Can cars and bikes coexist in the Capital Region?

capital coexist tom benware

Tom Benware

By Kalyn Belsha

Tom Benware might have passed you in traffic. On his bike. Which was on the side of a bus.

Tom appears on a CDTA bus as a part of a new initiative launched in April encouraging Capital Region motorists and cyclists to share the road.

In real life, the Delmar resident is a transportation guru, public transit advocate and 1,000-mile-a-year cyclist. He worked at the state Department of Transportation for 14 years and now he's the senior legislative analyst for the New York State Senate Transportation Committee. Just last week he helped advance new legislation that would require New York roads be designed with all users in mind - not just drivers.

I took a moment to talk with Tom about biking in the Capital Region, his favorite places to ride and what it's like to see yourself on the side of a bus.

So what exactly is the Capital Coexist initiative?

It's trying to emphasize that the road is for sharing, that bicycles are part of the highway and you need to pay attention to them. And vice versa, as a bicyclist you are part of the traffic, so you need to follow the rules of the road - like stopping at the stop sign - and be careful. It's not a joy ride. Even though I think most cyclists enjoy doing it, as do I, riding on the road takes a bit of concentration and a person needs to focus to keep himself and everybody else safe.

In the opening credits of Sex and the City, the main character gapes in surprise as a bus plastered with her face passes her by. Is that how you felt when you saw yourself on the side of the bus for the first time?

You know, it's a little strange. It's kind of like sometimes you cook something all day and it doesn't really taste good or look good to you. When I see myself in a picture I always think, "Jeez that looks kind of goofy," so there was a little bit of that, I suppose. But I'm happy to do it, of course.

You're really big on cycling. How many miles did you bike last year?

It was my personal best -- 1,193 miles. Coming to the Senate, I really started to commute in earnest, and that's 10 miles a day if you go both ways. And I very often turn the evening bike ride into a 15- or 20-[mile ride]. These days with family you can't go home, get on your gear and go for a 20-mile bike ride because you have stuff to do. So it's nice to commute and those miles add up rather quickly over a week.

Where in the local area would you say are your favorite places to bike?

I go south of Delmar up into Feura Bush and beyond. Out toward Rensselaerville there are countless rural roads. I often think how I should come back and do a map and record these rides because there's just numerous you can go on. It's only a 10-mile ride, but I also go from my house to Five Rivers - it's a DEC wildlife area.

Biking in the Capital Region is not always the easiest. Any advice to new bikers in the area?

I think the biggest thing I hear is people are afraid of traffic, afraid of riding in the road. And it's like anything - you have to be physically confident with your coordination and ability to look behind you. In the beginning, get on bike paths to get comfortable -- you have to get out there and get used to it. But it's not easy. I think the other thing is people are very, very used to getting around by car. We have the whole [mentality of] drive the car to the gym to get exercise.

Guilty as charged. Is there anything Albany could do to be more bike-friendly?

Portland always gets credited with being bicycle-friendly, 8 to 10 percent of their traffic is bicycle traffic. But they've done a lot with their infrastructure to make that more attractive. As you go through the streets of Portland you see, "Oh that's where the bikes go." You see bicycle striping, you see bicycle signals, bicycle signage. You don't really see that too well in Albany. You look out your office window, you see where the car goes, but you don't necessarily see where the bike goes.

So if this new legislation passes, how could that help Albany?

It would require that highways are designed for all users: automobiles, bicycles, pedestrians, transit users. It would have some reporting requirements -- the Department of Transportation [would] report on the progress in instituting that policy and the Senate Transportation Committee has oversight responsibilities over the Department of Transportation. Having a state law and having some responsibility on the part of the Legislature to make sure it works out is a [good] thing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Comments

I'm all for bike lanes in Albany but until that happens, get the hell out of the street. Paved roads were made for cars, not bicycles.

If I had to list them, high speed rail would be the Capital District's priority #1, followed by a separate highway for trucks, a light rail between Albany and Saratoga and then maybe bike lanes.

I was more comfortable riding my bike in Brooklyn and Manhattan, than I've ever been anywhere in Albany. Bike lanes would be a good start; motorist education would be a big help.

Informative article! I hope to see more cyclists on the road (riding safely) in the coming months!

As an occasional rider myself, I'd settle for people staying the heck out of the new "bike lanes" on the street. It's used as parking still by cars, and a driving lane by lazy/bad drivers who have little spatial awareness, which I think probably reduces the effectiveness of having bike lanes... Not bitter, no, not at all! :)

@Save Pine Hills - It's nice to see you care about saving trees but not human beings.

