Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Portland, Seattle, Boulder. These are some of the best bicycling cities in the world, and a growing number of residents hope that New Paltz will one day be on this list. There is a long way to go before this becomes a reality, but the seeds are being planted.
Last week, the New Paltz Bicycle Pedestrian Committee (BPC) dedicated its monthly meeting to building a coalition of the local cycling community. Nearly 30 cyclists showed up to voice their support for such efforts. The goal was to network, brainstorm and strategize so that bike-friendly infrastructure can be put in place at the local, regional and state-wide level.
“New Paltz has tremendous but untapped potential to become a model bicycling community — with the Gunks, the proximity to the Hudson River and the extensive network of rail trails and paths, it’s obvious why cyclists from all over the region, even all over the United States, would want to ride here,” said Peter Kaufman, chair of the BPC. “But unfortunately, although the scenery is inviting, many cyclists avoid the roads because they fear for their safety.”
The dangers of cycling on the roads in New Paltz were made horrifyingly clear last September when Gaby O’Shea was hit from behind while riding her bike on Route 299, just west of Butterville Road. As O’Shea continues her inspiring recovery from this terrifying crash, she has become committed to making the roads safer so that no cyclist has to experience her pain and trauma: “If there was a wide shoulder on that section of Route 299 where I was riding, I know I would not be in the situation I’m in now,” she said at last week’s meeting. “ I want to see to it that one day soon that shoulder will exist.”
The BPC has been in existence for more than 15 years and although they have achieved some good success and gained some traction, the wheels of change crank slowly. “Creating bike-friendly infrastructure in New Paltz can be particularly challenging because we have local, county and state roads,” said Kaufman. “But that doesn’t mean change can’t happen. When the public demands change and the elected officials are responsive, then change happens.”
For many years, the BPC has identified four key roadways that they hope will one day be safe and accessible for cyclists: Henry. W. DuBois Drive; Route 299 from the Carmine Liberta Bridge to Route 44/55; South Putt Corners Road from Main Street to Route 32; and Libertyville Road to the Ulster County Fairgrounds.
Each of these roads serves as a link for those who use their bikes for both recreation and transportation. “We have to remember that people use their bikes not just for health and fitness but for utilitarian purposes too,” said local resident Lee Reich. “Like many others, I use my bike to run errands, to visit friends and to come into town. Others use their bikes to commute. Too many of the roads are only safe for motorists. As a result, those of us who rely on bikes for transportation are forced to risk our lives just to get from point A to point B.”
Of the four projects noted above, the first three are currently underway. The BPC is working to ensure that they are all completed in a timely manner and that a safer cycling route out to the Ulster County Fairgrounds will be next in line. Kaufman finds it hard to believe that this last project has still not been started: “The fact that there is no safe route for bicyclists to get to the fairgrounds is especially disappointing,” he said. “It would be so wonderful if kids and families could bike out to the pool, the county fair and the ball fields. And, of course, this would also relieve the traffic back-ups that are so common when events are held out there.”
The BPC is planning other events to build on the momentum of last week’s meeting. They hope to organize a short, recreational ride on September 22 to commemorate International Car Free Day. And they are also planning a community-wide campaign, “It’s a Two-Way Street” that aims to build greater respect and awareness between cyclists and motorists.
The BPC meets on the fourth Monday of each month, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Village Hall. If you are interested in joining in their efforts to make New Paltz safer and more accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians, feel free to attend.