Corning Riverfront Park -- wedged between I-787 and the Hudson River -- has always been like a stray puzzle piece for the city, with people looking at it, scratching their heads, and asking: "How does this fit?"
It took the city decades to figure what to do with the slice of land. Should it exist as a nature preserve? Maybe farm land? If it's an active park, what should it include?
More than anything, though, the spot has just been persistently difficult or confusing to reach. It is the place in Albany that you can't get there from here.
But now there's a $5 million project aimed at upgrading pedestrian and bicycle amenities in the park -- and making it clearer how exactly it connects to other parts of the city.
Hey, did you know that place that was so many people referred to as the Corning Preserve for so many years is now officially called "Corning Riverfront Park"? Well, it is. The new name is intended to reflect that the space is more like a city park than a nature preserve.
The story of the 15-acre strip's life as a preserve/park stretches back to the 1970s. Check out this history of the park written by the Daily Gazette's Bill Buell a few years ago -- it highlights how the city's thinking about the park has evolved over time. (And that part about farming? It's true: Erastus Corning gave his blessing to a man setting up a rice paddy at the preserve in the late 1970s.)
What's in the current project
The current Corning Riverfront Park project plan includes a handful of elements:
+ Widening the multi-use path to accommodate two-way biking and walking, and also extending the path south toward the USS Slater, and north toward Erie Boulevard.
+ Construction of a new path along the western side of the tidal ponds so walkers and cyclists can bypass events in the park.
+ That road that looks like an on-ramp alongside the park? It's actually a city street -- Quay Street. And the project will be narrowing it to one lane. That will free up space for the multi-use path, allow for almost 50 parallel parking spaces, and the hope is, calm traffic along the stretch.
+ Add crosswalk signals at three intersections, along with new wayfinding signage, to make getting over to the park easier to understand.
+ Other park upgrades, including enhanced lighting, bike racks, trash cans, and new trees. (The city says there will be more trees after the project than before it.)
The project is funded with $4 million from the state of New York and $1 million in bonding from the city of Albany. It's scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
There are project renderings above in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.
Why do this?
We recently walked through the park with Kate Lawrence, a senior planner and sustainability coordinator for the city of Albany. And when we asked her to describe the current state of connectivity between the park and the rest of the city, she had a one-word answer: "Confusing."
Lawrence said that, aside from the pedestrian bridge that runs from Broadway across 787, most people probably don't have a good sense of how to get to the riverfront. "The idea behind this [project] is to make it more obvious that you can get to the park via other means, other entrances and to direct people so they don't get lost."
She said new signs will provide direction, and the new crosswalks and multi-use path extensions will make it clearer how to use the 787 underpasses that connect the riverfront to downtown. And if that doesn't sound like a whole lot now, Lawrence said she thinks it will make an impact once it's place.
"What will be surprising to people is how easy it will be to navigate from the entrance to the riverfront park by the boat launch [on the north end] all the way down to the USS Slater [on the south end], and to see how those places are connected. And also to see with the wayfinding signage to see what the distances are in miles to other places and how you might get there. It's very confusing down here because of 787 and all the roads to understand how things connect."
Making other connections
Lawrence said this riverfront project fits into a larger overall goal that the city has right now to find ways to better interconnect the city's various neighborhoods, parks, and resources.
Another example: An upcoming project focused on connecting the Albany County Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail to Mohawk-Hudson Hike-Bike Trail in the South End. There will be public events later this spring/summer to gather input about preferences for what that might look like, and what path it could take.
What's in the future
The current project isn't necessarily the end of improvements for the riverfront park -- it's just what the city has the funding for right. The city developed a master plan for the space a few years back, and Lawrence said they're working on gathering the funding to pursue more elements. She said the city has a state grant that's funding a look at the park's tidal ponds and how they might be opened for recreation -- like kayaking -- while also preserving them as wetland habitat. The city is also talking with the state about getting permission to allow private vendors so there could bike or kayak rentals.
These are incremental improvements. And Lawrence acknowledged that sort of pace can be frustrating to people. But it's matter of working with the funding and resources available.
She added: "The one thing I would to say to everybody who would love to see changes, when you see a planning opportunity or public meeting, you should come!" Because those meetings -- like the upcoming events for the rail trail connector and the city's ongoing Rezone Albany process -- are an opportunity to get your ideas and comments about projects on the record and help steer their future directions.
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