[JK: Architect Jim Martinez has a long history of trying to address the truck traffic issues in our city. Here are some of his thoughts.]
To my knowledge, this discussion on truck routes and bypasses has been going on since 2005. In all fairness to those residents who can remember the days when the city was struggling with vacancies and benignly neglected structures during the 1950’s and 1960’s when a plan was proposed to connect Route 50 as a truck bypass access arterial from points north and east to points west by demolishing most of Franklin Street in Franklin Square. It was probably then seen as a similar problem. Fortunately, this plan was foiled by several of our early preservationists and businesspeople and was discarded. At the time, the city also considered a plan by the Holiday Inn to build an addition to the Canfield Casino in Congress Park. Desperate times, desperate measures.
During the 2005 election season, truck traffic on Washington Street, a New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) route, was being challenged by residents regarding oversized vehicles. With a little research, it was quickly determined that Washington Street was not a designated NYS Route for oversized Special Dimension Vehicles (SDV). While a truck route, the connecting route from our only Qualifying Highway (I87) to points west was and still is Van Dam Street as noted in their first of these two documents; https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/oom/transportation-systems/repository/Truck%20Book%202020.pdf ; https://www.dot.ny.gov/nypermits/repository/perm71b.pdf.
The conundrum for residents addressing all other vehicles not distinguished with the numbers ‘53 painted on their trailers is that trucks must service all our businesses and properties within the city limits. Believing that truck traffic should stay on course within designated corridors is as impractical as imagining cyclists staying within the recently inaugurated bicycle lanes that service less than 5% of our streets.
After much discussion in 2006 regarding the SDVs turning onto Washington Street from Broadway, hopping the curb at Starbucks, often resulting in traffic on Washington to illegally back up, the city devised a plan to eliminate parking on lower Washington Street, narrow the sidewalk against the Brause Building for the large rigs to manage the turn. Unfortunately, it resulted in the crosswalk from the east side of Broadway terminating in the street as opposed to a safe refuge on the sidewalk. Since that plan was constituted, the SDVs still travel on the narrow Washington Street, whose structures are denser and closer to the street than the state-designated route of Van Dam Street.
The larger trucks were once routinely stopped and inspected for safety and manifest destinations. I can remember Saratoga Springs Officer Chowski flagging vehicles off Route 50 to a weigh station off Excelsior and later further south at the SPAC parking lots. It should be mentioned that there was also an audacious proposal to place a truck inspection station in front of Yaddo. That idea was summarily dashed when it was recognized that the trucks were on the other side of the city, the physical constraints of that location would not permit such an activity, and most importantly, the city did not own the land, it was already restricted by New York State.
I can sympathize with the residents of Van Dam Street, both those who have been there for some time and those recent to the street. Every neighborhood has issues, whether it’s traffic or parking, but we lived in one of the great small cities, and one must go back decades to recall when this funkier, quieter community was struggling to promote itself to attract businesses and new residents. This recent ill-conceived restriction of truck traffic without consultation and approval of the NYSDOT is unfortunate, and this last-minute neighborhood request in December before the Council expresses nothing less than a Hail Mary toss before the clock runs out.
I should mention the truck bypass route once envisioned through pristine wetlands and crane rookeries in the New York State Park that would not have addressed any of today’s concerns. Like the proposed Inspection Station at Yaddo, the trucks of concern are on the other side of the city. Today, the SDVs travel legally on Route 50 to Fenlon Street, then to Route 9 south to Exit 13. In a perfect world, all trucks would follow the same route. We all know better. The destinations for many 48′ and shorter transports throughout our city prevent this utopian idea.
Lastly, we are fortunate to have PS Commissioner Lew Benton and PS Commissioner Christian Mathiesen for their invaluable measured knowledge and experience in this matter. As always, thank you, John Kaufmann, for providing this community with your dedicated journalism that always provides more to the table for understanding.