Proctors Marquee Billboard

MarqueeLia14Aug2019

MarqueeBonadio

MarqueeCDPHP14Aug2018Advertising space on the Proctors State Street marquee must be especially coveted this month, with Hamilton: The Musical, opening for a 13-day run on August 14, and crowds of theater-goers and media reps  expected. (see Gazette coverage). Of course, we shouldn’t expect Proctors to take advantage of that demand and display signs for other enterprises, because “Off-premises signs” — signs for businesses not offering services or products on the lot where the sign is located — are specifically prohibited under Schenectady’s zoning ordinance for signage. [§264-62(G)]

When Proctors was granted its Special Use Permit to install 5 digital signs in September 2013, it was specifically reminded that it could not display paid advertising for off-premises businesses. Here’s an excerpt from the Planning Commission Minutes of September 18, 2013, when the SUP was approved:

PCMinutes-ProctorsSUP18Sep2013Public Comments: A member of the public asked if there would be paid advertising on the sign. The applicant responded that while the sign might mention event sponsors, there would be no paid advertising. City staff noted that paid advertising would constitute an off-premise sign, which is not allowed under the city sign ordinance.

  • Note:  You do not have to pay directly for a sign for it to be considered a prohibited off-premise sign. Under our Code the definition of a sign is broad, and means “display of an advertisement, announcement, notice, directional matter or name”, and includes “any announcement, declaration, demonstration, display, illustration or insignia used to advertise or promote the interests of any person or business when the same is placed in view of the general public.” I’m sure the Bonadio Group of CPAs and consultants could explain the relevant issues to Proctors, including treatment of benefits received by a donor to a non-profit and vice-versa.

I was at State and Jay the morning after Hamilton opened for other purposes, but when looking at the Proctors Marquee I could not help but notice that it often had what can only be called ads for off-premise businesses. And, those ads tended to stay on the LCD screen the full 8 seconds required under the City Code for electronic message boards. The collage shows at least seven such off-premise signs that I saw in the brief time I was on the block (click on it for a larger version).

ProctorsOffPremisesAds

In typical Applicant-fashion, Proctors representative told the Planning Commission it would not have such ads, while signaling its likely argument if caught doing so – saying that “the sign might mention event sponsors.” I do recall in other years seeing companies such as the Times Union and MVP mentioned as sponsors. But, the signs now showing at Proctors are not that subtle.

Readers of this space know: (1) I get irked when important local persons and institutions act like scofflaws and the City’s rule-enforcers turn a blind eye to their favorite persons and entities. And, (2) I have long been concerned about the way Proctors went about getting its Special Use Permit for its marquee signs. [See, e.g.,our discussion here] I hope the appropriate people will take action.

When City Hall chose to subject the public to the hazards of digital signs at the busiest block in the City, to please a local favorite institution, I do not think it did so to help the companies now taking up space on Proctors marquee. If, however, that little bit of “business friendly” governance was intentional, there is still time to correct the situation. Proctors and Philip Morris are local cultural icons, but that should not give them immunity from playing within the rules.

follow-up (Sept. 1, 2019):  A pleasant stroll on the Proctors block yesterday (Saturday, Aug. 31) was interrupted when I saw a Heineken bottle displayed across the Proctors marquee. I took out my little Fuji camera and snapped shots of off-premise ads until the Heineken ad returned. There were 19 such ads over about 15 minutes. Here is a compilation. I have just left a complaint at the City’s Citizen’s Request Tracker, noting the violation of Zoning Code §264-62(G) and providing this collage.

ProctorsBillboardCollage

is anyone enforcing our digital sign rules?

Note: This web-post is a work in progress. I am posting it a bit prematurely, for those interested in seeing the two video clips mentioned at my Facebook Page on July 25, 2019, which deals with the lack of compliance and lack of monitoring of Schenectady’s digital signs.

. . Share this post with the short URL https://tinyurl.com/NoEnforcement

If you have followed this website over the past several years, you know that the Editor believes Schenectady has been far too lenient in allowing frequently-changing digital signs along its roadways. [see, e.g., this 2015 posting] The digital/LCD signs are called Electronic Message Boards [EMB] in the City Zoning Code, and Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs [CEVMS] by New York State.

