Ignored – the rules, the plans, the public, and safety

At tonight’s Schenectady City Council meeting, Nov. 13, I hope (despite the unrealistic 3-minute rule) to present and explain the issues depicted in collages posted below. The first topic is related to the Agenda Item regarding approval of a Schenectady PRIDE art installation at Gateway/Liberty Park.  Schenectady needs an established procedure to ensure adequate public input and post-approval monitoring of plans for proposals regarding important public spaces and art. The second will be a Privilege of the Floor statement regarding important safety issues created along the Mohawk Harbor’s shared use path by the failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/IgnoredPlans

Click on an image for a larger version.

FIRST: “PLANS CHANGE”. For fuller discussion of the question of how [or how not] to include the public in the selection of public art and in the design and implementation of plans for important projects and locations, see:

GP-planschange

. . GP-Turbine-Girders

GPLightPoleChange

follow-up (November 24, 2018): The Daily Gazette reports “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects: The board detailed this in a letter given to the mayor and city council members” (by Andrew Beam, Nov. 23, 2018). Commentary can be found at the end of this posting.

SECOND: The bike-pedestrian Trail at Mohawk Harbor is far less safe than it readily could have been because of a failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side. For comprehensive discussion of ALCO Heritage or Mohawk Harbor Trail safety issues, with excerpts from and links to relevant rules and studies, and with many more photos, etc., see:

ALCOTrail-safetyignored

update (Nov. 24, 2018): As stated above, the Gazette published an article today by Andrew Beam headlined “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects” (Nov. 23, 2018).  In a lengthy comment left at the article’s online webpage, I made several points, including:

Continue reading

Who botched placement of the ALCO Heritage Trail signs?

Schenectady County spent $30,000 for a set of “interpretive” signs that were installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail about six weeks ago. They celebrate the proud history of the site as location of the American Locomotive Company, where world-class locomotives and tanks were manufactured for over a century. [See County Press Release (Sept. 18, 2018); Daily Gazette article, and Times Union coverage (Sept. 20, 2018)]

IMG_9190 . . IMG_9193

But, even a casual look at the placement of the sturdy and wordy signs reveals that they are too close to the bike-hike trail, creating a hazard for anyone stopping to read the lengthy messages, and for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Trail. For example,

  • DSCF4280Neither the required 3-foot lateral clearance from a shared-use path stated in Schenectady’s Bike Master Plans (see below), much less the preferred distance of 3 to 5 feet, has been allotted for the large interpretive signs. The Best Practices rule of thumb of 3-5′ applies even to small  signs on single, narrow poles, to help ensure that a cyclist or pedestrian who must swerve off a path in an emergency or panic, has room to maneuver to safety. Instead, the frames of the ALCO Heritage signs are as little 28 inches from the bike-hike path.
  •  Whether a reader is alone, or part of a couple, family or group, the only place from which to read each of the 11 signs is from the shared-use Trail, placing them in the way of cyclists, runners, and all types of pedestrians passing by in both directions. The more successful the Trail is attracting users and tourists, the more frequently will conflicts arise.
  • There is no hard surface off the path “tread” for sign-readers in a wheelchair, or with a cane, walker or motorized scooter, to stop; nor for a curious bicyclist; nor for pedestrians who want to avoid unpaved ground around the sign when it is wet, slippery, or muddy.

 

 . . alcotrailsignreaders.jpg
DSCF4252

Members of the public without planning and engineering degrees (and, surely, even a group of visiting fourth-graders) can immediately see or sense that the ALCO Heritage signs are poorly placed. Why, then, would the County and City of Schenectady, which have been planning and promoting the use of bike and hike trails since before the dawning of the Third Millennium, permit this sub-par (and liability-creating) installation?  Good question.

ALCOSigns-McQueen-Hughes-Gaz [R] A new sign is unveiled byGary Hughes, Majority Leader of the County Legislature and Chair of its Economic Planning and Development Committee, and Joe McQueen, Spokesman for the County (Sept. 20, 2018). Photo by Marc Schultz for the Daily Gazette.

 

BikeSchyAdvisoryCmte . . SchdyBike2001-steering

. . above: [R] Steering Committee for the City of Schenectady Bike Master Plan (2001); and [L] and Advisory Panel of Bike Schenectady Master Plan (2017). Click on image for a larger version.

The County and City both were well-represented on the two Bike Master Plans produced and adopted by the City of Schenectady since the turn of the Century, one in 2001, and one just last year, the Bike Schenectady Master Plan, 2017. [See the lists in the images above this paragraph.] Both Master Plans call for a lateral clearance of at least 3 feet from the edge of the path for any signs along a shared-use path in the City of Schenectady (even small ones on skinny poles). And, of course, in both plans, a shared-use path along the Mohawk at the old ALCO site was seen as the crowning jewel of the system. Click on the images immediately below to see relevant portions of [L] the 2001 Bike Master Plan; and [R] Bike Schenectady (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

MUTCDshareduse . . BikeSchdy-TrailClearance

  • The American Trails organization also recommends a 3-foot clearance; as does, e.g., the Florida DOT: “3 feet or more desirable (clearance from trees, poles, walls, fences, guardrails, etc.)”.

But, is there any other reason, besides Common Sense safety and convenience concerns, for insisting that those viewing a trail-side interpretive sign be allowed to stand or sit off the trail? The Erie County Wayfinding Manual is a useful guide on many of the issues that arise in planning and implementing a bike-hike trail. It offers the thoughtful guidance that signage formats be “designed around the information they need to convey”, and thus (at 4, emphasis added):

Detailed orientation information, for instance, is placed on large signs where people can pull off the trail and spend as much time as they wish to study made, legends or interpretive information.