Paved roads are made for VEHICLES. New York State Law says bicycles are VEHICLES.

Hate us all you want. You're just jealous because you're stuck in traffic on the Northway, and we're enjoying the Park.

"The bicycle, quite literally, paved the road for automobiles. The explosive popularity of the human-powered, two-wheeled vehicle sparked road construction across the Western world’s cities. The League of American Wheelmen was a major vector for the political will necessary to build better roads with more than one million members (out of a mere 75 million people) at its peak. Sure they engaged in silliness like racing and bicycle polo (!) but at heart, the group was a potent, progressive social force that inadvertently helped bring about its own end by getting roads paved, thus making long distance “touring” possible in automobiles."

The League of American Wheelman is now known as The League of American Bicyclists.

Yay Tom!

"Paved roads were made for cars, not bicycles." Just the kind of common ignorance that makes Albany such an unsafe city to bike in. It's far safer for a bicyclist to be on the road than the sidewalk where they are in danger of hitting pedestrians or getting nailed by cars passing through driveways (cars rarely consider fast approaching bikes coming down sidewalks). Also, NYS Vehicle and Traffic law explicitly states that bicyclist have the same rights on the road as other vehicles. http://www.nysgtsc.state.ny.us/bike-vt.htm#sec1234 Last but not least, riding bikes reduce the consumption of fossil fuels with all there terrible environmental and geopolitical consequences, so your cyclist sort of got the high ground here. So please, share the road. Or better yet, get a bike!

Driving up to Saratoga this past weekend on RT 50 was hazardous because there were so many bicyclists on the road. They made no attempt to get near the shoulder or pull over and cars had to swerve into the oncoming lame to safely get around them. This happened for almost every group of bikers. I also see the mirrors of cars getting dangerously close to some of them. I'm really surprised there are not many more car/car or car/bike accidents in these situations.

I'm glad this article helps raise more awareness about cycling in the area.

I love bike paths, and I'd also like to share the roads more often. Every time I've been out biking (as far right as I can possibly go, helmet on, etc.) someone's honked and shouted at me to get off the road.
The last time I went biking with the husband a guy passed him then pulled up next to him and started cursing him out. I was riding behind him, but good lord - I just don't don't get the animosity drivers have toward bikers.

I like sticking to sidewalks when they are free of other pedestrians, but often times they are too jagged to bike on.

@ ethan

"Hate us all you want". Who would be the "us"?

I was born and raised in Albany and my daily commute is up and down Central Ave. Try doing that everyday on a bike and we'll see how your opinion is. And by the way, enjoy "the park" this weekend with the other 20,000 idiots from the suburbs who will trash my beloved city.

Some of the comments here are great examples of the ignorance of the laws on the part of car drivers.
"cars had to swerve into the oncoming lame to safely get around them."
The law, whether car drivers like it or not, requires them to wait until it is safe to pass. It is not safe or legal to attempt to pass cyclists when there is oncoming traffic or limited visibility. The cars didn't "have to swerve", the drivers are just too impatient and selfish to wait until they can pass safely and legally.

Please bicyclists: Stay in the streets! If you are at all unsure, try to find a group, it doesn't have to be big, to ride with. They are ours, too. The more bicyclists and responsible commuting, the more visibility. The more visibility, the more awareness. As a bicycle commuter, I have met with some real pain in the ass drivers, but all in all its worth it.

Bike to Work Day is coming up. Maybe this month? Does anyone know when that is?

Come on, Save Pine hills is trolling, you guys know better...

@Jackers:
> it's far safer for a bicyclist to be on the road than the
> sidewalk where they are in danger of hitting pedestrians
> or getting nailed by cars

Actually not only that, but should something happen to you on the sidewalk, get ready to be bent over by insurances. I was hit by a car on the road, and the driver's insurance argued that I was on the sidewalk instead (I guess I had carefully moved my precious pool of blood from the sidewalk to the road later on, hadn't I?). They even found some "witness" to "corroborate". I pulled my own witness (a real one), they backed out. Stay on the road, and if something happens to you (hopefully not) and you are still half-conscious, get as many witnesses as you can, really.

@SP:
> Driving up to Saratoga this past weekend on RT 50 was
> hazardous because there were so many bicyclists [..]
> I also see the mirrors of cars getting dangerously close
> to some of them.

