BoulderGate! BoulderDash! Frankly, I’ve been virtually seething over the process used by the officers and board of the Stockade Association [SA} to achieve the replacement of old metal guardrails with boulders where Riverside Park meets the dead-end parking/turn-around areas of three Stockade streets. The deliberate decision of SA leaders not to inform members and neighbors of the boulders-for-guardrails project, specifically because they expected strong opposition, shows a great disrespect for the Stockade community, and disregard for their obligations. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates why any substantial proposal needs the input of “outsiders” (people other than the proponents of a plan and their close friends) to assure that significant concerns are raised, unintended consequences pointed out, alternatives offered (and expensed), and the thoughtful wishes of the neighborhood heard. Nonetheless, I am attempting to write in a civil tone, and keep my sense of humor (see the Boulder Bunch Design Committee, to the right of this paragraph).
- Why am I so upset at the process? To better focus on facts, research, and common sense concerns relating to the use of the boulders, I expand on my reasons at the foot of this posting*. I also explain why even non-members of the Stockade Association have the right to be concerned and to point out failures in the process and outcome.
- There may be reasonable responses to the concerns discussed below, but we were never allowed to raise the issues or test the responses before 110 tons of rock were deposited in Riverside Park.
- Share this webpost with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/BoulderGate
In case you are not aware of the situation at Riverside Park, here are some images (and, note, none of the photos has been staged; I found the situation and snapped the picture):
. . above: [L] a car parked at North St. boulders; [R] a toddler about to climb a boulder at the end of Governor’s Lane . .
. .Also, a portion of the end of North Street near the playlot, showing the old guardrails:
. . and, the same portion with the new boulders:
For a a fuller picture at each location, click on the collage thumbnails below to see both the prior green guardrails and the new boulders at the end of Ingersoll Avenue, North Street and Governor’s Lane:
- CONDITION of GUARDRAILS: I have no argument with the assertion that a sufficient number of the green metal guardrails are old, dented and rusted to warrant replacing all of them. The question, of course is “replacement with what?” (see below).City Engineer Chris Wallin told the Times Union last month that the price for removing the guardrails and purchasing the gray limestone boulders was $16,000. We have no idea what other options might have cost, because they were never pursued
NORTH STREET Focus: To simplify the discussion, this posting will focus on the situation at the end of North Street. According to SA President Carol DeLaMater, it was North Street residents who first suggested replacing the old green, bumper-high metal guardrails with large rocks or boulders, where the street dead-ends at Riverside Park, in a small, circular, paved area used for parking and turn-arounds. The street is one block long starting at Front Street, north to the Mohawk River. There is only one travel lane, which must be used by two-way traffic, making turn-arounds important and requiring the accumulation of snow at the dead-end or the Park. The Park’s playlot, aimed at young children, and almost totally renovated by the City in November 2016 for safety reasons, is located about 25′ from the parking area.
- Repair/Replace ASSUMPTIONS. We Stockade residents are used to the principle that you replace things in a historic area with something as close as possible to the original material and without a drastic change in appearance [e.g., Sch’dy Code. §264-76]; that more and bigger are not always better; and that maintaining longstanding streetscapes, park-scapes, and scenery are important goals that should only be circumvented or ignored for very good reasons. Such principles may not be a legal requirement in this instance, but they reflect important historic district values and expectations. Here, no alternatives were discussed (for example TimBarrier LotGard), and no reason given for the drastic change, other than “the old guardrails are ugly”, “the boulders are beautiful and natural”, and “the City has a grant.” Others boulder supporters have waffled a bit, “we only asked for lower, large rocks, wanting them to be smooth and useful for seating, too.”
REPLACEMENT WITH WHAT?
When replacing a utilitarian element like guardrails, we should probably start by asking what purposes the guardrails serve, whether they have been serving those purposes well, and whether some performance factor can be improved at a reasonable cost.
- Note, however, that in support of his boulder proposal for North Street, Dennis Meyer told the Times Union that “boulders would also satisfy the city’s 2020 comprehensive action plan to “remove guardrails from parking areas and install a more appropriate barrier”. That, of course, begs the question of what constitutes an appropriate barrier at the particular location.
GUARDRAILS vs. BOULDERS
As Parking Barriers: NEEDS of DRIVERS When PARKING
No driver that I know of has ever been intimidated by bumper-high metal or wooden guardrails. It seems, however that a significant number of drivers fear getting too close to the Riverside Park boulders when parking:
- boulders are unforgiving. they will beat your doors, fenders, bumpers and side-panels every time you engage them. also their non-uniform shape means you cannot always tell how far away the vehicle is from the boulder merely by seeing its top.