It is hard to believe that County and City planning staff members who have been active in municipal bicycle matters are not aware of the notion that interpretive signs be placed in a way that lets interested persons safely study them off the path, on a hard surface. Indeed, only two months ago, the County‘s study for a portion of this very ALCO Heritage Trail, MOHAWK HUDSON BIKE TRAIL EXTENSION FEASIBILITY REPORT (Sept. 14, 2018, at 22), included the following illustration, captioned “Example of wayfaring or interpretive signs”:

MHBTFReport-SignageImage . . MHBTFReport-signagepage

. . shorter URL for the Sept. 2018 Extension Feasibility Report: https://tinyurl.com/ALCOTrailExtend

IMG_9200This past Sunday (Nov. 4, 2018), while standing at the sign shown to the right and speaking to the couple in the photo, speedo-clad bicyclists twice rode quickly past us, appearing from the west, and in no way signaled their presence or their passing us on the left. Over the entire past year walking on the Mohawk Harbor trail and on the only paved path at Riverside Park, only one bicyclist passing me gave the required signal, with the silent ones leaving me startled and often off-balance. If nothing else, the customary behavior of individuals and groups using our trails, along with the lack of enforcement of safety rules, must be taken into account when designing and installing signage.

  • img_9186.jpg My web search could not be exhaustive, but the examples of interpretive signage closer than three feet from a trail that I found, and that were shaped like most of the ALCO Heritage Trail signage (example on the left), were on pedestrian or hiking trails, not trails that were meant to accommodate bicyclists (or horses).

If the experienced and professional staff members in planning and related offices of the County and City are aware of the 3-foot clearance rule and the preference for getting sign-readers off the path, why was the ALCO Heritage Trail signage project so poorly designed? I can only presume that their advice was silenced or over-ridden by people with more authority, who lacked knowledge of the regulation or best practices, and never bothered to ask fundamental questions. Or, who had priorities other than the safety and convenience of trail users, such as using as little of the developer’s or Casino’s lawn next to the path as possible, or spending as little money as possible.

RayGillen-tireless When I wrote to Metroplex Chair, and County Planning/Development Chief, Ray Gillen, to ask why the signs were so close to the Trail, his only reply on that issue was, “We all think they are beautiful.”  Ray Gillen, is known as tireless and working 24/7, and always tells me I should come first to him with concerns. Perhaps others will be more successful than I getting a useful explanation from Mr. Gillen. Maybe, asking Legislator Gary Hughes or Anthony Jasenski, Legislative Chair, would be more useful. My attempts to get answers from City and County leaders have been fruitless, which usually means they know I will not likely like the answer or consider it to be persuasive.

DSCF4279My hope is that members of the media and general public who care about public safety and transparency, and the rule of law, will probe a bit more. And, do so before the first serious injury along the Harbor Trail, and any related law suit.

Mohawk Harbor was meant to be, and is constantly touted as, the City’s showplace and pride. Yet, the Mohawk Harbor bike-hike trail has been constructed (somehow, at the expense of taxpayers rather than the developer) with little regard for public safety and comfort. Both the history signs on the south/Casino side of the trail, and the guardrails on the riverside of the trail, ignore the City’s codes, policies and plans, as well as best practice guidelines that seem particularly appropriate for our “showplace” Harbor.

. . share this post with this shorter URLhttps://tinyurl.com/UnsafeAlcoSigns

DSCF4232

poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

 mhtrail29octa1 update (Oct. 29, 2018):  With no help from City Hall or the County to delay the installation, the fence is finished, without the needed improvements. . . It is too close to the Path [should be 3′ clearance or more, not 2′], too short [should be 54 inches high, not 42″], and has no rub rail to protect bicyclists. There is adequate space for the preferred 3- to 5-foot buffer, but the installers were instructed to use a 2-foot buffer. The public was never given the chance to raise the issues and the regulators apparently never bothered. See discussion below.

MHTrail29OctD. .  photo to the right shows: 2-foot buffer between Path and guardrail/fence, and sufficient space on the riverbank side to widen the buffer for the safety of all path users and those who come merely to watch the River.

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

ALCOTrailWestEnd . . westendwall-buffer . . at the west end of the Mohawk Harbor trail, the new fence along the riverbank has only a 24″ buffer from the edge of the path; while the wall on the other side of the path has a much safer 50″ inch buffer. 

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

“poorly planned safety railing going up along Mohawk Harbor trail”

IMG_8948

orangesafetyconeBelow is an email message that I sent today (October 15, 2018) to Christine Primiano, the City of Schenectady’s Chief Staff Planner. It outlines why I believe we must halt the installation of a railing/fence along the riverside of the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor, and seek to achieve a better, safer guardrail. The 42″ high guardrail is being installed only two feet from the paved edge of the Hike-Bike Trail.  Best practices for shared-use paths and relevant regulations call for a 3-foot buffer (including the Bike Schenectady Master Plan adopted just last year). A taller guardrail, with a rub rail, is also needed. Following the regulations and guidelines can help increase the likelihood that hikers, cyclists, tourists and other visitors will avoid injury along the Mohawk Harbor trail and guardrail, and reduce liability exposure by the City and County.

