Committee presents Philipstown path proposal
A standing-room-only crowd packed Philipstown Town Hall on Jan. 18 to hear a presentation by the Philipstown Trails Committee on the proposed walking and biking path that aims to connect the Recreation Center, Constitution Marsh Audubon Center, the Desmond-Fish Public Library and the Garrison School.
During its presentation, the committee differentiated its plans from those of the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, a linear park along the Hudson River between Cold Spring and Beacon. The Fjord Trail project has drawn criticism from some residents concerned it will exacerbate overcrowding by visitors to the village.
When Megan Cotter, a member of the Town Board, asked where people would park for a proposed connection point near where Route 9D meets Bank Street in Cold Spring, Marianne Sullivan of the Trails Committee said there would be no parking. People would be expected to walk to the path, rather than drive there.
“You don’t think tourists are going to come in?” Cotter asked.
“The plan is to build it around the needs of the residents, who would be moving through the community where they live in order to get to a community resource,” Sullivan said.
The Trails Committee was created five years ago after a survey by the Philipstown Community Congress found that residents believed the biggest need in the community was more walking and bike paths (clean water was second).
At Town Hall, the committee presented the results of research it has conducted. It said that, on average, about 32 crashes a year take place on Route 9D, with 71 percent attributed to driver error and the remainder to factors such as deer or debris. In a survey, 87 percent of parents said they do not let their children ride their bikes along or near Route 9D, although 67 percent said they would consider it along a safe path.
In its draft feasibility study, the Philipstown Trails Committee divides the potential routes for a community walking and bike path into four areas showing possible pathways with broken lines and listing the pros and cons of each.
The results were not a surprise to residents at the meeting, who described Philipstown as generally unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists. “It’s terrifying to walk in this town” because drivers speed and ignore crosswalks, said a Cold Spring resident who lives at the intersection of Route 9D and Route 301. Town Supervisor John Van Tassel said the crossing guard at the Garrison School has been hit “several times” despite the presence of a traffic light and crosswalk.
The trail is still at least five years off, the committee said, and would be built in stages. Funding must be secured for its construction and ongoing maintenance, and the route is not finalized, said Dan Biggs, a landscape architect with Weston & Sampson who is working with the committee to identify routes.
The committee is leaning against routes along the river because, in addition to having to maneuver around private land and eagle nesting habitats, Biggs said, making the route too scenic might attract tourists.
Download the preliminary draft report.
Van Tassel agreed with that tactic. “What we’re trying to address is serving the local population, not making it a tourist attraction, and not bringing in more people,” he said. “This is so your child can get on a bike and ride from Haldane to the Rec Center.”
One “favored route” would wind down Indian Brook Road, the residents of which recently rallied to have the town close a parking area used to access the short trail to Indian Brook Falls and the road to the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center.
The state parks department restricted access to the falls after the trail washed out, but the parking lot remains closed, effectively preventing the public from accessing the marsh unless they hike in or live nearby.
The Philipstown path could restore public access to the marsh, but several residents of Indian Brook Road said that there was no room for the public to walk down the dirt road, which is reduced to a single lane at some points, and that routing the path there would cause crowds to return. They also said that the residents of Indian Brook Road were not being heard, and that every resident on the road would be against the path.
“We do listen to the residents of Indian Brook Road,” said Van Tassel, pointing out that the town closed the parking area. “But at this point, everything is an option. And it’s still a town road. It’s not private.”
The committee plans to present its final draft plan in the spring. The Jan. 18 presentation can be downloaded at highlandscurrent.org.
I cannot help but wonder about the overlapping Fiord Trail and walking/bike path users in the village, as well as emergency services if needed for the walking/biking trails.
I applaud Philipstown Supervisor John Van Tassel for his leadership and for reminding Town Board members that the goal of this much-needed walking and biking path, which an overwhelming majority of residents support, is to serve the local community and “so your child can get on a bike and ride from Haldane to the Rec Center.”
In order to accomplish the goal for community residents to bike and hike from the Haldane school to the Philipstown Recreation Center in Garrison, New York State will have to change the nature of Route 9D along the route. It will need to look at how countries like the Netherlands prioritize bikes and pedestrian users over cars and trucks. In the U.S., when cars/trucks share roads with bikes and pedestrians, it’s a lethal mixture.
In the past, New York State wasn’t amenable to restricting truck access and only with extreme community pressure was willing to reduce speed limits on 9D. The Department of Transportation’s default “solution” is to widen roads when asked to provide for bike access, which encourages cars to drive faster and larger trucks to consider the road a good route.
