Fjord Trail Data Concerns

Committee still waiting on the numbers

The Cold Spring Village Board on Wednesday (Nov. 8) received its first update from the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Data Committee.

James Labate and Henry Feldman, who addressed the board, were appointed in August as the village’s representatives on the eight-member committee, along with residents of Philipstown, Nelsonville and Fishkill.

The committee’s role is to “review and assess the work of HHFT’s visitation management and environmental review consultants to ensure that traffic count and pedestrian visitation pattern data is adequate to determine potential impacts of the Fjord Trail on local communities.”

An independent consultant to assist the committee, funded by HHFT, will be named soon.

“That will give us eyes on the numbers when they come through,” Labate said, as well as methodologies and modeling used in HHFT’s vehicle and pedestrian traffic studies.

The committee recently met with ORCA Consulting, which is advising HHFT on pedestrian circulation, and AKRF, another consultant which is doing the vehicular traffic study and drafting the Environmental Impact Statement.

Labate said he saw a “red flag” when AKRF indicated pedestrian studies are not typically included in environmental impact statements, although he said crowded sidewalks in Cold Spring impact quality of life and village character.

Including pedestrian data “just seemed to be an afterthought or a nuisance,” he said. While he thinks it will likely now be added to the Environmental Impact Statement, pedestrian data gathered since Memorial Day has not yet been made available to the committee.

“I got an extensive review of how they captured the data but they’re not ready to hand it over yet,” he said.

Labate also expressed concern that while traffic data includes standard volumes and flow directions, he received no direct response regarding whether data on driver behavior such as illegal U-turns and failure to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, which compound traffic problems, are being gathered.

Labate said HHFT’s consultants want to compile the data before presenting it based on their modeling.

“But I don’t want to just take that at face value,” he said. “I want our consultant to be able to recreate the numbers they’re handing us; that’s the whole point of this committee.”

The committee also met with HHFT’s consultants regarding five potential trail routes through the village to Little Stony Point. The “preferred route,” based on SLT Engineering’s assessment of a matrix of 10 criteria, would begin at Dockside Park.

Labate said he asked SLT how it weighted its criteria and its reasoning but has received no response. “To be brutally honest, there’s only one route from Cold Spring to Little Stony Point that works for the Fjord Trail people and that’s Dockside,” Feldman said, adding that HHFT wants a 12-foot-wide, multi-purpose path that meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

Feldman, who appeared by Zoom, said HHFT does not favor the Fair Street route because it can’t accommodate a 12-foot path, which would put pedestrians on the sidewalk and bicyclists on the street.

A path along Route 9D wouldn’t work either, he said, because the slope exceeds the maximum 5 percent grade for the ADA and also wouldn’t allow a 12-foot-wide trail.

Feldman said he asked HHFT if the sidewalks could be upgraded on Fair Street if the community preferred that route. “They said no,” he said. “They’d probably add a sidewalk at the north end of Fair Street; the Fjord Trail would start at Little Stony Point.”

Mayor Kathleen Foley said the Environmental Impact Statement process requires that alternative routes be considered, and that HHFT cannot simply choose the path. “Options do have to be weighed,” she said. “You should have the baseline information you need.”

Labate said that, overall, HHFT’s consultants are listening to the Data Committee’s concerns. “But there still seems to be a separation as far as letting us completely into their confidence,” he said, but noted “there’s still something like eight meetings to go.”

In other business …

■ The board adopted amendments to Village Code Chapters 126 (Vehicles and Traffic) and 127 (Residential Parking Program). In preparation for implementing the updated laws, road crews have begun installing signs. In addition to residential permits, metered parking on Main Street will be added.
■ The Cold Spring Police Department answered 64 calls for service in October. Officers issued seven traffic and 116 parking tickets. There were no arrests. Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke commended Officer Matt Jackson, who recently saved the life of a resident who had suffered a drug overdose by administering two doses of Narcan. Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps administered a third dose before transporting the victim to hospital.
■ The village has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for electric vehicle charging stations.
■ The village reservoirs have been lowered to about 75 percent capacity to enable for an inspection before repairs.
■ The Recreation Commission approved establishing a butterfly garden at McConville Park next spring.

