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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 11, 2008

A new vision for a quality region from CDTC

By Zach Simeone

ALBANY — By the year 2030, the Capital District Transportation Committee wants to develop the region’s infrastructure for more efficient transportation, and allow for the preservation of undeveloped land.

“Over the next 20 years, we’re looking at $3.4 billion for highway rehabilitation, and $1.8 billion in bridge maintenance, repair, and replacement,” CDTC’s Senior Transportation Planner Chris O’Neil told The Enterprise this week. “We’re also looking at what we call ‘big-ticket initiatives,’ which are projects that are not funded yet. We’re currently searching for that funding.”

These initiatives include riverfront access and development programs, street reconstruction to create boulevards and street lighting, and 280 miles of regional, recreational greenways.

“One of the things we’re hoping to do is engage with towns, cities, and villages to really try and bring the vision about at the local level,” O’Neil said, “and we believe that we have a lot of buy-in from elected officials and citizens around the region for this vision. The decisions at the local level have implications for the whole region.”

The CDTC also wants to run busses more often.

“We’re encouraging new development to occur within walking distance of arterials that are served by transit lines, which increases the ridership, and, in turn, allows CDTA to provide more frequent service,” said O’Neil.

Bus rapid transit

Part of the picture, O’Neil said, is pushing for more funding for transit.

“We are supporting CDTA in construction of a bus rapid transit line, or BRT. With these, we try to imitate the features of a light-rail line.”

There is a planned 100 miles of bus rapid transit on the list of big-ticket initiatives. While BRT systems differ by their features, the overall goal is to provide more time-efficient transportation by implementing a variety of transit strategies.

Cities around the world are using double-decker buses to increase transport capacity and boost efficiency. Articulated buses, which are fitted with an extra axle and a bending joint near the middle of the bus, offer nearly twice the length of a regular-sized bus; bi-articulated buses are built with two joints and two extra axles, further increasing capacity.

“We will try to provide advantages to the BRT vehicle, for example, by using transit signal priority,” O’Neil said. “That means that if a bus is approaching a light that is about to turn red, the bus sends a signal to the light that tells it to give the bus a little more green-time,” he said.

“We’ll also have very attractive transit stations, and try to provide amenities at the stations,” said O’Neil. With larger, more developed station areas spaced further apart than current bus stops, BRT vehicles will not have to stop as often. “They won’t be at every corner, but spaced at maybe every mile or so, and this allows the bus to make better time,” he said.

“We are committed right now to a BRT line from downtown Albany to downtown Schenectady, which is currently funded, but we’d like to extend that into other areas,” O’Neil said.

“Input from the community”

The CDTC has what O’Neil called a “linkage program,” in which it partners with a municipality in a land-use and transportation study. It has done about 50 of these studies throughout the region so far, he said.

“Typically, what this means is we hire a consultant who looks at land-use and transportation issues, and gets a lot of input from the community, asking them what they want,” O’ Neil said. “We found a lot of encouragement, and people seem to strongly support our plan.”

Public opinion said that the needs of pedestrians and bikers are very important. “Just the provision of sidewalks and bicycle lanes helps give the cue to the drivers that they should respect their surroundings,” said O’Neil. The people also rang in on the need to design a road as a street that’s part of the community, rather than a highway that goes through the community, he said.

“We also found support for speed-calming,” O’Neil said, “which means designing a road so vehicles are encouraged to go slower through communities.” One means of achieving this is a raised median in the roadway. “This makes it easier for a pedestrian to cross the street, by giving a visual cue to the driver that they’re in a community, and need to be aware of that.”

Fighting sprawl

Given the rising cost of gasoline, the CDTC thinks it is increasingly important to strategize transit growth.

“If we can cut down on sprawl development patterns,” O’Neil said, “there’s a lot of savings — not just in transportation, but in other areas.” By developing in communities that are concentrated along transit lines, there are bundles of money to be saved, he said.

“The idea is that if we can concentrate development in transit corridors, then that is an alternative to sending development out into green fields,” O’Neil explained. Developing on the outskirts of the Capital District creates the need for new schools, water and sewer lines, fire departments, and police departments.

“You have to build an all-new infrastructure out there,” he said, “and what we’re saying is it’s much smarter to take advantage of existing infrastructure and encourage development where the infrastructure is now.”

The farther development spreads, the farther people have to commute to work, or anywhere else for that matter. “Transportation costs go up because of that,” he said. “And the other concept is that, if you build new developments further out, in low density, it’s very difficult to serve with transit.”

The CDTC’s plan is a “balanced regional initiative,” O’Neil said, “and healthy cities are good for the region. If we can invest in transit,” he said, “that has benefits for everyone.”

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