Kingston biking buffs battle oblivious motorists for a place on the streets
It’s not easy being a bicyclist in Kingston. To hear cyclists tell it, drivers behave as though they were the masters of the universe. They want two-wheelers with whom they are supposed to share the road to get out of their way.
“It’s very difficult biking the city. You need to be an adult, with pretty aggressive and strong biking skills,” said Kristen Wilson, who until becoming pregnant commuted between her home in the Rondout and her office at Kingston Plaza by bike. “The scariest thing is people in cars hollering for you to get on the sidewalk. People drive down Broadway at 40 miles per hour.
Another frustrating thing is that there are so many stop signs, including on some of the side roads, that people don’t respect them. “People run them all the time,” said Wilson. A friend who lives in the Adirondacks was recently visiting, and she said, Everybody is crazy around here. I can tell I’m in the city.”
Michelle Elise, who lives and owns a small business Uptown, said she was riding her bike on Main Street a few years ago when somebody opened their door into her. “It’s called ‘getting doored,’” she said. “He banged me up.” When the police arrived, the driver of the car tried to turn the situation around and make it her fault. The officer corrected him: ‘You can’t open your door in traffic.’
Cyclist Arthur Zaczkiewicz, who also works Uptown, said uneducated drivers were his biggest beef. They turn and cut cyclists off. Zaczkiewicz said once he broke a knuckle after jamming on the brakes and going off the road when a driver turned in front of him.
Seeking to give city bicyclists a voice, Wilson, Elise, and a handful of other cyclists have formed a bike advocacy group called Bike-Friendly Kingston, which started meeting monthly in January. Their goal is to make the streets friendlier for bicyclists by creating bike lanes or shared road space, installing bike racks at strategic locations in the city, and educating both bicyclists and motorists about the rules of the road. (Tom Polk, another member of the group who bikes to his office in Midtown from his home in the Town of Ulster, said some bicyclists in the city also break the rules, riding without helmets, weaving in and out of traffic, and riding against the traffic or on the sidewalk.)
The group has been researching ways to make the streets friendlier to the pedaling set. It has concluded that “sharrow” markings, a term for painted road signs that designate a roadway as shared by both bicyclists and drivers, are far less costly than building dedicated bike lanes. (Many cities, including San Francisco, Baltimore and Paris, have adopted them.) The group found that the cost of creating a sharrow — carefully placed signs that incorporate a symbol for a bicycle and are painted on the right-hand lane of a roadway, well away from the reach of a door of a parked car — is $250 (for labor and materials) versus $5000 or more for a mile-long bike lane.
The group plans to submit a proposal to Kingston’s Common Council for the creation of sharrows along two intersecting routes, Lucas and Washington avenues, a project that would entail the painting of 19 sharrow markings at a cost of $4750. The sharrows would be placed about 250 feet apart. Bike-Friendly Kingston is currently collecting signatures to build up support for the proposal.
Network of pathways
Working with the city of Kingston’s Conservation Advisory Council, the group has compiled a map showing several bike-friendly pathways. The routes have been devised to connect with popular destinations, such as Kingston Point Park, Forsyth Nature Center, and the Kingston farmers’ market, as well as with links such as two rail-trails. Member Kevin Young has printed out a Google map showing the inventory of bike racks in Uptown and Midtown. The map also identifies places currently lacking racks that Bike-Friendly Kingston thinks should have them, including Bailey Middle School, the Kingston Plaza Hannaford and Cornell Park.
Steve Noble, an environmental educator involved with the group, said Bike-Friendly Kingston has applied for funding for bike racks from an organization called Bikes Belong. Approximately $10,000 in grant money would pay for the equivalent of five to ten bike parking spots in each of eleven parks.
Polk is chair of the city’s Complete Streets Advisory Council, which is working on improving the design, signage and infrastructure of city streets and sidewalks to make them more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. Besides advocating for the creation of sharrows or bike lanes, the council would like city notification whenever there is upcoming redevelopment or repair of a street, bridge or intersection. Such projects could then be made friendlier to cyclists, Polk said.
Polk is also chair of the bicycling committee of the YMCA of Kingston and Ulster County, which is sponsoring its third annual “Bike to Work Breakfast Energizer” on Friday, May 18. Registration is at the YMCA, 507 Broadway, between 7 and 9 a.m., with free coffee, bagels, juice and fruit. A raffle for bike-commuting prizes will be held. The event celebrating National Bike Month has been timed to coincide with a “casual Friday.”
Polk and Wilson both support a current study for improving the intersection of Albany Avenue, Broadway and Colonel Chandler Drive. Project consultants Fitzgerald & Halliday have suggested replacing the current intersection with a roundabout, which Wilson said would serve to move traffic through the intersection more quickly (plus accommodate an expected increase in traffic in the future) besides improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. The project “also has some design elements that would make the intersection a gateway to the city,” said Wilson, noting that the roundabout would be nothing like the roundabout at the other end of I-587.
While residents, perhaps haunted by the trauma of the Thruway traffic circle, have expressed misgivings about the roundabout plan, Wilson said she was sold on the idea when she visited North Carolina and walked through a whole bunch of roundabouts by the same designer. “It was just amazing,” she said.
As it is now, the crossing is extremely difficult for bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate. “Just last week I was trying to get across,” Wilson said. “I got halfway through the crosswalk before the light turned and I had to go back. You have to be very cautious as a pedestrian.”
Bike-Friendly Kingston members said that Kingston could be a great biking city. “There’s a lot of flat ground in Uptown and Midtown that enables you to get around without working too hard,” said Polk, whose two-mile daily commute by bike takes approximately 20 minutes.
“Kingston has an amazing potential to be a very bikable city,” Elise concurred. ‘It’s pretty concentrated. People live, work and recreate here. In Midtown, there’s not a big grade difference. It’s easy to get to the rail-trails. We want to focus on bikes as an everyday form of transportation.”