SARATOGA SPRINGS — Changes are coming to Union Avenue. A public meeting scheduled to take place Thursday, Feb. 9 may go a long way in determining the substance of those alterations along one of the Spa City’s most notable thoroughfares.
Already decided: the NYS Department of Transportation will soon begin making improvements – including markings for a bike path - between Henning Road (by Exit 14 of the Northway) and East Avenue (where Saratoga Race Course is located).
The city meanwhile is considering making improvements along the lower portion of Union Avenue that would connect the NYSDOT’s bike path to Circular Street – the location of Congress Park.
Additionally, the city is considering the possibility of reducing vehicle lane traffic along a portion of that lower segment, between Circular Street and Nelson Avenue, and create a protected bike lane that would make that path safer.
Petitions with opposing viewpoints, each garnering hundreds of signatures, have been posted on the website change.org.
“Pump The Brakes. Do Not Rush Changes to Union Avenue!”
One group, calling themselves the Historic Union Avenue Neighborhood Association is asking the city to “not rush a major decision affecting a vital gateway to our city,” and recommends a comprehensive plan be developed that allows “stakeholders” such as NYRA, the National Museum of Racing, the Saratoga Historic Preservation Foundation, Empire State College, the business community, and area residents, to weigh in.
“Lets’ Get Bike Lanes on Union Avenue!”
A pro-bike group meanwhile is urging the City Council to build the Union Avenue bike lanes and the entire connected bike lane network. “We already decided on the city’s 2016 Complete Streets plan. It’s time to stop planning and start implementing.” The group says doing so will allow better safety for bike-riders, reduce traffic and parking needs, increase economic activity, and historically restore a 19th century bike lane on Union Avenue.
Pro-bike advocates additionally point out that that the smattering of bike lanes that currently exist within the city don’t connect to one another, making them difficult to use. More connectivity would bring increased use on those paths, the group says.
“No decisions have been made - except one,” city Mayor Ron Kim said. “A (previous) City Council passed a Complete Streets plan to implement bike paths throughout the city. Also, when we took office (in January 2022) the Department of Transportation was well underway to designing a bike path from Exit 14 (of the Northway) to East Avenue. That construction is going to start this spring.”
The Complete Streets plan was adopted in 2013. Ken Grey, of the Complete Streets Advisory Board, said he would like to see Union Avenue restored to its original beauty. “We’re looking at the opportunity of transforming 78% of asphalt into 78% of green space and useable things like bike lanes.” Reducing the lower segment roadway from four lanes to three would also allow for the addition of trees.
Mike King is a recent transplant to Saratoga Springs. He holds an extensive background in city planning and is a member of Complete Streets. In January, King delivered a presentation to the city regarding proposed enhancements on lower Union Avenue. “The State is building a bike lane between East Avenue and Henning. So, the question is: What do you do between East and Circular?
“We could go out tomorrow and stripe a five-foot bike lane that goes from East, all the way to Circular. No one would be happy, but you could do that. There is enough room. But, we could also question whether we need four lanes of cars,” King said, adding that the average speed of vehicles in the 30 mph zone was recorded at 41 miles per hour.
Union Avenue currently has parking on both sides of the street with four driving lanes in between - two lanes going in each direction.
“You can’t really cross the street. It’s not very safe. According to statistics it’s three-and-a-half times more dangerous than similar type roads,” said King, discussing the prospect of going from four lanes to three. “Some people have said they can’t fathom it. The Traffic Analysis that was done during the track season says it is possible to have three lanes and the world would not end.”
The city will host a workshop and public gathering titled “Enhancing Union Avenue” regarding the proposed project. A new date for that gathering was announced by the city on Feb. 6. The public design workshop will take place 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 16 at the third floor Music Hall in City Hall.
Correction: The original publication of this story misspelled the surname of Ken Grey, of the Complete Streets Advisory Board.That correct spelling Grey.