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Rack ’em Up

Federal funds bring bike storage to Albany

by Darryl McGrath on July 14, 2011 · 1 comment

Finally, in a city where the best option for locking your bicycle has long been the nearest wrought-iron fence, bike racks are popping up everywhere.

The selection alone is noteworthy, as racks can be seen on city streets in all shapes and sizes, from rugged post-and-ring models to whimsical abstract designs of books, coffee cups and other utilitarian objects rendered as functional outdoor art. Bright-red racks shaped like touring bikes in silhouette frame Albany’s Central Avenue at regular intervals, while black steel models with a distinctive art deco motif have been installed along Lark Street. Bike racks are outside of schools and libraries, stores and bus stops; in many locations, a quick glance in either direction will land on a rack.

The racks are the result of the second year of a Capital District Transit Authority program which used federal funds to blanket the Capital Region with free or low-cost bike racks. Participants could choose from about 75 designs; bike racks worth up to $1,000 were free to public or nonprofit sponsors and half price for the private sector.

The result: 167 racks have been installed in Albany alone in the last year, with about 90 more expected to be installed this summer, said Doug Melnick, Albany’s director of planning. Between the purchase incentive and the CDTA’s own installation of bike racks at bus stations, 700 new racks—which provide 2,000 spaces to park bikes—have been installed throughout the Capital Region in the last year. The purchasing program has just closed for this year, but will resume in January.

“We have expanded the program quite a bit; we feel it’s been quite successful,” said Margo Janack, a CDTA spokeswoman. “The bikes and buses go hand-in-hand in terms of adding accessibility. People are using them.”

Four years ago, the CDTA added bicycle carriers to every bus along its major lines. Last year, cyclists used those carriers more than 60,000 times, Janack said.

The push to add bike racks around the region comes as Albany moves forward with its Bicycle Master Plan, which the city designed to both heighten awareness of bicyclists on city roads, and to make it easier for cyclists to use those roads. Changing city roads to accommodate bicycles can sometimes backfire; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s program to add bike lanes to city streets has been met with sharp criticism.

In Albany, however, the reaction to such changes has been positive, Melnick said. Eight miles of city streets have seen improvements under the master plan so far, including
“share the road” signs; the designation of certain stretches as “sharrows,” which means that bicycles can use the full traffic lanes; and the addition of bicycle lanes. The city also repaved the Corning Preserve along the Hudson River, a popular cycling route. Another 2.5 miles of city streets will be improved for cycling by the fall, Melnick said.

“I think the good thing we’re hearing from people is that the infrastructure that’s out there is starting to make a difference,” Melnick said. “Drivers are starting to realize that bikes have a place on the road. It’s all about building an entire system; it’s trying to make bike riding a mode of transportation.”

As for the CDTA’s efforts: The New York Bicycling Coalition recognized the bike-rack program with a service award in April. Coalition Executive Director Brian Kehoe calls the CDTA’s focus on cycling a model for other transportation companies.

“They really have stepped out from the majority of transportation companies in the state and have been proactive in promoting bicycling in the state,” Kehoe said. “It’s clear that a policy decision was made at a higher level that a transit company is supposed to serve bicyclists.”

The public has been slow in a few places to put the bike racks to good use. That hasn’t disappointed Albany attorney Greg Harris, who bought two coffee-cup-shaped racks for Melville’s Mug, the coffee shop he owns in his building at 5 Clinton Place in downtown Albany.

Harris, who also has his law practice in the building, hasn’t seen bikes parked at the racks as often as he’d like. But with several downtown buildings undergoing conversions to high-end condominium and apartment buildings, he predicts that use will increase.

In the meantime, Harris said, “they look nice as street sculpture.”


For information on the bike rack purchasing program, contact Carrie Ward at the CDTA at 437-6865, or carriew@cdta.org. Information in cycling programs in the Capital District can be obtained through the New York Bicycling Coalition (nybc.net) or the Albany Bicycle Coalition (albanybicyclecoalition.com).

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