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Maiden Lane looking up the hill 2018-09-07

The consultants showed off two general design concepts: "river tributary" and "abstract wave."

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A few of the possible new configurations for the cobblestones:

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Laying out a new path for Maiden Lane, one of Albany's very oldest streets

Maiden Lane looking up the hill 2018-09-07

Maiden Lane is one of Albany's oldest streets -- it dates back to the mid 1600s -- with a scale that makes it feel today like it's from a different time.

It's also a path straight from the heart of downtown to the pedestrian bridge leading over to Corning Riverfront Park and the waterfront.

But the current design and streetscape in that part of town don't really do a good job of communicating those ideas or drawing people in.

So the city of Albany is looking to change things up.

Here's what's in the mix...

A quick overview of the project

Maiden Lane planning 2018-September_crowd

The city of Albany is working with a handful of consultants to use new design elements (graphics, lighting, signage), streetscape changes, and park reconfiguration to highlight the Maiden Lane corridor and its connection to the riverfront.

"The overall goal is to help people discover the waterfront and make sure that we enhance that connection to the waterfront," said Chris Spencer, the city's commissioner of planning and development, after the meeting. "Just to try and do everything we can to make it easy for people to find [the river] and make it an enjoyable journey as well. But we're also looking at it from the other direction. When people come back from Alive at Five or one of those events we want them to discover the downtown and move further into the downtown than just go to the parking garage and get in the car and leave."

The consultants -- from the CRJA-IBI landscape architecture group and Roll Barresi & Associates, a group that specializes in graphic design and signage -- showed off a handful of preliminary concepts and designs for the project Thursday evening at the CoLab coworking space in the Arcade Building at Broadway and Maiden Lane.

A bunch of slides from the presentation are at the top in large format -- click or scroll all the way up -- and they'll give you a quick sense of what's in the mix.

Here are a few bits about some of the main elements of the not-yet-finalized plan:

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More prominent graphic design and signage
The consultants showed of some eye-catching designs for custom sidewalk paint that draws on a river theme, both in a style inspired by woodblock prints and something more abstract and modern. (Members of the crowd seemed to prefer the woodlblock style over the abstract.) And they also floated the possibility of using some combination of overhead signage, a street canopy, and murals to draw attention to the corridor.

Re-setting the street and cobblestones
The design team called for two changes to Maiden Lane street itself:
+ Raising the level of the street to make it more or less at the same level as the sidewalks.
+ Re-setting the cobblestones in a new pattern that would make the street easier to walk on.

Making Maiden Lane mostly a pedestrian street
Those changes flow into the proposal to make Maiden Lane primarily a pedestrian street with access limited mostly to emergency vehicles.

Reshape DiNapoli Park
That wedge of a park that sits between Pine Street and Maiden Lane is DiNapoli Park. And as city planning commissioner Chris Spencer said at the top of the meeting, the park could use some attention. So the consultants propose a few different plans for reshaping the park to make it more inviting and to open it toward the street-level shops in the Arcade Building.

Make the plaza area between Broadway the pedestrian bridge more inviting
The steps to the pedestrian bridge -- The Hudson River Way -- are set back from Broadway, which makes them a little hard to find. And if you're unfamiliar with them, you might also wonder if they just lead to a parking deck or something instead of the riverfront.

So to both continue the Maiden Lane corridor and draw people toward the steps, the consultants proposed making over the plaza/driveway area ahead of the steps with elements such as grasses and seating and pillars.

Maiden Lane Albany old photo
An undated photo looking up the hill on Maiden Lane at James Street from the Albany Public Library History Collection. The photo dates no later than the 1970s, because it you notice in the background Maiden Lane continues past Pearl Street. That changed with the construction of the Ten Eyck Plaza project.

