An urban wish list

787 Corning view

On Martin's urban wish list: tearing down 787.

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI've written a lot about what I wish for in the Capital Region: A walkway on the Livingston Ave. Bridge (for which I have a petition), chickens, and preservation of our historic/unique architecture.

These are fairly practical ideas. In fact, I think they're no-brainers, which is why I get more than a little irritated when I hear we can't have them or our elected officials brush them off.

But my imagination is filled with an even longer urban wish list filled with things I'd make happen if I had a billion dollars to spend.

The Washington Park Lake House

What's up with this? It seems to me the most underutilized building in the whole city of Albany. Every time I visit the park I'm dismayed at how sad the area around the lake house looks. It's almost as if it's only used as a tool shed.

I'm not the only one that's taken notice. In 2006 The Washington Park Conservancy commissioned a study to examine ways to breathe life back into this building. This study came to the conclusion, and I have to agree, that the most practical option for reviving this great building would be to establish a a public/private partnership. "The Lakehouse has a prime location and attractive setting, which offers a clear alternative to other urban businesses in the area. A private investor could introduce to the Lakehouse a business that contributes tax revenue, while serving the community," the study notes. There are examples, also noted in the study, where similar park facilities have been restored and operated by commissionaires. Strapped for the capital that would make such endeavors possible, municipalities are looking to private industry to step up. One scenario: In return for low interest loans and exclusive rights to the building (and often, tax breaks, too) the lessee agrees to incur the costs of updating and keeping up the structure.

Imagine if this could be done. How absolutely romantic would it be to have dinner on the patio of the patio looking out over Washington Park Lake? I'd be willing to bet there would be a flurry of marriage licenses issued in the months after the building opens as a restaurant -- people are going to be hypnotized by the beauty of the lake and start proposing like mad.


Speaking of wasted space -- let's tear down 787 already. You're sick of hearing it, I know. But it's just aggravating not to have a decent connection to the waterfront. Seriously, Albany deserves better.

Want to transform Albany, leaders? Forget the convention center. Forget Sematech, Forget property tax reform and getting mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce on Anthony Bourdain. Nothing would transform the city of Albany, and the Capital Region, more than tearing this albatross down and putting in a boulevard.

There was a recent visioning session about how the waterfront would look and what benefits could result from reconnecting to the waterfront. Hey, everyone... drop everything you're doing and work towards taking down 787!

Up on a roof

My wife, Jen, has been watching a lot of Gossip Girl lately. I'll resist the urge to make a slew of jokes here. Anyway, the show makes good use of NYC locations. While Jen is drooling over dresses and shoes, I am left pining for something else. Every other episode these spoiled brats are up on a swanky rooftop bar or club. I want to have swanky rooftop party. How cool would a rooftop bar be?

I'm told that The Pearl Street Public House (formerly Pagliacci Ristorante) has a rooftop deck, but it doesn't look out over the city. I'm also told that Taste has one, too -- but it's for private events. Laaaame. Sure, City Tavern in Saratoga has a rooftop deck, and it is awesome, but meh, in my head I have a classy, highfalutin, fancy-pants type of place. The gorgeous art deco Alfred E. Smith building once had an open-air observation on the 31st floor but it was closed in 1976 when the Corning Tower observation deck opened. The Corning tower deck has a better view, but yawn. B-O-R-I-N-G.

So there you have it: a dreamer's ideas, small, medium, and super size. Albany could use some pizzazz and panache. I got some more ideas, so if you're listening, billionaires, and you feel particularly generous why don't you look me up and hand me some dough. I'll make some waves.

Martin has very appropriate username on Twitter: @daleyplanit.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The quintessential Capital Region food
+ Awesome Albany architecture
+ Historic Albany's endangered building list
+ What's your favorite Capital Region building?


Having an occasional band concert at the Lake house wouldn't be a bad thing- there's a band shell built right into it. Are there any decent concert bands in the area?

I'm afraid that tearing down 787 may never happen as long as the city pins its development dreams on projects (like a convention center) that serve to attract visitors rather than residents.

Everyone's always all about reconnecting to the waterfront. I'm not opposed - in theory - but the majority of the time that I've walked along the Corning Preserve trail, the Hudson has been less than beautiful. There's usually trash floating in it, and often, there's an unpleasant smell. I'm not sure I necessarily need to be much closer to the river.

I was just talking about the 787 thing yesterday! pointless and in the way of building up the waterfront!

Martin, I've been personally trying to tear 787 down for half of my life but...where would all of those cars go? Which other route would they take? As with everything, it's never that easy.

A Hudson River aquarium. Think about it- could really be great for tourism and for all of us living here. Capitalize on the riverfront!

