Bridging the Hudson in Upstate New York
By Matt Wempe
Bridges are a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Advocates must take advantage of the chance to ensure bicycle and pedestrian access to connect communities and complete transportation networks people rely upon. In Albany, NY, the New York Bicycling Coalition (NYBC) has been working to ensure such access as part of the Livingston Avenue Railroad Bridge rehabilitation. The bridge is the main connection across the Hudson River between the cities of Albany and Rennesslaer.
Sadly, bicycle and pedestrian access was discontinued in the 1980s due to a lack of maintenance, though the railroad tracks continue to be in operation. The only other crossing for 30 miles is the unsafe Dunn Memorial Bridge with a tacked-on walkway that doesn’t meet current ADA standards. The New York State Department of Transportation, CSX railroad and Amtrak are now working to rehab the entire bridge — but bicycle and pedestrian accommodation is in danger of being left out.
Advocacy Advance, a partnership of the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League, awarded a Rapid Response Grant to help NYBC seize this opportunity. What started out as a campaign of two people has blossomed into widespread support to include a bicycle and pedestrian walkway on the bridge. Today, the Livingston Avenue Railroad Bridge Coalition partners include:
- New York Bicycling Coalition
- Parks & Trails New York
- Empire State Future
- Capital Region Transit Advocates
- Many community leaders, advocates, and stakeholders in the capital region
The high-quality communications and outreach work has not gone unnoticed. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer recently added his support for bicycle and pedestrian access on the bridge. “Senator Schumer’s involvement at this early point in the project design is very timely,” said NYBC’s executive director, Brian Kehoe. “The Coalition anticipates productive engagement with all project stakeholders as this critical project moves forward. We deeply appreciate the Senator’s support for bicycling.”
Work continues on the bridge design and the coalition will continue to grow and advocate for a complete design. So what are some of the lessons learned by NYBC?
Grassroots support: After initial meetings with NYSDOT and Amtrak were unproductive, NYBC pursued a strategy of building local support. This included resolutions of support from the cities and counties of Albany and Rennesslaer, and inclusion in comprehensive land use, transportation and parks plans throughout the capital region. NYSDOT has now publicly stated that bicycle and pedestrian accommodation will be part of the design conversation.
Building the Coalition: The demand for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations is obvious now, but the coalition began with only two people. Simple steps such as a Change.org petition, Facebook page, print materials, and dedicated coalition website made that possible.
The Advocacy Advance team is looking forward to the continued success of this campaign. To learn more, get involved in the coalition, and stay updated on future progress, visit the Livingston Avenue Railroad Bridge Coalition website.