Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pedestrian Perspective: Dove and Jefferson, Part Two (Hudson/Park and Code Violations)

In the last post, we started a walk down Dove Street in Albany's Center Square neighborhood.  We had just passed into Hudson/Park when the post ended.  Now we'll pick it up from just inside Center Square and then turn onto Jefferson, in Hudson/Park, where there is a battle beginning over code violations.  Let's go take a look a the problem, shall we?

The other side of my picture with the 'bad urbanism' comment from my past post.  I'd rather a building or something useful here, but it's a sweet view, nonetheless.
Looking  down Dove Street toward Hudson Avenue.  On the corner is a hairdresser, across from Dove and Hudson Books.
We're now crossing Madison Avenue, into the 'unofficial' designation between Center Square and Hudson/Park.  Center Square residents, diverse and interesting as they can often be, are more or less suburbanites with better taste in the built environment.  The neighborhood boundaries are just silly.  Center Square, to anyone who walks around it, would seem to be contained between Washington and Madison.  Instead, according to the Center Square Association, "Center Square includes the area bounded by Lark Street on the west, Spring Street on the north, South Swan Street on the east and Jay Street on the south, plus the upper portion of Lancaster Street between Lark and Willett Street."  Maybe some day we'll take a look around what the Association things, vs. what reality displays.  It'll be a fun investigation, seeing how CSA admits only the very nicest of streets. 

But now, we're about to cross, both visually and officially, into Hudson/Park, south of Madison Avenue.

Lots of parking! Everyone should immediately fall in love, since parking is the most important thing in the world.

Looking east down Jefferson Street.  This isn't where we're going, instead this is further downtown.  Still a nice street, though.
Hudson/Park is very likely the next up and coming neighborhood in the city.  It has it all: old architecture, easy access to a (yes, rather ghetto) grocery store, a very cute human scale in the buildings, a cobblestone street abutting a small park as its southern border and, with the new CDTA map, easy access to transit on both Madison and Delaware Avenues.  The Madison Avenue route is expected to receive increased frequency after a year, which will be even nicer for this area.

This renovation is new.  Last year it was just a crappy but cute building that constantly inspired me to think, "Geez, why doesn't someone renovate this?  It's perfect!"
The City of Albany is now beginning to do everything it can to stop this from happening.  Remember in my last post, when I said that all the most awesome things were the result of resident activity, rather than official city activity?  Yeah, that's not okay in this neighborhood.

This is fine, apparently.

Run down buildings?  Bring it.

All the charm of a suburban storage unit and in an entirely inappropriate environment.  No problems that I can see.
Oh no!! What is this, art?! Blech get it out of here.
What you see above is the inspiration behind a "Stop Work" order from the city.  Ignoring such an order can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines.  The problem?  It blocks the sidewalk......

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pedestrian Perspective: Dove and Jefferson, Part One (Center Square)

Today we'll talk a walk down Dove Street, which cuts north-south through Albany's Center Square and Hudson/Park neighborhoods.  It runs parallel to Lark Street, the street on which I live.  We've seen snippets of Lark Street here before.

I probably won't bother with a Pedestrian Perspective post about Lark, however, as it is already one of the most commonly seen and popular destinations in Albany already.  Too often, the main streets in American cities are the only ones paid attention to, while the back streets are left to rot.  This is exactly the opposite of most of the rest of the world, where the big, wide main street is often not where all the action is.

The big, wide, stupid main street.  This is Washington Avenue.  The Capitol building is out of site, but about a block ahead on the right.  It's blocked by the 34-story Alfred E Smith Building.  This could be much worse for a street this size and of this importance.  But it'll be a relief to turn the corner in the next frame.

Albany, as we'll see, is one of the few places that breaks this pattern.  Dove Street is one of the most charming and endearing streets in the city, if not the state. 

Ahhh that's better!  No more big, wide streets here.  (Note: by American standards.  The rest of the world does urban much better than we do here.)

Remember to click on the pictures for the full-size version.  They get much more detailed than this little thing.

A few local businesses in this shot.  Bongiorno's, a denist's office and right across the street is the Center Square Pub, where I spent a good portion of last evening. :)

It's worth noting that most of the awesome things that we'll see that have any direct involvement with development or the City of Albany, occurred roughly 150 years ago.  Most of the fun stuff we'll see is thanks to the residents of the neighborhood.  We'll see the importance in noting this when we get to Part Two.

You see a lot of this throughout the neighborhood, lots of planters, flowers and beautiful things put up by residents.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Living Walls

Albany will be one the sites of Living Walls Conference this September 16-18, along with, of all places, Atlanta.  Does the Living Walls Conference go in alphabetical order?