[update (Nov. 5): I have received no reply from the Planning Office, nor Corporation Counsel, nor any other City or County official on these issues. When I visited the Trail on October 14, the fence was only 220′ long, with no cables; when I visited it on Friday, October 19, the guardrail installation had continued, extending at that time almost to the east end of the Landing Hotel, but still without the cable strung.]

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

From: David Giacalone
Subject: the Mohawk Harbor trail railing is not safe enough
Date: October 15, 2018 at 11:55:10 AM EDT
To: CHRISTINE PRIMIANO, Chief Planner, cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov
Cc: meidens@schenectadyny.gov, cfalotico@schenectadyny.gov, RGillen@schenectadymetroplex.org

Hello, Christine,

A guardrail is finally being erected between the steep riprap riverbank and ALCO Heritage Trail at Mohawk Harbor. For that I am grateful. But, there are so many ways a guardrail should and could have better protected cyclists, hikers, tourists, and River-watchers (including those in wheelchairs), that I wish there could have been an opportunity for comment by experts and the public.

Given that this is the end of the hike-bike season, and safety cones or caution tape could readily be used to line the top of the steep slope, I believe we should halt the current installation, which as of yesterday, was only about 220’ long, with no cable strung, and then decide how to do it in a way that is more appropriate from a safety point of view for all likely users. 

  • IMG_8956 Note, the fence being installed is taller than, but otherwise the same style and materials as the fencing along the Casino and Landing Hotel patios.
  • the first (gray) photo-collage below has shots taken on October 11 of the fencing; the last photo was taken yesterday, from the east end of Riverside Park
  • the second (green) photo-collage below demonstrates why I have been arguing that a safety rail is needed. A fuller discussion of those issues can be found at http://tinyurl.com/HarborTrailSafety


Was the design of this fence and its placement submitted to your Office for review? Did anyone have the opportunity to remind the County or Metroplex that the Bike Schenectady Master Plan states, in the Shared Use Path guidance section (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

“A 2 foot or greater shoulder on both sides of the path should be provided. An additional foot of lateral clearance (total of 3’) is required by the MUTCD for the installation of signage or other furnishings.”


BikeSchdy-TrailClearanceI hope no one in authority will try to argue that a fence 3/4 of a mile long is not a furnishing and not as troublesome as a sign post in presenting a hazard to trail users. A screen shot of the BikeSchenectady page is inserted to the right (click on it for a larger image]; also, click here to see a relevant page from Schenectady’s 2001 Master Bike Plan (mandating a three-foot clearance to obstacles); and a useful page from the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail Master Plan. , which explains (at 29, emphases added):

Railings

Railings are generally used to protect trail users from steep gradients located close to the edge of the trail. A general landscape guideline from the NYS Building Code is that if there is a sheer drop of 18” or greater then a railing should be provided. In New York State, all railings along bike paths should be 54” high. While there are no specific warrants for providing safety railings where steep slopes are adjacent to a trail, the NYS Highway Design Manual does indicate (Figure 18-16 Safety Railings Along Bicycle and Multi-Use Paths) that a 54” high (1.4 meter) safety rail be provided when a significant slope is closer than 5’ from the trail edge. Sound professional judgement should be used to assess whether the slope gradient, vertical drop or dangerous obstacles on the slope (trees, poles, concrete structures, etc.) warrant the installation of a safety rail.

IMG_8946 On Friday, the supervisor of the fence/rail installation firm (Access Anvil Corp.) told me that there was no obstacle to putting the structure three feet from the trail edge, but his specs called for two-feet. Of course, in many places along the slope, there is room for the railing to be the 3-5 feet that many studies and regulatory bodies have said is preferred for the shoulder. That would allow bikes or pedestrians making evasive moves a safer landing, and permit groups of river-watchers (and those in wheelchairs) to enjoy the River without worrying about hanging over or inadvertently stepping back onto the Trail.

For such an important location and project, we need a real discussion of how to do it right. For example, shouldn’t there be a “rub rail” so that handlebars do not catch on the rail? The main “silver” portion being installed is 42” high; the “black” section on the western end is apparently 5’ high. Why isn’t the entire railing 54” high? Would such a long railing/fence be aesthetically more pleasing if it were at different heights and distances from the trail edge? Etc., etc. I don’t know the answers, but I do know a discussion might have produced useful answers and maybe a consensus.

Before more of the railing is installed, let’s pause and decide that Mohawk Harbor and the people using it deserve as good a safety rail as best practices can achieve.

Thank you for your time and review of these important issues.

David

 P.S. I still have never been given an explanation for the failure to follow the C-3 zoning requirement that there be the customary two-foot shoulder PLUS ten additional feet buffer on the riverside of the Mohawk Harbor shared-used path. Nor, do I understand why the April 2015 trail submission, posted by the County as Riverside Trail Map, showing 10’ of mulched and planted shoulder between the trail and the steep riverbank was not followed, and we instead have a shoulder of 4 to 7 feet, covered in unstable gravel. [annotated detail from plat inserted at right of this p.s. blurb]

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

complaintbill In addition to the points made in the email to the Planning Office, I continue to wonder why taxpayers are paying 90% of the cost of constructing the bike-hike trail, and for the guardrail, when the Schenectady Zoning Code for the Harbor District [C-3, §264-14(1)E(4)] says that: “A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant.” “Applicant” refers to the developer or owner of the harbor property.

still waiting for Lady Liberty

LibertyGazLTE-Snyder . . GP-DiotteLadyTU24Feb2018 

update (July 9): Still no Lady . . LL9Jul

LadyLiberty15Sep2016

 Lady Liberty is indeed timeless. But, Schenectady should not have to wait even one more week for Mayor Gary McCarthy to relent on the strange and belated notion of installing our replica Liberty statue somewhere other than her home in Liberty Park, once construction and expansion of the Park into “Gateway Plaza” was completed. That return was the only alternative for Lady Liberty in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was created in 2012 and approved in August 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). Nevertheless, years later and behind the scene, Gateway Plaza designer Mary Wallinger somehow got the Mayor and Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen to agree to ignore the official Plan and instead to exile Lady Liberty.