In addition to the Planning Commission’s nearly-automatic granting of Special Use Permits for EMBs, I’ve recently realized that the City’s Zoning and Code Enforcement Offices have been allowing highly visible violations of the relevant Zoning provisions for such Electronic Message Boards. Specifically, there appear to be ongoing violations of Schenectady Zoning Code, § 264-61(I), which states: “[3] In no case shall the message change at a rate greater than once every eight seconds.” This posting demonstrates and explores the lack of enforcement.

. .  .

. . Query: What’s the advantage for the business shown above in installing the digital sign on the right, over its attractive and effective predecessor on the left, in Schenectady upscale retail district? . . Also, with the bright digital sign placed at the sidewalk and very close to a busy roadway (with heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic), and located near a complicated set of intersections and parking alternatives and restrictions, in addition to residences, what does the public gain that warrants added traffic hazards, questionable aesthetics, and setting a regulatory precedent that will certainly be exploited by nearby businesses? [see the Google Map depiction of the relevant stretch of Union Street]

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NEFJsignpmNORTHEASTERN FINE JEWELRY. If you drive on upper Union Street, it is quite difficult to miss the digital sign [shown on the right] of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, at 1607 Union Street, on the corner of Baker Ave. The Jewelry shop’s application for a Special Use Permit to install the electronic message board was heard at the September 19, 2018 Planning Commission Meeting. As seen on pp. 3-6 of of the Commission Minutes for that meeting:
  • The Applicant originally asked that the new EMB be allowed to change every 6 seconds, but stated during the Meeting that it would be limited to every 8 seconds, the minimum interval permitted by the NYS DOT and the Schenectady’s Zoning Code. The 8-second interval was explicitly made a restriction on the SUP, and the 6-second request explicitly rejected. [see page 6 of the Minutes]
  • Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”
  • NEFJ-GoogleMapThe sign would be very close to residences (and, in fact, was within the 100-foot ban approved by the Commission in a pending proposal to amend the zoning Code). Commissioner Ferro was very reluctant to approve an EMB so close to residences. Nonetheless, rather than rejecting the Application for the same reasons that they have proposed the specific 100-foot ban near residences, the Commissioners added the mild restriction to the SUP that “The sign will remain static between the hours of 9 P.M. and 7 A.M.” The static sign overnight requirement is also a specific requirement in the proposed amendments. [see Minutes, bottom of page 6]
    • Note: A static sign, one that has the same image without changing, is nonetheless a very bright LCD screen. Moreover, in some months, people are in their residence and it is dark out, long before 9 P.M. Keying the Static Time to sunset or full dark would probably be more appropriate.
  • EMB-NEFJ-BIDEnablers. In deciding to approve the Application, certain individual members offered what seem to me to be very weak rationales. For example, Commissioner Bailey, according to the Minutes (see image to the right), “stated that he believes that the applicants are doing their best to incorporate the EMB in the most tasteful, unobtrusive way possible.” Bailey also agreed with Commissioner Beach that approval of the application by the Business Improvement District members is a plus. (Commissioner Ferro noted that BID members could very well want similar signs for their own businesses.) Meanwhile, Commissioner Wilson opined that the particular sign “is the highest quality”, and insisted that “people who live in a mixed use district should expect some commercial activity.”
    • Ed. Note: I’d say that people who live in a mixed use district should expect to be protected by their Planning Commission from inappropriate commercial activity, and businesses should respect the needs of the very residents that help make the district good for businesses.
    • Also, no one suggested that the sign was already quite large and perhaps the LCD screen should be smaller than the current sign area, given its proximity to intersections, the street and sidewalk, and residences.
  • Wallinger-Silhouette-001Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger, prior to agreeing to approve the application, made several remarks that would seem to support its denial, give the burden on the Applicant to show the lack of negative impact. For instance, according to the Minutes: (1)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that she also shares the same concerns [over impact on residences and the neighborhood], which is why she is supporting changes to the Code to address this issue. She added that neighborhoods have different characters, and she does not feel like the Upper Union Street area would be the right fit for a large number of these signs.” (2) “Commissioner Wallinger stated that in general the function of a sign should be to identify the business rather than offer information advertising special offers or products. She noted that the Upper Union Street district has a lot of pedestrian traffic as well, which most likely will not be the ideal audience for a sign of this type and size. ”  (3)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that while she agrees that in this case the sign would be as tasteful as possible, she is concerned about neighboring businesses whose proposed EMB signs might not be appropriate.”
As seen in this video clip, taken on July 24, 2019, the digital sign at Northeastern Fine Jewelry changes every 6 seconds and has animation.
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  • The Complaint that I filed with the City’s online Citizen Request Tracker on July 9 about the 6-second intervals and use of  movement has not received any substantive reply as of July 28, 2019. update (July 31, 2019): Early Monday morning, July 29, Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein responded to an email sent by me on July 26 asking him to look into this matter, and said: “We’ll inspect to make sure it meets the required specifications.” Also, on July 30, I received an email from the Complaint Office concerning my complaint saying: “Request reassigned from Codes to Development. Reason: This is a Planning/Zoning concern. Thank you.” I will follow-up here if/as I hear more.