It is, quite simply, an urban art conference.  However, it extends the concept by using art and aesthetics to create places out of our city that make it a more pleasant and rewarding place to be.  It also is intended to create dialogue about the use of public space in America, something that has been lacking as the aggrandizement of private space in the form of automobiles and suburbs has become ubiquitous.

There have been a few fundraisers for this event, at places like McGeary's Pub in downtown.  As I hear of more, I'll try to post them here.  

According to their website: "Living Walls: Albany is a project designed to raise awareness about the use of public space. It is about exploring options that a smaller city like ours has in terms of bike commuting, sustainable energy options, urban gardening, rebuilding and/or reclaiming buildings as opposed to demolishing them. Through a series of lectures, performances, and the involvement of some of the world’s great mural artists, the Living Walls project is intent on creating an open dialogue between the people and city."

I fear they may have some trouble, in light of recent events.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pedestrian Perspective: Honest Weight Food Co-op

In the summer, I do the majority of my grocery shopping at the farmer's market at Empire State Plaza.  The rest I do at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, with some odds and ends from Hannaford. A pedestrian perspective of Hannaford will come at some point, but today isn't a great day for nightmares, so we'll go with Honest Weight instead, which has the ambiance of a mildly disturbing dream.  There are actually two possible pedestrian perspectives.  Today we'll go with the one I see most often.  The trip from The College of Saint Rose is much nicer. 

Both Hannaford and Honest Weight are located on Central Avenue in Albany.  Honest Weight is currently planning and fundraising for a move to a new location on Watervliet Avenue, in the industrial district between Central Ave and I-90.  I have mixed feelings about the new location, one of the reasons I haven't become a member yet.  It's larger, which is cool since it's cramped.  But the cramped space is one of the things I like about it.  The imperfections of the experience make me smile.  The new location also does not have bus service on Sundays, though I've been told by Ross Farrell of CDTA in a public meeting that if the co-op moves, they will institute Sunday service on that route.

The new design of the new Honest Weight Food Co-op. It was originally a more expensive design, but due to the recession, they needed to cut costs.  (Times Union)
Remember, all of my journeys start from the bus stop at Washington Avenue and Lark Street, if I'm busing there in the first place, which I usually am, especially for groceries.  Come to think of it, groceries are the one complaint I always reliably hear in discussions online about living without a car.  "What, you're going to just carry 15 bags of groceries 20 miles on foot from the store?!?!"  Well, no.  But I will carry two re-usable bags (that fit a lot of stuff and are super easy to carry) a block, get on a bus and then carry them a few more blocks when I get off.

It's pretty easy and you get great exercise.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Links Post #1

While I am still working on my post about the history of Albany's ill-advised highway system, I thought I'd pass along some links to other sites.  If you're interested in issues of the pedestrian experience, especially as it regards urban vibrancy and viability, you might like some of these:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cracks in Albany's Car Culture; Carmageddon in L.A.

The first cracks appeared in Albany's car culture last week as highway personnel worked to repair the cracks in the ill-advised South Mall Arterial.  As part of the deal, the highway, as well as the Dunn Memorial Bridge to Rensselaer, will be closed until the end of the month.

The highway was originally built to connect I-787 along the Hudson River (a bad enough idea in itself) to the Mid-Crosstown Arterial (a potentially catastrophic idea).  Currently, it connects to Empire State Plaza (also a bad idea) before turning around and returning to I-787.  (You read that correctly: the highway turns around and goes back...)

The response to a fairly major highway connection closure, in the most likely place for it, the local blogs?  Barely a peep.  The main blog that covers this stuff, Getting There, had a total of three comments on the subject: one wondering about a sign and possible congestion at one particular exit; another supporting state workers facing layoffs; another calling this an opportunity to take the highway down.  I like that last one.

The comments on another blog post on the topic, from the East Greenbush blog (a town affected heavily by the closure, connected to Albany by the Dunn Memorial Bridge) ranged from figuring out the best alternate routes to the possibility of catapults and $5 helicopter flights by Jet Blue.  (Or you could take the bus? Just a thought.)

Closures are shown in orange. (Times Union)
Construction workers examine cracks in the system.  (Times Union)
As part of this closure, I will be doing a full post later this week about the South Mall Arterial, including its current state and original plan.  It's a pretty sordid tale.
It looks like a sordid tale, too.  This is a city of 98,000 people.  What purpose is this crap really serving?  If this is what it takes to keep civilization running, let's just give up. (Times Union)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Albany's Getting a New Transit System


No, there are no rail lines.  Sorry to disappoint.

