Making Cobleskill's Main Street walker-friendly

By Jim Poole

Cobleskill's Main Street may become more pedestrian-friendly and more traffic-friendly, too, if local leaders adopt recommendations from a study done this spring.
Those recommendations include simple additions, such as bike lanes and better defined crosswalks, but also some that may meet resistance: Angled parking in the center of downtown and a roundabout instead of a traffic light at intersection of Main and Grand streets.
"This is merely in the discussion stage. We're just brainstorming" said Mayor Mark Galasso.
"We want to bring this to the community and have a wider discussion."
The recommendations came from Dan Burden, a "walkability expert" who visited Cobleskill in March at the invitation of the county Planning and Development Agency.
He came also under the auspices of Creating Healthy Places in Schoharie County, a grant-funded program designed to encourage walking and better health.
A consultant who's worked around the country, Mr. Burden gave a presentation in March about making communities more walkable, then toured Cobleskill himself, offering suggestions.
Those suggestions arrived in hard copy several weeks ago. They include:
•A bike lane on the north side of West Main and Main streets.
•Clearly-defined crosswalks, including ones that may be imbedded in the pavement, rather than just painted on.
•Reduce the width of the entrance to Park Place to create more parking and make the street more inviting.
•Back-in, angled parking on Main Street to create more parking that would be safer for pedestrians and bikers, according to the report.
•Converting the main downtown intersection into a roundabout.
Those familiar with the recommendations agree that some are inexpensive--the bike lanes would require only paint--while others, such as the roundabout, would be expensive and possibly controversial.
Mr. Galasso's company, Lancaster Development, builds roads and highways and has installed roundabouts before.
He described Cobleskill's central intersection as "clearly a candidate" for a roundabout or rotary because it's a five-street intersection.
The intent is to improve safety for pedestrians and also to keep traffic moving, Mayor Galasso said.
"They slow traffic but increase the flow," he said. "The traffic's slower but it never stops. And a rotary eliminates left turns. They're all right turns."
There's a point, however, in which traffic is too heavy for a rotary; in that case, it creates gridlock, not traffic flow.
"I don't know what the traffic count is there," Mayor Galasso said. "We'd have to know that."
The village--or whoever moved ahead on the recommendations--would also have to gauge public opinion, Mayor Galasso added.
A major player in creating a roundabout or other Main Street changes would be the state Department of Transportation because Main Street is Route 7 and the intersection joins Routes 7, 10 and 145.
Contacted Friday, Region 9 DOT spokesman Dave Hamburg said the agency supports roundabouts but wouldn't support one for Cobleskill without doing a study first.
Mayor Galasso said a roundabout, if one was to be considered, would be a long-range project.
He also said Cobleskill should get its plans and desires in place for the time DOT reconstructs Route 7, though Mr. Hamburg said no such project is scheduled.
By comparison, the Route 7 bridge project now under way was in DOT's planning stage for more than three years.
Like Mayor Galasso, Shane Nickle of the Planning and Development Agency said Cobleskill should decide how and what it wants to do to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly.
He suggested Mayor Galasso form a committee or ask a downtown organization to spearhead a public discussion of the issue.
"We'd need a group in the village that would work with DOT," Mr. Nickle said. "We have to get these thoughts out there and have DOT involved."
Deya Greer, who coordinates the Healthy Places grant, pointed out that some of the improvements such as the bike lanes and new parking configuration require only paint.
She said the grant would pay for part of the imbedded, easier-to-see crosswalks, assuming the village would pay for part, too.
Those crosswalks would probably be on a village street, Mayor Galasso pointed out, so that DOT's approval wouldn't be needed.
The simple additions of bike lanes, revised parking and new crosswalks have proven effective in other communities, Ms. Greer said.
"One, it really does lead to economic development because it creates a more healthy downtown," she said.
"Two, it's safe for people to walk and bike, so they want to come downtown."
Whether DOT's approval for the bike lanes and back-in parking lines on Main Street is unclear, however.
On those recommendations, Mr. Hamburg emailed that "DOT would work closely with the municipality to help them achieve their goals while maintaining the safety and mobility of the road for its users."

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