Moreover, on July 25, 2019, I discovered that Northeastern Fine Jewelry’s digital sign is not in compliance with the explicit condition in its Special Use permit to “remain static” after 9 PM for the sake of nearby residences. (I was there at 9:40 pm.) The content of the display is unchanged from the daytime display. Here are two images of the bright and changing NEFJ sign taken when it should have been “static”.

NEFJ-EMBafter9PM

update (Aug. 18, 2019): On August 14, the NEFJ digital sign was still changing at 6 second intervals (or less), and was still fully operational after 9 PM. on August 15 (images below).

IMG_2073 . . IMG_2017

  • checkedboxsupdate (August 21, 2019): Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein let me know this morning that (emphasis added): “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance as per the city requirements and special use permit. The City is still conducting inspections on many other properties that have electronic message boards, however the images and videos you submit are not admissible as part of our records, as an officer from the City needs to witness the violation in order to issue a citation.”
  • IMG_2100-NEFJ25AugJPG update (August 26, 2019): As of Sunday night, August 25, the NEFJ sign is still not in compliance, with change intervals still at 6 seconds, and the sign is not being held static after 9 PM.
  • follow-up (September 18, 2019): Four weeks after Zoning Office Avi Singer informed me that “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance,” their digital sign is still changing at least every 6 seconds, but there is so much movement on the screen that it is difficult to say just how many changes are actually being made. Recall, as stated above, that Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”

IMG_2104-001

The Blue Ribbon Diner

BlueRibbonEMBThe Blue Ribbon Diner was granted Special Use Permits for signs at the Diner and next-door Bakery, at the Planning Commission’s Meeting of September 20, 2017. On my way home on the evening of July 25, 2019, I happened to pass by the Blue Ribbon complex at 1835 State Street, and marveled that the images on the EMBs seemed to change so rapidly. I parked and took a quick video to document the operation of the Blue Dinner EMBs.

The 28-second clip was taken at about 10:30 PM, and the lighting is not great. Nonetheless, you can see that some of the images change after only 3 seconds, not the 8-second requirement in our zoning code.

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In addition, the changes are blended, and have swipes and dissolves, which add to the distraction,. Such gimmicks are discouraged by best practices guidelines. Notice, also that the Blue Ribbon bakery sign can be seen making its changes in the background. The NYS DOT guidelines on digital signage state that, if signs are visible at the same time to a driver, they must be at least 300 feet apart.

Is the City’s lack of enforcement in the face of highly visible violations malfeasance or “merely” nonfeasance?

follow-up: On the morning of August 14, 2019 (five weeks after my first Complaint to the City), the digital signs at Blue Ribbon Dinner and Blue Ribbon Bakery, had not been adjusted to be in compliance, with dwell time averaging less than 5 seconds. The digital sign at Hair Design by Ralf and the one at Wedekind Auto (photo below), also in Woodlawn along State Street, were also changing significantly more frequently than the 8-second minimal interval required by the Schenectady Zoning Code.

IMG_2031  . .

