Neighbors who live on or near Henry W. DuBois Drive in New Paltz are awaiting preliminary design plans for proposed bike lanes and pedestrian corridors along their road as part of a $2.5-million federal grant the town and village applied for in 2018 and received in 2019.
The town and village must supply a 20 percent match to the grant. The town has hired Alta, an engineering firm that focuses solely on bike and pedestrian passageways, and is involved with the 750-mile Empire State Trail.
At last week’s town-board meeting conducted virtually via Zoom, neighbors asked whether the August 26 meeting with the planners was still scheduled, They expressed concerns about existing traffic conditions are, which they fear would only be exacerbated by widening the road for more bike lanes and sidewalks.
“The meeting will hopefully take place in the next two weeks,” town supervisor Neil Bettez said, He didn’t give a specific date. “We do not have the preliminary design,” he explained. “It’s like a rough draft. Until we have that in front of us, we’re just discussing hypotheticals, and I’d rather discuss facts than hypotheticals.” The project is intended to calm traffic down, make the road safer, make it accessible to senior citizens, children, adults and people with disabilities, and “not to create a bike lane that will attract people from all over the world.”
“But they’re already here,” said Karen Gavin, a longtime resident of Henry W. DuBois whose house sits opposite the site of a fatal car crash a year-and-a-half ago. “They come in packs and whiz down the road, and it’s scary to pull out of my driveway.”
Making the roads safer
“They’re not coming from all over the world to ride on Henry W. DuBois,” responded Bettez. “They want to get to the mountains, and roads that are safer for pedestrians and cyclists are safer for vehicles as well. We have five apartment and condominium complexes on this road. We want kids to be able to get to the Moriello Pool, the park, to the middle school, safely. Not everyone has a car to get around in. We want this for the people in our community.”
According to the supervisor, improving DuBois for bikes and pedestrians would make existing users safer, encouraging more locals to walk and bike because there would have a barrier between them and the motorized traffic. “The Empire Trail already passes through Henry W. We need to make it safe.”
Although the Empire State Trail, on paper, goes from North Putt Corners down DuBois onto Church Street and then wraps around Mulberry Street, where Zero Place has been required to put in a crosswalk, Bettez said that the plans call for the new bike lanes and sidewalk to go straight down to North Chestnut Street.
“Stewart’s is being required to put in a traffic light at that corner [of DuBois and North Chestnut Street, when the store is relocated], which we believe is much safer than the other route. We liked the idea of a future crosswalk that could take people almost directly to the rail-trail, but a traffic light would be that much safer.”
The supervisor said that the preliminary design from Alta will be the beginning of the discussion. “We want you to be able to look at it and comment and let us know what you like, what concerns you have,” he said. “We want your input.”
Trucks ignore the law
A large group of neighbors have already formed a grassroots organization, Save the DuBois Trees, and are circulating a petition online that to date has 219 signatures. The project to add sidewalks and bike paths to Henry W. DuBois Drive, the petition states in part “would mean seizing property and clear-cutting trees. [We] demand that this project be stopped as it currently stands.”
Bettez and Kristie De Cocco, the project manager from Alta, have said that trees removed for the creation of a bike lane and sidewalk would be replaced using money from the grant, as well as bushes, fences, hedges et cetera.
The neighbors were not mollified. “I invite anyone to come sit on my lawn for an hour and see how dangerous this traffic has become,” said Gavin. “I’ve lived on this street longer than anyone on this Zoom meeting, and I can tell you that trucks ignore the law that use this road all the time, that people fly through the stop signs and that it’s used as a cut-through to get around Main Street.” She pleaded with the supervisor to ask the police to enforce the prohibition of truck traffic on the residential road.
“I made the request to our police department that evening. Right now we have that movable sign which flashes how fast you are traveling out on Plutarch Road, because we had some neighbors upset about cars speeding on their road, and it’s a very effective way of getting people to slow down,” Bettez said later. He said that within the next week that sign will be moved to DuBois, and that he has asked the police to enforce the no-through-truck-traffic regulation.
“Once word gets out that we’re actually enforcing it, trucks will hopefully stop using our road,” said June Samson. “That’s one of the reasons we purchased our home here 20 years ago, because there were signs posted that said trucks over a certain weight limit were not allowed. But they all use it to avoid Main Street.”
The tools in the toolbox
Samson asked whether the representatives from Alta who met with the neighbors were just humoring them when they mentioned making a portion of the road one-way to dissuade people using it as a bypass to travel east-to-west instead of Main Street. “Is that going to be part of the design, or did they just say that to appease us?”
“That is one of the tools we have in our toolbox,” replied Bettez. “And when we all met, the one thing everyone was in agreement about was how dangerous they believe that road has become. It’s a residential neighborhood road and not meant to be a highway.”
Saying he was going to “go out on a limb here,” he added, “We do want to have a serious discussion about making a portion of the road one-way to stop people from using it as a bypass. It could continue to be the same as it is from west to east, but from east to west, we could make it one-way for a hundred yards. That would be enough to stop people that were not local from using it to avoid Main Street and zip up to Mohonk.
“Will it annoy people who live somewhere other than Henry W. DuBois and are used to using that road to save 30 seconds instead of Main Street? Yes, but they don’t live there, and we have to protect the integrity of that neighborhood. Will that add some additional traffic onto side streets? Yes, it probably will; but this is something we need to discuss.”
Bettez talked the “three Es” discussed when focusing on traffic-calming measures. “It’s ‘education,’ which means signs. It’s ‘enforcement,’ which means the police enforcing the signs. And then it’s ‘engineering,’ which refers to designing roads so that traffic is forced to move in less dangerous ways.”
“Can we be assured that the one-way option will be part of the preliminary design?” asked Samson.
“It’s one of the tools in our toolbox, but it is not part of the design, as it would not impact the design itself.”
Bettez said that the project steering committee on this project is leaning heavily toward the shared-use option, which would allow for a ten-foot-wide bike lane and sidewalk, rather than two five-foot bike lanes on either side of the road and an additional five- sidewalk. “It uses less space, costs less money. and has less impact, which are all things that we want. But ultimately it’s going to be the town board and the DOT that decides.”
Bettez repeated that the focus of the project was to create a safe way for people to travel in non-motorized ways, as well as something that was visually attractive and could help mitigate existing traffic. “We want something that everyone is proud of,” he said.