Bicycle and pedestrian issues task force

RECORD OF MEETING

 

 

DATE, TIME, LOCATION: November 30, 1998, 3:15 - 5:20 PM, CDTC offices

 

PRESENT: Kevin McLaughlin (New York Parks and Conservation Association), Don Odell (Albany County Economic Development, Conservation and Planning), Don Robertson (NYSDOT Region 1), Bert Schou (CDTA), Steve Allocco (CDTC)

 

ISSUES: Regional Bike/Hike Map; Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail maintenance; improving access to Hudson segment of Mohawk-Hudson Trail, Spot Improvement Program candidate review procedure; Transportation Enhancements Program candidate review procedure; comparison of regional bike/ped plan (Task Force's November 1995 report) against Transportation Improvement Program to identify possible project elements/future free-standing projects; future of Task Force.

 

DISCUSSION SUMMARY

 

Regional Bike/Hike Map

 

Content and Format: Discussion of these aspects of the map continued from the May meeting. With regard to content, the current "wish list" for data to include in the regional map includes the following:

 

       Class 1 bike facilities (separate trails)

       Bike lanes (Class 2 facilities)

       Signed bike routes without any other accommodation (Class 3)

       some set of "more bikeable" streets (e.g., those carrying lower amounts of motor vehicle traffic and/or motor vehicles at lower speeds), if not the representation of some sort of technical analysis of "level of service" as discussed above

       parks with bikeable paths or trails and other major bikeable locations (shown as labeled points rather than linear facilities, e.g., a dot or symbol with the label "XYZ Nature Trail" next to it. The appearance of the locator points could vary based on whether or not the location has bike trails or other bikeable areas, e.g., 5

       Historical information about the Capital District

       Bike shops, comfort stations, historic sites, picnic areas, nature sites (dot/symbol/flag indications)

       Emergency phone numbers

       A series of phone numbers for county tourism offices and agencies with information on recreational offerings in the area (e.g., the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation or the Canal Corporation)

       A "for more information" number which people could call for trail information across the region

 

As for format, the group liked the general approach of the Genesee Transportation Council (Rochester area equivalent to CDTC)'s regional bike map (this map was prepared by Map Works, a Rochester company). This map includes a complete street network, major recreational and cultural facilities, and a series of streets which are color-coded to reflect "bikeability" as assessed by GTC and the Rochester Bicycling Club. While CDTC has been exploring ways of objectively assessing bikeability and walkability (quantitative methods of calculating "level of service" for bicyclists and pedestrians have been developed in recent years), it would be difficult if not impossible to present indications for both groups on one map. In addition, it would take several months to collect the data for such assessments. Still, there could be the opportunity to identify a limited number of streets which by some measure were particularly conducive to cycling and walking, so there would be more to show on the map than simply the limited number of Class 1 trails (separate facilities, e.g., the Mohawk-Hudson Trail) and on-street bike lanes.

 

From CDTC conversations with one map company, indications are that there would probably be about a two-month turnaround time from when CDTC provided final marked-up copies of mylars with information to show on the map as well as any text copy (e.g., "rules of the road," Capital District history) until the maps were ready. That said, it should be noted that the group was concerned that it would take a considerable amount of time to compile the information needed to "flesh out" a regional bike/hike map, even if street-by-street bike- or ped-friendliness assessments were not done.

 

Don Odell suggested that when the time comes to scan the field for possible map producers, the group should be sure to check with JIMAPCO regarding the next generation Capital District map that firm is reportedly developing.

 

Next Steps: The group saw the next step for map development being a "call for data" in addition to some fieldwork. With regard to the call for data, Bert suggested reaching out to the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club for its input. Don Odell suggested that this could be done in the course of a broader effort to canvass interested parties for their input, perhaps with CDTC preparing a one-page writeup on the bike/hike map update effort, describing the various goals of the map (e.g., promoting tourism, raising local awareness of recreational opportunities, promoting safe cycling) and listing the types of information expected to be included in the map. This sheet could be sent to advocacy groups, "outdoor-oriented" organizations, bike clubs and the like, in addition to the Task Force mailing list. Don and Steve Allocco will work on putting together such a "pitch" sheet; Steve will draft some sort of outreach mechanism (a letter or an activity writeup) to send to potential "new players" in the Task Force's work.

