Reduced parking at Breakneck, concern for pedestrian safety
The timing was right for representatives of the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail to update the Cold Spring Village Board at its Wednesday (May 25) meeting.
Earlier that day, Metro-North announced that its Breakneck station will reopen on Saturday (May 28). The platform closed in 2019, initially to add safety measures, then in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 80 people attended the meeting, mainly via Zoom, along with a handful in person at Village Hall.
Construction of the first mile of the 7.5-mile Fjord Trail from Cold Spring to Beacon is scheduled to get underway at Breakneck later this year.
Amy Kacala, executive director of Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., said construction of the shoreline portion of the trail from Cold Spring to Breakneck, including enhancements at Dockside Park in Cold Spring and at Little Stony Point, won’t begin until 2024.
Before that can happen, she said, there must be a public review of the project’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement and a site-specific Environmental Impact Statement, followed by a public hearing. Both environmental statements will be released within about two months, she said.
The changes at Dockside would be minimal, Kacala said, including a gravel trail. If bathrooms are added, they would be located near the wooded, eastern section of the park.
“Parking is our biggest issue, and currently we can’t manage the crowds,” Mayor Kathleen Foley said after the 40-minute presentation. “We have a tiny budget, we’re scraping money together for paving, we don’t have enough toilets and sidewalks need repair. How can we take the burden off village residents and taxpayers and maintain quality of life?”
Kacala said a newly created Parking and Shuttle Committee will address the Fjord Trail’s impact on Cold Spring and make recommendations for a passenger shuttle to be added along the trail route. The purchase of Dutchess Manor on Route 9D, which will provide parking and serve as a visitor center and, later, access to the trail from Beacon, will give visitors more options, reducing some of the parking pressure in Cold Spring, she said.
Kacala said 520 paid spaces will be created along the Fjord Trail, not including free weekend parking available at the Metro-North lot in Cold Spring.
Foley also addressed pedestrian safety issues, pointing out that Route 9D through Cold Spring is part of the Fjord Trail corridor.
“We love living here; we can walk everywhere, but we have to be able to walk safely,” she said, adding that seniors, schoolchildren, people shopping for groceries and others regularly walk along 9D. She suggested that traffic-calming measures planned at Breakneck, such as bump-outs, be considered in the village, as well.
Kacala said Route 9D is regulated by the state Department of Transportation but that the Fjord Trail group can bring the issue to the agency. DOT plans to lower the speed limit on the highway from 55 mph to 40 mph, Kacala said.
“Forty mph is not OK, maybe 25; that’s the speed that keeps people from dying if they get hit,” Rebeca Ramirez said during the comment period. “DOT is dodging their responsibility” to protect pedestrians, she added.
Phil Heffernan had a suggestion for dealing with traffic issues. “It’s radical, perhaps, but let’s use this situation as leverage and say no cars at Breakneck,” he said. “Your car is a not a passport; it’s a problem and we want you walking off a train.”
“That’s aspirational,” Kacala later told The Current. “But I don’t think most of America is ready for that yet,” adding that unless visitors are coming up from New York City, they still have to drive to a train.
But she agreed transit has to be part of the answer. “There isn’t a lot of parking for a 7-mile area,” she said, underlining that parking along 9D at Breakneck is being significantly reduced.
Randi Schlesinger suggested issuing permits for hiking at Breakneck and for parking at Fjord Trail lots.
“Have a set number of hikers per day on the mountain” she said. “If people can buy permits online, they’ll see that the mountain has reached capacity and not attempt to visit.”
While a number of residents at the meeting voiced concern over crowding, parking, restrooms and safety, no one expressed outright opposition to the multi-million-dollar project, even though it has generated heated opposition on social media.
“I’m very much in favor of this trail; it will be fantastic,” said former Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, adding that people need to be realistic because visitors to Cold Spring will continue to increase, “no matter what happens.”
“This isn’t a zero-sum game; this is not going away,” Shea said. “The biggest tragedy I experienced in office was when people hardened their positions and it goes from being a collaboration to setting up camps.”
