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.
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