- the boulders are much higher than passenger car bumpers. drivers backing in have to worry about being able to open their rear doors.
- parallel parkers very much need to have full control of their doors when exiting and returning to the vehicle.
NEEDS of DRIVERS When TURNING AROUND
An “attractive nuisance” is any condition on someone’s property that would attract children, who are fascinated by it but don’t understand its dangers. If a child is injured or killed by an attractive nuisance, the property owner could be held liable for damages in a personal injury case.
The Parks Department appear to have ignored basic elements for safe installation of boulder, making them dangerously unstable. For example, see Vehicle Barriers: Their Use and Planning Considerations (USDA Forest Service, June 2006):
Construction techniques: Bury one-third of the rock for stability, anchoring, and a more natural look. [see sample sketch]
Similarly, a Best Management PracticesToolkit for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has a number of pointers related to Parking and Vehicle Barriers. Included are (emphases added):
Parking barriers shall be treated as potential visual features and shall have consistency with neighborhood and regional character and with other landscape elements such as lighting, adjacent building details, and street furniture.
Cluster and stagger boulders to mimic natural conditions.
Boulders shall be greater than 3 feet in diameter and be keyed in to the soil a minimum of 6 inches. [see figure to the left, which suggest that one-half to one-third of the boulder should be below the surface]
Shrubs and vegetation can be used as parking barriers.
INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE: Ensure parking barriers are sized and spaced correctly so they remain intact. Yearly maintenance may be necessary to repair damage from snow removal activities.
According to Paul Nelson’s Times Union article, “The city engineer said he is not overly worried about the rocks being spray-painted because they can be power- or sand-blasted without being damaged.” (“Boulders make a big difference at Riverside park in Stockade neighborhood,” August 16, 2017) . That seems rather optimistic. The rocks are already flaking away; they are soft, limestone. Also, they are oddly-shaped, not smooth granite-type rocks, or already painted, and are not securely anchored. Because there are so many crevices, the idea of power cleaning, especially near parked vehicles and playing children, seems unrealistic.
We know the guardrails stay put in a flood. Can we say the same for the poorly anchored boulders? Where might they end up if there is a flood? What about with ice-jam-related flooding? A FEMA training material states that flash flooding can move very large boulders, and then states (at 2-9).
Flooding caused by ice jams is similar to flash flooding – the formation of a jam results in a rapid rise of water both at the point of the jam and upstream. Failure of the jam results in sudden flooding downstream.
Many in the Stockade community appear to disagree with the notion that the boulders are “beautiful” and look “natural”. Aesthetics are a matter of subjective evaluation, but the opinion of a significant, and perhaps majority, element of a neighborhood should not be ignored, and should at least be solicited. That is especially true when several years ago a similar boulder proposal for the Park inspired strong opposition.
When we are dealing with Riverside Park, which has been called “perhaps the finest thing of its kind” by the editor of Architect Forum, “nice”, “I’ll learn to live with it,” or “better than those old, dented guardrails”, is simply not good enough.
The Forest Service Vehicle Barrier Guide also states in its section on the use of Large Rocks and Boulders (emphasis added):
How to use: Mimic nature by planting rocks in clusters of one to five and varying space between the rocks and the clusters.
Where to use: Use where large rocks occur naturally. If large rocks are not common, do not use them; they will appear out of place.
Furthermore, I have not been able to find even one example of boulders of similar size being used as barriers along parking spaces. The City Engineer told the Times Union last month that the rocks in the Stockade are similar to the ones in found in Collins Park in Scotia and Indian Meadows Park in Glenville. My investigation suggestion the contary.
- I could find only one “boulder” in all of Collins and Freedom Park, and it is nowhere near a road or parking space.
- There are many boulders at Indian Meadows Park in Glenville, but not one is next to a parking space and, especially, none are along the parking spots at the playground. Also, the Glenville boulders, which are really homely, are there to keep vehicles off of the lawns, and have plenty of open space available nearby for depositing plowed snow.
above: Indian Meadows boulders: [L} none near the parking spaces for the playground; [M] many along no-parking road to keep vehicles off lawn; [R] along driveway to Park Dept. garage. [click on an image for larger version]
Over the next couple of days, I may expand some of the arguments above, or add an additional topic. But I hope the main points will help ensure a far more open process within the Stockade Association, and may help the City decide to find a better solution for the Park and a more appropriate home for the costly boulders.