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Class B for Buses


To Larry Feldman, the accessibility of the stores at Colonie Center is of paramount importance.

Feldman, the chairman and CEO of Feldman Properties, buys “underperforming malls in great locations” and “turns them into Class A malls.” (In the biz, Class A means more than $350 in sales per square foot per year for non-anchor stores.)

One of the major trends Feldman tries to cater to is the rise of the “busy working woman” who wants to get in, do her shopping and get out. Compared to the 1970s, he explains, women have “much less time to go through a long ring road, and perhaps park in a structured parking garage, and start shopping 15 minutes later. She wants to drive up, get in and start shopping immediately.” To achieve this, the renovation is “opening out” the mall, so that more stores—especially the new ones like Cheesecake Factory, Barnes and Noble, and L.L. Bean—have doors directly out onto the parking lot. This means you don’t have to “go deep into the mall” before you start shopping. Getting to shop immediately is so important that they are actually going to have valet parking.

Also as a result of the renovations, the mall’s bus stop has been relocated out to Wolf Road.

Doesn’t exiling buses to the periphery seem a little at odds with the shortest-time-to-shopping priorities? “That would only [be a problem for] someone who is handicapped,” says Feldman after a pause. “It’s a two-minute walk.”

He’s kind of right. It is a two-minute walk from the bus stop to the nearest mall entrance. For me, when I’m not carrying too much. For my mother-in-law, who has bad knees, it’s quite a bit longer. For her, from the bus stop to the inside entrance of Macy’s it’s about 15 minutes. On a good day. And she’s more mobile than some.

It could be worse. It could be all the way across the longer stretch of parking lot to the south of the mall. They are going to put covered pedestrian walkways from a couple entrances to the stop, which will certainly make the walk better. STAR buses for the disabled and the Shuttlefly still come directly up to the main entrance, though to no other doors (this apparently at CDTA’s discretion).

But the changes still represent a significant barrier to many of the disabled and elderly who take regular buses to Colonie Center, and at least an added hassle for the rest of us bus riders. It’s the equivalent of having to park at one spot on the edge of Wolf Road, no matter how crowded the mall is or what part of it you are going to, which is exactly what Feldman is taking pains to make sure it’s not like for drivers. (The shuttle is a nice option to have, but taking two buses where you used to take one is no one’s idea of quick and easy.)

The stores know this—when the advocacy group Citizens for Public Transportation (formerly Citizens for Transportation, www.times canvassed stores with the question “Would you like to . . . [have] the bus stop/shelter returned to an entrance of the Center?”, of the 32 surveys they got filled out, 31 said yes. “The walk is too long for seniors” wrote a Payless representative. “It would be more business for the mall,” wrote a CVS representative. “It would help employees get to work on time,” noted a Motherhood Maternity representative.

“I am definitely in favor of bringing the bus line back into the mall,” Gary Boyer, store manager for Boscov’s, told me. “I would be open to looking into possibilities for where it could stop in the back of the mall, and feel it would be advantageous for our coworkers and our customers.”

After all, bus riders—be they disabled, elderly, or regular working folk—have money to spend. (Even people who can’t afford cars have some money to spend—in fact, they spend a far higher percentage of their incomes than rich folks do. They have to.)

But Feldman says that a bus stop can’t co-exist with retailers having entrances facing outwards. Funny how little, upscale, financially successful Stuyvesant Plaza has three. Just a guess, but I think “can’t” here is code for “We think it’s unsightly.”

The mall is firm about not wanting the stop where it was, but exactly what or who is preventing a bus stop at the back of the mall at least is a little murky. Colonie Center general manager Joseph Millett and Feldman both told me they’d be fine with having a stop there, and Millett even says he’d suggested it to CDTA in their initial negotiations and CDTA declined.

However, CDTA spokesperson Margo Janack, after emphasizing how helpful the mall has been in working with them through the transition, said in an e-mail message, “At this time, we do not have permission to establish a bus stop at the mall.” She also expressed reservations about the ability of the large buses to negotiate the reconfigured mall parking lot safely or while remaining on schedule.

The one thing that is clear is that there is a missed opportunity here for Colonie Center to be a truly transit-friendly mall. If Feldman had decided that it was a priority, it would certainly have been possible to incorporate buses’ needs into the redesign of the mall and its parking lot such that they could have moved quickly and safely in and out of the property and picked up and dropped off shoppers and employees closer to their destinations. Buses have specific needs, but they are not out of proportion with the scope of the renovations already being done.

It’s all a matter what you think goes into being “Class A.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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