Feedback

About 30 people were in the crowd for the presentation, many of them nearby business or property owners. And they seemed generally supportive. A few issues they mentioned:

How would a new, pedestrian Maiden Lane work?
People mentioned a range of questions related to the re-setting of the street and function as a primarily pedestrian walkway. Among them:
+ What about truck deliveries? (The consultants said they were planning for James Street to be the primary truck staging area.)
+ What about stormwater, which apparently just runs down the street currently? (The consultants mentioned maybe building in porous elements to soak up rain water.)
+ What about snow clearing? (Something to be worked out -- maybe heated streets/sidewalks?)
+ How can the cobblestones both be preserved but made less treacherous in wet weather? (Some of that goes back to the proposed patterns that would break up the sections of cobblestone.)

Design details
The opinions people expressed in response to the proposed designs seemed to lean toward design elements and colors that were warmer and not so starkly modern.

The street as urinal
Things took a little bit of an unexpected turn when a couple of people mentioned that Maiden Lane often ends up being used as a spot for people to pee, especially in the doorway of the retail spaces along there. Jim and Sue Donohue -- the owners of 37 Maiden Lane -- said they've seen this happen at all hours. Just the other morning they said they walked out and found a guy dressed up for work who as peeing in the entryway. So there was some discussion between the consultants and the crowd about public bathrooms both downtown and across the bridge where some already exist. (Also: The elevator at the pedestrian bridge apparently also is a frequent pee spot.) The consultants said they thought some of the streetscape improvements -- especially new lighting -- would cut down on this behavior.

Making the bridge Maiden Lane
One person in the crowd had an interesting idea: Renaming the pedestrian bridge as "Maiden Lane" so that the street, in a sense, extends from Pearl all the way over to Jennings Landing. That would be a bit of an echo of the old Maiden Lane Bridge that once crossed the river near that spot. And it also might just make it clearer for people that you can take this street and end up at the river.

Maiden Lane Albany 2018-August north side

Timeline

The goal is for the final design to be finished by the end of this year. The bidding process would then start in late winter or spring with an eye toward construction next summer.

Chris Spencer, the city's planning commissioner, said the overall budget for this project is about $1.2 million, much of that in the form of various grants and state funding. He said the city is looking how adjacent projects might help save money. For example: A paving project on Broadway will probably end up doing the curb bump-outs for the crosswalk at Maiden Lane and Broadway.

Spencer said the infrastructure portion of the portion will be done next year with that money. Some of the design elements might come along later as funding allows. And other bits -- like a possible mural -- would fall to property owners.

A few other things

A common visual vocabulary for how to get to the river
Downtown Albany already has a few different ways of getting over to the riverfront, even if they're not necessarily clearly marked. And it's in line to get another with the Albany Skyway project.

So design work for Maiden Lane is a good opportunity to develop would could be a common visual signal that, hey, this way leads to the river.

"This is what we asked the consultants to do was to design something sort of unique to this corridor, but include elements that we can repeat or are transferable," Spencer said. "So, for instance, if you're driving and you see this sort of blue wavy crosswalk you automatically understand that's one of those east-west connections to the waterfront. So we think we can use that at the Skyway as well as one or two other pedestrian connections that we're going to be working on in the future."

A smaller scale downtown
The buildings and street layout for much of downtown Albany make it feel tall and very much like a 20th century city. But there are a handful of streets sort of tucked into the heart of downtown that have a cozier feel. Maiden Lane is one. The intersecting James Street is another. And there are a handful of others.

As downtown continues shift toward a more residential use, it'll be interesting to see if these more human-scale streets attract more activity. The Maiden Lane/James intersection already has had a burst of renewed energy from the Arcade Building redevelopment and the new Maiden House residential/retail project across the street.

Earlier

+ Talking about a new look for one of Albany's oldest streets

+ Here's the proposed design for the Albany Skyway

+ Looking along the old lane

Find It

Maiden Lane
Maiden Lane
Albany, NY 12207

Comments

Those are not "cobblestones." That is a Belgian block street.

"Cobblestone" is one of the most misused terms in discussions of urbanism and urban design.

Probably THE most misused term is "brownstone."

So I purposely took my run down Maiden today because it had been a while.