16 thoughts on “Fjord Trail Data Concerns

  1. I always had my doubts about such a committee, but thought to wait until they betrayed their vast shortcomings. Although this bad news was expected, it is extremely disheartening to hear that a committee member stated: “To be brutally honest, there’s only one route from Cold Spring to Little Stony Point that works for the Fjord Trail people and that’s Dockside.”

    That may be his jaundiced opinion, but it has no basis in responsible due diligent research, and the statement has no merit whatsoever. It may work for Stony Point, but it does not work for Cold Spring. This sort of myopia and arrogance does not pass muster in the court of public discourse. For that reason, I move that Feldman immediately resign from the committee as a biased party.

    Functionary Labate states that including pedestrian data “just seemed to be an afterthought or a nuisance.” That statement in itself should disqualify Labate’s opinions as shortsighted and hostile to village interests. If the pedestrian plan is not duly executed, the study should be rejected out of hand. For that reason, I move that Labate immediately resign from the committee as an unqualified member not suited to the job.

    Props to our Mayor Foley for challenging the arrogance and unprofessionalism of this committee. Until appropriate members can be put in the positions of making vital decisions that respect the village, I move that the committee lose the two aforementioned dilletantes, and either disband the remainder, or convene a new committee altogether. This committee is no friend to Cold Spring.

    • Mr. Graham’s comments do not engage in written argument, but rather seize on several words or a phrase — disregard their actual meaning and context — and then incoherently and incorrectly use those words as an opportunity to leap at projecting something he would just as soon be saying in response to a waiter asking whether he’d like bottled or tap water.

      Three people responded to his comments with the same general, “That’s not what I said at all.” If he would like to do the Village a service, download the AnyLogic software used by ORCA for pedestrian flow analysis and master its use, fight on behalf of your neighbors for possession of the raw PAOT data so you can proof the numbers and not just rubber-stamp them the way some arm-chair online commentators will accuse you of doing without truly knowing a wit about what your actual efforts are, and if your request for raw PAOT data is ignored then get out there on Main Street with a clipboard and start making field observations.

      A shout-out to Trustee Eliza Starbuck, whom I did run into on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 12, after my climb of Bull Hill, standing on Main Street with a clipboard doing field data capture for the parking-meter analysis.

      Labate is a member of the Data Committee.

  2. For clarity in the record, Mr. Graham is not correct. I do not “challenge the arrogance and unprofessionalism of this committee.” I am grateful for the service of Mr. Labate and Mr. Feldman, respect their expertise, and appreciate their straightforward assessment of the process in which they are participating on behalf of the village.

  3. Grateful for what straightforward assessment? I did not quote the mayor, but gave my impression of what she said, which is perfectly in order. I felt the mayor might deign to make a stand supporting the village when saying “that HHFT cannot simply choose the path. Options do have to be weighed,” she said. “You should have the baseline information you need.”

    Would that not include a pedestrian study of which the committee is openly hostile too, or is that not baseline information? Is she grateful for that insult? It’s fine if the mayor wants to qualify her opinion, however, I beg to differ with statements from that lay committee’s service as qualifying as “expertise.” Their public statements here in The Current bear out incompetence. By all means, the mayor should feel free too again walk back her opinions, but I’d rather the mayor took a more sensible and consistent stand against the Dockside trailhead, rather than confuse the public with continual ambiguity. Either the mayor is for or against the Dockside trailhead. Can we be forthcoming and more precise about that aspect, or must we dwell in her constant lack of conviction either way?

  4. I invite you to read the HHFT’s accessibility page. I didn’t say that a trail starting at Dockside worked for the village. I said that of the five routes presented, only one route met the accessibility criteria that HHFT has set forth. And that while several criteria for each route were presented, I came to the conclusion that for HHFT accessibility was nonnegotiable. As an example of that, HHFT stated that Fair Street wouldn’t be acceptable to them because it can’t be made accessible.