Why? Because Ms. Wallinger (who is also Chair of the City Planning Commission) now insists Lady Liberty is not “modern” enough for her current vision of the Plaza as a symbol of Schenectady. She and the Mayor also lured the good folks of Goose Hill into asking to place Lady Liberty in a Veterans’ Memorial in Steinmetz Park, creating totally unnecessary civic turmoil. [for a fuller explanation of the Decision Disruption Process, see this post.]

OUR POSITION: Lady Liberty should be immediately returned from its storage-during-construction to Her original home, Liberty Park (a/k/a Gateway Plaza), and McCarthy and Wallinger should apologize to the people of Goose Hill for offering them a treasure that was not available for relocation.

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep The Mayor says he has not made his decision yet about where the Statue will be installed. But, there should be no new decision to make. The Decision was made in 2013, in the publicly supported and officially approved Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan.  All the Mayor need do now is say that, after full consideration, he fully endorses the Original Decision for returning Lady Liberty after the new Plaza is completed, as there is no safety or fiscal reason, and no other justification, to change a Final Plan.

GP-Rendering-LibertyDetail . . GP-Rendering-ViewWash-State

Above is a detail [L] from an Implementation Plan rendering [R], which shows the designated spot for the replica’s return, along State Street, next to the CDTA bus shelter, only yards away from, and more visible than, the Lady’s original location.

Nonetheless, neither a batch of Letters to the Editor since mid-March nor a Gazette Editorial in April supporting the return of the Lady to Liberty Park, has produced Her popular, commonsense, and Plan-promised return. Nor has the coming of Spring and now even Summer, which should make frozen ground excuses a moot issue. Not even a plea in the Gazette last week from Schenectady County’s “Mr. Veteran”, James A. Wilson, did the trick. (“Return Lady Liberty on July 4th” June 27, 2018):

There will not be a better time than to have the famous “Lady Liberty,” or the Statue of Liberty replica, put back in her rightful home in Liberty (Gateway) Park in Schenectady. It’s still the center part of the city for beauty and visibility to all residents and the statue was there for over 50 years.

Put the statue back on the 4th of July.

As of today, July 7, 2018, almost a full year after the Liberty Replica was removed to protect her from construction, Lady Liberty is apparently still in a municipal storage facility.  So, what will it take for the Mayor to step up and Do the Right Thing (or, passively, Not Do the Wrong Thing)? Yes, he has been busy making our City smart, but this is not a complicated decision. It is late, but not too, late for Gary McCarthy to be the Lady’s Champion.

gpladylibertyspot.jpg . . . LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

Above: At the end of June, for the first time, the designated spot for the return of Lady Liberty had substantial plantings (several small trees; photo on Right). When asked about the new trees, Mayor McCarthy told Gazette reporter Andrew Beam that he had not known of the planting. Those trees can and should be replanted, to honor the planning process, the City’s promises, and Lady Liberty’s importance in the past, present and future of Schenectady.

Bring Lady Liberty Home

IMG_2267 

follow-up (March 26, 2018): see “Lady Liberty is Timeless“, where you can find a summary of the facts and issues, with important links and images, in the controversy over the failure to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park. And see, “Rally for Lady Liberty Sept. 28“.

Summary: Unless the Mayor of Schenectady, Gary McCarthy, is convinced to change his mind, the Statue of Liberty replica erected in Liberty Park in 1950, which was donated by local Boy Scout troops, will not be returned to her renovated home, the new, (unofficially) renamed Gateway Plaza. Instead, Schenectady’s “Lady Liberty” will be getting a different “Foster Home” elsewhere in Schenectady (apparently, as part of a Veterans Memorial at Steinmetz Park). The original Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was natural, popular, and adopted by the City in 2013, was to bring Liberty back to Her Home, in a visible new location, once Park reconstruction was completed. We should insist that this piece of the Park’s history, and our history, be restored to  a place of honor in her Park, and the City’s promise be kept, especially because there is no safety or budgetary reason to exile Her. Contrary to current excuses, she is not too small or too old-fashioned to serve the goals of Gateway Plaza. Full discussion below.

.. share this post with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/BringLibertyHome

. . and, (March 14, 2018): for an updated summary, after the March 12 Council meeting, see “The Lady, and the Mayor, and the Council“.

  . . 

 Above: [L] Lady Liberty in Liberty Park shortly before being put into storage for the Gateway Plaza reconstruction project (Sept. 2016); [R] detail from a rendering in the final Implementation Plan (Nov. 2012) showing Liberty relocated closer to State St. and the CDTA bus shelter. Right: a collage showing Lady Liberty in her Park on September 15, 2016 (please click on the collage for a larger version).

   Until very recently, there seemed to be no reason for members of the public to doubt that Schenectady’s replica of the Statue of Liberty (a/k/a “Lady Liberty”), which had stood in Liberty Park from 1950 until August of 2017, would be returned from storage to the Park, after its reconstruction and expansion into Gateway Plaza. But, now, the opposite is true, and Liberty will end up elsewhere in Schenectady, if we do not quickly persuade City Hall, Metroplex, and/or LAndArt Studio (the project’s designer and construction administrator), to restore our small version of the Statue of Liberty to its original home, as promised.