Shea said the Fjord Trail is an opportunity to deal with the congestion issues, spreading people out over a much larger area. “The impacts are coming regardless; if you don’t try to mitigate them by managing people and the trail, all you wind up with are the negative aspects,” he said.
Kacala said she senses most people are either neutral or in favor of the trail.
“The important thing is this is a process; people need to come to the table with a solutions mindset,” she said. “Visitation is here, it is only going up, as we’ve seen for 10 years or more; so, what has to be managed?”
Kacala said final construction drawings for the Breakneck connector, including the bridge, the Fjord Trail’s first phase, which will cost about $80 million, must be completed before moving on to the second phase for the section between Cold Spring and Breakneck.
“We’ll start thinking about that this year or early next year,” she said, after the environmental reviews and subsequent public review.
The Fjord Trail will hold its first Community Day on June 25. A monthly newsletter with updates is available at hhft.org.
I’d like to respond to the response by Amy Kacala, executive director of the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., to a suggestion that there should be no parking at Breakneck. “That’s aspirational,” she said. “I don’t think America is ready for that.”
That’s quite a statement. Transportation experts worldwide know that limiting parking is the single best way to force public-transit options. Yet the Fjord Trail plans to add 520 paid spaces.
When I lived in San Francisco, Bloomingdales wanted to build a store downtown and the city approved it but without any new parking. The store balked, but it’s doing just fine. Further, when the new (gorgeous) baseball stadium was built on the Bay, the city added light rail and ferry service instead of parking. Now the owners of paid lots complain about a lack of business on game days.
Traffic north of San Francisco on Route 101 is horrendous and yet the people in those counties voted no on a referendum that would have added lanes. In addition, Richmond, California, and Treasure Island in the Bay area are in conversation with a ride-sharing service about setting up pickup services that will go to designated points, not unlike the dollar vans in New York City.
Knowing that “build it and they will come,” one has to wonder if paid parking is being added to the Fjord Trail project be-cause there is a concern about paying for long-term maintenance costs. There is reason to be to be worried, but more cars are no way to protect the environment.
Kill the parking, encourage more public transportation, endow the project and save the environment. It’s a gorgeous design; let’s make sure it works.
Gretchen brings up a very important point in her letter to the editor: Why are Scenic Hudson’s Fjord Trail administrators committed to building parking areas at Breakneck Ridge, including the mind-boggling plan for 77 cars on the east side of Route 9D, when so many other construction projects are working on cutting down the use of automobile traffic, and encouraging more sustainable, less-polluting means? What if the Fiord Trail was a model for low-carbon footprints as well as hiker and vehicle safety? No parking on 9D! Bad idea!
Gretchen and Pete are both right! We have a proposed linear park flanked by two relatively walkable communities (Cold Spring/Nelsonville and Beacon) and a pre-existing transit stop embedded within it. Since the infrastructure is already here to do so, why not embrace this unique and fortuitous configuration by further limiting — or at least forgoing the growth of — car traffic to this area?
In addition to the added parking along the river, let’s not forget about the additional 200 parking spaces slated for the Dutchess Manor site at the base of the Notch Trail. These are listed as “existing” on the Fjord Trail presentation, but are, in fact, additional parking spaces which will increase motor vehicle traffic on Route 9D, increase the project’s overall carbon footprint in perpetuity, and also bring additional hiker impact to what is now a relatively quiet side of the mountain.
Could the ever-elusive Cold Spring Trolley, the MTA and the Fjord Trail team up to provide a real and reliable transit option along this corridor? Could existing bike, ped and transit networks be fortified and improved upon to make them real and viable options for all Fjord Trail visitors of all ages and abilities? I think it’s a real possibility worth pursuing.
We’ve all seen the beautiful renderings of the heart of this project. Now let’s see its brains: How does it effectively link to preexisting infrastructure at its outer edges to create real transit alternatives for residents and visitors alike?
Perhaps a compromise solution could be: no new parking capacity at the Fjord Trail, existing parking capacity is transitioned to paid parking, and projected visitor growth handled via flexible multimodal options, including transit and improved and dedicated bike/ped infrastructure linking Cold Spring and Nelsonville to the Fjord Trail and, eventually, Beacon.
