DOES MADISON AVENUE NEED A DIET?

Slimmer stretch can benefit cyclists, others, Albany association says

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Saturday, December 26, 2009

ALBANY -- Madison Avenue is too fat.


Virginia Hammer wants it to go on a diet.


That is, Hammer wants city officials to seriously consider a proposal by the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association to reduce a 1.6-mile section of the bustling four-lane artery from Lark Street to South Allen Street to two lanes, a center turning lane and two bike lanes -- something known in transportation lingo as a "road diet."


The proposal wouldn't require construction, merely a re-striping of the existing lines that Hammer said would dovetail well with the city's recently completed Bicycle Master Plan and the creation of Albany's first comprehensive plan, an effort currently underway.


"It's like the elephant in the room," said Hammer, who lives several houses in from Madison and is a 35-year resident of the neighborhood. "If you're serious about a bike plan ... it's such an obvious thing."


Among the benefits, Hammer cites are more space for both drivers and cyclists, safer pedestrian crossings and less noise. What's more, Hammer said, there is federal money available to do the work.


With the safety of its students, staff and visitors in mind, the College of Saint Rose, which straddles the avenue just east of the Madison Theater, has signed onto the proposal, said spokesman Benjamin Marvin.


Indeed, the bike plan briefly notes the neighborhood group's plan "may be feasible."


But Doug Melnick, a senior city planner involved in both the bike and comprehensive plans, said such a drastic re-working of a major city road would first require intensive study of the ways in which it's currently used.


"Nobody has ever said that we weren't going to look into it," Melnick said. "It's more complicated than just getting a can of paint and putting down a bunch of new markings."


Among the concerns Melnick cited would be how the change would affect traffic on Madison's many residential side streets. That's one distinction, he said, between what's proposed for Madison and similar work done on a stretch of Manning Boulevard several years ago.


Traffic studies, Melnick noted, can be expensive.


One thing that needs to be answered definitively is just how many cars use the corridor every day, police department spokesman Detective James Miller said.


Hammer countered that a study released in November by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and Transportation for America noted that there's a host of grant money, much of it federal, available to make changes to increase safety and make areas less "automobile oriented."


Hammer also questioned why the bike plan doesn't call for some kind of near-term action on Madison, noting that in surveys during the bike plan Madison was ranked third by the public as the most important bike route in the city, behind Western and New Scotland avenues.


Melnick said the city is first targeting streets such as Clinton Avenue, a section of which now has a full-fledged bike lane, and Washington Avenue, a section of which now has "shared roadway" markings, that were already paved as part of other projects this summer and were relatively modest and inexpensive. Melnick noted that the city doesn't want to spend money re-striping roads that may soon be paved over.


"I think it's a legitimate request to look into," he said of the Madison proposal, "and I think we just need to look at it a little more first."


Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.