At the eastern end of Livingston Avenue, there is an old wooden walkway that leads to a concrete sidewalk. A few yards ahead toward the Albany waterfront, the sidewalk falls off into a crumbling embankment, truncating access to the Livingston Avenue railroad bridge that connects Albany to Rensselaer. For more than 80 years, pedestrians and bicyclists also used this bridge to cross the Hudson River. And on a recent sunny afternoon, walkers and bikers filled the nearby Corning Preserve with activity—but wherever they were going, it had to be on the Albany side, because there hasn’t been a safe passage across the river here in decades.
Among other things, the lack of a “riverwalk,” or river crossing in this recreational area, cuts off the Rensselaer side from the scenic Mohawk Hudson Bike Trail. (That trail continues on to Rotterdam Junction.) It also prevents two-wheel transit for commuters between the two cities. And though it’s obviously dangerous in its current gutted and deteriorated condition, the old pathway is still used.
“People do use it, they take their life into their hands to walk across the tracks,” says Martin Daley, project director for Parks & Trails New York. PTNY is advocating for the inclusion of a walk-bike path when the Livingston Avenue bridge is rehabilitated.
“We have this fantastic Corning Preserve trail, that extends all the way to Buffalo, and the Albany County rail trail, and Rensselaer County is looking to improve their waterfront also with it, and Amtrak hasn’t said one way or the other whether they want it or not,” says Daley. “Certainly, railroads have safety and liability concerns, but there are a lot of swing bridges that safely carry thousands of bikers across every day.”
Daley reports that even bridges that rise up and down have been made safe for walkways. “The engineering is not a great hurdle,” he adds, citing as an example the International Railway Bridge trail in Buffalo, which connects the city to Squaw Island Park.
Deteriorated and outdated, the 1901 Livingston Avenue Bridge is scheduled to undergo a major overhaul in 2017. Senator Charles Schumer, along with many local and regional groups, is pushing for inclusion of a 2.5-mile pedestrian walk and bike path as part of its reconstruction, and the cities of Albany and Rensselaer have passed resolutions in its favor. As of yet, however, the riverwalk seems far from certain. Neither Amtrak, nor CSX Transportation, which owns the bridge, have given their approval for a walkway. (Calls to Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation for an update on the feasibility of a riverwalk were not returned as of press time.)
“This is not a new feature, it’s rebuilding what was there,” says Lorenz Worden of the Albany Bike Coalition. “All we want is what was there originally.”
Rail trails are becoming increasingly popular all over the country, for environmental, economic, and health reasons. “It’s not a new thing, it’s a routine thing,” says Worden, who also mentions how lack of an over-river route blocks Rensselaer from use of the increasingly popular Mohawk Hudson bike trail—a lapse that makes even less sense now that Albany is investing 11-million dollars into development of the Corning Preserve while Rensselaer is beginning designs for a major multi-use waterfront project, including a kayak launch, immediately south of the Livingston Avenue bridge. “But there isn’t a family-friendly bike ride anywhere in Rensselaer,” says Worden.
“There isn’t a legal bikeway across the river until Green Island,” says Daley. “If people from the east side are not coming over, we’re missing out on that economic activity.” Increasing audiences for Albany’s Alive at Five concert series is just one of those activities.
There is a walkway on the Dunn Memorial Bridge, but bicyclists are required to walk their bikes across (though not all of them do). The bridge was built during the 1960s as part of I-787; the path’s Albany access is near Broadway in the midst of bicycle-inhospitable traffic patterns, and begins with a steep incline that turns into an intimidating plunge on the way back. The rest of the narrow, handicapped-inaccessible path accompanies incessant whizzing traffic. “It’s not a very attractive option,” opines Daley, who reports that bicyclists who have biked across New York state regard it as a great ride, “except for that awful bridge path.”
The LAB riverwalk, however, would be shorter, level and relatively scenic. “The height is low enough that you could build ramps for an approach,” says Daley. “The effort to restore access, and to build fences or barriers to keep people safe, would be very minimal.”
Even a small decrease in roadway use would cover the additional cost of including a walkway in proposals for the LAB’s renovation.
“The cost of improvements for bikes per mile compared to roads for cars is insignificant,” says Worden, continuing, “They’re spending 99 million dollars to add two lanes to Exit 24, by the University at Albany, to Exit 23, by the Thruway. 99 million dollars so someone can get there two or three minutes faster? Who is this for? And it’s coming out of taxpayer pockets whether they want it or not.
“That’s the beauty of all bike projects,” he adds. “The cost is chump change.”
“Amtrak has been mum about it, but if the Livingston Bridge is reconstructed without the walkway, the cost will be prohibitive to add it later,” says Daley. “The standard is for bridges to last 100 years, and we will really miss out.”