EMBs granted special use permits in Schenectady, 2017-2019

1903 Maxon Road. – Pat Popolizio – Lighthouse – Feb. 15, 2017

2330 Watt St. – Crosstown Commons – May 17, 2017

Erie Blvd at Harbor Way – Mohawk Harbor – Aug. 16, 2017

1753 State St.  – Ralf Torkel – Jan. 17, 2018 – [hair salon]

416 State Street – Berkshire Hathaway – May 16, 2018

1607 Union St. – Northeastern Fine Jewelry – Sept. 19, 2018

[Ed. Note: Additional discussion and analysis will be added to this posting in the near future. Sorry for any inconvenience. For fuller discussion of potential safety hazards from digital signs along our streets, see our March 11, 2015 posting on “Safety Issues raised by electronic message boards“, which starts with a discussion of Proctors’ marquee signs and includes an appendix with general information and relevant links. ]

  • An appendix of relevant Zoning provisions, along with [in the near future] Best Practices or Model Rule recommendations, can be found at the foot of this posting.

Continue reading

on June 4 come to GROOVIN’4LIBERTY (updated)

JUNE 4, 2019, 5:30 PM at Liberty/Gateway Park Rain Location, Key Hall at Proctors, during DSIC’s Art Week, family event, Groovin’@Gateway

update: 11:30 Tuesday: MOVING to RAIN LOCATION: Groovin’4Liberty will be following Groovin’@Gateway INDOORS to KEY HALL in PROCTORS. Hope to see you there! 

. . If you cannot join us, please see EMAIL ALTERNATIVE below to send your Ballot.

GroovinRally4 . .  Meet, starting at 5:30 pm, at Key Hall in Proctors. at the “Central Sculpture fixture” if the Event is Outdoors, approximately where Lady Liberty stood from 1950 to 2017. We’ll be there throughout the DSIC Event (5:30 PM to 8 PM).

WHY COME TO GROOVIN’4LIBERTY?
img_8575

  • Show your support for Lady Liberty’s Return, preserving Schenectady History, the integrity of the planning process, and for common sense
  • Have your photo taken with Silhouette Lady
  •  VOTE FOR HER RETURN: You will be able to cast a Vote for Lady Liberty’s Return We will have copies of the PUT HER BACK REQUEST to Mayor McCarthy and Mary Wallinger (seen on the R) at Groovin’4Liberty on June 2. You will be able to use it as a Ballot for us to give to McCarthy & Wallinger.
  • PutHerBackPetnEEMAIL ALTERNATIVE: PLEASE if you cannot be at the Rally, attach this Request to an email and send it to Mr. McCarthy, Ms. Wallinger, and City Council President Ed Kosiur (addresses below), and other Council Members of your choice. Thank you.
  • To the Mayor: gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov
    To Chairman Wallinger: mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com
    To Mr. Kosiur: ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov

  • Pick up a memento photo of Lady Liberty to show what we are fighting for (click on images below for larger version):

LadyInParkC4x6pfa . . . LadyInParkB6x4pea

LadyInParkAp6x4ae

This collage is a 2019 version of the “poster” for our September 28, 2018 Rally for Lady Liberty. The issues are the same, and City Hall continues to thumb its nose at the Lady, the Public, and Good Government:

Groovin2019Collage

. . LONG STORY SHORT: Lady Liberty stood for 67 years in Liberty Park. She was removed only to protect Her from the extensive reconstruction of the Park. There was never any public thought or discussion that Lady Liberty would not be returned, and the Final, approved Implementation Plan included Her return once construction was complete, as the natural, popular choice. Nevertheless, Mayor Gary R. McCarthy, under the recommendation of designer Mary Wallinger (who has decided the Statue just doesn’t “fit” in a contemporary plaza), has chosen not to return the replica Liberty Statue. We want Her back home in Her Park.

BACKGROUND facts/photos/links and more: For background, see . . “Lady Liberty is Timeless“ & “Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty”. And, the Gazette‘s Memorial Day article, “Schenectady mayor teases Lady Liberty announcement” (by Pete DeMola, May 27, 2019)

.  . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/Groovin4Liberty

update (June 2, 2019): We’re sending out a warm welcome to Liberty-Gateway Park for the Schenectady Rainbow Pride Art installation.  Read about it and see photos taken today, at our sister website, “suns along the Mohawk.” We think the Pride installation, celebrating progress in LGBT right in the 50 years since Stonewall, is an excellent component of a Liberty-oriented Park. Silhouette Lady visited the Installation several hours before its official dedication.

