It’s impressive that a group of citizens came up with at least 170 new parking spaces in Beacon without the need for more asphalt (Main Street Beacon: Add Parking, Not Asphalt, Jan. 29). That will help in humanity’s heroic battle against climate change. As City Planner John Clarke explained, “With global warming and the heat-island effect in cities, the last thing you want to do is create ‘dead spaces’ in and around Main Street.”
However, I don’t recall Mr. Clarke raising objections in his role as Dutchess County planner a few years ago when Beacon bought an acre of land on Fishkill Creek and Churchill Street for more than $500,000 and spent more money to turn it into a parking lot. Where are all these lovely places we haven’t already paved over that we are saving? I’ve lived in Beacon for nearly 20 years and have heard the phrase pocket parks bandied about since Day One. At least the municipal lot, while not a pocket park, is not “dead space” — it’s a great place to have a tailgate party while waiting in line to buy a few cases from our excellent brewery.
I can’t be the only one to see the irony in taking a chunk out of global warming by increasing Beacon’s auto traffic. Other cities around the world are restricting cars in downtown areas and make biking and walking safer. A story in The New York Times in January talked about the major shift in transportation happening in Paris, for example. Much of the initial transformation was done the same way Beacon is proposing to squeeze in some of these extra spaces — with a can of paint.
The suggestions by the committee are divided into three phases. It’s not until the end of the second phase that biking gets a mention, with a proposal to create “bicycle boulevards” with shrubberies “or other traffic-calming elements.” Bicycle boulevards are streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds, designated and designed to give bicycles priority — for instance, the “sharrow” markings along Main Street that the majority of motorists and bicyclists alike don’t seem to understand, because nobody bothers to explain or enforce them. The committee has potential routes in mind, but they want the city to get a grant to hire a consultant to tell us what to do. Look for a couple more sharrows and some bushes around 2030.
Mayor Lee Kyriacou is upbeat on the possibility of all these recommendations landing an even more comprehensive Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant. Peppering a grant with sustainable and access and bicycle boulevards should increase the chances of landing money for creating parking spaces. But it doesn’t matter how many boxwoods are planted, we can’t make bicycling safer at the same time we are increasing auto traffic.
Beacon will not be bicycle-friendly until it reaches a critical mass of citizens who decide to use a bicycle to get around. That will not happen until it becomes economically unfeasible for a portion of its citizens to operate three, two or even one car. That tipping point may be coming sooner than any of us would want. However, it will likely not involve landscaped boulevards.
According to The Current article, the committee has come up with longer-term Phase 3 projects, but those are being held close to the vest for the moment. I may just eat my bicycle bell if it doesn’t include a recommendation for some kind of multistory parking structure. No doubt it will have solar panels on the roof.
Mark Roland, Beacon
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