The Gateway Plaza project has as a major goal: to “Celebrate Schenectady’s past, present & future”. Gateway Plaza’s clean, modern design points to the City’s vibrant present and hopeful future. But, in fact, there is and will be little tangible and readily visible “celebration of its past” without Lady Liberty continuing to grace the scene.

  •  If you are not yet familiar with the newly-opened Gateway Plaza, click on the collage to the right for a quick visit. For a more comprehensive introduction, check out “first look at Gateway Plaza“, at suns along the Mohawk, our sister website.  You will find about 30 photos taken on Feb. 26 and March 3, 2018, along with a brief summary of the goals of the Project, as stated in the Final Report City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (November 2012, 119 pp. pdf.).

Where did Schenectady’s Lady Liberty come from, and why should we care about her fate? As Waymarking.com explains, in part:

Statue of Liberty Replica -Schenectady, NY

In Liberty Park, a small triangle of land in downtown Schenectady, NY, there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty. It also has the same five pointed star base as the original. 

In 1950, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 40th anniversary, with the theme Strengthen the Arm of Liberty, by donating approximately two hundred 100-inch tall, 290 lb. replicas of the Statue of Liberty. [click for a list of locations] They were given [through contributions by local Scouts] to communities in 39 different U.S. states and several U.S. possessions and territories. Of the original copies, approximately 100 can currently be located. These copper statues were manufactured by Friedley-Voshardt Co.

In a 2012 Schenectady Gazette article, the story of our Lady Liberty is told through the eyes of several local Boy Scouts from the troop that met at St. Anthony’s Church, and worked to save up the $350 to purchase the sculpture in 1950. “Lady Liberty replica has 62-year-old story to tell” (by Bethany Bump, Jan. 15, 2012).

It was an endeavor that dovetailed nicely with the Scouts’ basic mission: prepare youth to be responsible and participating citizens and leaders. And there was no better symbol of leadership and American citizenship than Lady Liberty.

. . .  Just like the 305-foot-tall national monument in New York Harbor, Schenectady’s lady offers an inspirational message: “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.”

At the Wikipedia page for the Boy Scouts’ Strengthen the Arm of Liberty program, we are told (emphasis added):

The classical appearance (Roman stola, sandals, facial expression) derives from Libertas, ancient Rome’s goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. Her raised right foot is on the move. This symbol of Liberty and Freedom is not standing still or at attention in the harbor, it is moving forward, as her left foot tramples broken shackles at her feet, in symbolism of the United States’ wish to be free from oppression and tyranny

detail of Phase 1 & Phase 2 sketch

Throughout the planning stages that yielded the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (November 2012), documents shown to the public and Steering Committee depicted Lady Liberty back in Gateway Plaza at a prominent spot near its original location — closer to State Street, between the existing great maple tree and CDTA Bus Plus structures. See the rendering at the top of this posting (which is a detail from this view of the Plaza), as well as the sketch immediately below of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Gateway Plaza project; its Legend shows item #6 (at the top, near State Street and a CDTA shelter), as the “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”: 

  . . click on image for a larger version.

 Indeed, every single depiction of options for the planned Gateway Plaza presented for its Public Design Workshops showed Lady Liberty relocated to that spot; e.g., sketches of so-called Concept A and Concept B; and, a Birdseye View of the project. Also, workshop materials showed Liberty as a primary example of study area history. [See Implementation Plan, Appendix G, Public Workshops and Meeting Minutes]

. . annotated detail from Birdseye rendering. . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

Moreover:

  1. Every public comment about the Liberty statue was positive for keeping her at the Plaza (App. G, at 94, 110), with notable support to make Her more prominent, keeping Lady Liberty at her original location in the renovated “urban plaza” area.
  2. The Minutes for the Workshops contain no indication of any reservation by the designers or Steering Committee to place Lady Liberty elsewhere in the City.
  3. Through its City Council, the City of Schenectady adopted the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan “as an official document”, on August 12, 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). The only Plan submitted to the Council included bringing Lady Liberty back to be relocated in Gateway Plaza. 

Only six months ago, on August 14, 2017, City Councilman Vince Riggi responded to constituent inquiries about whether Lady Liberty would be coming back to her old home, by sending a text message to Paul LaFond, the City’s Commissioner of General Services.  Mr. Riggi asked, “is the Statue of Liberty going to be returned to Gateway Park after construction.” Commissioner LaFond replied less than an 90 minutes later: “Yes when the park is complete.” [see screenshot to the right]

Lulled into an unusual complacency regarding Schenectady City Hall and the preservation of Schenectady history, the author of this posting missed the Gazette article “Statue of Liberty replica will find new home: It was 1 of just 6 erected in New York state communities” (Daily Gazette, Dec. 14, 2017, by Bill Buell). The article, which also tells of the Time Capsule placed under the Statue, states:

Due to construction in that area of State Street, across from the former YMCA, the replica has been put in the city garage on Foster Avenue for safekeeping. But Mayor Gary R. McCarthy expects it to have a new home soon.

“Potential sites are being evaluated, and I’m sure we’ll find a place for it soon,” McCarthy said. “One scenario has it back in Liberty Park, and other possibilities might be near the police station, the train station or somewhere along Erie Boulevard.”