Similar to the High Line in the city, the Fjord Trail has been called by its designers a “linear park.” Below are excerpts from two articles describing the impact of the High Line on the city.
Wake up, Cold Spring! The current design of the Fjord Trail is wonderful and very reminiscent of the High Line and other riverside parks and attractions in New York City. But the city, with its 9 million inhabitants and an area of 468 square miles, could easily absorb the influx of new visitors. As everyone knows, Cold Spring and Breakneck struggles with its current weekend mobs.
The trail was supposed to be a simple, multiuse path to keep visitors off the road and eliminate the dangerous Route 9D parking and, ideally, develop innovative ways to limit the weekend visitors to Breakneck Ridge.
The current plan with its recreational features and attractions is much more than a multiuse path. It will become a regional entertainment draw as expensive to maintain as it is to build. And there are no mitigation plans for the village to deal with the added stress on the infrastructure.
The HHFT (+19 partners) have solidified their plans for the Breakneck connector without calculating the traffic or crowding impact on the area. We have only heard soft statements about spreading out the visitors along the path.
While I am not naive enough to think the village can impact the overall direction of the trail, I do believe we can force an early, independent assessment of the impact on the village, paid for by the consortium. And this should start now, not on the HHFT timetable. If you care about your quality of life in the village, all residents should demand this review by an outside consultant by emailing the HHFT and attending a public meeting.
The illustration accompanying this article brings to mind two well-known quotes. The first is attributed to (amongst others) Frederick R. Barnard: “One picture is worth a thousand words.” However, in this case, I would modify that to read, “One picture is worth a thousand regrets.” The artist’s rendering shows what dominates, which is the very well-done reproduction of the Coney Island boardwalk. In view of this, and since we all know this is not a “fjord,” perhaps this abomination might be renamed “the New Coney Island Boardwalk Trail?” Awkward? Yes. Accurate? Also yes.
The second quote that comes to mind is from Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So where does this quote from this 19th century English aristocrat fit our pending new boardwalk? Well, when one explores the Scenic Hudson website, particularly the “About Us” link, we read:
“Established by six community members in 1963 to halt an industrial project from destroying iconic Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands…”
Clearly, beginning with six community members was apparently a humble beginning for Scenic Hudson, and their success at saving Storm King Mountain began the accretion of power leading to an organization today that owns much too much of the Hudson Valley and cannot live up to its own legacy, which continues:
“Scenic Hudson has long been considered a leader in safeguarding the Hudson Valley’s irreplaceable landscapes…”
Precisely how does planting a boardwalk firmly in our historic and beautiful Hudson River reflect “safeguarding our Hudson Valley’s irreplaceable landscapes?”
How many of us have been down to Dockside, before its current state of destruction, on a summer’s Monday morning, and seen the litter scattered about by the weekend tourists? I, like many, have picked up cans, ice cream cups, bottles, bags, etc., ad nauseam, and disposed of them. Where do you suppose this litter will go from Scenic Hudson’s new boardwalk? Right in the Hudson River.
Their website says: “Scenic Hudson is credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement and winning Americans the right to speak out and initiate lawsuits to protect their environment.”
This is good, if somewhat grandiose. Maybe Scenic Hudson will lead the way and speak out against themselves and initiate a lawsuit against their despoiling the Hudson Valley? Quite frankly, I believe the only way to stop their rape of the Hudson River is to press a legal action for a cease-and-desist order. Perhaps it is an even better idea to defrock Scenic Hudson, and take the power bestowed on it by a corrupt state government, and return it to the people and their representatives? Good luck with that, too.
The lead-in of the article in question mentions parking and concern for pedestrian safety as a reason for constructing this blight. Could not parking be increased and a proper pedestrian walk be built adjoining Route 9D which should include an elevated walkway in the underpass, well out of the way of vehicular traffic, for significantly less than despoiling the Hudson River is going to cost, in money the state does not have and the intangibles that give quality to life? If you are going to construct something, do it where construction already exists, not in, alongside, or above our historic natural assets.