SilhouettePride

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.

the riverbank Trail at Mohawk Harbor is not safe

MHtrail3Jul2018a

 . . Updates (Oct. 15, 2018): see poorly planned safety railing going up along Mohawk Harbor trail 

(July 3 and Oct. 5, 2018): Below we explain the reasons why we believe the Alco Heritage Trail is unsafe. When pressed on the safety issue in June, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen insisted that a fence or guardrail would be installed “soon”. But, I have continued to wonder why neither the County or City, nor the hosting Casino, has installed temporary warnings signs and devices (i.e., quick and inexpensive orange safety cones and yellow tape), to keep visitors away from the steep, rocky slope, and slippery gravel. They plan to host thousands at Mohawk Harbor to see the Fireworks and concerts on July 3 and 4, and many events all summer. [photo at right taken at 11 AM, July 3] So far, the media has shown no interest in this issue.

cautiontaperoll(Oct. 5, 2018): Ray Gillen wrote in an email to the editor of this weblog, in the third week of September, that a fence would be built along the trail buffer “in October.” As of noon October 5, there is neither a fence or guardrail and no temporary warning devices; see the photo below, taken today:

AlcoTrail05Oct2018

Original Posting

ALCOTrailSafety

. . the above collage summarizes issues discussed in this web-post (click on it for a larger version)

What did you think the ALCO Heritage bike-pedestrian Trail would look like when completed? The Trail runs through Mohawk Harbor, past the Marina and amphitheater, and behind the Rivers Casino and its Landing Hotel. In each rendering submitted by the developers, Galesi Group and the casino owner and operator Rush Street Gaming, the riverside buffer between the Trail and the Mohawk River is shown green, landscaped and gently sloping to the riverbank. For example:

 . .

. . renderings of rear of Rivers Casino and Hotel: above June 2014; below July 2015 . .

 In addition, when the Site Plan was approved by the Planning Commission in 2015, the relevant and still-current provisions of the C-3 Waterfront Zoning Code of the City of Schenectady stated [emphases added]:

(4) A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant with the following construction and design standards .. :

[1] The trail shall have a width of at least 10 feet along the length of the Mohawk River shoreline and shall endeavor to be located reasonably adjacent to the undeveloped shoreline whenever practicable.

[2] There shall be an additional two feet of graded area on either side of the trail and an additional ten-foot buffer between the trail and the river.

[3] The trail shall be constructed of asphalt, synthetic composite, concrete, pavers, or other materials as approved by the Planning Commission.

[4] Trails and esplanades may include landscaped areas, sitting areas, benches, gazebos and suitable lighting facilities.

At no place has the required 12-foot buffer been installed on the riverside of the Trail. There also is no place for any sitting areas, benches, etc., along the riverbank side of the trail.

Also, the New York State Department of Transportation has issued guidelines to apply when a bike trail is near a steep slope. If the slope is less than 4.92 feet from the Trail, a safety rail 4.59′ high is required. The design requirements of State DOT depicted in the following  image appear to be directly applicable to the Mohawk Harbor trail, given the steepness of the slope and the drop of far more than the 0.3 meters [0.98 ft.] over the slope:

NYSDOT-ShareUseRailingSlope

Despite any expectations created by the above materials, the next set of photos shows what the ALCO Heritage Trail actually looks like, as do photos in the top collage:

IMG_4915

IMG_4939

IMG_8691 . . IMG_8688

IMG_7240

With only a loose gravel buffer of 3.5′ to 7′ on the river side of the trail (rather than the required 12 feet of graded buffer), and a very steep slope covered with sharp, rip-rap rocks, without guardrails installed, it certainly does not look safe enough to me.  Part of my concern, of course, in addition to the normal mishaps on a busy shared use path, is the fact that the Trail passes within a couple yards of casino, restaurant and barroom patios, whose patrons will not all be sober, as well as by the Mohawk Harbor Marina and amphitheater.

CasinoRearFromBridge30May2018 copy-001

. . above: ALCO Heritage Trail seen, with zoom lens, from Freeman’s Bridge (May 29, 2018) ..