  5. The bridge to Dockside is superfluous. It has little or no places to park a van nearby that aren’t always filled. One rarely sees a wheelchair down here. It’s a moot point that HHFT misrepresents Dockside ramp as a “trailhead.” In that case, you would be saying the ramp is a “trail.” Dockside access is merely an ADA ramp to access Little Stony Point, which already has access points. Isn’t it convenient for the developer to say that the bridge provides ADA access to satisfy those guidelines? If the developer wasn’t poking his beak in our Village we wouldn’t have these problems in the first place. Most Village residents will not accept the imposition of an ersatz ADA ramp cloaked as a trail to Little Stony Point as something that is “non-negotiable.” Suffice it to say it is a matter in great question. Please go back to your original plan and leave Cold Spring alone to manage itself.

  6. I have praised the mayor’s previous stand against a “trailhead” at Dockside in this newspaper, the day her statements were published,: “its form and path must deemphasize the village to the greatest extent possible,” however, it seems she may have been unaware of my comments supporting her and Trustee Starbuck. Yet I become confused when she praises an ad-hoc lay-committee that has made the hostile and insensitive statements I cite above against Village interests, and when she appoints a pro-trail pro-tourist trustee. I don’t know about by neighbors but I am alarmed at that committee’s responses. I insist that committee be disbanded and replaced with impartial professionals, not opinionated dilletantes.

  7. The HHFT Data Committee was created for one reason and one reason only: for HHFT to check off another box. In the end they can claim they reached out to the municipalities, asking each to participate. Totally transparent. However, the committee and data are flawed from the start because the committee’s review is based on HHFT’s vision and planned boardwalk attraction. If you want to create a 12 to 14-foot-wide boardwalk attraction over the river, then, yes, the only way to do so is to create a 12- to 14-foot-wide boardwalk over the river, connecting Dockside Park and Little Stony Point.

    But that’s Chris Davis-driven planning, not community-driven planning. To reflect the true needs and interests of Philipstown and Cold Spring, the HHFT Data Committee needs to focus on what the community wants. The original objective was to create safe passage for hikers from Cold Spring to Breakneck. Why not return to what the community supported and add enhanced access to Dockside Park and Little Stony Point for those with disabilities? The original goal can be achieved without creating such a massive blight on the landscape, without bringing more visitors and without turning the Highlands into the “epicenter” of outdoor recreation for the region. If the concern is accessibility to the so-called “trail” for everyone, then the committee should be asking, how this is accomplished at the other, much heralded, “7 Entry Points” on the trail? If HHFT has figured out how to get folks with disabilities down to the trail from the Dutchess Manor plateau and how they will traverse the other two-thirds of winding forest trail, then they can do the same from the village, without using Dockside.

    Pointing to HHFT propaganda does not demonstrate that the HHFT Data Committee is working in the best interest of the community. However, if readers go to the HHFT website, as Mr. Feldman suggests, they will not see the reality of the proposed trail but the romantic vision. A lone person in a wheelchair, on a weathered boardwalk (note the width of approximately five feet), taking in the quiet and beauty of nature. Ahhh! What the photo doesn’t show is a 12-foot steel- or concrete-surfaced boardwalk with hundreds of visitors, including a peloton of cyclists passing pedestrians and the person in the wheelchair at alarming speed, while a couple with a child, fearing for their lives, are pinned to the 8-foot steel chain link fence as they pass. None of the photos or renderings show the throngs of hikers we now experience, coexisting with bikers, families and people with disabilities. The reason is obvious, or at least it should be: HHFT is a developer trying to sell its project. HHFT has hired professional planners and designers to create an illusion — an attractive misrepresentation — to market and generate support from the community.

    The “independent” consultant should have been in place for the first meeting, to counter and question information provided by the HHFT consultants.

    Merandy is the former mayor of Cold Spring.

