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Calm Down

The Madison Avenue Road Diet study seeks ways to make one of Albany’s great thoroughfares friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists

by Shawn Stone on August 28, 2012

Albany’s Madison Avenue is so heavily trafficked by cars and trucks that if you live on that historic boulevard, which begins in the Mansion and Park South neighborhoods and ends in Pine Hills, you eventually stop noticing the noise. You take note only when it becomes quiet—which is, usually, in the dead of night or on a Sunday.

Noise is to be expected, however—after all, the avenue also doubles as Route 20 for its entire length—but the high rate of accidents, and the corresponding reduction in safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, is not.

According to the Albany Bicycle Master Plan, which was initiated by the city in 2009, about 14,000 vehicles travel the length of Madison Avenue every day, while 19,000 vehicles travel the same length of nearby Western Avenue. Yet, according to Albany Police Department figures, there were more than twice as many traffic accidents on Madison as there were on Western—2,252 vs. 900—between the years 2000 and 2009.

Photo by Erin Pihlaja

The difference between the two streets is simple: Madison is four-lanes wide for most of its length, and the eqivalent section of Western is a two-lane avenue. And many residents along the four-lane section, which extends from Lark Street at the eastern end to North Allen Street at the western end (where Madison merges into Western), would like to see the number of lanes reduced.

That’s what Virginia Hammer of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association told Metroland two years ago [“The Madison Avenue Diet,” Jan. 14, 2010]: that Albany needs a “traffic calming” plan to reduce motor vehicle lanes, and that plan should also include dedicated bicycle lanes. Hammer and the PHNA were among the driving forces behind the Madison Avenue Road Diet study, which was authorized by the Albany Common Council in September 2010, and is currently being undertaken by the Colonie firm Creighton-Manning.

Albany 10th Ward Councilwoman Leah Golby, whose ward includes the western end of Madison, is a strong supporter of traffic calming.

“I’m hoping that the report will determine that it’s a good idea to reduce lanes on Madison Avenue,” Golby says. “The idea certainly has community support.”

But, she adds, “I’m also speaking as a pedestrian and a bicyclist. If I’m feeling daring I’ll ride my bike on Madison Avenue.”

Golby recounts a dangerous encounter she had with a car a few weeks ago.

“I was riding my bike on Madison between 2 and 3 o’clock on a weekday, in a westerly direction, in the College of Saint Rose area.”

This is an off-peak time, and she thought there was less chance a problem would develop. But a car pulled right up behind her. And even though bicycles have a perfect right to ride in the street—in fact, that’s what bicyclists are supposed to do—the operator of the car was not having it.

“I almost fell off my bicycle when this road-rage driver got right behind and laid on his horn,” Golby says.

Golby would like to see more dedicated bike lanes in general, as well as on Madison Avenue. When you invest in bicycle infrastructure, Golby says, more people are willing to use bikes for transportation.

This would reduce the number of cars, and make neighborhoods more human-scaled—and would also, hopefully, lead to fewer bikes using the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, Golby says, she has heard that one of things the Madison Avenue Road Diet study has revealed is that there is not enough room for bike lanes on Madison Avenue.

This is confirmed by Lorenz Worden of the Albany Bike Coalition.

When asked how the study is going, Worden says, “It’s moving along. It should be two to three months until Creighton-Manning issue their recommendation and final report,” adding that there will be one more public meeting before that final report is issued.

“There is a snag, however. Madison Avenue is 57 feet wide from Allen Street to Lark Street,” Worden says.

When you subtract the space required for vehicle parking on both sides of the street, and the space needed for two lanes of traffic and a center turning lane, there’s only eight feet left—and that isn’t enough room to accommodate dedicated bike lanes.

“A bike lane should be five feet wide,” Worden says, “and even that’s tight.”

That doesn’t mean that traffic calming won’t happen. In fact, it’s likely. While Worden can’t predict what will be in the final report, he says, “My guess is that there will be some traffic calming measures. There are many other treatments that can be done.”

He expects that will likely be lane reductions and other pedestrian-friendly measures, and points to the success Schenectady has had with its traffic-calming measures on State Street in the Proctors area.

“This will be a better deal for the city of Albany,” Worden says. “It’s such a major step. And I remain optimistic.”



This is a corrected version of the story originally posted Aug. 23rd.