 

In light of the aforementioned concerns regarding the length of time it could take to compile all the data desired for the regional map, it was suggested that it may be necessary to commission another reprint of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail map, such that agencies will be prepared for the wave of requests for maps they typically get starting in early Spring. Steve will look into the reprint logistics with Argus Press, which printed both runs of the map to date.

 

Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail Maintenance

 

The Albany County Hudson River Waterfront Strategy study effort raised the concern that the condition of the Trail is not consistent from one community to the next, and suggested that there might be the need for a mechanism such as a "trail maintenance organization" established for the purpose of managing the Trail. The Task Force has discussed the topic of Trail maintenance in the past; in addition, it has noted the need for consistency of signage, distance markings and other informational treatments from community to community.

 

General Sense: The group considered the question of whether it should take the opportunity to provide input to the Waterfront Strategy effort on this subject. There was interest in investigating current maintenance practices and perhaps putting together a resource paper framing some of the group's key concerns regarding trail management.

 

Discussion Snippets:

       the City of Albany and the Towns of Colonie and Niskayuna seem to be the leaders of the group with regard to Trail maintenance

       in addition to routine maintenance needs, high water levels in the spring leave mud and silt deposits on the Trail; timely springtime plowing and sweeping would be desirable

       while raising a concern regarding creating a new bureaucracy, the trail maintenance organization idea does have its merits, for "the present system is not working"

       the group's present understanding of responsibilities for maintenance of each section of the Trail is as follows:

       City of Albany section maintained by the City

       Albany County is responsible for the sections of the Trail not in Albany or the Town of Colonie (that is, the Menands, Watervliet, Green Island and Cohoes sections)

       Colonie maintains the sections within its borders

       Niskayuna and Rotterdam maintain the sections within their borders

       Schenectady County is responsible for the non-Niskayuna, non-Rotterdam sections within the County

       it would be interesting to find out what each community with Trail maintenance responsibilities does along these lines

       with Trail pavement condition generally good (even the unpaved section in Cohoes is fairly comfortable), signage could be the biggest issue in enhancing the Trail experience. As noted in the past, types of signage which might be desirable include navigational signage both along the Trail ("Niskayuna 5 Miles") and on nearby streets ("Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail ") and destination-oriented informational signage ("Lions Park," "Entering City of Albany").

       there is also a "coordination" concern for the Trail, as in addition to being "its own entity" the Mohawk-Hudson Trail is part of the Canal System, is adjacent to a number of municipal parks or other recreational areas, and can be used to access various natural or cultural features (e.g., Cohoes Falls, Saratoga County Heritage Trail System, RiverSpark Cohoes Visitors' Center)

 

Improving Access to Hudson Segment of Mohawk-Hudson Trail

 

The Albany County Hudson River Waterfront Strategy study effort also raised the concern that local access to the Trail is hindered by obstacles such as I-787 and the Port of Albany.

 

General Sense: The Task Force considered this issue and was of the mind that while Menands and Watervliet in particular are indeed largely separated from the Trail by I-787, it is difficult to argue that this is preventing people in these communities from using the Trail. Furthermore, it was noted that while there are some locations along the Trail where people may travel for a significant distance before reaching another access point (e.g., roughly 3 1/3 miles between the Colonie Street (Albany) parking lot and the Broadway access at 4th Street in Watervliet), it is difficult to argue that this necessitates somehow providing intermediate access points by use of new bridges, tunnels or such other means.

 

Alternative Issue: The group did however note that there is a related issue of access worth taking on, centered on the question of how to make optimal use of existing access points. For example, signage or pavement markings clarifying where the Trail accesses are, such that people would find it easier to get from Broadway in downtown Albany to the Trail, would be desirable. Also, navigating the on-street portions of the Trail system (in Cohoes or Schenectady, as examples) could be easier with better trailblazer signage or route maps. This seemed to be the extent of the group's potential interest in getting involved with the larger discussion of promoting Trail access under the Waterfront Strategy effort.

 

Spot Improvement Program Candidate Solicitation/Review (new issue not in mailout)

 

The group was asked for its thoughts on two issues regarding the Spot Improvement Program:

       what if any guidance should be set forth in the call for proposals with regard to eligible project types, maximum project costs and other such parameters

       how the Task Force might provide some form of review or comment on proposals to guide CDTC staff evaluations and prioritizations of proposals

 

General Sense: With regard to project eligibility, the group felt it more important to see to it that the call letter express the intent of the Program clearly than that it explicitly identifies eligible and ineligible activities. (The proposals would still be subject to any eligibility guidelines applying to federal aid funding.) This would allow the maximum degree of creativity in proposal development, by not foreclosing (by exclusion from an "eligible activities" listing) any innovative approaches to enhancing the bicycle and/or pedestrian travel environments.