    • Does Mr. Merandy really believe he is the first person to think that perhaps HHFT could use the Data Committee to check another “go-the-extra-mile” box? Is everyone a gull or a trout to be caught by tickling?

      If the consultant was in place from the first meeting, HHFT would have chosen the consultant, stripping the committee of the independence he implies it lacks. In fact, the first several meetings consisted of a vigorous effort by members to establish boundaries and clearly distinguish itself from HHFT as an independent entity allowed to put forward its own candidates for the RFP and confer with the consultant privately. Since the purpose and subject of those early meetings was, by in large, the consultant selection and simple project review, not data compilation or final model-driven result decision-making, no advantage/disadvantage dynamic was in play.

      Merandy’s point that the committee is reviewing a HHFT-conceived plan’s compilation methodologies — always ready to challenge, always seeking independent validation — is correct. His inference that the role of the committee is to draft, design and engineer an entirely new project is not correct. His further inference that all the years of village input and wishes is lost on this committee is also incorrect. His disregard of the village-defined scope of the committee (whose breadth of task is stated in its name) reveals either a careless oversight (in a rush to judgment) or a convenient and conscious disregard of the scope of the committee as clearly, publicly posted by the village itself this past summer.

      His call-out of what Robert Moses used to refer to as the old four-color brochure treatment is astute, but he is nearly guilty of the same thing at the opposite end of the spectrum with an apocalyptic Thunderdome-to-Little Stony Point scenario.

      His point about full accessibility from Dutchess Manor downslope is excellent. When I raised this idea of Dutchess manor magically being the entry point of choice my skepticism was triggered more by the impracticality or wishful thinking of visitors “playing along” with adding the extra to-from hike just to get to their Breakneck hike in the first place. However, I think a one-solution-size-fits-all rationale, that whatever works at Dutchess Manor will work at Dockside, is more of a rhetorical flourish than a solution.

      In the final analysis, some commentators here accuse HHFT of trying to make Data Committee members mouthpieces for its designs while simultaneously expecting committee members be mouthpieces for theirs.

      Labate is a member of the Data Committee.

  8. I’d like to clarify the role of the HHFT’s Visitation Data Committee (VDC) and what outcomes the community can expect from the process.

    Committee formation and purpose: The VDC was formed in response to residents’ desire for greater clarity on three data points the Fjord Trail’s environmental impact statement will include: Village of Cold Spring pedestrian circulation, projected trail users, and traffic. The VDC was created in June 2023, with each municipality appointing one or two representatives to participate. The committee also includes two HHFT staffers and one HHFT consultant. The committee’s format provides municipal representatives with an ongoing opportunity for a deeper understanding of the data and methodology, which they can then share with their respective municipal leadership. In addition, HHFT offered to cover the cost of an independent professional consultant chosen by municipal representatives, to provide these volunteers with the technical assistance necessary to review and assess.

    What is the data being used for?: HHFT’s consultants are gathering data that will be analyzed to generate the Fjord Trail’s environmental impact statement. The environmental review process focuses on understanding and quantifying any changes that may result from the proposed project—above and beyond current conditions. The lead agency (in this case, New York State Parks) then determines if those changes constitute a significant impact and, if so, whether any mitigation is warranted. The municipal representatives are tasked with reviewing how visitation data is being gathered and the methodology for its analysis; their independent consultant will provide guidance on industry best practices.

    What is the VDC’s process?: The VDC municipal representatives will receive background information on each topic from HHFT’s consultants in turn. They will then meet with their own independent consultant (BFJ Planning— to review and prepare comments on that material. Then, the full VDC will meet together to review and discuss.

    Once we’ve covered a topic, the municipal representatives will prepare a memo to inform their respective municipal boards and the rest of their respective communities. The first such presentation will be on pedestrian counts and will likely be in December, depending on municipal schedules. This data was collected through late October and HHFT’s consultants are currently processing and preparing to share it.

