. . Update (July 3, 2018): As you will see below, our conclusion is “No, Not Safe”. According to Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, a fence or guardrail may be installed soon. But, today, I wonder why neither the County, or City, nor the hosting Casino has installed temporary warnings signs and devices, to keep visitors away from the steep, rocky slope, and slippery gravel, as they plan to host thousands at Mohawk Harbor to see the Fireworks and concerts on July 3 and 4. [photo at right taken at 11 AM, July 3] So far, the media has shown no interest in this issue.
. . the above collage summarizes issues discussed in this webpost (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 .. :
 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.
 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.
Also. the New York State Department of Transportation has issued guidelines to apply when a bike trail is near a steep slope. This image looks applicable to the Mohawk Harbor trail:
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:
With only a loose gravel buffer of 4′ 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 loose 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.
. . 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 containg 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.
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 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.”
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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 and other Harbor and Casino events will also increase the number of pedestrians using the Trail.
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
- The C-3 Waterfront District zoning code, as quoted above, states that the pedestrian and bicycle trail “shall be constructed by the applicant.” Nonethess, County documents show that the Galesi Group and the Casino Owner will pay no more than $200,000 out of well over a million dollar expense to build the trail, with the additional moneys coming from New York and County taxpayers. 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. [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. If that was the full payment, they surely are getting a great deal.] 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?
p.s. Major problems with my MacBook laptop are currently keeping me from performing typical tasks that usually assist with my photography and advocacy. So, I have not been able to put finishing touches on my 2nd Infamy Montage below, which suggests that having Snowmen at the Gates of our City has led to an unseemly riverbank, trail, and harbor scene.
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.
There were no such temporary safety measures Saturday afternoon. 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 step up on the rip-rap on the edge of the slope behind the Casino.