Getting around without cars

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Have you been surprised to learn of the large numbers of incidents in which pedestrians and motorized vehicles have collided over the past few years? The state is now installing new lights, detectors, and walk/don’t walk signals at the dangerous intersection of Main and Partition. It may be necessary, but it’s also a little jarring in the low-key heart of the village, and quite disruptive in the summer season.

There really should be another way to keep pedestrians safe on village streets, and this is precisely what the Saugerties Transportation Advisory Council (STAC) aims to do. Its purpose is to make recommendations to town and village elected officials to establish Saugerties streets as places where walkers, bikers and drivers are all safe and welcome. The Complete Streets project is a nationwide movement promoting “active transportation”— walking, roller blades, scooters, bicycles, wheelchairs, any form of non-motorized transportation. It was adopted by the town and village last year.

The newly-adopted Complete Street  policy is based on a 2008 study called the  Saugerties Area Mobility Analysis. The council is made up of volunteer citizens plus representatives from the town and village boards and other advisors. Town Board representative to STAC Leeanne Thornton says the volunteers were chosen from a field of applicants to represent all perspectives and include business owners, a bicycle enthusiast, a motorcycle rider, a geo-tech expert with many years of experience in highway markings and signage and a high school student. I was able to speak with several of them plus Kristen Wilson of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, who approached the committee with the grant that really got things rolling.

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It will be a challenge. Saugerties is a crossroads for state routes 9W, 32 and 212, and for a small town, has more than its share of traffic. Streets designed in the 1800s now have to provide room for parking and both motorized and non-motorized traffic as well as pedestrians, who have become more numerous as the shopping district has rebounded.

Rae Stang, proprietor of Lucky Chocolates and chair of the committee, talked about making the village a more enjoyable place to spend time, important for attracting residents and visitors, millennials and boomers alike. She believes that a walkable village increases property values and bikeable destinations attract an important tourist demographic.

Committee member Matt Gleason, proprietor of Brine Barrel Deli, mentioned the need for repairs to village sidewalks, citing them as dangerous to some. He also mentioned the need for crosswalks on lower Partition, where there are no traffic signals and drivers tend to pick up a little speed after they get through the denser part of the business district.

But there’s another place where even more walkers and bicycle riders must share the road with cars: Washington Ave., especially in the vicinity of the junior and senior high school buildings and Cantine Field. So the first priority for STAC will be to finish the three missing blocks of sidewalk just south of the school. The research phase will involve a student STAC member who will be conducting a survey of high school students to determine how many of them walk, bike and drive to school.

The committee acts strictly in an advisory capacity but hopes to eventually be included in the planning process. For example, making sure alternative transportation is considered when roads are repaved.

Public health is another concern. Wilson points out that the Saugerties grant came from the Department of Health. If it’s safer and easier to walk or bike around the community, more people will do it and benefit from the exercise.

While health, safety, and economic arguments for sharing the streets and roadways are strong, this brings up a wider issue for me: our over-dependence on automobiles. I would love to live in a Saugerties where I had options for getting to and even around the village (from one end to the other, for example) other than my car, or even for getting from my house to the village conveniently.

Gleason shared some of my enthusiasms, but said improved public transportation is not in STAC’s line of sight at present. We talked about having more county buses and bus stops to connect Saugerties more conveniently to Woodstock and Kingston.

He thought my description of the shuttle that transports people around in the small town of Ojai, California, where I lived for several years, sounded good. Imagine being able to park at the Price Chopper and ride around the village in a small multi-passenger vehicle that made a continuous loop down to the village beach and back! Imagine being able to get from where I live, near the Bluestone Tavern on 32, to the Price Chopper in the same way! These are just gleams in my eye at present, but I can dream. In the meantime and on a more immediately practical note, Matt suggested that large trucks be encouraged to stay on the Thruway instead of using 9W and sidewalks from Stewart’s to the park-and-ride on 32 be extended.

STAC has achieved completion of its first project, the stencils indicating Bike Route A down to the lighthouse. It’s a good start, and I expect that this group, having established solid foundations, will go on to be a force for improvements in our wonderful village and town.

Janet Asiain’s column appears monthly.