Alta Planning and Design held a virtual public meeting inviting residents to weigh in on the finer details of the shared bike and pedestrian-use path, slated for construction along Henry W. Dubois Drive from North Putt Corners Road in the Town of New Paltz to North Chestnut Street in the Village of New Paltz. The project is being funded by a $2.7 million Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant that the Town and Village received in 2019 to help them pay up to 80 percent of the design and construction of a bike/pedestrian corridor on the mile-long residential road. The municipalities will have to pay the remaining 20 percent.
Kristie DiCocco, one of the lead engineers on this project from Alta, said that the design had been approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and was now entering a two-week public comment period when residents could lend their voices to what types of plantings, trees, traffic-calming measures, horizontal and/or vertical barriers they’d like to see or not see as the road becomes widened and trees get cut down.
“We’ve reached out and spoken to most of the affected landowners and want to hear as many comments as we can,” said DiCocco prior to creating “breakout rooms,” where residents and stakeholders could ask questions and weigh in on things like flora choices, safety barriers and traffic-calming designs. “We sent our plant palette to the Environmental Commission and the Village Shade Tree Commission,” said the engineer. “We have approval from the EnCC, but have not heard back yet from the Tree Commission.”
The palette calls for a variety of native plants, shrubs and trees including red maple, hackberry, Northern red oak, various evergreens, shrubs like dogwood and rhododendron and “redbud and crabapple trees to lend some color,” she said. Approximately 30 trees will be taken down to create this shared path – something that a group of neighbors has been protesting since they became aware of the project. DiCocco said that the intent all along has been to replace as many trees and shrubs as they can, albeit not as mature as the ones that stand now.
In terms of barrier options between the shared-use path and the existing road, respondents to a poll that Alta took put aesthetics and physical protection at the top of the list when asked what they felt was most important. “It’s a beautiful corridor and people want to keep it that way, but they also want to ensure safety, so it’s going to be a give-and-take,” said DiCocco.
Some of the options include a two-foot-wide strip of grass, at the very least; then, in terms of vertical possibilities, there was a traditional metal guardrail, as well as a timber-backed weatherized steel rail and an all-timber rail similar to the one that was recently erected by the Mohonk Preserve along Butterville Road, to give a few examples.
Jim Taylor, a resident on the corner of Prospect Street and Dubois, said that in his estimation, “The steel-backed timber rails are big and ugly.” DiCocco responded that it was a go-to for the DOT, as they “use it a lot in Long Island.”
One neighboring resident, Mark Beaumont, said that he felt the majority of the barrier options seemed to be over-the-top. “Why are these barriers necessary?” he asked. “We’re talking about a neighborhood road, not the Taconic Parkway. It seems like overkill. This is the type of protection you’d see on a highway!”
He was backed by Mary Woodburn, who said that she believed that the faster cyclists would want to ride in the road with the traffic, as they’re often going faster than the motorized vehicles. She said that she feels safe walking on the segment of sidewalk that exists on the south side of Henry W. Dubois in the Village and “never feel like I’m going to be struck by a car because there’s no barrier between us.”
A veteran bike enthusiast and former owner of the Bicycle Rack, Alan Stout, asked why there were plans for a crosswalk on the west side of Church Street rather than the east side, where a portion of a sidewalk exists now and tends to draw the foot and cycling traffic. DiCocco explained that there is a plan in the works for the Village to create a sidewalk along the northern side of Church Street (between Dubois and Mulberry Street towards the Moriello Pool parking lot), and that it “made the most sense to tie it in there.”
Town Highway superintendent Chris Marx asked if the plan was “separating this with a guardrail the entire length of the road.” DiCocco said that it would not. “Only pieces,” she said, noting that in some areas there would be pinch points, areas of curb-cut and green space to help narrow the road and slow traffic down, as well as sections where there is just not enough room, as they can only manage eight feet of the standard ten-foot shared-use width because of existing utility poles and other issues.
Marx said that he believed that the all-timber rail might look nice, but could be a real maintenance headache. “The box-beamed weatherized rail looks nice, and it’s very resilient, because we’ll be getting a lot of salt on this stuff and bouncing plows off it.”
The engineer said that the DOT actually made a formal disapproval of the weatherized steel-and-timber rails in 2007, “so those might be off the table.”
When questioned why there couldn’t be just a grass barrier to delineate the road from the shared-use path, DiCocco said that the DOT “requires some sort of vertical barrier.”
There are several areas where residents can weigh in regarding plants, trees, crosswalks, visual and physical barriers, by going to the website for the project online at www.walkbikepedhwd.weebly.com. Residents can also e-mail their questions and comments, opinions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org or simply drop their comments off at New Paltz Town Hall. All public comments are due by June 23, 2021.
Alta will then present a final plan, with all of the fine print worked out, and start cutting trees during the winter, with construction to begin during the spring of 2022, with the aim of completing the project by the end of 2022.