And actually, it's more of a redesign than a new system.

But the new plan for Albany is pretty awesome, nonetheless.  As I wrote in the last blog post on this topic, the transit authority has spent almost a year collecting input from the public in order to realign routes to where people live, work, shop, drink, buy drugs (prescription only of course) and do other fun things.  The plan is budget-neutral, with no additional funding to the operating budget for Albany.  As a result, not every area benefits equally. 

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the last of four public outreach/input meetings held throughout Albany before implementation of the restructured routes, held at the Pine Hills Branch of the Albany Public Library.

The approach to the Albany Public Library Pine Hills Branch on Western Avenue.  The Pedestrian Perspective. 
Not bad.  It helps that the library is at the confluence of a few bus routes that connect it to downtown, the train station, the mall, the hospitals, Central Ave, and most Albany colleges.

The small commercial strip across the street that, together with the library and the police station/playhouse (seriously), surround a small park at the area formerly (a century ago) known as The Point, where Madison and Western Avenues meet, also the name of a restaurant in this strip.  I also heard the term "The Point" used for that intersection tonight.  Nice!
It is a wonderful thing to live in a city that invests in its libraries.
Here's to the Albany Public Library Budget passing next week!
The meeting's entrance, welcome table and most importantly, people talking about transit.
More people talking, asking questions and viewing large scale maps of the current and proposed systems.
Handouts, from left: Detailed route change explanation; Comment sheet;
Table showing current and proposed frequency and hours of operation.
I arrived at the meeting just after the first presentation had ended.  I stayed for the second and chatted with Ross Farrell, CDTA's Senior Transportation Planner, in the meantime.  I'd spoken with Ross a couple of times in the past.  As is rarely the case with anyone in any company, I always come away with the feeling that I've been really listened to.  He is also an unusual mix of forward thinking and realistic, with an eye on providing a foundation for the future while accepting the increasingly constrained budgets of now.

Ross Farrell presenting an overview of the route changes.
All attendees were given comment sheets and encouraged to respond to what we liked and what we didn't like.  This is a neighborhood that is heavily affected by the new bus service.  The #4 - Pine Hills will no longer run, while in return, there is increased service the entire length of Madison Avenue, as well as a more effective cross-town route.  Pine Hills is a perfect example of the trade-offs that this project sometimes seems defined by.

The 4 coming down Lark Street to bring me to work.  I'll miss this bus, but the gains are worth it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gloversville Civic Band

Glove factory, back in the day.  See those things?  Those are called people.  You don't see much of that anymore. (from the internets
While I'm generally opposed to using this blog as a stump to advertise performances, this one is somewhat relevant.  Tonight I'm performing with the Gloversville Civic Band, a municipal band in a small city about an hour or so (by car) northwest of Albany.  As the name suggests, the town used to be a manufacturing center for the glove industry.  Now, it's mostly a semi-relevant downtown surrounded by a bunch of suburban crap, as well as some nice (streetcar suburb style) neighborhoods.  Places like this often have more of a local economy going on than places like Guilderland or Clifton Park near Albany, but this is America, and corporations are the only ones really doing well at the moment.  It's easy to see that much of the downtown has been destroyed, usually to be replaced by parking.  In some spots, you can actually see how parking lots spread blight like an effective cancer.  There are some interesting pow-wows going on among pharmacies just outside of town. 

Main Street, Gloversville NY (from the internets)
By the way, Gloversville is slated for an episode of My Drunk Urban Planning, if it turns out that I actually go through with that.

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Drunk Urban Planning

In the spirit of one of the most genius YouTube series I've ever seen, I've decided to get drunk and create plans for cities that are better than what people actually get paid lots of money to do now.  While sober.

The most logical beginning will be Albany, NY. 

If you look at a map of downtown, you'll see that it was designed while drunk the first time around, anyway. 
We'll visit the large intrusion in the middle at some point.  I'd like to even take a video of driving on that roller coaster loopy thing in the bottom right hand corner.  We'll see why they chose it to film an incoherent and implausible chase scene in Salt on these overpasses.
In the middle of the screen, toward the top, note the reflecting pool that forms the centerpiece of Empire State Plaza.  That's due for a visit within the week.  (I'm obligated via another blog that's returning to Vermont soon.)

Getting back on topic, this:

is stupid.

Look forward to My Drunk Urban Planning: Downtown Albany Edition soon.

As soon as I figure out how to draw maps.

Edit:  Just added to the list: Gloversville, NY.  If you'd like your city added*, click here.

