New Paltz village and town officials are looking to create a joint “complete-streets” plan that would apply in the entire community. The goal is a road design that’s considerate of all the users of streets, rather than just the ones in motorized vehicles.
Members of an ad-hoc committee tasked with drafting a proposed policy made a report at the June 4 joint meeting of both boards. In it, they laid in broad strokes the actions they felt should be taken immediately to improve safety and an oversight structure to ensure the plan continues to receive attention.
State law requires that complete-streets guidelines be considered when work is done on federal and state roadways. The guidelines include consideration of sidewalks, crosswalks, bicycle lanes and shared-road signage.
The ad-hoc committee was created to draft a joint town-village complete-streets policy. A village policy has been in place since 2013, but there is none in the remainder of the town. The committee, comprised of Janelle Peotter, Anna Segal, Michael Reade and Amanda Gotto, has been working since November 2019. Others have provided support and assistance to this core group, Peotter said.
Some low-cost ideas
Committee members are recommending some actions be taken immediately. They seek diagonal crosswalks at the Chestnut and Manheim intersections with Main Street, prohibiting right turns on red from either Putt Corners or Ohioville roads onto Main Street, and signage at the Thruway exit making it clear that pedestrians have the right of way and bicyclists may use the full traffic lane. They are also recommending the painting of “sharrows” — a neologism for the phrase “shared lane marking” — the length of Main Street, where there is no room presently for a bicycle lane.
Studies are inconclusive about the effectiveness of this technique for reducing injuries or encouraging bicycle commuting. Peotter noted that the cost of paint is a somewhat low barrier for trying it out.
The list of suggestions include items both relatively easy and difficult to achieve. State transportation officials (DOT) have great authority over state and local roads.
The state is prepared to paint diagonal crosswalks, New Paltz town supervisor Neil Bettez recalled from a prior meeting, but first must determine if those two intersections are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The supervisor wasn’t clear what needs evaluating on that score.
New Paltz mayor Tim Rogers said that DOT is opposed to putting a school zone around the middle school. “I’m not feeling optimistic at all that we have folks at the DOT who look out for pedestrian safety,” the mayor said. The only way to resolve pedestrian issues in their minds, he believes, is “to figure out a bypass and never lower speed limits.” That perspective is supported by the fate of a number of local requests to lower speed limits rejected at the state level, including the stretch of Route 299 west of the Wallkill, near where Gabriela O’Shea was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 2016. County officials erected a stop sign at Butterville Road in response.
Ah, the bypass question
A bypass, such as sending all cars down North Front to Chestnut and only allowing eastbound car traffic along Main on weekends, didn’t sound terrible to everyone in the meeting. It was one idea floated during the discussion. Business owners have historically fought to retain every parking space.
The pressure to aid business owners during this period of phased-in recovery is mounting, and solutions could include increase car and bicycle traffic on Plattekill Avenue or converting one streetside spot into bicycle parking for several cyclists.
Experimentation seems to be the watchword. Complete-street advocates have been recommending temporary changes — using paint and traffic cones rather than permanent structures — as a low-risk way to test out ideas.
Peotter pressed elected officials for input into how to adapt the complete streets ideology to this pandemic moment, Suggestions were offered. More trail connectivity, said Julie Seyfert-Lillis, and more temporary bicycle lanes. More bicycle racks will make it easier to use bicycle lanes, thought Alexandra Baer. David Brownstein agreed, adding that “seamless” transition from the River-to-Ridge trail into the village is needed.
Electric bicycles are now legal on New York roads with no more than a 30 m.p.h. speed limit, Bettez advised. He’s researching how to make a local rule to change that along Main Street, Otherwise, “I can’t go to Tops from my house” on one, because a portion of Main Street has a 35 m.p..h limit. Peotter described them as providing a powered assist to pedaling, but not running when the rider wasn’t doing the work.
Mayor Rogers was fully on board with using relaxed rules of the moment to “squeak something in” to see whether it would work permanently.
The committee is recommending a complete-streets advisory board comprised of members of other volunteer municipal boards to provide oversight of the policy, input on projects, and tools for evaluating them, as well as education for the public about the concepts.
Bettez believes the policy would be much more effective with such an advisory board. He compared it to the town law requiring sidewalks be built in every subdivision, a requirement which can be waived by the planning board and seems to have been waived in every instance since the law was passed in the 1970s. “The argument is always that it won’t connect to anything,” he said/ “People would like even those disconnected walks, but no one was pushing that point.” An advocacy board would sustain a continuing policy discussion.
Work on the draft is not yet complete. Members of both boards anticipate additional discussions.