A walkable Livingston Avenue Bridge

livingston ave bridge

A way across the Hudson -- possibly for more than just trains.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeIt's a frustrating thing to watch bureaucracy get in the way of great vision. It can result in some pretty bad decisions, the kind that make you look back and say "woulda, coulda, shoulda..." when it's too late to make changes. Which is what we may be saying soon about the pedestrian walkway on the Livingston Avenue Bridge.

The bridge has become a very important issue to many cycling advocates and pedestrians. I am one of them. I tell people this is my "chickens issue" -- a project that could significantly transform Albany.

So what's so special about a walkway on a bridge?

From the time the Livingston Avenue Bridge was reconstructed in 1902, until a decade or two ago, a walkway made it possible for a pedestrian to cross the Hudson with relative ease. I have not been able to determine when the walkway was officially closed to pedestrian traffic, but the deplorable condition suggests it was some time ago.

Time has not been kind to the structure. The bridge is in dire need of an overhaul. Now, thanks to Florida Governor Rick Scott turning away $2 billion in high-speed rail money, New York finally has the funds to plan for the Livingston Ave Bridge to be rebuilt or replaced.

The question that remains is whether the walkway will be restored.

Livingston Ave Bridge 3.jpgThe idea of rehabilitating the walkway is nothing new. It's been in the Capital Region's Transportation Improvement Plan for nearly a decade, and the walkway is part of the long range vision (and draft "longer" vision) from the Capital District Transportation Committee. It's also part of the city of Albany's Bike Master Plan and the Albany 2030 Plan.

In a letter to the state Department of Transportation, Cohoes mayor John McDonald, chair of CDTC, emphasized that they had signed off on the whole bridge restoration project "contingent on restoring pedestrian and bicycle accommodation." He called it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Mayor McDonald struck the nail right on the head. We will very likely have one shot to make sure that the walkway is installed while the funding, political will, and public sentiment are aligned. If the walkway is not replaced, Albany and Rensselaer will have world-class trail networks and beautiful, vibrant waterfronts that beckon visitors and residents alike: yet, people won't easily and safely cross the river from here.

Sounds like a no brainer, right? So what's the hold-up? CSX and Amtrak. Although these operations will receive billions in federal aid, they aren't eager to allow the walkway, citing safety and liability concerns. Certainly, these are valid concerns, but this is the 21st century. It's entirely possible to design a fence and gate system that would prevent people from climbing off the walkway or falling into the river. There are several lift and swing bridges in New York which allow pedestrians to use adjacent walkways. And Portland's Steel Bridge is an example of a rail bridge that opens to allow river traffic, yet still features a pedestrian walkway.

Livingston Ave Bridge -- no trespassing.jpg

The city of Rensselaer has ambitious plans to redevelop its waterfront, including a network of trails that would link to the Corning Preserve via a rebuilt walkway on the rail bridge. East Greenbush is also getting excited about trail proposals that could link to this bridge. With all the talk of redeveloping Rensselaer's waterfront, creating downtown residential in Albany, and connecting these cities to the waterfronts, the reconstruction of the Livingston Avenue Bridge's walkway should be a no-brainer. Take a walk around the deserted north end of Albany, west of where the track departs this bridge before crossing.

Although any sort of ribbon cutting for a new bridge won't take place for at least five years from now, civic-minded citizens and organizations (like Parks & Trails New York, The New York Bicycling Coalition, the Tri State Transportation Campaign, and many more) are teaming up now to make sure that we capitalize on this reconstruction project and that the walkway not be left off the drawing board.

If you're interested in the progress of this coalition, you can follow the advocacy on Twitter at #livingstonavebridge or the project's Facebook page.

Martin has a great -- and very appropriate -- username on Twitter: daleyplanit. He's also a project director at Parks and Trails New York.

Martin on the Soapbox:
+ A dog's life in the Capital Region
+ The one-car household: a car junkie cuts back
+ The Lark Tavern: Where everybody knew your name
+ Of government and chickens
+ Loving -- and hating -- the Empire State Plaza
+ An urban planner grows in Albany

Comments

This would be great! The Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie-Highland, NY (my hometown) took YEARS but it's one of the best things they've done in the area in a long, long time.

@Martin,

I support your effort. I would also like to mention another urban bridge in this region that could include some more pedestrian access improvements (with economic benefits).

The Congress Street Bridge from Troy to Watervliet has a sidewalk for pedestrians. But it does not include a pedestrian ramp from the bridge sidewalk to the Hudson Shores park, which is also the site of the Rusty Anchor barge bar and restaurant. In order to walk from downtown Troy to the Hudson Shores Park/Rusty Anchor, it's a very long roundabout trek (in spite of the fact that the bridge goes right over it).

I truly hope that when this bridge gets an overhaul the powers that be will include a pedestrian ramp from the bridge to the Hudson Shores park (like there already is from the Dunn Memorial Bridge to the Corning Park). Not only would more people have easier WALKABLE access to the Hudson Shores park, but I'm pretty sure it would help take a few drunk drivers off the road.

Keep up the good fight.

Last year Troy rebuilt the sidewalk on the Troy-Menands (rt 378) bridge, and added a pedestrian path to the Hudson River bike path below. I wish the city had done more to publicize this. I definitely believe it has improved the liveability of my neighborhood, and South Troy in general! I definitely support your efforts, Martin!

A couple of years ago my husband and I were walking in the Corning Preserve and when we got to the bridge we climbed up along the side. The walkway is still there and not blocked but missing quite a few boards. We probably could have walked it if we wanted to take the risk. It would be a really cool asset to the preserve and the cities on either side.

Kate, the walkway is indeed blocked on the Rensselear side, last I checked. Otherwise, the walkway isn't too dangerous for light use.

I applaud your vision, but I will be shocked if this comes to fruition. Just look at the Albany County Rail Trail. Only a sliver of that trail has opened after years of planning. And the Rensselaer waterfront development project is nothing more than a pipe dream. The city has been trying for years (decades?) to build some network of hotels and retail shops on that land, and my guess is that in 50 years time the same debris pile will still be lying there. There just isn’t the money, political leadership or consumer demand to get it done.

@Bob,

Developing trails is what I do to pay the bills, and let me tell you, there's nothing unusual about how long the Albany County Rail Trail took. Most of the delay from hat project's idea to implementation is solely the fault of CP rail - who could not decide what they wanted to abandon, how much they wanted to sell for, and then how they wanted to deal with the rights to a fiber optic cable under the corridor. This waffling eventually cost taxpayers in rising construction costs. Yes, some unforseen engineering surprises have delayed the full implementation of that project, but it is still grinding along.

I hear you on Rensselaer's plight, but think of it this way: If the walkway isn't done now, and in 10 years there's a slew of redevelopment along both sides of the water, we'll have missed the opportunity to make the connection when it is cheapest, easiest, and of least inconvenience to rail travel. It's simply too good of an opportunity not to take advantage of.

This is just the type of "place-making" effort we want to encourage in the Capital Region. The Albany 2030 Plan emphasizes improved access to the Hudson River waterfront as an important goal that will positively impact Albany. Restoring the pedestrian path on the bridge is part of that effort. Just imagine the great views! Thanks for beating the drum on this, Martin!

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