Phil VonBargen leads a tour at the end of the Vision2Action transportation forum.
Remember when you rode a bike or walked to school?
Walked to the theater? Walked to the playground and beach? Walked to a friend’s house?
Remember when you walked?
These are questions Laurie Williams of the Clinton County Health Department asked at Vision2Action’s Transportation forum. The group has been holding forums focusing on transportation, recreation, the arts and education, with an aim of revitalizing the North Country.
“Roads were built for cars,” Williams said. “Not for biking and running.”
Obesity levels nationwide continue to rise, she warned, and road safety must improve so more people can bike, walk and run on the “shared roadways.”
“We need policy reform.”
She called for requiring sidewalks in new development and ensuring public transportation can be reached without a vehicle.
“Complete streets are the answer.”
Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe, attractive, and comfortable access and travel for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, public transport users, and individuals of all ages and abilities.
A Federal Highway Administration safety review found that complete streets improve pedestrian safety.
As of 2001, complete street policies have been endorsed or adopted by 224 U.S. jurisdictions, including 23 states.
New York endorsed them in 2011, and the Clinton County Legislature passed a resolution supporting they be considered for all projects.
“You guys are doing so many interesting things,” said Jeff Olsen, an architect and planner whose worked has taken him around the world.
Olsen said the design profession is undergoing an evolution as the focus is increasingly on pedestrians and bicyclists first and then seeing where the road goes.
“We are not alone,” he said. “Places all over New York and the U.S. are trying to solve these issues.”
The Saranac River Trail could be a catalyst to improved road access for all in the area, Olsen said.
“We gotta reach a point where kids feel it is a great thing to walk to school and ride a bike to school,” he said. “Plus, kids should be able to walk across the street.”
He stressed that it is not about figuring out how to get rid of the car and truck, but reaching a better balance.
“We are not giving people close to what they need,” Olsen said. “You need to start looking at every project you are building and look for opportunities in those projects.”
Phil VonBargen, Town of Plattsburgh Planning Department, gave those at the forum a bus tour of some of the nearby streets.
It started at the roundabout near the former Plattsburgh Air Force base.
“It is a big change for our area to have a roundabout,” he said, standing at the front of the bus. “It is friendly for pedestrians and slows traffic down.”
The tour would hit New York Road, Arizona Ave., Route 22, South Peru Street and more, also heading through the Plattsburgh International Airport, which VonBargen said is not pedestrian friendly.
Throughout the trip, VonBargen highlighted adequate pedestrian access, as well as several areas where, for example, handicap accessibility was poor in places. He also pointed out narrow sidewalks and roads that contained no walkway for pedestrians.
South Peru Street, for example, contained little to no pedestrian access for walkers and bicyclists.
At one point, he smiled and waved to a couple people he passed, saying that was an example of an area safe and accessible to pedestrians.
“It can be done,” VonBargen said. “You just gotta get to it when the project is in planning.”