Items tagged with 'Sandy Johnston'

A brief history of the Capital Region's much-admired light rail system

Madison Ave light rail alternate history

The light rail line along Madison Ave -- following an old trolley route -- has proven to be very popular, carrying students and neighborhood residents to work, shopping, and entertainment along the busy corridor. / streetcar photo: Wikipedia user Pi.1415926535 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Sandy Johnston

It's Other Timelines week on AOA, in which we'll be looking at alternate histories of this place, about big and small things that did or did not happen.

It's 2017. As the Capital Region looks back on the first fifteen years of the 21st century, it can be proud of its transit system -- and the inextricably linked patterns of land use that it has built -- even as the rest of the country debates the merit or even the very concept of public transit.

Looking back at the past eight decades, there were a few turning points -- inflection points, one might say -- at which regional leaders made choices that could have resulted in a very different future if another path had been taken.

So how did Albany, Schenectady, and Troy end up with a transit system that would be the envy of cities many times their size?

Downtown Albany BID alternate history-in-post ad

ACCVB alternate history in-post ad

FOGS alternate history in-post ad

CDPHP in-post ad

MHHS alternate history in-post ad

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How we all ended up talking about a gondola between downtown Albany and the train station

Capital District Gondola ESP rendering

Last fall the McLaren Engineering Group floated the idea of building a gondola lift to ferry people between downtown Albany and the train station over in Rensselaer. The initial phase of the project would have a price tag $16.6 million-$19.5 million. (That image is from the feasibility study.)

By Sandy Johnston

The concept of building a gondola or aerial tramway across the Hudson River from the Rensselaer Amtrak station to downtown Albany and the Empire State Plaza has generated a considerable amount of debate in the Capital Region over the last several months.

Readers of my previous commentaries in this space know that I'm suspicious of the need to spend tens of millions on capital-intensive infrastructure projects in the region, preferring to spread the money around to more fundamental improvements such as increased local bus service and CDTA's planned Bus Rapid Transit lines.

The gondola concept, though, presents an opportunity to consider a more basic question: Just why do quirky, perhaps absurd ideas like the gondola keep popping up in regional dialogue about transportation infrastructure?

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Thinking about Capital Region light rail

MBTA Green Line train Wikipedia user Pi.1415926535 CC

An example of light rail in the Northeast: The MBTA Green Line near Boston. / photo: Wikipedia user Pi.1415926535 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Sandy Johnston

A couple of weeks ago I tackled the question of whether the Capital Region should build a commuter rail system, answering with a resounding "maybe... at least not yet."

As promised then, today I'm taking on whether our area should embrace a different mode of rail transit: light rail.

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Thinking about Capital Region commuter rail

Connecticut Shore Line East train CC

A Shore Line East commuter rail service train in Connecticut. / photo: Pi.1415926535 on Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Sandy Johnston

The topic of bringing rail transit to the Capital District is one that comes up regularly every few years. Certainly, there are a good number of well-intentioned advocates out there in the region who believe that to have a serious transit option, the Capital District must have rail.

I don't -- at least, not yet. And here's why.

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Designing for safer Capital Region streets

Central Ave 2015 August sunset

Central Ave at Quail Street in Albany.

By Sandy Johnston

Street safety has been a major topic of discussion in the Capital Region recently, from Albany's red light cameras to the Madison Avenue road diet to the death of a young boy in Albany and far too many others across the region. It's pretty clear that everyone agrees something must be done.

To a large extent, though, it seems that the discussion about road safety for all users has focused on more and better enforcement of existing laws as a solution to the toll. And while enforcement of speed limits and road safety -- which, in my experience, is pretty nonexistent in much of the region -- is absolutely part of the ultimate fix, the focus on it ignores that there is, in fact, a much more effective solution at hand: better design of our streets and roads.

Here are a few examples:

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Ideas for Lark Street's longterm future

Lark Street north of Hudson Ave

By Sandy Johnston

In my previous post, I took a crack at explaining some of the dynamics behind the economic and cultural malaise that many people feel is afflicting Albany's Lark Street.

But since every good analysis of a problem demands a solution, here's a followup: What can Lark do to get its mojo back in the face of significant competition?

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Lark Street and the competition among the Capital Region's hip urban areas

Lark Street corner with Hudson Ave

By Sandy Johnston

In January AOA ran a piece with a variety of thoughtful responses about the future of Lark Street. I'm grateful to be given the opportunity to chime in a little, as a planner and as a resident of the neighborhood.

As a relative newcomer (I've been on Dove Street since August 2013), I can't claim to have experienced what many people seem to regard as Lark's heyday; but, as is probably apparent if you've read my writing before, I believe strongly that while localized familiarity matters, comparative experience is highly useful as well.
Though reasonable people disagree on the extent of the problem, there seems to be a general sense that Lark Street is suffering from something of a commercial and cultural malaise.

But why? Surely there are multiple factors, but perhaps we can identify a primary one. In the spirit of Hanlon's Razor, I think the most obvious answer is probably the biggest single factor: the stagnation of Lark, perceived or real, is intimately linked to the exciting growth of other neighborhoods in the Capital District that offer similar cultural amenities.

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What if tearing down I-787 could actually improve traffic?

South Mall Arterial 787 from Corning Tower

By Sandy Johnston

The future of I-787 often pops up in conversations about downtown Albany - specifically, the desire that many people apparently have to see the elevated highway torn down.

There's a currently a longterm effort by a group of state and local agencies to study this overall topic. And you're probably already familiar with some of the potential benefits the tear-it-down crowd touts: A boulevard replacement would reconnect the city with the waterfront. It could improve air quality, especially in some underprivileged areas. And it could open up considerable portions of land for development.

Of course, one of the counter arguments is that 787 is necessary to handle the large amounts of traffic that flow into Albany each weekday, and tearing it down would tip downtown into traffic gridlock.

But what if it was just the opposite -- what if tearing down 787 could actually make traffic in Albany flow more smoothly and efficiently?

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