DAMN YOU, rogue-mirrors-that-are-not-attached-to-the-car-I-have-control-of!

I, too, was much more comfortable, and felt much safer cycling on the streets of Brookly and Manhattan than I do up here. Cars have very little awareness of other cars, cyclists are all but invisible.

Does it matter whether we have the same "rights" as drivers of cars, if the cars make it unsafe for us to be on the road? Until cops start pulling over motorists and ticketing (moving violations equal points on your license and increased insurance premiums) for swerving, honking, passing too closely as well as, sometimes, knocking us off our bikes, opening car doors without looking and driving and parking in bike lanes, I fear that the gas guzzling, inconsiderate drivers are not going play nicely with us.

I found it odd with all the road improvements recently made in Albany that no bike lanes were added while lining the new surface. Western Ave seems wide enough between Fuller and the Madison split for a lane and not just shared-use of the right lane. Central Ave is so dangerous riding between the parked cars and moving traffic. As much as I try to ride during the warm months - to Pine Bush for fun or Honest Weight for food - it just feels dangerous.

I love seeing people commute on bikes and try to share the road as politely as possible.
However, sometimes I run into bikers who swerve through vehicular traffic and cut off cars; share the road goes both ways!
More than anything, it makes me nervous that a biker might cut out in front of someone non-attentive and get seriously injured.

How much better would we be off as a city/state/country if, overnight, everyone started riding bikes instead of driving cars? The effect would be enormous. People would be in better health, feeling better from riding and breathing the fresh air, and paying less taxes on upkeep for the roads. I don't hate people because they're driving around in cars rather than riding a bike, though. They're just ill-informed, and possibly stupid.

Seriously? If you ride a bike, on a road, which is DESIGNED for cars, you are taking a risk. If you are silly enough to do so on heavily traveled streets, then dont expect not to get run over. The world would be a better place if everyone rode bikes???? WOOT?!??! The world would be a better place if people in general started treating each other with respect and stop b being so selfish. Maybe we can pass a bill that calls for that this year! If I am driving my car, in speed-limit moving traffic and you are on your bike, trying to show off your new shorts and fancy expensive ride and NOT wearing a helmet, then try to SUE me for hitting you as you pretend you are a car, then I think that says a lot about the state of humanity as a whole. Everyone is selfish. Bike people are not victims in general. And FYI - I take my bike, on top of my car, down to the Corning Preserve and drive it there.

@ S

I just looked up "trolling" and I disagree with you. My opinion is my opinion, no matter what the tone or subject. I commented on bikes and bike lanes in a bicycle post. Roads are for cars. That is all.

I've recently started riding my bike in Saratoga after a long bicycling career in San Francisco. Motorists in my commute (3 miles from near downtown to the Y on West Ave) have been bicycle-aware and the Rail Trail from Circular to West is a great shortcut.

However, the pavement in these parts is very bicycle-unfriendly. Part of it is delayed maintenance in the form of potholes and uneven pavement due to winter freezing. In addition, curbs and road entrances are designed with zero bike awareness. There are almost no curb cuts (which I believe are now required on new paving for ADA if not bicycles) and the entrance to shared bike/pedestrian paths are at a 90 degree angle whereas wheeled things need to enter at 45 degrees.

If more bike awareness led to better design of new pathways that would be a good thing.

CommonSense, you made me want to throw my mouse through my screen. The point of this entire article is that roads are legally for ALL vehicles (see earlier comment, bikes are legally vehicles). That they are being designed with only cars in mind is the reason the guy in the article is trying to pass legislation that changes this. In the meantime, as a car driver, you have a legal obligation to SHARE THE ROAD! So, if you hit me, one of those stupid people who doesn't believe in driving everywhere because I'd like there to be a world left for my children to inherit and finds it insulting that you would accuse me of wanting to be anything like a car, expect to have the pants sued off you because you are firmly in the wrong.

@ CommonSense - roads were not initially designed for cars, particularly our old, narrow roads right here in Albany. Roads are made to move goods and people. The first roads were made to move bicycles and carriages. Like stated by Capital Coexist, roads were began being paved with the help of the American Wheelman. THey wanted better, safer roads to ride their bikes on.

Why do people think all bicyclists are showing off when they wear spandex? Have you ever ridden a bike for a long distance in anything BUT spandex? It's not very comfortable. If bicyclists are showing off their fancy bikes and spandex than what exactly are drivers of Hummers and unnecessary SUVs and sports cars doing?

