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A Center for Every Neighborhood?

Advocates for a community center in North Central Troy win their first victory, but it will be an uphill battle

On Dec. 28, 2009, the executive director of the Troy Family YMCA, Patrick Ciraulo, sent a letter to members of the Troy City Council urging them to not pass a resolution providing initial funds for a proposed North Central Troy community center. At first blush, the attempt by the well-respected nonprofit to undercut the efforts of a fledging, like-minded organization might have be surprising. But, as Ciraulo pointed out, there isn’t much money to go around for nonprofits in Troy, and new competition isn’t welcome.

“In short,” his letter concludes, “we feel the use of this money would be better served by providing funds to an organization that already has many high-quality programs and services in the community before we consider adding another organization.”

Ciraulo added that the Y is looking into purchasing a 15-passenger van to “help those in the North Central community participate in the programs we offer.”

Republican Councilman Mark McGrath, who represents North Central, had proposed the legislation that would direct $15,000 from Troy’s Community Development Block Grant budget to fund a study exploring the economic and practical feasibility of the new center. He scoffed at the idea that dispatching a van from the 21st Street Y down Hoosick Street into North Central was a substitute for a neighborhood community center.

“What they’re saying is, ‘We’ll throw them a bone,’” McGrath complained. “They feel that the money belongs to them, and it’s insulting.”

For the past year and a half, McGrath has worked with Catholic Charities and a coalition of advocates with the North Central Troy Community Development Committee to formulate the proposal for a community center. The first step was to secure this $15,000. Despite some concerns, the council passed the resolution last Thursday 9 to 0.

As Council President Clem Campana put it, “How could you vote against it?”

The proposed community center would sit on a plot of city-owned land between 7th and 8th avenues between Ingalls Avenue and Middleburgh Street, according to the Rev. Cornelius Clark of Holy Serenity Church of God in Christ in Troy, a member of the development committee. The center would offer workforce development and training in coordination with Hudson Valley’s Community College’s Development Institute, as well as family support services, a food pantry, literacy programs, elder-health advocacy and youth-guidance and athletics programs.

“We had hoped to be where we are now with the feasibility study last summer,” Clark said, as the process is taking a much longer time than they had hoped. “We are looking at this from the inside, and we are looking at the need of the people of North Central.”

“When you look at North Central Troy, name something that there is that services that community. You can’t, because there is nothing relative to what there is in other neighborhoods of Troy,” Clark said. “It is the most desperate area in the city of Troy, and it has been that way for a long time. It is the highest crime area in Troy. Statistics show that it has the highest level of poverty in Troy.” North Central is arguably the most underserved and desperate community in the entire Capital Region.

Democratic Councilman Ken Zalewski said that although the council funded the first step toward a community center, whether he continues to support it will depend on how thorough the feasibility study is.

Zalewski pointed to the extra competition for a limited pool of funds that another nonprofit will cause. “There is a limited amount of funds for all of these organizations,” he said. “They are always barely able to stay open. You build another, where is the money coming from?”

And sometimes these facilities find they can’t stay open. This is exactly what happened to the South Troy Boys and Girls Club, “the elephant in the room,” Zalewski said. “There was an attempt made years ago, and it failed.”

Council President Clem Campana was a volunteer for 15 years at the now-defunct club. He remembers it as an exciting and worthwhile endeavor, but one that called for constant struggle. “We fought every year to try and stay open, and eventually we couldn’t,” Campana said. “It just got to the point that the overhead and the insurance couldn’t be dealt with.” The city spent millions of dollars on a new building for the club, but the building sat vacant for years until the city finally sold it to Russell Sage.

“I certainly recognize the need up there,” Campana said of North Central. “But our primary concern is that it would thin out an already anemic stream of Community Block Grant funding.”

“If they do a good job with the feasibility study, they have the fiscal impacts laid out, how it will get its funds, how it will differ from the South Troy Boys and Girls Club, then I can support it,” Zalewski said. “If it doesn’t address all of these, we will be kidding ourselves to think we are going to be able to do this.”

As one insider in the Democratic Party, which controls the council, said bluntly, “I don’t see how this is going to fly. Show me the money.”

—Chet Hardin

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

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.”

—Elizabeth Knapp

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