As 9D is a major commuter route, the planners of this trail need to consider how New York State and those commuting via the Bear Mountain Bridge will treat this proposal. It’s a worthy concept, but none of the planners’ options have explored these key factors.
Happy to see this report. These trails will be a true asset to the Philipstown community. The concern that bridging the unconnected parts of Philipstown with walking/biking trails would draw an increase in tourists seems to be missed placed and should be refocused back on the Fjord Trail. I have nothing against the Fjord Trail or tourists in our community. But let’s not conflate the two projects, nor be so naive to think that the Fjord Trail is not going to bring an increase in the amount of tourism to the Cold Spring and Beacon area.
I would love this trail! Those areas are not accessible at all, aside from car travel. It’s selfish for people to fight against a safe, shared path for families, let alone pedestrians in general. Maybe we will get to access Indian Brook and the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center. People are going to visit regardless. Do neighbors want a wall? [via Instagram]
Imagine being able to safely ride to and from Beacon along the waterfront, and to recreation centers, without fear of being run over? If the police aren’t going to enforce the speed limits, it would be nice if there were safe alternatives and that our elected officials supported them. [via Instagram]
My property borders the now-closed parking area at Constitution Marsh, and I want to go on the record that my Indian Brook Road neighbors do not speak for me. I do not object to finding a solution for better community access and I guess I’ll have to get more involved to make this clear. [via Instagram]
We are a tourist attraction and have been for years. We should embrace it. Most of the people who purchase homes in the area first visit as tourists. Tourists support local businesses.
We are surrounded by amazing natural beauty, but Breakneck Ridge, Indian Brook Falls and the Castle Rock Unique Area are state sites. Much of the Appalachian Trail and thousands of other acres are owned by the National Park Service or otherwise by the U.S. government. Just as we travel to state and national parks across this great country, tourists should be welcome here. The key to success is to stop seeing tourists as a problem and embrace them as an opportunity.
Philipstown Trails envisions a multi-use path along Route 9D in the state highway right-of-way. Philipstown received funding from the Hudson Valley Greenway Conservancy for a feasibility study for a Connector Trail. The town and Trail Committee have described the purpose of the path variously as connecting the Fjord Trail to Peekskill, connecting the Cold Spring station to the Garrison station, as a way to disperse tourists out of Cold Spring and now as a path, unappealing to tourists, for locals to get exercise and to go from place to place without a car. An 8-mile walk from my house to Foodtown and back would work off calories.
Whatever the purpose of the path, the state’s right-of-way along much of the highway is narrow, barely wider than the paved road and occupied by utility poles. Private property would need to be taken from adjoining property owners. It would need to be considerable to meet state and federal standards for bike paths on a two-way road, plus Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pedestrian paths which have their own grade, width and surface requirements, plus buffer zones, plus land for the utility poles.
Taking the land would not solve the hazard of intersections. Unlike other greenway-style multi-use paths, there are many driveways, private roads, other highways, commuters and trucks that use 9D. Inserting this infrastructure would require urbanizing the land, blasting through rock ledge, filling ravines, removing trees, original architectural elements, old stone walls and other aspects of the scenic byway.
It might be simpler for the state to ban cars on 9D and convert the highway to a greenway, such as they did up in Buffalo — apart from the issue of land-locking homeowners, blocking commuters, school buses, deliveries and such.
We appreciate that the Philipstown Trails Committee’s work is being broadly discussed in the community. We believe this is an important conversation to have. We are proud of our all-volunteer committee’s work following up on the Philipstown Community Congress in 2017 in which increasing opportunities for biking and walking was voted the top community priority.
As we bring our feasibility study of a path between the Cold Spring and Garrison (and important amenities in between) to a close in the coming months and work with the Town Board on possible next steps, we offer the following observations and clarifications.
We are in the early stages of planning, and are just moving toward completion of the feasibility study. The purpose of the proposed path has evolved somewhat over the years to focus squarely on our community’s need for transportation alternatives for residents — specifically to create safe, biking and walking connections between important community amenities.
That is the main reason that fairly early on in the feasibility study we moved away from recommending a path along the waterfront. It did not meet the goal of increasing our community’s ability to walk and bike safely to community locations such as schools, parks and cultural destinations.
A path along Route 9D would meet this goal, but such a path would need to fit within the existing right of way. We are not considering any route alternatives that would extend south beyond the Philipstown Recreation Center in Garrison. That is well beyond the scope of the PTC’s feasibility study and work.
We encourage everyone to learn more about the potential path, our community engagement process and the draft feasibility study at philipstowntrails.org.
Ramirez is a member of the Philipstown Trails Committee. The comment also was signed by Marianne Sullivan and Laura Bozzi.