GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The presence of the Warren County Bikeway may give one cause to think that the city of Glens Falls is as welcoming as it could be to bicycle traffic. Since 2021, a community group has been pointing out places where the city could do more – and has collected community input to match.
Citizen action group Bike Glens Falls visited a recent meeting of the Glens Falls Common Council, in order to present to the city a case for adding bike lanes to two sections of downtown street. The group has identified parts of Bay and Ridge Streets, under a mile each, that they say would be ripe for two-pedaled use.
“We looked at where the city was at with bike infrastructure, evaluated planning documents, and realized our passion and interests dovetail with the city’s climate-smart goals,” explained Bike Glens Falls co-founder Ethan Gaddy. “It also helps the city become a spot to attract and retain new residents.”
Gaddy and fellow founding member Norabelle Greenberger have been gathering data since 2021 on how easy it is to bike around downtown Glens Falls, looking at traffic along different roads at different times. The group also put out a survey, getting feedback from city residents on whether they would like to bike more, and what’s stopping them.
The survey made one thing clear: Interest exists. Many Glens Falls residents said that they don’t feel comfortable pedaling in traffic, without any protection from passing vehicles. Some also said they worry that traffic downtown moves too fast for them to feel safe. Other factors included aging roads and a lack of places to park bikes.
According to the CDC, nearly 1,000 bicyclists die in crashes on U.S. roadways every year. Those riders are among 130,000 others who are injured in the same type of accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported upticks in the number of fatalities per year in 2020 and 2021, followed by a 0.2% decrease at the end of 2022.
Stay in your lane
In summer 2022, Bike Glens Falls conducted an experiment. The organizations set up a demo, taking over stretches of Washington, Maple, Bay and Ridge streets – surrounding the Queensbury Hotel. Each street had its curb and parking modified to create a simulation bike lane – a different type on each street.
The four types of bike lanes demonstrated included:
- A bike lane indicated by “sharrows,” indicators printed on the pavement, with no physical divider from vehicle lanes
- A bike lane separated by a curb
- A bike lane moving between vehicle traffic and parked cars
- A bike lane moving between the existing curb and car parking, with parked cars separating bikes from street traffic
During the experiment, riders were surveyed on what kind of lane they liked most and least. Echoing the earlier sentiment, the “sharrow” method – with no physical divider between bike and car – was the least favorite. If downtown Glens Falls’ bikers want to feel safer, it’s going to have to mean creating a divider.
The city is all about that idea. At the Jan. 12 Common Council meeting, Mayor Bill Collins expressed interest in getting Bike Glens Falls connected with Patrick Dowd and Jeremy Schneible – the city community development director and engineer, respectively – to explore the next steps.
“My goal would be to take the findings of (other Glens Falls traffic studies) and combine them with Bike Glens Falls, and the community development director – bring them all together to combine all of it into one thing, and consider what they’ve found,” said Mayor Collins. “The history is that cities prioritize vehicles only, and that would make sense, but I would like to explore these alternatives.”
If the city does OK bike lanes for Bay and Ridge streets, Bike Glens Falls hopes to sync up the required work with the city paving schedule. Installing new curbs or any other kind of divider will cost money, and putting them in place while other road work is happening can help the project overcome financial obstacles. Letting the city identify some priorities and guide the idea into a reality will also make it easier to get the project funded using grants.
And no, adding a bike lane doesn’t mean shrinking road lanes past the point of comfort, or even removing vital street parking. Both streets in question are built at a 12-foot car width. Bike Glens Falls has data on communities across the country that have sized down their lanes to 10.5 feet of width in order to accommodate bike lanes or wider sidewalks, to great positive effect at no detriment to traffic.
Can I park here?
Bike Glens Falls collected data showing low parking utilization on the stretches of both roads being eyed. On the stretch of Bay Road, only around 15 cars were often parked across a mile of space.
That’s great news, but also one spot where data clashes with the city’s reality. In late 2022, Glens Falls lifted a moratorium on parking tickets imposed since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between November and December, the city issued over 900 parking warnings, reminding people what the rules used to be. The city has seen some people complain about cars parked in front of their businesses all day, and others say that their employees downtown struggle to find parking. That’s a problem that you can’t easily fit a bike lane through.
“I can tell you, some people are upset on both ends of that spectrum,” said Collins. “When you want to add a priority like biking, it doesn’t make things easier. We must plan for the future.”
Last fall, the city placed parking sensors on 150 downtown parking spots, in order to collect data on where people are parking. That data will be used to better direct visitors and residents during community events, and other times of high traffic.
Meanwhile, Bike Glens Falls points to examples nearby. Saratoga Springs and Albany have both made improvements for bicycles, including Madison Avenue reducing four lanes down to two in order to add bike lanes. Everywhere has obstacles, but anywhere can overcome them with the right minds and tools.
“You look at national and global examples where places seem to have these barriers to good bike infrastructure – whether it’s real estate, historic districts, or local weather conditions,” said Greenberger. “Any of these places have constraints, but somehow manage to push forward and do it.”
Next, Bike Glens Falls hopes to create more relationships with the city, to further the conversation from curbside experiments to free-wheeling reality. Bike Glens Falls is a public community organization that meets regularly. Information on how to join can be found on the group’s website.