I think it has been established that roads are for everyone. Bicycles belong on the road moving with traffic. It is the law and drivers need to follow that .

I want to react to the comment regarding Rt 50 in Saratoga. Last time I checked cars had deadly force so I'm not exactly sure how a bicyclist forced the cars into oncoming traffic. It sounds more like impatient and dangerous drivers decided to go into oncoming traffic because they didn't want to wait for a safe moment to pass the cyclists.

If you drive safely and cautiously you are most likely to be driving to share the road already. I think it is those drivers that drive dangerously already that see sharing the road as a major obstacle.

Okay everyone, we can all calm down a little here, no need to get PETA involved for the hurling of mice.

CommonSense and Save Pine Hills are of course entitled to their opinions. It's not their fault that their opinions are wrong.

@ Common Sense... Common Sense? And this comes out of your mouth?

"The world would be a better place if people in general started treating each other with respect and stop b being so selfish. Maybe we can pass a bill that calls for that this year!"

Really? Maybe if you clicked your heals three times...Then you say this...

"If I am driving my car...and you are on your bike... then try to SUE me for hitting you as you pretend you are a car, then I think that says a lot about the state of humanity as a whole."

Talk about selfish! What you've basically just posted is a threat, thus making proof positive that you've premeditated killing or seriously injuring other road users. I wonder how far I could go on AOA threatening your safety before my comment was removed. Editors? Anyone...

Over 30,000+ people are killed every single year behind the wheel. REAL common sense tells us that when improperly used the car becomes a dangerous weapon. How many people are killed each year in the capital district in just one year from drunk driving alone?

Fewer vehicles on our streets means fewer fatalities, less wear and tear on a transportation system we can no longer afford to maintain, and shorter travel time for all of us.

Driving is a privilege, NOT a right. That privilege is granted by the people and the state of NY in the form of a license. If you cannot share the road safely with other users that that privilege should be taken away.

It's a shame there are cyclists out there that do not follow the rules of the road. They are unknowingly putting the lives of the greater majority of us in harm’s way. However, when the driver of a 4,000 lbs. potential deadly weapon makes the conscious choice, like you have above, to cause harm other legal road users, then the danger isn't the errant few riders -it's YOU.

For those of you who believe that roads should be restricted to the exclusive use of motorist, I'd suggest writing your State legislator and asking them to change the law. Because legally, as it stands now, you and your "opinion" are wrong.

So please, in the meantime, follow the law and be respectful of cyclist. It's not CIVIL disobedience to risk the lives of law abiding cyclist just because you disagree with the law.

@dailyplanet
I was not threatening anyone. Just putting some contrary thoughts out there on what appears to be a post that everyone thinks they need to respond with "Yay for bikes! Get outta the way cars!". The rest of your post though, totally on point so thank you.

So I guess I should stop driving my sports car in spandex, right?

Can cars and HUMANS coexist?

no.

One thing i have noticed is that humans get addicted to machinery, speed, the smooth flow of progress paving over everything.

a human being walking with their feet on the ground is dying out! i hardly see human beings outside in so many parts of the country.

another important point. Driving a car, becomes the norm, and anything slower that gets in the way, well, it gets in the way! progress is god. then i recall one day walking along the side path on the george washington bridge back in nyc and my girlfriend was constantly telling me to get out of the way because a biker behind me wanted to pass. yeah, it's a bike, but its another of those damm stupid smooth machines that I, an out of fasion human being has to get out of the way of the steamroller of smooth inevitable progress.

I for one do NOT like having to live a life of contstantly worrying what's behind me.

It's not that cars and bikes are a problem. it's that we've spread our civilization all across the landscape like diarrhea. I would rather walk around albany, but everything is spread out in the american's incessent desire to get away from each other. so yes i use a bicycle. but i absolutely will not ride in a road with a bunch of speeding 2000 lb hunks of metal which can't and have no desire to stop on a dime in the incessent drive towards progress.

Nor do i understand this warrior attitude some bikers have in their campaign to 'take back the road' how on earth are you going to fight a car with a bike? fight in some other arena, not on the road itself.

i take using a machine as a privelege. I bike on the sidewalks and always slow down for humans and ask them if i can pass. Well, most of the time, see, even i get carried away, which is why i don't drive a car.

