Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Monday, 13 February 2023 09:22

A Discussion Of The Issues In Enhancing Union Avenue #4

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
A Discussion Of The Issues In Enhancing Union Avenue #4

[Ed Lindner of Bikeatoga offers some further thoughts]

What an odd way to begin an important discussion about public policy.  “The attorney,” Jim writes, “has plainly provided … images … developed by a consultant whose charge was to present a bike trail system.”  Jim knows my name, of course.  He refers to me as “the attorney” and himself as “the architect” in an attempt to suggest that his views are entitled to greater weight due to his claimed expertise.  

I have no idea if Jim has any actual experience designing roadways.  But he does raise an interesting point.  When considering whether a particular roadway design will handle peak traffic, to what extent should we rely on data and the opinions of experts?  Or are we all experts now, regardless of background, capable of solving engineering problems by doing our own research?  

By drawing a distinction between the “attorney” and the “architect,” Jim clearly thinks we should defer, to at least some extent, to technical expertise. And not being an engineer myself, that’s generally how I approach questions outside my training.  

So let’s begin by taking a look at the resumes of the consultants who provided the images I used in my last post.  


The first preliminary and unofficial sketch of a potential enhanced Union Avenue design was done by Complete Streets Advisory Board member Mike King, an internationally recognized expert who has done roadway designs on five continents.  He has worked on more than 60 projects around the world, in cities as diverse as Cairo, Egypt;Jacksonville, Florida; Yichang, China and Cleveland, Ohio.   


This second preliminary sketch was done by JMT of NY, a firm of 1800 professionals with extensive experience planning and engineering streetscape designs. They’ve completed award-winning complete streets projects in multiple cities.  

It may well be that Jim has similar experience with roadway engineering and design.  If so, I would genuinely like to see examples of his work. It’s always helpful to see how others have handled the issues that arise in every major roadway redesignproject.  I hope, though, that both the “attorney” and the “architect” can agree that the Enhanced Union Avenue project is being guided by exceptionally qualified transportation professionals.

Is the “road diet” design proposed by these transportation professionals the best solution for Union Avenue?  That’s what our community is discussing now.  There will be an Enhanced Union Avenue public design workshop on Thursday, January 16th at 6 p.m. in the Music Hall on the 3rdfloor of City Hall.  I hope that Jim and others will attend and be prepared to collaborate with neighbors, bike advocates and city consultants to create the Union Avenue design that works best for most. 

As I suggested in my original piece, we do need to see the traffic study, which we all agree is long overdue.  But there is good reason to think that a road diet design could make Union Avenue more beautiful and more bike and pedestrian friendly without creating major traffic concerns.

All of the issues Jim raises about the three-lane, road diet design have been raised by neighbors and business owners in other communities. Check out this AARP guide (download the complete Road Diet fact sheet for best info).  In hundreds of cases around the country, road diets have not caused traffic congestion and have not diverted traffic to side streets.  They have slowed down cars and reduced crashes. And they’ve created new civic space for trees, safer crosswalks and bike lanes.

If the traffic study for Union Avenue shows that a “road diet” design can handle the traffic, as I hope it will, we should invest in creating a truly beautiful Enhanced Union Avenue. If not, the City should stripe the existing roadway to connect the bike lane NYSDOT is building from Henning Road to East Avenue all the way to Circular Street.

In the end, the real difference between Jim and me is our vision for the kind of city we want to live in.  Jim thinks that bike lanes are unnecessary, and that cyclists and motorists should just “share the road.”  I think that’s unsafe and unwise.  

Multiple studies confirm what common sense tells you – mixing bikes and cars on well-traveled roadways is a recipe for accidents. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that adding bike lanes on 4-lane local roads can reduce crashes by up to 49%.

Multiple studies also confirm another thing that common sense tells you – more people ride bikes when they feel safe doing so.  And more people ride bikes when you build a connected bike lane network that takes them where they want to go.

Do you care about climate change? How many times do you use your car to drive just three or four miles?  Making it safe for Saratogians to take that same trip by bike has been part of the City’s climate change mitigation plan since 2011.  That continues to be a community goal.

Our 2020Natural Resource Inventory identified motor vehicles as a primary source of local greenhouse gases and recommended “expanding multi-modal transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks and bike lanes” to reduce our community’s carbon footprint.  

Building a connected bike lane network to encourage cycling also promotes community health.  That’s why the CDC includes building “bicycle networks” as a priority strategy for increasing physical activity through community design.  

And finally, bike lane networks are good for business.  Building a quality bike lane network allows local businesses to benefit from the explosion of bike tourism.  And it’s not just about tourism.  Studies show that retailers see increased local business when new bike lanes are built.

For all these reasons, building quality bike lane infrastructure isn’t just about cyclists. Getting more people on bikes benefits the whole community

In 2012, the citizens of Saratoga Springs decided that they want our city to be a safe, bikeable and walkable Complete Streets community.   An Enhanced Union Avenue is an important part of that plan.  

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