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The Madison Avenue Diet

As Albany gears up for a renovation of Madison Avenue, some Pine Hills residents want to see a commitment to bicycle safety

by Elizabeth Knapp on January 14, 2010

As cars continue to speed down Madison Avenue, one of Albany’s most prominent thoroughfares for bicycle traffic, the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association is duly in motion. Virginia Hammer, secretary of PHNA, hopes to condense the street’s traffic with her proposal of a “traffic calming” plan through lane reduction. This is a process that would transform Madison Avenue’s current four-lane structure into two traffic lanes and a center left-turn lane, which would allow space for the addition of bicycle lanes—a procedure that is understood to have numerous safety benefits for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The proposed restriping of Madison Avenue from Swan Street to Allen Street would provide a “safer route from uptown to downtown,” according to Laurenz Worden, a PHNA and Albany Bicycle Coalition member, “which is a critical part of any community.”

Hammer’s activism is in response to a Transportation Improvement Program proposal, submitted by the city of Albany in November, which is primarily dedicated to the cosmetic and infrastructural renovation of Madison Avenue: improving the condition of existing pavement, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic controls, intersections and drainage—with no plan to reduce the lanes or introduce bicycle amenities. If this project is approved by the Capital District Transportation Committee and then implemented, its lifespan would be about 20 years, which prompted advocates to voice their concerns now.

PHNA and their supporters have been attempting to educate the public about their traffic-calming plan and its safety and effectiveness in reducing the traffic on Madison Avenue.

According to a U.S. Department of Transportation Study Report, a road that has an average daily traffic of less than 20,000 cars is a valid candidate for lane reduction, or a “road diet” as it’s often called. As stated in the city’s proposal, Madison Avenue’s ADT is 14,500, which “makes it perfect,” according to Hammer, “well under the 20,000 limit.”

“Traffic density is low enough that it’s amenable to three lanes,” said Worden. “Some studies show that while speed decreases, it actually reduces travel time.”

The 2008 lane reduction of Manning Boulevard has “made a world of difference,” said Duane Barker, member of the Manning Boulevard Neighborhood Association. He was asked to join PHNA’s committee for lane reduction on Madison due to his involvement with the Manning Boulevard process.

“Madison Avenue is dangerous,” he said, “whether you’re a driver, pedestrian or bicyclist.”

In the last two years, Madison Avenue has been the site of two fatal accidents in which pedestrians attempted to cross the four-lane road. According to Barker, the traffic-calming plan will enforce the speed limit, as well as allow more room for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“What’s perplexing to all of us,” said Barker, “is that this type of engineering design seems to be such a mystery here in Albany, when you can find state studies where this works. It’s kind of beyond us as to why that hasn’t caught on.” Lane- reduction plans have been successful in cities such as Syracuse, Athens, Ga., and Vancouver, Wash.

The CDTC is holding a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 9:30 AM at 1 Park Place in Albany to start the discussion of whether this project, along with 83 others, will be funded. The meeting is open to the public.

Federal TIP funding is available for Albany’s reconstruction proposal. City planners have told PHNA that it would be an additional cost and effort to study the need for a lane reduction.

Albany’s Department of Development and Planning was not available to comment.

“The bottom line for all this is safety,” said Barker, “safety for all the residents.”