 

As for the question of whether to establish a "maximum project cost" value, the group felt this was not advisable. Especially in light of the fact that the first solicitation of proposals will be for use of about $125,000 in funds, specifying a project cost cap could unduly "bracket" the possibilities, such that very few submissions could come in. (Proposers would under such circumstances be considering not only a maximum cost but some minimum cost to make pursuit of a funding application worthwhile; if this range is too narrow, it could be difficult to come up with attractive project candidates.)

 

With regard to proposal review, the group concurred with the suggestion that proposal review was essentially a staff task; if time permits, Task Force review and comment could be included in the process.

Note on Technical Basis of Proposal Review: CDTC staff reviews could include compilation of data which provide context to proposals, possibly including traffic volumes, accident histories, letters of support, contributions to regional goals and so on. In addition, CDTC staff could conduct some objective technical analysis of the proposals, should the Task Force wish to see such evaluations. The methodology used for evaluation of bicycle and pedestrian-oriented candidates for the 1997-2002 TIP (which calculated values for potential [1]"market" for bike/ped travel, [2]cost effectiveness, [3]safety benefit and [4]emissions reductions) could arguably be applied, but there is a staff concern that depending on what the proposed projects are, it might be difficult to capture the benefits of a "spot" project with a regional evaluation tool.

 

Transportation Enhancements Program Candidate Review Procedure (new issue)

 

The group was also asked for its thoughts on the evaluation basis for the upcoming first round of the Transportation Enhancement Program (TEP) to proceed under TEA-21. One element of this TEP which differs from the way it operated under ISTEA lies in metropolitan planning organizations' (MPOs) having the responsibility to prioritize TEP proposals within their areas. The MPOs will then submit their prioritized lists to NYSDOT, and the statewide Transportation Enhancements Advisory Committee (TEAC) will select a slate of high-priority projects to recommend to the Commissioner of Transportation for funding.

 

With this new approach to the TEP, there is a need to identify a basis for precisely prioritizing proposals. ("Precisely" as opposed to the approach applied to the TEP during the ISTEA era, in which an MPO "recommendation" was all that was required, with the strength of this recommendation established in the CDTC process based on the number of affirmative answers to an eight-question review of each proposal.) This prioritization is complicated by the fact that the TEAC will be receiving project prioritization lists from the NYSDOT regional offices, and there is a question as to whether such regional offices as Region 1, which serves as the MPO for two counties in addition to encompassing an area including both the Adirondack-Glens Falls Transportation Council (AGFTC) and CDTC areas, will submit single lists for their entire areas.

 

General Sense: If it is ultimately the way evaluation will work, the group was comfortable with the idea of pursuing a process similar to that used in evaluating bicycle and pedestrian-related candidates as described in the "Note on Technical Basis of Proposal Review" section of the Spot Improvement Program review discussion above. Beyond this, the Task Force seems willing to defer to CDTC staff judgement on what methodology would be appropriate. Regardless of the evaluation approach ultimately applied, the group concurred with the suggestion that a dynamic similar to that suggested for the Spot Improvement Program proposal review above was appropriate: review would be a staff task, with Task Force review and comment if time permits.

 

Note on Status: Subsequent to the meeting, CDTC and NYSDOT Region 1 staff have had some early discussions of prioritization concepts. The key concern articulated by CDTC staff to date has been that if there is only to be one combined list submitted for the full set of proposals received by all three reviewing agencies within Region 1, this prioritization needs to be as objective as possible, with little or no room for flexibility in the "scoring" which would be applied. (The TEP Guidebook appears to indicate that multiple lists are permitted in such cases.) The TEP Guidebook (available from NYSDOT's Web site: www.dot.state.ny.us) sets forth a conceptual approach for local review based on the procedure which the TEAC will apply; the problem with this approach as presented is that it does not include comprehensive, objective "point systems" for scoring (although it does suggest for some categories that either "yes/no" or "sliding scale" point assignment bases could be used), nor does it indicate how to relatively prioritize the different attributes factored into that review (e.g., the weight of "benefit to region and environment" versus that for "relationship to other plans and projects").