The Pearl Street Public House had reverted back to Pagliacci Ristorante, but it recently closed. It actually does have a surprisingly good overlooks Pearl Street and the TU Center, and from the back you can see the D&H Building and the river. It has its own bar, and is a great place to hang out during the summer. Unfortunately, pedestrian traffic on that side of State Street is almost nil if there isn't a show, and despite many attempts to reinvent themselves, it's impossible to overcome high overhead costs. It could be an amazing place, but it's just too far off the beaten path.

I agree that the park playhouse is underutilized. I also think Washington Park itself is underutilized. I think it would be great to have big farmers markets on the weekends in the spring/summer. There is so much space to hold countless vendors. Oh and don't get me started about all the great abandon buildings that are just sitting empty or rarely used

I ask these questions every time the "787 Boulevard" concept comes up and have yet to see any good answers--
As Brendan asked, where will the cars go? Non-existent public transportation is not an answer. The cars that currently use 787 and especially the arterial to the Plaza would end up clogging our streets. If public transit is part of the solution, then it needs to be included in any proposal with costs considered.
Do you really think Troy is going to sit quietly by as it is cut off from the Interstate Highway system? Despite the I-787 logo being splattered all over the concepts in the pdf you linked to, it would not be an Interstate highway if it had at-grade crossings and traffic lights.
Along those lines, do you really want a trip to Troy to take 30 minutes?
What's the real gain? Some potential development where some of the infrastructure is and a few more access points to the river? Remember, several buildings (in some cases intentionally) cut downtown off from the riverfront and these buildings are not going to go anywhere.
So, add up the costs of all the new infrastructure and possible legal fights and tell me, is the concept really worth it?

There may be some good ideas to transform I-787 in some way, but completely dismantling it in favor of a street is not one.

...oh and to pre-emptively address one response I usually get to my comment about Troy being cut off from the Interstate system-- yes, I understand that the proposal only affects 787 within Albany and not everything to the North. Still, the very existence of I-787 is dependent upon it being a connection to I-87. With its Southern section removed, it would not be that.

>A Hudson River aquarium.
Mary, that's an easy one! Dig a hole in your backyard, fill it with garbage, dump some sewage - and you're all set!

@ Reality check

The era of the elevated highway is done. Several cities have already removed theirs (Boston, NYC, San Fran) and others seek to do the same (Toronto, St. Louis, Seattle) Sadly, America was sold snake oil in the 1950's when it was told the "modern" interstate system would last forever - it's barely made it 50 years and we have no money to maintain it. The interstate and highway trust fund is broken, and the current transportation re-authorization bill has so little funding for system repair that even republicans are breaking rank to speak out against it --- these are the same republicans who want to make the gas price spike a campaign issue. Where does money come from to maintain roads like 787? The Gas Tax. The gas tax that hasn't been raised in 20 years. The Gas Tax that politicians are talking about getting rid of. It's soon going to be more expensive to maintain 787 that it would to tear it down and replace it with a boulevard. Where are all those cars going to go?! OH MY! If we weren't so adamant about subsidies for single occupant vehicle travel, perhaps we could be making more investment in a robust mass transportation system and making sure that land use and transportation policy are no longer mutually exclusive. Restoring access to the waterfront would open up developable land inside an already built up area. Land where development should be going - thus reducing congestion and expensive unsustainable, auto-centric growth while increasing air quality and the ammenties available to city residents.

Aquarium? We already have one. It's called Davey Jones Locker. It's on Delware and admission is free. Visit the art museum in the back while you're there (also free). Don't forget to stop by the gift shop!

They could also rename Alternate Route 7 to I-787 to retain the connection to I-87.

Dan Roesser- yes, that's possible (side note: it's not "Alternate" Route 7), but it would still be cutting Troy off from the South. I can't imagine that would go over well.

daleyplanit- You bring up good points, but in the end, you're still talking about a massively expensive project that would likely provide only a small benefit-- again, how much development are we really talking about here (and none of it a sure thing)? Is the air really going to be cleaner with all those cars suddenly sitting in bumper to bumper traffic? (stick to reality here, they're not going to immediately stop driving because I-787 is gone)

I'm with you that we should be moving toward more mass-transit and the gas tax should be higher-- probably about triple what it is now. But until we have suitable mass transit, ripping apart the existing transit infrastructure is a bad idea.

