Locals to state: Why no bike lanes?

LAKE PLACID – The state Department of Transportation recently wrapped up paving on state Route 73, and some locals are scratching their heads and asking why bike lanes were not included as part of the road project.

“I know that I should be glad for recent new paving on Route 73. And I wish to thank everyone who made that happen,” North Elba Code Enforcement Officer James Morganson wrote in a letter to the editor to the Enterprise. “But, how does it keep happening without adding bike lanes?”

Morganson said the town’s zoning code and its comprehensive plan both say bike lanes are a necessity.

“Before you line up against me – yes, I know these roads are ‘primarily’ for cars and trucks,” Morganson continued. “I just hope someday everyone using our roads will be able to do so safely.”

As witnessed recently, Lake Placid draws in thousands of bicyclists during the Lake Placid Ironman and even more if you factor in those who come here to train with their bikes in preparation for the event each year. Heading out of Lake Placid, the major routes are narrow and heavily traveled by motorists. With the exception of the spacious state Route 30 south of Tupper Lake, bike lanes are not prevalent in the Adirondacks.

Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway, a narrow toll road up the state’s fifth-highest peak, is currently being worked on to replace culverts and will eventually be repaved completely, but bike lanes are also not part of that plan.

Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston knows a thing or two about working with the state to complete a highway project. He pushed for years to have the highway repaved and said the secret is, “You just keep trying.”

Preston also knows the value bicyclists can have for the region. The town has put a lot of effort into cultivating that tourism draw with annual biking events. Wilmington has developed a network of local mountain bike trails in addition to those at Whiteface Mountain, and it wants to add bike paths to some local roads.

“The town has applied for a grant to widen Springfield and Fox Farm roads for a recreation path that will give pedestrians a safe place to walk and ride,” Preston said. “This is our second year applying, you just keep trying.”

Preston said “bike lanes would be nice,” but it’s “not as simple” as some people think.

“To widen the road, which would have to be done, (costs) millions more than a resurface job,” he said. “I do think the discussion should be ongoing as it appears Ironman is here to stay. It all takes time and the dialogue needs to be ongoing. Route 86 was paved and now 73. Hopefully somewhere down the road, bike lanes could come into play. It took me six years of trying to get the Whiteface highway done.”

Bryan Viggiani, the state public information officer for DOT Region 1 said the recent paving on state Route 73 was to address the conditions of the road and not a bike lane.

“The paving is obviously a benefit to address the conditions of the road,” Viggiani said, “particularly what occurred over this past harsh winter. It will benefit all users of the road, cars, truck and bicyclists.”

However, he added that bike lanes would be a costly multi-year process.

“The intention of the current paving project has been to address the pavement condition in the quickest way possible for all members of traveling public – motorists and bicyclists,” Viggiani said. “To add bike lanes would involve widening the road there, which would involve an extensive, multi-year process at costs to the taxpayer far greater than the current paving project.”

Kenny Boettger, owner of Placid Planet Bicycles in Lake Placid, said bike lanes would be great for the region because it makes for better and safer cycling. He said Viggiani makes a good point.

“It’s a fair response,” Boettger said. “Closing down 73 for a major project, no one wants that.”

Boettger said there is a downside to bike lanes because they are a separate legal entity and are required to be a certain width by law.

“A bike lane is tough because of the rules it has to follow,” he said. “On state Route 73, there just isn’t room to put it.”

The Sara-Placid Highway’s shoulders were widened by DOT in 2013, but only by making the car lanes narrower. At the time there was a petition signed by 1,600 people asking DOT to widen the shoulder. As a result, the lines were repainted to add an extra foot of the shoulder to the 8 miles of Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. A state DOT official at the time told the Enterprise that bike lanes were costly and require engineering work that was not included in the rebuild of Route 86.

This could serve as a possible middle ground approach on state Route 73, Old Military Road and other state roads in the future, Boettger said. In his opinion, better maintained and wider shoulders should be a priority for DOT moving forward.

“I think that would work very well, sort of like what they did heading toward Saranac Lake on (state Route) 86; it’s quite nice,” he said. “Another thing they need to do is better maintain the shoulder because (when it’s degraded) the cyclists are forced to ride on the road.”

Morganson showed some disappointment with Viggiani’s response.

“So whatever the reasons are, they won’t be doing those roads again for decades,” he said. “When does that process start? I understand there is cost involved.”

Morganson said there needs to be a public conversation about the importance of bike lanes for the region, or the community is less likely to see the changes made.

“I think it has to start with the public, but the public has to express themselves,” Morganson said. “Where’s the disconnect between the public want and need, and what we are getting done?”