DELMAR — More than 100 residents showed up to the first of two public, interactive meetings the Town of Bethlehem will hold regarding the stretch of Delaware Ave. that runs from the Normanskill Bridge to Elsmere Elementary School. Residents were invited to identify priorities, ask questions and voice concerns about a study underway to determine the best way to design a better corridor that’s safer and amenable to multiple modes of transportation.
“This is a planning study,” explained Mark Sargent, a Bethlehem resident and senior engineer at the civil engineering firm Creighton Manning, which has been hired by the town to help conduct the Delaware Avenue Complete Streets Feasibility Study (study) in cooperation with a Study Advisory Committee (SAC) composed of town officials, public agencies, residents and businesses. The end result of the study, he said, will be a report with recommendations as to how the town should proceed. He was careful to distinguish the study from planned upgrades to the section of Delaware Avenue that runs from Elsmere Elementary School to Delmar’s Four Corners, expected to begin construction this spring.
The study, which is being funded by the Town of Bethlehem and the Capital District Transportation Committee’s (CDTC), through its Linkage Planning Program, is meant to build off the impending improvements elsewhere on Delaware Avenue and see if the town can incorporate complete streets elements from Elsmere Avenue to the Albany City line.
Those elements could include: refuge islands and/or medians to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street; HAWK (High-Intensity Activated crossWalK) beacons, traffic control devices used to stop road traffic and allow pedestrians to cross safely; traffic calming modifications such as landscaping, demarcated bicycle lanes, new signage, etc.; the possible consolidation or relocation of CDTA bus stops; or a road diet, the reduction of lanes to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians.
“We’re also thinking about overall operations,” said Creighton Manning Project Engineer Kristie Di Cocco, explaining a grading system employed by traffic engineers to assess the traffic conditions along a given stretch of roadway. While not perfect, vehicle traffic on that section of Delaware scored relatively well, she said, however the pedestrian scores varied and bicycle traffic scored on the low end of the spectrum. She noted that, while the Rail Trail is nearby, there is a shortage of dedicated ingresses by which cyclists can access it.
“There are other users in the corridor that we need to look out for,” said Sargent. “That’s part of what this project is about, making sure that we’re doing everything we can do for all the other users.”
When residents arrived at the public meeting, they were given sticky dots and asked to place those dots next to the issues they considered the highest priorities they would like to study to consider. Traffic calming, safety, and more room for bicycles were the top issues, closely followed by non-vehicular access and ease of getting into and out of businesses and side streets. Corridor beautification was also a popular issue.
After a presentation highlighting current conditions, traffic patterns and potential modifications, town residents were invited to ask questions and offer feedback.
“We want to better understand what’s important to you,” said Di Cocco. “If we don’t understand that, then we can’t tailor these alternatives.” In addition to the sticky dot exercise, there were table-set up around the room with maps of the corridor, markers and post-it notes for residents to identify specific areas and bring up concerns or make recommendations. Feedback cards were made available to those who were unable or unwilling to voice their opinions during the question-and-answer or break-out group discussions. Additionally, Di Cocco pointed out, residents are welcome to visit the study’s website at delawareavecompletestreets.com to offer feedback or access related information.
“What brought me here tonight is that I live off of Delaware Avenue,” said Susan Blank, a third-generation Bethlehem resident. “And I do not find it a very pedestrian-friendly, particularly for living in a neighborhood. I really feel like, because it’s so commercial, people just assume it’s a four-lane highway to get themselves in and out of Albany. But there are people and home and the big push in this town now is to make things walkable, but you can’t. You can’t walk across Delaware Avenue.”
Blank is an enthusiastic supporter of implementing a road diet and of many of the other potential modifications that were discussed during the meeting. The only thing she was uncomfortable with, she added, was the idea that a formal rail trail entrance would be built in her backyard. “That’s stupid,” she said. “You’re making it pedestrian friendly on Delaware Avenue and then you’re going to put a parking lot in a neighborhood for people to drive to get to the bike trail? I know they didn’t say exactly that, but it didn’t make sense to me.”
The study, which kicked off in October of last year, is expected to take 12 months to complete. According to Bethlehem Director of Planning Rob Leslie, it may be years before implementation of any agreed-upon changes. The initial phases involve development of the draft study goals, understanding existing conditions and obtaining public input on issues and ideas for the corridor. A second public meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, will be used to present the results of the alternatives analysis and the status of the draft study recommendations.