"Where are all those cars going to go?! OH MY! If we weren't so adamant about subsidies for single occupant vehicle travel ... " @daleyplanit


Back to your original wish list, well, amen to that too. I bike through Washington Park on my way to work every morning. The Lakehouse is where they park the trucks. Every time I go to an event "at the Lakehouse" the musicians are playing under a tent on the pavement, instead of up on the most obvious stage in the entire city. It's so sad.

i don't understand this enthusiasm for an aquarium. we are no where near an ocean, energy/facility costs would be high, and what sort of research/marine scientists want to conduct their work here? unless this is supposed to be some kind of river aquarium.... a botanical garden or something more in sync with this geographical area sounds better.
and bury 787 - it can be done - even if incrementally.

There also should be focus on turning the old Livingston Ave Bridge into a complete bike / pedestrian walkway like the Walkway Over the Hudson, once a replacement is built. The old bridge should not be torn down under any circumstances. It will likely cost more to tear it down than to save it and convert it.

We should think short-term and long-term.

I commute to Troy from the Delaware neighborhood and it would be quite difficult without 787. How could we revive the Albany water front while keeping the easy transportation to Troy?

I moved to Albany last year, and one of the first things I thought was, "wow, the city sure is cut off from the river by that massive highway system." Realistically, however, it's not going away any time soon (several decades). Reason #1: Opposition by State employees. I've witnessed the opposition to a permit parking system in the neighborhoods surrounding the Empire State Plaza; State workers feel entitled to park for free, so it's been years in the making just to put a sticker policy in place. Those same workers drive into their spots under the ESP, via 787. That highway connection isn't going anywhere.

That said, I've noticed that there is a spot under the highway, near N. Broadway, where crews and kayaks launch directly into the Hudson, and the bike path connects. Sure, it's industrial now, but perhaps something could be built around there...

As for a roof deck, does the NY State Museum ever open up the top floor and massive outdoor patio for public events? I read somewhere that they had a bar and a cafe, but I didn't see either when I stopped by. That space could be pretty awesome, especially in the summer.

Pagliacci's rooftop is quite nice. Casual, with a decent view. A few years back, when it was owned by the Hall family, I spent a few lovely summer evenings up there. The live music made for a fun time. My favorite evening was 4th of July. You could see the fireworks in the sky, but they were also reflected beautifully off the building that houses Taste.

787 serves the needs of the commuting public for 4 hours a day - if that. And yet it's a mammoth structure that requires millions to maintain and takes up a HUGE amount of space for ramps, abutments, retaining walls, and buffer areas. It's akin to keeping the thermostat at 80 for the day and being home for only four hours. Will there be times of back-ups? Yes, of course. But we can't afford to reinforce behaviors that result in the waste of limited natural resources and ultimately, tax payer dollars. It's a losing battle.

Mind you, I'm not talking about tearing down 787 and replacing it with noting. I'm talking about boulevarding it - at grade, 4 lanes, with a median. This would allow for connection to the existing road network. I think of the low of traffic like the flow of water. One large pipe, with only a few outlets will generate a lot of pressure and backed up water. It will also suffer great wear and tear. A lot of smaller pipes, with less flow each, will disperse the pressure evenly from it's outlets. Think of how much delay is caused by rush hour crashes on 787 - just one little event causes systematic failure - even in this "perfect" system we're supposed to have.

787 is completely overbuilt. It does not have to stay connected to 87 to remain an interstate (see the Long Island expressway, which has no interstate connection). Worse case they have to change the name to a -90 variant for the remaining section if they leave some.

"Think of how much delay is caused by rush hour crashes on 787 - just one little event causes systematic failure" put some traffic signals in and back up traffic in both directions every 3 minutes, four hours a day, every day? Yeah... that's much better.

To your plumbing analogy-- you're talking about replacing one section of large pipe with a small pipe (the traffic signals will effectively make your boulevard a small pipe) with lots of small pipes coming off of it, all fed by two large pipes (former I-787 to the North and I-90). That doesn't sound like a good idea.

I -787 in Albany is not going away anytime soon. But, there is a lot that could be done. Get rid of the Dunn Memorial Bridge and replace it with two new ground level , pedestrian and bike friendly bridges, one south of the Dunn at Renssalaer St and one just north where Broadway connects to Quay St at the underpass. Both these Bridges would have to be draw bridges or swing bridges for boat traffic, and would connect to Broadway in Rennsalear. A person could WALK from downtown to the train station! Wow!

Turn the South Mall Arterial into the South Mall Boulevard. With this and the Dunn gone, all those ribbons of highway ramps can disappear. There can be a simple on off connection to the new Boulevard with I- 787 north and south. Acres of land would open up both along the waterfront and along the new Boulevard. (Timed lights can direct rush hour traffic). With ribbons of ramps gone there would be green space from the USS Slater to Corning Park. There would be room to move Quay St away from the water. Get rid of some of the connections of Quay to I-787 eliminating more ramps and opening up even more green space. (limit access to a limited access highway!)