Note that Mayor Gary McCarthy calls the City-approved and promised return of Liberty to Gateway Plaza merely “one scenario” being evaluated, but he did at least suggest that the return home was still under consideration. [Keep reading and form your own conclusion.]

 On February 24th, however, I was jolted out of my complacency when I saw the item at the head of this paragraph on page A3 of the Albany Times Union.  It is merely a photo with a two-sentence caption; there is no explanatory article. The headline says “Symbol heading to a new home.” That’s Schenectady’s Director of Development, Kristin Diotte, with Lady Liberty, in a storage area on Foster Avenue. The caption states: “It’s destined for a new home, most likely Steinmetz Park on the city’s north side in Schenectady.”

 Soon after seeing the Times Union item, I wrote to Mary Moore Wallinger, who is the principal in the design firm LAndArt Studio, which has been responsible for design, construction documents and construction administration of Gateway Plaza. Mary has been a lead actor in the design and execution of Gateway Plaza from the beginning, when she was employed by Synthesis Architects, LLP. Mary is also the chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission. The Planning Office staff is directly under Kristin Diotte, Director of Development. Thus, I was fairly sure Mary Wallinger would know the status of Lady Liberty’s planned location and the reasons for the changed Plan. My email to her included the Gateway Landing photo collage posted above, and also asked why the Liberty replica was not being returned home. Here is Ms. Wallinger’s entire reply:

On Mar 1, 2018, at 8:37 AM, Mary Moore Wallinger <mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com> wrote:

Hi David,

Thanks so much for sharing this [a collage of Gateway Plaza images] – you made my morning!

In regards to the statue, there is a plan to include some sculpture in the park at some point, but the Statue of Liberty is actually quite small and would look very out of scale in that location. She worked there originally because all of the berms and plantings helped to exaggerate her scale, but as you know, visually secluded areas in public parks are a safety concern and it was critical to open up the visibility in this location.  I have been working with the City and a group of local residents and I think we have found a very exciting new home for her where she will continue to be enjoyed by residents and visitors and be greatly appreciated and loved, while continuing to inspire all those around her. There have been a few interested parties with various interesting proposals for new locations and I know the City is contemplating the different options, but I expect they will be making an announcement soon and something will likely happen in the spring. She cannot really be moved until the ground has properly thawed out and a proper footing put in place. The good news is that she is well loved and there are lots of good ideas circulating for her placement in the city, as well as a commitment to seeing this happen once weather permits.

Have a wonderful day and thank you again for your photos!

Best regards,

There is no mention that the long-standing Plan to return Lady Liberty has been reversed. Instead, two reasons are given for sending Lady Liberty to what I call a Foster Home:

  1.  “there is a plan to include some sculpture in the park at some point, but the Statue of Liberty is actually quite small and would look very out of scale in that location.” My response:
    1. The statue would not be there as sculpture, but as a part of the City’s history (and future).
    2. Lady Liberty is the same size as when Mary oversaw plans to bring her back to the Park/Plaza. And, the Lady’s scale looks fine in the rendering showing her at the planned relocation spot. [image at right] Some might say the original location, with the giant maple and other trees and vegetation, plus surrounding berms, in some ways made Lady Liberty look smaller.
  2. visually secluded areas in public parks are a safety concern and it was critical to open up the visibility in this location”. 
    1. The berms and most vegetation have been removed and visibility is good
    2. The Planned relocation spot is very visible, and not secluded, without the statue being so large as to block views of the Park.

The reasons given for failing to return Lady Liberty to her home are (euphemistically) very weak.

Lawrence on the ground with Stockade resident Peter Delocis

As a statue, the Liberty replica is certainly not too small to have an adequate and appropriate impact. As I have written back to Mary Wallinger, the Liberty replica is 100 inches tall, 8′ 4″. The Stockade’s famous and beloved statue of Lawrence the Indian is 67 inches tall, a mere 5′ 7″. That is almost three feet (and 33%) shorter than Lady Liberty. At that smaller size, Lawrence nonetheless commands his space in an open traffic circle (in color or b&w):

..  ..   

 As a piece of sculpture, the best comparison I can find is the only comparable sculpture shown in the Gateway Plaza renderings: Venus de Milo on the Pedestrian Way. See the image to the right, which is a detail from this rendering. That Venus sculpture appears to be the same size as the original: 6′ 8″, twenty inches shorter than Lady Liberty, and holding her own.

2Wizards-img_8116 BTW: At 8’4″, Lady Liberty is significantly taller than the Edison and Steinmetz sculptures, which were ensconced in May 2015 at their Memorial pocket-park, on the corner of Erie Blvd. and So. Church Street. According to the Memorial’s primary midwife/godfather, Brian Merriam, the life-sized sculptures present Edison at 5’10” and Steinmetz at 4’6″.

Fire Sta. #2: plans/schmans

 What are we to make of such lame excuses for once again reneging on a development plan that included preserving an important or well-loved piece of Schenectady’s history? How can we not think about the façade of the IOOF’s Temple, the loss of the Nicholaus Building, or the fate of and sad replacement for Schenectady’s Old Fire Station #2?  The Fire Station #2 tale is instructive for many reasons, one of which is that the Planning Office staff decided that proposed changes in the approved plan were “minor” and did not have to go before the Planning Commission or the public, leaving us all in the dark until the actual construction of a building that looks like an auto mechanic shop. (Take a look at the Story Collage to the left of this paragraph, if you do not recall the sad precedent.) Of course, we do not know when or by whom the decision was made to exile Lady Liberty from her Park, but the decision was certainly not done in public nor brought to City Council.