 

CDTC staff will continue to explore issues of review and prioritization with NYSDOT Region 1 and AGFTC.

 

Comparison of Regional Bike/Ped Plan with TIP to Identify Project Elements/Free-Standing Projects

 

The Task Force's 1995 "Making the Capital District More Bicycle- and Pedestrian-Friendly: A Toolbox and Game Plan" report included an appendix presenting an examination of those projects on the 1994-99 TIP which were to go into the design stage between the 1995-96 and 1997-98 program years and which had some potential for bicycle and/or pedestrian components. The examination offered some indications of what might be done within the scopes of the subject projects to more fully incorporate bicycle and pedestrian travel into the region's transportation system.

 

The question was put to the group as to whether such an effort should be pursued once again, as a way of continuing to help agencies holding jurisdiction over our roadways envision how to bicycle and pedestrian travel might be integrated into their projects. As conceived, this time around the effort would have a broader approach, with the aim being to consider TIP projects both against the Priority Bicycle/Pedestrian Network (to see how development of this network could be "helped along") and against the Task Force report's more general discussions (dealing with matters such as destination treatments, improving known "problem locations" and so on). In addition, the goal would be not only to identify possible TIP project elements, but also to identify possible free-standing projects for future Enhancement Program, Spot Improvement Program and flexible funding candidates.

 

General Sense: The group saw this task as desirable, but noted that it would be very important to have the local advocacy community (bicycle and pedestrian, environmental/open space, et cetera) involved in the effort. (This point segues well with the subject of the next section, that of the future of the Task Force.) Toward this end, aggressive outreach efforts should take place, utilizing both the CDTC process and those of other organizations such as the Hudson River Valley Greenway.

 

Future of the Task Force (new item raised by Don Odell during the meeting)

 

In the latter part of the New Visions effort and again as the Task Force has resumed its periodic meetings, those in attendance have primarily been people who were there "on the clock;" that is, planners and other professionals who could charge time to participating in the meetings. Holding meetings after hours at locations on the bus lines did not enhance citizen participation. Considering this reality in light of all that the Task Force has to do, Don Odell raised the point that having advocates and other citizen members regularly participating in the group's work will be critical to its credibility. He noted that if the meetings regularly consisted of the same few professionals (usually Don Robertson, Bert Schou and himself) and Ivan Vamos (a professional, but participating primarily while "wearing his bicycle advocate's hat"), the Task Force's recommendations would not be likely to carry much weight around the CDTC table, for they would not reflect true citizen participation. Some thought will need to be given to how to "re-energize" citizen participation in the Task Force's work; early ideas on how this could take might include requiring a reaffirmation of desire to participate (i.e., "clearing out" the Task Force rolls and sending out letters asking people to once again join the group) and instituting a meeting attendance requirement (e.g., "miss two consecutive meetings and you will be removed from the Task Force list"). Recognizing that public participation is an important part of the CDTC process, and that varying situations may make it difficult to establish absolute requirements for participation, mailing list members are asked to give some thought to the question of how to draw the advocacy community in particular into the process.

 

It should be noted that while the "reapplication" and "attendance requirement" suggestions set forth above are more administrative in nature than anything else, suggestions on Task Force activities which would draw people into the process (that is, tasks which would trigger "now that seems like something worth working on" reactions) are also desired.

 

ACTION ITEMS

1.      Don Odell and Steve Allocco to work on one-page writeup on bike/hike map update effort.

2.      Steve to work on outreach mechanism (letter or activity writeup) to be sent to potential "new players" in Task Force work (e.g., advocacy community, outdoor groups).

3.      Steve to contact Argus Press regarding the possibility of doing another small run of Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail maps to cover 1999 needs.

4.      Steve to contact the principals of the Waterfront Study regarding the Task Force's discussions of issues raised by the Study (and regarding the Task Force's willingness to provide input to the ongoing Waterfront effort).

5.      Steve to draft letter to municipalities with responsibility for Mohawk-Hudson Trail maintenance regarding their Trail maintenance activities/budgets (the latter if any).

6.      Mailing list members are asked to consider the question of how to revitalize the Task Force.

7.      Next Meeting: Tuesday, February 2, 1999, 4:00 to 6:00 PM, CDTC offices, 5 Computer Drive West, Colonie.