    A note about pedestrian data: It is a fact that environmental reviews outside of New York City do not take a close look at pedestrian movement. However, this is an area where HHFT is voluntarily opting to go above and beyond the base requirement by engaging our visitation management consultants to study pedestrian movement in the Village of Cold Spring. In addition to pedestrian counts, that report will also include observations of pedestrian patterns and behavior in the Village, with specific recommendations to improve current conditions. This additional work underscores our commitment to help manage visitation and safeguard quality of life for Cold Spring residents.

    We invite interested residents to follow the committee’s progress: The schedule of meetings by topic and the minutes and presentations from meetings held to date are on the HHFT website. Also included is the full alternatives analysis report, which shares all the route options, how they were selected, evaluated, and scored. We encourage questions and conversation about the process and the Fjord Trail project. We hope to see community members at our next Sunday Afternoon Chat from 2-4 p.m. on Nov. 26.

    Kacala is the executive director of Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, Inc.

  9. Village residents did not request any such VDC as HHFT implies, above, as any resident already knows too well what the story is on the ground, and how it may differ from the developer’s boardroom. Conditions on the ground have been expounded ad nauseum by this newspaper, and amplified by comments from both the present and former mayor, neither of which support a two-third-mile ADA ramp in the water from Dockside (misnamed a “trailhead” by developer), and both questioning the practicality and negative results of founding a tourist bridge at our village’s most prized park. I contend that conceivably there could not be any data resulting from this study that would change those valid objections, realities, nor the enormous and increasing groundswell of local opposition to it.

    Besides, why would HHFT expect any person who struggles with a handicap to walk two-thirds of a mile just to get to the “trailhead”: to provide access to the former dump site know as Little Stony Point, nowhere near the center trailhead at Breakneck? A bridge to nowhere. I defy any handicapped person to find a handicap parking spot within proximity of Dockside, save for the Metro-North lot. I daresay they’d be exhausted just trying to get to Dockside Park from that lot. That’s why you see next to zero wheelchairs west of the tracks, and that is not going to change with a bunch of boardroom hijinks and pretty signage.

  10. It is alarming that the Data Committee is waiting is for the Scenic Hudson’s consultants to complete their own findings before sharing it with them. I’m not faulting the committee. It is undeniable that HHFT has not until this year deemed Cold Spring important enough to warrant a traffic study within the village. Think about that: This trail has been discussed in some form or another for more than 20 years, but not one dime was spent to find out the impact of visitation on Cold Spring itself. It is also not surprising that the consultants don’t want to include pedestrian numbers, though this current proposal is cynically advertised as a hiking trail.

    What is also not surprising is that there cannot be any meaningful traffic study within the village for at least another two years. Aside from the terrible weather this fall, depressing visitation numbers significantly, Breakneck’s upcoming closure for two years will make subsequent studies effectively worthless. It is for this reason I suggest there should not be any DGEIS presented before there are adequate studies completed.

  11. Why are Fair Street and 9D/Morris included in HHFT preferred design assessments as possible routes in order to explicitly exclude them from the Trail alignment (aside from maybe the “meander” on Fair Street) while -– as far as I can see -– Upper Main, Lunn Terrace, Market, North Street and West Street, all of which would need to be wide enough and accessible for a resident or visitor to the Village to get to Dockside, are excluded from the accessibility conversation intended to justify a Dockside Terminus? A successful HHFT project would explicitly address accessibility, width and bike/pedestrian issues on both Fair Street and Route 9D, rather than kicking the can down the no-sidewalk road, yet again.

    If assessments were to be made regarding accessibility –- not just strict ADA accessibility, but the real human ability to get somewhere on foot without walking on a shoulder or in a ditch –- a fair starting point might be the 301/9D intersection. From this point, how do Fjord Trail designers propose that a person of any ability get themselves safely to the Fjord Trail –- either at Little Stony Point or at Dockside -– without walking on a shoulder or in a ditch?

