The people of New Paltz have spoken: In a public meeting at the Community Center last Thursday, representatives of the Ulster County Transportation Council presented several different options for replacing the existing Adirondack Trailways Bus Terminal in an Intermodal Feasibility Plan that has been under development since the last such meeting in November 2013. At the end they asked the attendees for a show of hands as to which alternative people preferred, and the consensus came down strongly in favor of a plan to expand the bus station in situ instead of moving it elsewhere.
According to Michael Allen of Behan Planning & Design, one of the partners in the design team engaged by the county, the planners shaped their search based on the three top priorities identified by citizens at the November 2013 meeting at SUNY New Paltz: walkability, a central location and the availability of parking nearby. A design was drafted for a model 40,000-square-foot bus terminal with bays for six buses, and then the team set to work to identify possible sites to accommodate it, starting with 70 properties in the town and village. A scoring system narrowed the candidates down to six, and further study of their pros and cons eliminated three of them.
The three remaining sites under consideration included the current Trailways location at the corner of Prospect and Main Streets; the Park & Ride across from Stewart’s on Route 32 North and adjacent property that was occupied by STS until that business was destroyed in a recent fire; and the site of the Highway Department garage behind Village Hall, off Plattekill Avenue. Not a single hand was raised in favor of the latter site, which was roundly criticized by attendees on account of the fact that it would require buses to be routed onto Hasbrouck Avenue and other heavily residential streets and exacerbate traffic backups at the corner of Main Street and South Manheim Boulevard, by the middle school.
The Route 32 Park & Ride site had some supporters, though many attendees expressed concern that it was too far a walk from the center of town, and especially from the SUNY campus. Allen showed slides of a planned layout that would provide 45 parking spaces and room for six buses to be loading at one time. A new terminal building and a covered waiting area would be built, and the site had the advantage of not unduly impacting residential neighborhoods. Several attendees, including Fran Wishnick and Village Board member Rebecca Rotzler, urged that the site’s potential use for long-term parking and as a shuttle stop be prioritized even if it is not adopted as a new bus station.
But the crowd grew much more enthusiastic as Allen illustrated two different potential layouts of an expanded facility on the existing Prospect Street site. In Alternative A, a vacant lot behind the Citgo station and row of stores at 123 Main Street would be transformed into a parking lot with more than 100 spaces to serve the bus station, with automobiles entering via the existing alleyway from Main Street and exiting onto Prospect. A dedicated pedestrian path and new crosswalks would connect to the bus terminal, which would be used exclusively for buses, accommodating up to four simultaneously. The Main Street side of the bus station lot would be redesigned to provide a taxi stand and a dropoff area that Allen described as a “kiss & ride,” and a new UCAT bus pulloff would be constructed on the Main Street side of the Citgo station.
Under Alternative A, the existing bus terminal building would be renovated but continue to occupy its present footprint. Alternative B would expand the site further by acquiring and razing the apartment building just to the north on Prospect Street. This would create 24 new parking spaces, plus provide room to construct a new terminal building.
Allen acknowledged the general feeling among the crowd that the Prospect Street site, whichever alternative were ultimately selected, would best meet the identified top priorities of a centrally located bus terminal within reasonable walking distance of the village commercial center and the SUNY campus. But he also pointed out its significant limitations: For one thing, even if the adjacent property is added, it does not allow for future expansion as demand grows. And it would not alleviate current issues of circulation and traffic flow.
As any Paltzonian motorist knows, making left turns onto or across Main Street is a challenging proposition, often requiring long waits. One option that Allen mentioned was having buses turn right instead of left out of the lot during peak traffic periods, going north on Prospect and then turning onto Henry W. DuBois Drive. This did not sit well with meeting attendees for the same reason that they didn’t like the Village Hall site: too much impact on residential streets.
A suggestion by New Paltz resident Craig Shankles that a new “operator-activated” traffic signal be installed at the corner of Prospect and Main, to be in use only when buses are waiting at the corner, was deemed feasible by the transportation experts running the meeting. Town Board member Jeff Logan expressed concerns about the “queuing” of traffic lights on Main Street, saying that he feared that “adding another would create a domino effect.”
But for all its limitations, a “new and improved” Prospect Street bus terminal was the clear crowd favorite at the meeting. “Look at the amount of parking it adds,” enthused village Environmental Conservation Commission chair Don Kerr. “It’s just amazing.”
Asked where the money would come from to acquire and/or improve the property, Ulster County Planning director Dennis Doyle said that there were many ways to craft a public/private partnership to own and operate a bus terminal, but that specific acquisition costs could not be publicly discussed, according to the terms of the federal funding for the transportation study. He expressed confidence, however, that additional funding would be available under the Federal Transit Administration’s Urbanized Area Formula Program, known as “5307 money.”
Doyle said that such grant funding typically requires a 20 percent local match, but that the state usually supplies half of that. “There are no unlimited pots of money, but there is certainly wherewithal available,” he said. “Do we have two million dollars? Probably.”
As the popular consensus in favor of maintaining and expanding the present Trailways site was so clear by the end of the meeting, Ulster County Transportation Council planner Brian Slack said that he would move forward with that option and present a recommended plan to the Village Board within two months.