GLENS FALLS u Glens Falls is well on its way to being a model city for pedestrian and bicycle accessibility, said Jeff Speck, a nationally recognized expert on urban planning.
“I really was afraid for about my first five minutes here driving around and walking around that this place was too good and you wouldn’t need my help,” he said at a forum on Thursday evening at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls.
At the forum, and in an interview on Friday morning, Speck said the streets in Glens Falls generally feel safe and comfortable for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“It’s really hard to find a street where you don’t feel safe walking as a pedestrian,” he said.
Spec, a consultant on a regional planning initiative, said a report he is preparing will offer several recommendations to improve access between the Centennial Circle roundabout and Glens Falls Hospital, and between the roundabout and Glens Falls Civic Center.
Speck said some of the traffic lanes on Hudson Avenue could be eliminated, or lanes could be narrowed, to make room for designated bicycle lanes and possibly a landscaped median strip in the middle of the street.
A right-hand turning lane could easily be eliminated, he said.
Statistics show that narrower streets are safer, he said.
“When you double the block size, you triple the number of fatal crashes,” he said.
Engineering consultants will be starting work soon on design of a proposed Hudson Avenue infrastructure improvement project, and will consider his suggestions, said city Economic/Community Development Director Edward Bartholomew.
Speck said he generally does not recommend roundabouts, because roundabouts are designed to improve vehicle traffic, not pedestrian accessibility.
But in instances, such as in Glens Falls, where five streets intersect, a roundabout is better than a traditional intersection.
“I think your roundabout is the right solutions for where it is,” he said.
But he recommended city officials reject a proposal in the recently completed Downtown Vision & Development Strategy to construct three additional roundabouts downtown.
He said he also will recommend filling in the grassy area between the Civic Center and Burger King with some type of commercial or housing development.
Having buildings close to the sidewalk makes pedestrians feel safer, he said.
He said he also will recommend some type of development wrapping around the outside of the parking garage on Bay Street, next to Monument Square office tower.
Developer Bruce Levinsky’s long-range plan for Monument Square calls for mixed-use development wrapped around the parking garage.
Surrounding parking garages with either development or landscaping improves aesthetics and makes the area feel more like a neighborhood, Speck said.
Speck is a city planner, architectural designer and writer who has worked for the National Endowment for the Arts, Mayors’ Institute on City Design and Governors’ Institute on Community Design.
His latest book is, “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”
He co-wrote, “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream,” and, “The Smart Growth Manual.”
He was in Glens Falls to meet with planning consultants working on a regional infrastructure and development plan for the Adirondack Gateway Council, a coalition of local governments and planning agencies in Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties.
A federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant is paying for preparation of the plan, including Speck’s visit to Glens Falls.
Speck said good transportation planning takes into account pedestrians and bicyclists, not just motorists.
“Street life is the measure of a successfully designed place,” he said.
Speck said city streets should be designed to be useful, comfortable, interesting and safe.
He said walking increases sociability.
“Every 10 minutes you add to your commute, you’re 10 percent less likely to participate in clubs and churches,” he said.
Walking also improves health, he said.
“It’s very clear that this absence of the ‘useful walk’ is the cause of our health crisis,” he said.