    If the answer is “take a trolley,” then we know that this whole line of argument from HHFT is a canard, since the trolley could access Little Stony Point just as easily as it could Dockside –- and avoid a lot of headache and traffic by just going straight to LSP.

    According to HHFT, a Fair Street route has been rejected due to “public input received since 2016 seeking a more direct route out of the village that keeps unnecessary pedestrian traffic off of Main Street.” This is despite the longstanding and well-documented need for a sidewalk on Fair Street. By the logic of a dead-end street -– a Dockside Terminus will do nothing to change pedestrian activity on Main Street other than by extending it through the Metro-North tunnel and onto Lower Main.

    Alternatively, the 9D/Morris route has been rejected because “there are terrain and topography issues that would require structure. This route would not be accessible due to the existing slopes of the terrain.” So the 9D route is rejected because it needs structure, and a preferred route is chosen that needs an entire boardwalk over open water? And the 9D route is not accessible because it descends the very same hill that Main Street descends en route to Dockside. My brain is starting to hurt.

    HHFT has the data it needs in hand -– that Fair Street and Route 9D are both substandard for bike/pedestrian traffic -– but instead of addressing these concerns at all, it is shifting the entire project so as to ignore these problems, choosing an arbitrary starting point for the trail and using a grab bag of criteria to reject other potential routes.

  12. The U.S. Access Board, the federal entity that sets standards for accessibility in public settings, is quite clear about not degrading natural areas to create access. Its guidelines state that creating disability access is not advised if “use of manufactured building materials or engineered construction techniques to comply with specific provisions in the technical requirements for trails could fundamentally alter the natural or undeveloped nature of the setting and change the recreational experience.”

    A river-edge, elevated concrete structure standing above the river from Cold Spring to Breakneck Ridge would of course “fundamentally alter the natural or undeveloped nature of the setting and change the recreational experience.” It would be destruction of a natural area in order to provide access to it.

  13. Firstly, to establish our bona fides, we are full-time residents of Philipstown and have lived on Lane Gate Road in Nelsonville for over 25 years.

    Before getting to the only and critical point of this letter, we wish to make all property owners in Putnam County totally aware of something that is not often spoken of. In an Oct. 20 advertisement in The Highlands Current, HHFT praises Scenic Hudson’s “excellent record of stewarding the Hudson River Valley” for 60 years. We have no doubt that this is true.

    However, Putnam County property owners need to be fully aware that each time Scenic Hudson buys or is gifted or bequeathed a property to keep green, that property comes off of the tax rolls. New York State does not reimburse Putnam County for the lost property tax revenue. County costs remain the same and the revenue shortfall is made up by increases in all of our property taxes. So that means that we Putnam County property owners are kindly bearing the burden of supporting the beautiful green areas visited by people from all over the country and, in fact, the world.

    Now to the true point of this letter. We have attended a couple of the community meetings held by HHFT and have decided not to waste our time attending any more. We have concluded that this project is a “done deal” and we will only hear runarounds and platitudes involving expensive vehicular and pedestrian engineering studies which will support the project. Of course there will be other expensive studies that will show the opposite. All these expensive studies are so unnecessary when all it takes is a little common sense and a walk around the Cold Spring village area during the spring and summer. We even heard the absurd suggestion that a way of alleviating the traffic problem was building a roundabout at the corner of routes 301 and 9D. (Are we really considering using part of St. Mary’s church property and knocking down J. Murphy’s, the gas station and a private residence?)

    Our suggestion now is that, since the basic concept of this project is a fait accompli, if this group really cares about our community, why not start the trail at Little Stony Point? In HHFT’s own words, there will be “an improved Breakneck Ridge train station,” a visitor center with paid public parking at Dutchess Manor and “new trailhead entries all north of the village. Why not add the proposed public restrooms at Little Stony Point and leave Dockside Park as is for our community?

    We believe this is a common-sense and sensible way to certainly alleviate the pedestrian problem and possibly prevent the eventuality of people taking over the Foodtown parking lot so that we can’t buy groceries on weekends.

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