west. This option provides the shortest, most direct route and minimizes conflict between pedestrians and bicycles, but requires considerable grading of slopes and filling of ditches and wet spots.
Option B, the “circuitous route,” proposes a paved mixed-use trail traveling west of Route 299 for most of its length. It would be 14 feet in width, with two four-foot lanes for bicycles traveling in opposite directions and a six-foot lane for walkers and slow cyclists. It would minimize conflict between bikes and motor vehicles, conform to the existing topography and require much less cutting and filling. Jainchill also touted its ability to “provide varied experiences” for non-motorized travel, with the viewshed changing with the direction and slope of the path. “The circuitous route creates more of a park,” she said. “It’s quieter.” A small bridge would be needed for trail users to cross an existing stream, which the consultant suggested might be a good destination spot, with seating and shade structures. Interpretive elements and public artwork were also envisioned by AKRF along the route.
Most of the breakout groups did not come to any clear consensus as to which option they preferred. The cost of the project was one concern raised by several participants, and many cited pedestrian and bicycle safety as their primary concern. Some thought that ongoing farming activities in the fields along the Flats might be an issue. Some seemed cynical about the likelihood of keeping the most competitive cyclists off the shortest possible route no matter what alternative might be offered. And several participants asked whether Options A and B were the only choices on the table, suggesting some sort of hybrid solution.
At the end of the meeting, town supervisor Susan Zimet and highway superintendent Chris Marx discussed the feasibility of several options to reduce the danger to pedestrians and cyclists at the Mountain Rest Road intersection, which Marx termed “a good spot for a roundabout.” “Chris and I will talk to the county highway superintendent and take it to the next step,” said Zimet. “A comprehensive traffic plan is on our list of things to do.”
The supervisor expressed optimism that more funding for the construction phase of the project would become available as the project progresses. “Once we plan it, then we have to figure out how we’re building it, estimate costs…It’s a phase-in process,” she said. “We want to make New Paltz more bicycle-friendly.”
“This is Baby Step One,” said the Wallkill Valley Land Trust’s Christine DeBoer, in summing up the meeting. “There’s a lot you have to think about!”