* If outside of the Northeast** and/or within the next two (2) years, please provide air or train fare.  If within the Capital Region or even immediately outside of it, just let me know; I'll be there.
**But how do I define Northeast?  Well, there is a quite simple litmus test for this, which, conveniently, has little to do with traditional geography.  It is as folows:  Can I afford it?  I'll let you know.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

CDTA Route Restructuring

The Capital District Transportation Authority began its round of public meetings last week to exhibit the first phase of proposed restructuring for Albany County.  This initial phase involves routes within the City of Albany, while a second phase planned for next year involves routes beyond the city limits.
CDTA Proposed Route Map.  Click for larger picture.  One more click gives you a close-up of the routes.
I won't be at one of the meetings until next Wednesday, when the closest meeting to my apartment takes place at the main branch of the Albany Public Library.  This round of public meetings is the second in the process, with representatives from the transportation authority having attended a round of neighborhood association meetings between late 2010 and early 2011.  The purpose of this, of course, was to collect crucial citizen input.  After all, the stated purpose of the redistricting, according to CDTA's website, is to "establish a new routing network that better aligns services to demand because where people live, work, shop and travel has changed dramatically over the years."

For those who are interested, here is the restructuring proposal and the meeting schedule:

                                      Thursday, July 7 4:00pm  - 8:00pm (a bit late for this one)
                                      Arbor Hill / West Hill Branch - Albany Public Library
                                      148 Henry Johnson Boulevard

                                      Monday, July 11  5:00pm - 9:00pm
                                      Albany Housing Authority Headquarters
                                      200 South Pearl Street

                                      Wednesday, July 13  4:00pm - 8:00pm
                                      Main Branch - Albany Public Library
                                      161 Washington Avenue

                                     Thursday, July 14  4:00pm - 8:00pm
                                     Pine Hills Branch - Albany Public Library
                                     517 Western Avenue

Thanks to Times Union Blogger Roger Green for the early information yesterday and for providing the first glimpse of the new maps.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Walk in the Park

I spend a lot of time in Mid-town Albany's Washington Park.  Most days, after work, I like to go to the dog park area to read, and of course watch the doggies.  There's a squirrel who lives in the trees near where I sit, too. I see many more dogs than squirrels here (I wonder ... any correlation?).

My squirrel friend hanging out in the trash can.

Washington Park is one of many designed in the 19th century by Frederick Law Olmsted.  Others include Central Park in Manhattan, the grounds of the United States Capitol and Boston's Emerald Necklace.  It's of the pastoral, naturalistic type found throughout America.  The Baroque park, most often found in Europe, is much more formal.   Washington Park in Troy is a good example of a Baroque-style park in America.

Troy: Washington Park, way back in winter.  My apologies for the reminder in this sunny season.  Still, quite nice, don't you think?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Most Dangerous Intersection in Albany County

Often, a report comes out and a year later, everyone has forgotten about it.  But it kind of sticks with you, and you can't stop thinking about it when you encounter some significant part of the findings.  This happens to me quite often, anytime I cross Washington Avenue to catch a bus uptown from the Armory bus stop.  To put this in perspective, the Armory bus stop takes me from home to two of my most visited grocery stores, the gym, Target, one of the two malls, the hardware store, a frequent professional errand and a host of other random locations, such as the GRE last fall.  (I may revisit the trip to take the GRE sometime, simply because it so easily illustrates the horrors of Suburbia for anyone outside of a 2,000 pound metal capsule.)

Taken from inside the bus.  The Armory Building is across the street.  Washington and Lark, Albany, NY.

Oh hey look, sharrows!!

While I was at the park this afternoon, reading and watching the dogs play, 'sharrows' appeared on Lark Street.  A sharrow, simply put, is an arrow telling cars to share.  The road, that is, with bicycles.  I suppose it remains to be seen how well this will work in a city where cars will not yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.  Still, steps like this are a welcome sign in Albany.

This crappy picture was taken from the window of my apartment, the street in front of which is now fertile ground for the spontaneous generation of sharrows.
Click this link for the City of Albany Bicycle Master Plan; fyi, it's a long document.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Self-Networking and Introduction


I've created this blog due to the lack of coherence I am experience on my Tumblr, which I created roughly two days ago.  I've been wanting to write about the situation for those without a car for quite a while, including tips for success, things to avoid, crappy things that happen and suggestions for improvements to be made in my city, Albany, NY.  (And other cities, especially in the Capital District.)  Lately, I've reached a critical mass of stored images or something, and have decided to just go ahead and do it.

And here it is.

Smile!!! :-