Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oh Sidewalk, Where Art Thou?

Yesterday I thought it would be a lark to take the bus up to the Target in Northway Mall.  It was an innocent idea but a really depressing trip, and it ties right in with my parking rant from last week.

I hopped off the bus at the Colonie Center stop, pushed the big button that tells the light that someone wants to cross the street, and waited.  And waited.  The lights cycled through and no Walking Guy appeared.  The Red Hand didn’t budge.  Eventually another person waiting to cross just went for it and I followed, sprinting across Central Ave.  On the other side of the road there is a pedestrian walkway into the plaza, which I was delighted to see.  I followed it for about three minutes until it inexplicably stopped at this point:


That is one ghost town of a parking lot.  It was the middle of the afternoon and the lot was like a barren desert of steaming blacktop.  Empty spaces as far as the eye could see.  At one point, I think a tumbleweed rolled by me.  Since I had reached the end of the sidewalk, the only thing to do was to make a beeline for the entrance.  I just narrowly avoided being hit by not one but TWO cars whose operators apparently were very thrown off by the fact that someone was walking in, rather than driving.  Please take another look at the picture.  Two cars barely missed clipping me in a near-empty lot.  Perhaps I am ignorant of the process of planning a parking lot, but I don’t remember a time, even back during more economically secure days, when this lot would have been bursting at the seams.  It was probably always excessive, and now it’s just sad and dangerous and a literal waste of space.

By the time I got in the door I felt like I’d been put through the ringer, just to go to Target, for fuck’s sake.  Not only did I have to be constantly vigilant of my safety but I had to navigate an un-navigable (from a pedestrian’s perspective) route. I had to guess at when to cross the street and then make a mad dash with semis bearing down on me.  I wondered in my last post why, exactly, people have such a problem with walking places and the answer was presented to me almost immediately and with sparkling clarity:  That's not the way we've designed the majority of our world.  Maybe in my insular little Center Square it's easier to say, "Park it and walk!"   I still think we should all do this, but it's going to take a restructuring of our culture from the ground up. 

After all that, the only thing I really needed was a bottle of nail polish, which I got, but it’s not exactly the color I wanted.  The next time I’m feeling either brave or suicidal, maybe I’ll try again.

7 comments:

sweetlytart said...

This whole post sums up one of my biggest problems. I don't live car free but I moved my family to rural upstate NY from Brooklyn and I didn't realize how badly I would miss sidewalks and cities that were planed with pedestrians in mind. I'm actually planning to move to Saratoga this summer because I am so sick of not being able to walk anywhere. I mean, I can walk but you have to share the road with cars and around here it's really not safe. Especially if I want to take a walk with my kids.

The area you are talking about is even worse because it's a city. You expect more. You expect that provisions would have been made to have it be a livable, walkable community but that's just not the case. It's like it was designed for people to have to drive from place to place as the alternative is more of a time inconvenience than most people can afford.

Leigh Cummings said...

Jen, your comment has me jumping up and down at my desk! Yes! Yes! The problem is that provisions have been made for cars instead of people, and that is such a shame. I think "Albany" (or, in other words, city planners) should be focused more on creating enclaves of walkable neighborhoods; ones where you have stores, restaurants and services that are dedicated to that specific neighborhood and easily accessible on foot.

I lived in Boston for a year and only drove to work (which was in Dedham. Not a reasonable walking distance.) EVERYTHING ELSE was available to me as a pedestrian. Everything. There's no reason why Albany can't follow suit. We're just the right size to experiment with this type of neighborhood. It happens organically, to a certain extent, as long as you don't plunk down monstrosities like that damn parking lot.

Miss Sarah said...

i know of what you speak!! its quite the dilema trying to get to target!! but by the way,,, the buttons on the crosswalk things?? theyve never actually been hooked up. theres no wires in there. its an empty button. when they were installed, the intention was to actually hook them up. but they never did.

Bob said...

I think the buildings at Northway Mall covered more of the lot years ago. That doesn't excuse or explain the absence of sidewalks.

This (I live nearby) is neither a community nor a city. It's a shopping center. I am happy to say there are excellent sidewalks along Wolf Rd. and I still hate walking there due to the busy traffic. I would have to cross Wolf Rd. to buy groceries, but I'm unwilling to do it except in dire need.

I grew up in the village of a rural community and walked or biked everywhere for years. I would love to bike to work on Pearl St., but I don't cherish the idea of biking Central Ave. in rush hour.

For the majority of us, we have to drive. Inconvenience I can deal with, but I cherish my safety.

Kelly said...

Leigh - Before I start, I just have to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Thank you for sharing with us!

So - a couple things.
1. Northway Mall is actually in the Town of Colonie, and a tiny portion of it is in the Village of Colonie, as is Lowes and BJs.
2. In 2005, the Town actually went through an entire town-wide rezoning - to update the 1950's traditional zoning that separates all offending uses (such as 1/4 acre residential lots from 1/2 acre residential lots) into a zoning code that allows for mixed use. ie: a developer would actually be allowed to build a project with first floor commercial and second story office or residential. The new zoning also made provisions to protect environmentally sensitive lands in the Pine Bush, and strengthened regulations regarding the construction of sidewalks and bike/transit amenities.

3.The problem isn't necessarily the city planners - its the town and city and state officials that hedge and take the loosest interpretation of the regulations, and build loopholes that you could drive a CDTA bus through. (Which, ironically, you are unable to drive a CDTA bus into Northway Mall or Colonie Center).

I'd give you points 4-22, but I think you get my point. Ultimately, its up to citizens to be more aware of what is going on in our municipality's planning and zoning offices, and to advocate for responsible and sustainable development.

Roz said...

So much is within walking distance of my apartment here in Clifton Park, but it's not entirely safe to walk anywhere but the housing developments.

I have had near misses with cars here for the same reason that you probably did: drivers are stunned when they see pedestrians!

G&&SE said...

Leigh, you realize that the CVS on Central and Lexington sells nail polish, right? ha ha

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