Nonetheless, because I am neither a bike-ped trail planner nor engineer, I decided to share my concerns with Paul Winkeller, the long-time Executive Director of the New York State Bicycling Coalition, to see if my concerns were valid. I sent Paul an email containing the collage at the top of this post and a few other photos. Paul wrote back the next day and forwarded my materials to a few other NYBC Board members, including Emeritus Board Member Ivan Vamos, a retired engineer and official for several relevant New York State agencies, who spent a few decades helping to implement bike trails and greenways. [read more on the backgrounds of Mr. Vamos and Mr. Winkeller, here.]

Engineer Ivan Vamos wrote back less than an hour after he received my forwarded inquiry, saying:

I agree, it looks like a bad solution for bicyclists and perhaps also for the handicapped with “walkers” and other aid devises. The rough gravel shoulder above the rip-rap was probably the selected solution to handle significant run-off from paved areas upslope; this was a cost-effective solution for that issue, versus a more sophisticated drainage plan.  The problem is that if a bike or other wheeled devise, women with high heeled shoes, or people with walking aids (like canes) stray on to the gravel, they will fall onto the sharp rip-rap.

I suggest a fence with “rub-rails” that keeps bicyclists of different heights and others on the trail. If observed use of the trail looks to attract a lot of strollers who tend to come to look at the River/harbor as part of their outing, it may be advisable to have the rail at a height that can be leaned on, benefiting walkers, but still giving some protection for bicyclists.

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Although noting that he was not a planner or engineer, Executive Director Winkeller wrote, “Of course it does not look safe!” A few days later, he offered the assistance of New York Bicycling Coalition to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen in designing a safe shared use path (and got no reply), and added that he hoped I would continue to press the safety concerns:

“This is the height of the cycling season which means higher trail use and more of a chance of crashes. This is not a safe design, of that we all agree.”

  • County Legislators Have Not Replied. After three weeks, I have had no reply from several County Legislators to questions I  had sent them about the timing of the official opening of the Trail and whether additional safety measures were planned. That was prior to my correspondence with NYCB.
  • Corporation Counsel Has Not Replied. At the end of May, I also wrote to Schenectady’s Corporation Counsel, Carl Falotico, informing him of the comments from NYCB leaders, and asking whether the developers had received some sort of waiver from the Zoning Code requirements for the Harbor Trail. Three weeks later, I have not received a substantive reply from Mr. Falotico, who promised a reply when he was “ready to schedule a meeting” on the issues.
  • update (Oct. 4, 2018): More than four months later, I have yet to receive any substantive reply from the City’s Legal Department, the County Legislature of Law Department, or Metroplex, nor any suggestion as to why/how the specific requirements of our Riverfront zoning code for this specific trail could be ignored when constructing the trail.
  • Jennifer Ceponis, of the Capital District Transportation Committee, raised the issue at a Committee meeting on June 12, 2018. Jennifer reported that the City of Schenectady was “working on the problem.”

Bicyclists are already using the ALCO Heritage Trail, which connects Glenville’s Freedom Bridge road and Erie Boulevard with a riverside trail now ending at River Street in the East Front Street neighborhood, and then the Stockade. The CDPHP Bike Share program recently installed a bike share station at Mohawk Harbor, adding to the number of cyclists using the Harbor’s shared-use trail. Summer concerts at the Marina’s amphitheater, drawing audiences in the thousands, and other Harbor and Casino events will also increase the number of pedestrians using the Trail.

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If the information above leaves you wondering about the safety of the ALCO Heritage Trail, or the  process that has created a shared-use path quite different from our expectations, please let County and City legislators, and staffers working on bicycle planning and implementation know of your concerns.