One of the major problems with bikes and especially cars is that they AMPLIFY our actions. Humans are generally lazy and stupid or get carried away with what they are doing, or at least it is a natural propensity to not want to be hypervigiliant all the time and relax (stroll? another dying artform). Human stupidity and laziness is not such a problem on it';s own. but when it gets amplified by the incredible massive machinery of an automobile, or even the speed and smooth flow of a bicycle... it leads to disaster.

what kind of civilization is this when the machines reign supreme?

No -S, you should start driving your car in something, anything. Now that you can put the top down, it's taking indecency to a new level.

@ CS

Thanks for the response. I'm as aggravated with dangerous cycling as dangerous driving - neither does the other any good. Cyclists need to be good stewards. Doesn't do them any good to be riding recklessly - that's part of the CapCo message - to address safe cycling.

I understand not everyone can or will ride a bike. We've got a car in my household, and we pack the miles on travelling. Close to home, however, and what we need in this city, like many other cities, is balance. Bike lanes, sharrows, bike racks - these should be considered as part of our standard infrastucture. We need to design our streets to be safe for everyone, and historically that hasn't been done - hence the Complete Streets initiative mentioned above. We will always have cars. I don't believe that peak oil will reduce our dependence on motorized personal transit. Porsche just built a hybrid with the same performance or a Ferrari and the appetite of a Prius. The effects on our landscape to accomodate cars (as mentioned by Barry) are the real damage - but hopefully, with a balanced approach to transportation, we can Coexist, and live more efficient, happier lives. *a there's my shameless plug for Capital Coexist!

A question to someone who might know: although I appreciate and use the new "bike lane" on Washington near Colvin, was it really necessary to have a bright sign every 50 ft.? I have used a fair amount of bike lanes and have never seen so much signage.

MattW--

I think since there are still drivers out there who don't even think bikes should be on the road the apparently excessive signs may have been necessary.

-Lauren

I feel that my time spent as a bicycle commuter,
(riding in the road, up and down parts of central ave., if that establishes my street cred) has made me a much better motorist when I am behind the wheel. I'm more alert to everything- not just bicycles, but also pedestrians, kids chasing balls, and other vehicles- and keenly aware of how much just being inside a car limits one's senses, never mind all the other distractions to which we subject ourselves.

I think the point that @Save Pine Hills was trying to make was that on roads where there aren't bike lanes the bicycles shouldn't be ridden in the street.

I do disagree about the "paved roads were made for cars not bicycles" comment because I know that legally bikes are allowed.

Here's my biggest point by example. Tom is from Delmar so I'm sure he's VERY familiar with Font Grove Road. Here's the problem with Font Grove Road - It has many blind curves and blind hills. Because they're blind I stick to my side of the road so if a car is coming in the other direction they won't hit me. Well there has been more than one occasion where I've come VERY VERY close to hitting a bicycle rider because there is no shoulder, no bike lane, no safe place for them to be and since they're going nowhere near the speed limit they create a VERY dangerous situation.

So even though it's legal to ride on the road - it's not always SMART! I think the state should make it illegal for bicycles to be ridden on roads like this because common sense of the danger obviously isn't enough.

@Rose - What is the speed limit on Font Grove? I can't imagine it is more than 30 mph, which seems a reasonable speed for a driver to abide while sharing the road with a cyclist. I usually take Upper Font Grove and, while there isn't a shoulder to speak of, the road is certainly wide enough for motor vehicles and bicycles to share.

Rose, what happens when you come on car going under the speed limit on one of those blind curves? The speed limit is a LIMIT not a minimum requirement, remember. One of the things we're supposed to learn when we accept the responsibities of driving is to pay attention to circumstances and be prepared. Is it really that much of a hardship to slow, around an area you admit is dangerous, and pass the cyclist when prudent?

Comments like that really reinforce the idea that it's not cyclists who are making things unsafe.

Last night, the Albany Common Council unanimously passed our "May is Bike Month" resolution. In previous years, the council has passed similar resolutions each May. This year, as the sponsor, I added a langugage that emphasizes the importance safety.

Among other points, the resolution mentions (i) the template of the Albany Bicycle Master Plan and the Capital CoExist website as important steps, (ii) the fact that pedestrian and bicycle safety is a major concern, and that "complete streets" legislation and planning are critical for safety and (iii)traffic calming measures have proven to help local economies.

We also pointed out some of the many "May is Bike Month" activities including the Albany Police Department and PAL bike rodeo scheduled for this coming Saturday where bicycle helmets will be given away to children who attend.

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