Build a plaza over I-787 and the train tracks on both sides of the pedestrian walkway to the amphitheater with places for a restaurant, beer garden, a farmers market etc. The view of the river and Corning Preserve would be great. All kinds of possibilities.

And think of what the two bridges would do for Renssalear and the waterfront there.

Transportation-wise, building a stretch from I-90 exit 6 to south mall, as it was planned way back, to replace a portion of I-787 may work. Trading off Washington park for a waterfront may be not that bad of a deal after all.

Usually the proponents of the removal of 787 have a twin agenda of "encouraging" more people to live downtown. Thus, they handwave the traffic away by saying that the traffic problems will result in all of the state workers deciding it would simply be easier to abandon their cozy, evil suburban homes and move to (or even back to) the city where they belong, and then they could take the bus to work. I'm not sure how they imagine this will happen; do they expect everyone to turn into "urban pioneers" and instantly gentrify Arbor Hill? Because it already costs an arm and a leg to live in Center Square (by local standards, at least), and I shudder to think of how high housing costs there will rise if demand increases.

I've said this before, but I strongly believe that if we are to seriously consider removing Interstate 787, we can no longer ignore the need for some sort of local passenger rail. The powers-that-be will likely propose a BRT line instead (probably using a route similar to the #22), but I don't know if that will be enough.

Another question that everyone seems afraid to ask is, "Will this *really* improve access to the waterfront?" So you're replacing an impenetrable interstate highway with a hard-to-cross boulevard. Not much improvement there, IMO. Besides, you've still got the rail line, which you would have had even if 787 had never been built, so there's another barrier. Also, 787 is so close to the riverfront through most of Albany that I'm not quite sure what the proponents expect "the waterfront" to actually look like. That is, what do they think they're going to put there? Or do they simply intend to expand the Corning Preserve?

This is not to say that we shouldn't continue to consider doing something about 787. I just think there are consequences that either haven't been fully considered or have been routinely ignored.

As for the actual Interstate designation: I could be wrong, but it seems most of the talk centers around downgrading the highway between I-90 and Thruway Exit 23, leaving the remainder of I-787 between I-90 and Route 7 intact. That would allow Troy to retain its Interstate connection. The idea of extending the I-787 designation along the Route 7 freeway (I refuse to use the outdated "Alternate 7" appellation) to I-87 at Exit 7 is interesting as well.

To those concerned that the number would no longer make sense, there's not much you can do about that. New York is all out of I-x90s (though I think they should rename I-390 to I-486 now that Route 17 in the Southern Tier has been converted to I-86), so you can't rename I-787 to be a spur of I-90.

regarding the lightrail you need mass to make mass transit effective. as we've seen from our suburban neighbors (like malta) none of them want to build to density that would be required and appropriate have mass transit. until cdta sees ridership levels that they cannot meet with busses, And until land use policy changes, we just can't make light rail cost benefit work for points north.

I'm glad we were able to find a way to blame the state workers for the existence of 787.

What's all fuss with waterfront is about? Has anyone checked the water color on Hudson lately?

Hudson river is a tidal estuary.It experiences tides from the ocean twice a day all the way up to Troy. It takes more than hundred days for something floating in the water around Albany to reach New York City.
This means that 1.2 billion gallons of untreated sewage that gets dumped around Albany every year stays in water and travels back and forth, back and forth...

I really don't want to spend time around THAT water.

Lu: The riverside is lovely. Unfortunately, no part of Albany is anywhere near the riverside thanks to the Freeway. This has always been the case though, thanks to the rail yard and docks that the freeway replaced.

Come visit Troy. We have a nice walkway along our side of the river. There are also tons of restaurants and coffee shops, a fantastic all-natural bakery, and a great shopping district.

I have recently been inspired/awakened/ the idea of cleaning up the riverfront. Also, totally think 787 is just awful for the riverfront.
What do we think can be done about all the trash that butts up to the chain link fence along the corning preserve bike path?
I went there today, on my birthday, to do something positive-clean up trash. I knew I had seen a lot there...but I was so frustrated to realize it is all stopped up in the brushy area there behind the fence..inaccessible to people who would do this, and then backed up to crazy 787.
An OGS worker actually stopped and chatted with me, saying the brush was going to grow and cover all the garbage up...kind of like land-filling inself in! This guy also said that small area is the DOT's then what? There's got to be a way to clean it up...we shouldn't be ok with that amount (or any) of trash.
This trash is ridiculous and I'd love to hear what environmentally concerned people think about possible avenues's at least a first step in the riverfront issue...I think some of it flies over into the river...

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