The three tarnished examples mentioned in the last paragraph at least had last-minute “engineering studies” or money-saving business imperatives to “justify” them. Here, we are left with asking:

 “Which important persons did not like Lady Liberty or her aesthetic or unfashionable effect on the Plaza, or liked her so much they asked the Mayor to send her to their part of town?

Wallinger-pylon follow-up to the above question (March 6, 2018): This afternoon, Mary Moore Wallinger responded to 93-year old Stockade resident Jessie Malecki, who wrote supporting the return of Lady Liberty to her home. Mary’s reply avoids the “too small scale” notion, and confirms my suspicion that the Liberty replica is simply not modern enough for Ms. Wallinger. She wrote to Mrs. Malecki:

 “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. As per the Route 5 Transit Gateway Study, the park has been redesigned as a new gateway to the City and is intended to have a more contemporary feel that celebrates the future of our great city.

In her email on March 1 to me, Mary Wallinger said:

I have been working with the City and a group of local residents and I think we have found a very exciting new home for her . .

Well, she certainly has not been doing this in a way that would have alerted members of the public who were at the Gateway Plaza Workshops, or those who actively promote our Heritage, or are part of the Stockade community, which the design was supposed to attract and embrace.

Please Speak Out: What are we to make of Lady Liberty being sent to a Foster Home? I think we should make a lot of noise; make use of the short time we do have before Spring temperatures allow her to be re-erected anywhere; and make sure Mayor Gary McCarthy [email: gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov], Mary Moore Wallinger at LAndArt Studio [email: mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com], and the local media [e.g. opinion@dailygazette.com] know how and what you feel about the secretive and unjustified change of plans, and the importance of preserving important pieces of our history, such as Lady Liberty.

. . above: Bring Lady Liberty Home advocacy collage; click to enlarge; you may copy this summary, if desired, to help this campaign . .

GPLady1.jpg update (March 6, 2018) See “Dispute brewing over city park site for Schenectady’s Statue of Liberty” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, posted online March 6, 2018; newsprint screenshot at left). The article starts:

Schenectady’s Statue of Liberty appears destined for its new home in Steinmetz Park as part of a planned memorial for military veterans who lived in the Goose Hill neighborhood.
And while Mayor Gary McCarthy said it’s not set in stone, the idea isn’t sitting well with Stockade resident David Giacalone, who has mounted a Bring Lady Liberty Home campaign to return the statue to Lower State Street and Washington Avenue.

 

And, ends: “I’m sure whatever decision I make that Mr. Giacalone will be opposed to it,” said the mayor, adding he will soon make his final decision public.” In between, it fails to say why I characterized the Mayor’s reason for not returning Lady Liberty home as “asinine,” although I did tell him why. If you’ve read this far, you do not need additional explanation.

  • TUletterLiberty23Mar2018  update (March 23, 2018): Click the thumbnail to the left to see a Letter published in the Albany Times Union today (click for online version).

IMG_6622  

p.s. By the way, the originally planned location for Lady Liberty in Gateway Plaza is still available for her; photo to Right taken March 3, 2018.

 GP-Rendering-ViewWash-State . . the Lady is Just Right!

follow-up (March 14, 2018): See “the Lady, the Mayor and the Council” for an account of the Lady Liberty issue being raised at the March 12, 2018, City Council meeting. Mayor McCarthy passed the buck to the “Design Team.” His four-sure-votes said not a word on the issue. This being Sunshine Week, the posting also asks what good sunshine laws and policy are if an open design process, with community input and support, can be undone secretly a few years later, just before the Plan’s is completed. 

Other Voices on Lady Liberty . . check out these Letters to the Editor:

Continue reading

the Gazette continues the ALCO TUNNEL COVERUP

controversial

photo of ALCO tunnel taken by DEC engineer 08Aug2014

 About eight weeks ago, Stop the Schenectady Casino learned that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site failed to disclose to Metroplex in its environmental statements its discovery of “tunnels” under historic ALCO Building 332, and that the Schenectady Gazette helped in the coverup.

For the bigger story of how the Gazette has served the interests of the casino and ignored the opposition and the needs of the City and people of Schenectady, see rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014)

The Rotterdam-based Galesi Group is the owner of the Mohawk Harbor site and the developer of a planned marina and mixed-use complex there, and hopes to include a casino on the 60-acre site.  As the owner-developer, Galesi is responsible for submitting an environmental impact statement [“EIS”] to the Metroplex Authority, which is the lead agency for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.  As such, in attempting to obtain approval of a final EIS, Galesi has an ongoing responsibility to report any new facts that raise a significant question of potential harm to relevant aspects of the environment, including elements of historical or archeological importance.

galesiwelcomecasino31jan2017Galesi CEO David Buicko has taken the lead as spokesman for the proposed Mohawk Harbor projects before local government bodies as well as the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board, and is well known in the business, development, political and educational sectors of Schenectady County and the region. Rush Street Gaming, which is headquartered in Chicago, is the primary Applicant for a casino license and would operate the Schenectady casino, called Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, if granted a license by the Gaming Commission.

Because the Gazette has failed to clarify what happened on the site, at Metroplex, and in its newsroom and editorial enclave concerning the uncovered utility tunnels, I sent the following proposed opEd piece or guest column Letter to the Gazette on November 14, 2014. There has been no response of any kind from the Opinion Staff.  Here is the piece the Gazette refuses to publish, followed by additional explanation and discussion, including communications between myself and both the Gazette reporter who admitted she was asked not to report on the tunnels and the one purportedly assigned to find out what really happened.