It seems like the biggest issue here is the condition of the street and sidewalk. That goes for James as well. They are terrible. The park itself seems fine.

One side of Maiden is currently unoccupied and I'm not sure what's going on with that. The other side is mostly full. That was nice to see.

I'm not sure any markings on the road would actually make it clear to people that it was the way to the river. Maybe a nice arching sign over by the entry to the bridge would help to direct people. The bridge itself could use some clean up but isn't awful.

And yes James St was my first experience with human waste on the street a couple of weeks ago. My best guess is this is more of problem of bar patrons. If they don't have any sense now I don't think cleaning things up will change. The mess left in front of Jonathan's Pizza after a Saturday night shows these people can't even use a trash can.

This area really deserves some attention. It looks like it's just been forgotten about for a long time.

Paint across Broadway could just confuse drivers if the crosswalk is not clear. We want safety for pedestrians, not confusion. Not to mention that it seems Albany's favorite solution to improving the streetscape is relatively cheap decorative paint application, not proper maintenance. How about some focus on the basics, such as filling potholes properly, providing trash cans, maintaining green spaces and plantings, adding street signs to unidentified streets and those with now-illegible signs, replacing burned out streetlights, and so on?

Who—and what funds—is going to maintain all these murals and painted entities? Note the deteriorating paintings on the piers of the pedestrian bridge to the riverfront.

As for the entryway to the pedestrian bridge, the space between the federal court building and the state DASNY offices could indeed use some sprucing up. It is an awkward space often used by DASNY vehicles as parking. The elevator landing at the upper level is used as sleeping space during colder weather.

I like the maiden lane bridge idea. Frankly, cleaning up the pocket park and dressing up the entry plaza will make a big difference, as would signage on N. Pearl street. Perhaps we can take a simple lesson from Boston's freedom trail, and just "mark" the crossing of Broadway with a strip of Belgian block? (Freedom trail uses a single row of bricks)

As I may say too often, just LOVE the fact that AOA runs these open forums about urban redevelopment ideas in the area. Hope that the potential designers and responsible officials "follow" AOA.

They should turn Maiden Lane into a stepped pedestrian street, like they have all over Europe. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, they do steep small streets pretty well across the pond, let's look for some precedents... Human scaled lighting is critical too, that goes for the whole city. And we don't need paint on the road, just signage perpendicular to the flow of traffic at the bridge entrance. I also echo the call for basic, ongoing maintenance to our current infrastructure. How about some weed removal in sidewalks, etc?

Focus on getting businesses back into maiden lane buildings. It was thriving when the flower market was there...no amount of pretty colored cobblestone will matter if the street itself isn’t vibrant. It wouldn’t hurt to help Pearl st revitalize itself...no body wants to be downtown when it is empty. maiden lane may lead to the river...pearl st leads to maiden lane.

Sounds like you haven't been down Maiden Lane in a while, Renée. It's currently home to two great sandwich shops, downtown's best Thai restaurant and coffee shop (if you count the corner as Maiden and not Broadway), a salon, and Albany Center Gallery. Plus a huge, nearly-complete mixed-use redevelopment up on the Pearl St side.

BIKE RACKS BIKE LANES COMPLETE STREETS. I am going to start beating this drum. We simply do not have enough bike/pedestrian infrastructure in any of the cities around here. Alternative mobility needs to be part of the planning process going forward. It cannot be an afterthought. You want people to go from downtown to the river and more importantly go BACK into downtown....make is easy to do it on a bike or scooter. MOST importantly make it SAFE and EASY to do without a car!!!!

Steve,
Please let's not add bike lane to Maiden Lane: it's too narrow! As for that GIANT pothole on James and Steuben, I am still hoping the city will patch it properly instead of just pouring gravel into it. A small bike would fit entirely inside it . . .
One also should remove or move that blue sign on the way to the pedestrian bridge (before the loading dock at left), and trim the bushes at the bike path—on the other side of the bridge after one gets over the highway—to make better visibility for cyclists. It is in the best interest of pedestrians to not be hit!

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