.. . share this posting with the short url: http://tinyurl.com/HarborTrailSafety

  • questionmarkkeyBW$$? FINANCING THE TRAIL: The City of Schenectady C-3 Waterfront District zoning code, as quoted above, states that the pedestrian and bicycle trail “shall be constructed by the applicant.” (emphasis added) Nonetheless, the County and Maxon Alco (the Galesi Group company that owns Mohawk Harbor) entered a Harbor Trail Easement Agreement in March 2016 stating,  “The parties agree that the maximum cost to Maxon Alco for the construction of the Trail shall not exceed $100,000.00. County shall be responsible for all costs and expenses for Trail construction which exceed the Maxon Alco Contribution.” 
    • Any additional expense to build the trail, perhaps over a million dollars, is coming from New York and County taxpayers.
    • In a March 2016 news article in the Albany Times Union, the Galesi Group bragged about “donating $100,000” to the cost of the Trail.
    • Maintenance. The Harbor Trail Easement Agreement also states that:

      “4. Maintenance of the Trail. Following construction of the Trail and the commencement of the Uses, Maxon Alco agrees to perform the non-structural maintenance including snowplowing and removal of debris/litter from the Trail. County shall be responsible for all other Trail maintenance, including any required repair or replacement of the Trail pavement/surface and all the Trail fencing, signage, striping and other trail related materials located upon the Easement Areas.”

    • The original C-3 Waterfront Mix-ed Use District provisions included the following sentence, which was removed in the 2015 amendments requested by the Developer: “All maintenance of the waterfront esplanade and amenities shall be the responsibility of the developer.” The original permanent, perpetual easement “assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront” was, of course, also removed at the “request” of the developer.
  • Taxpayer-funded Amenity: Having a shared-use path running through Mohawk Harbor is clearly an asset in selling and renting homes in the complex, and attracting tourists to its hotels. Thus, the short list of Extras on the Amenities page of the project’s River House apartments includes “Direct access to the NYS Hike Bike Trail.” In Philadelphia, Rush Street Gaming has spent millions of dollars to expand an already grand promenade and bike trail. Do our local leaders need more training in negotiating on behalf of our residents and taxpayers?
  • IMG_8698 . . . img_8681.jpg update (Oct. 4, 2018): A set of informational markers were recently installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail. See “Trail markers highlight locomotive plant’s heritage” (Albany Times Union, Sept. 21, 2018, by Tim Blydenburgh). The TU article states, “The county Department of Economic Development and Planning built the signs using $30,000 provided by the county Legislature.  Paul Singer Design, based in Brooklyn, designed the 11 trail markers.”
    • The signs are also worrisome from a safety perspective, as they seem to be placed much closer than necessary to the shared-use path, creating a hazard for pedestrians stopping to read the signs and for cyclists. When this safety point was made to Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, he wrote back “We think the markers look great.”

p.s. You may recall my first Infamy Montage which “celebrated” the opening of Rivers Casino on the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre, when only Snowmen guarded the open gate of the Stockade (while the assigned guards relaxed at a nearby pub), allowing a band of French soldiers and marauding Indians to burn down the Stockade.  Below is my 2nd Infamy Montage below, which suggests that having Snowmen at the Gates of our City has led to an unseemly, unsafe, riverbank, trail, and harbor scene.

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 follow-up (June 26, 2018): At a public meeting on June 21, 2018 (on the Extension Feasibility Study for the riverfront trail), Schenectady County Metroplex Authority chair Ray Gillen, told the author of this posting that there will be a fence or rail put up along the slope near the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor. Given this acknowledgement of the possible safety hazard, I wondered whether any temporary safety measures were taken along the Trail — such as yellow tape or safety cones — in anticipation of the first Harbor Jam outdoor concert last Saturday, June 23, at the Amphitheater of Mohawk Harbor, which is across a lawn from the riverbank.

  • follow-up: When taking photos from Riverside Park of the Casino’s July 3 fireworks, using a powerful zoom lens, I saw — as would be expected — a line of people of all ages and sizes standing along the top of the slope in the dark and gazing out over the River at the fireworks.

why not? . . cautiontaperoll . . orangesafetycone

There were no such temporary safety measures Saturday afternoon. At about 3 or 4 cents a yard, what excuse is there for not stringing Caution Tape? Is this another case of our fearless leaders avoiding bad publicity at any cost — and at any risk?

Moreover, apparently due to heavy rain earlier that day, the gravel  between the Trail and the slope was slippery underfoot. When trying to shoot a photo from the gravel, my foot sunk into it, and the gravel slipped toward and under some of the rip-rap stones at the top of the slope. In addition, I saw a full-grown man, while in conversation with another man while standing on the gravel buffer, absent-mindedly step up on the rip-rap on the edge of the slope behind the Casino. What do you supposed little boys and girls will do?