To the Editor:

Three weeks ago, I was told by a Gazette reporter that the paper would be following up on its incomplete and one-sided article “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014), concerning the failure of the ALCO/Mohawk Harbor developer (Galesi Group) to disclose in its environmental impact statement its discovery of tunnels under Building 332, and its request (honored by the newspaper) that the Gazette not report on the discovery. [the portions of the Oct. 22 article relevant to the tunnel issue are quoted below] So far, not a word has been printed about an issue that draws into question the credibility of the Applicant for a Schenectady casino license, Metroplex’s environmental review, and the Gazette‘s coverage of the casino selection process.  Is the Gazette waiting until the NYS Casino Facility Location Board makes its decision awarding a Capital Region casino license, so that the credibility of the Schenectady Applicant won’t be undermined prior to the selection?

The Oct. 22 article correctly points out that I and Mohamed Hafez had written to Metroplex chair Ray Gillen just prior to its Board meeting that day, asking for a postponement of its approval of the environmental review, because we had just learned that the ALCO contractor had uncovered tunnels under the century-old ALCO Building 332 while demolishing its foundation.  The discovery was in early August, prior to the approval of the draft environmental impact statement, but Galesi Group never brought in an archeologist nor reported the discovery to Metroplex.

The article then fails to mention any of my supporting information, although it was supplied to the reporter along with the Memorandum to Metroplex. Instead, the rest of the article debunks my Tunnel Coverup claims, by quoting Mr. Gillen and Galesi CEO Buicko denying that there were any tunnels and that there was any historical significance to the “utility corridors” they did find and demolish.  It then quotes from three Galesi consultants denying the existence of tunnels or saying that what was found was expected.  In addition, the letters by the consultants were described as having been “written this week,” although the reporter knew that they had been written that very evening specifically in response to our Memorandum to Metroplex.

The article also fails to mention that our Memo to Metroplex specifically alleged, using information verified by another Gazette reporter, that “When a reporter from the Gazette attempted to learn about the tunnels [in early August], the Applicant refused to give an interview on the record and would not allow photos to be taken; it also appears that the Applicant specifically requested that the Gazette not report on the discovery of the tunnels.” Not having mentioned our coverup claim, the article does not tell us whether Mssrs. Gillen and Buicko denied the request for a coverup or somehow justified it.

At the very minimum, your readers show have been told in the original article, or by now in a follow-up article, that:

  • Contrary to the letters of the Galesi consultants, the DEC engineer stated twice that it would have been virtually impossible for the contractor to know the tunnels existed prior to demolishing the building’s foundation.
  •  In addition to the original Gazette reporter calling the so-called “utility corridors” tunnels and not questioning our using that word, the Department of Environmental Conservation engineer heading up the remediation project at the ALCO site spoke with me at length by telephone, and said that the “pipe chases” were indeed large enough to be more appropriately called tunnels, and he thereafter referred to them as tunnels.
  • The Gazette reporter, Haley Viccaro, wrote to me on October 20 in an email that: “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact,” and complied after discussing the issue with Gazette editors.
  • On October 21, I emailed the six photos sent to me by the DEC engineer to Don Rittner, the former Historian of Schenectady County and the City of Schenectady, and an archeologist.  Dr. Rittner wrote back: “[A] professional archeologist should have been hired to document the site before destruction.  This was such an important part of Schenectady history [but] we may never know what those tunnels were for.” Dr. Rittner also concluded that the discovery should have been disclosed as part of the Environmental Impact review process.
  • photo of Bldg. 332 - by H. OhlhouseAccording to information at the Historic Marker Data Base website, “Building 332 was one of the longest structures in the world at nearly 1000 feet when it was completed in 1905.” (see photo to the right, taken and with commentary by Howard C. Ohlhous, Historian of the Town of Duanesburg, NY; click on the image for a larger version) Furthermore, according to DEC engineer Strang, the buildings on the ALCO site often were built over the foundations of prior buildings dating from the mid-19th Century, and “cells” found during its demolition suggest that was the case with Building 332.
  • Construction of ALCO Building 332 was completed in 1905, but its foundation was very likely to have been erected on the foundation of buildings dating back to before the Civil War, increasing the chance that the tunnels could have some important stories to tell us.

Whatever they are called, the uncovered hollow structures were part of or beneath the foundation of a building which played an important part in the history of ALCO, of Schenectady, and of our nation’s war efforts in the 20th Century.  A professional archeologist could have quickly examined and documented the tunnels, assessing whether they were standard, mundane utility corridors, or were indeed of archeological and historical significance.  We will never know, because the Applicant concealed their existence from all but DEC’s remediation engineer, demolished them and filled them over.

The goal of receiving environmental approval by Metroplex as soon as possible to gain an advantage in the casino licensing process is understandable, but in no way justifies the Applicant’s covering the tunnels over without archeological examination, nor asking the Gazette to cover up the story.  To the extent the Gazette allowed itself to be part of the Applicant’s concealment efforts, it has also failed to serve its public.

Readers can learn more on this topic, and see the photographs and documents mentioned, at
http://tinyurl.com/ALCOCoverup

David Giacalone
Editor, Stop the Schenectady Casino, http://stoptheschenectadycasino.com/

_____

Instead of reporting our supporting information to its readers, the article dismisses me as “an outspoken critic of the casino,” and tried to make me look unreliable.  See “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014, by Bethany Bump). Here is the Gazette’s total discussion of our tunnel coverup claim:

Continue reading