Girl Gone Planning: Lark Street Is A Model For Our Region And Is Getting A Makeover

Lark Street between Washington and Madison Avenues in Albany is a popular mixed-use business district in the middle of an existing walkable neighborhood and served my multiple bus routes that connect it with downtown Albany, Schenectady, Crossgates Mall, and other shopping/employment centers. This type of neighborhood is so desirable that suburban towns from Latham to Malta try to emulate it, often with little success for various reasons. Many of these endeavors to recreate a walkable urban neighborhood fail because they usually don't or can't provide all the aspects of what makes a street like Lark so special.

Malta tried to encourage a mixed-use neighborhood center near the Luther Forest tech park called Ellsworth Commons complete with stores on first levels of buildings with apartments on top. What they failed to account for was that for the number of storefronts they wanted to build, they needed a lot more housing than was built to patronize them. The development also devotes a bunch of land to parking because nearly everyone that lives there has to own a car to get around. It is located nowhere near a transit route, as compared to the 10 CDTA bus routes that have stops on or adjacent to Lark Street. Everyone derails transit options (see my previous post) but Lark Street is one of the best connected neighborhoods in the region to CDTA, add in that it is also walkable to downtown and you get a place where car ownership is very low (compared to the American average). To illustrate the vast difference in density and car ownership between Center Square and Malta, data from Trulia shows that the 12210 zip code that includes Center Square has .46 cars per person and around 10,500 people per square mile; Malta (zip 12020) has .76 cars for every person and around 450 people per square mile. I call what Malta (and other suburban places that are trying to create walkable centers) "Drive to Walkability", in which you have to drive to get to somewhere that is walkable.

Lark Street is in line for a makeover as it has been over a decade and a half since the last repaving and streetscape improvements. As part of this upgrade, the Lark Street Business Improvement District, or BID, has hired a consultant to study the corridor and the options available for a redesign. The study will most likely recommend streetscape improvements, raised intersections to replace the oft-maligned cobblestones present now, and other improvements. A part of that study included two temporary curb extensions. These extensions are areas near an intersection where the curb comes out into the street in order to reduce the distance that it takes a pedestrian to cross the street. These extensions come at the expense of the parking spaces that usually occupy them. On Lark Street, it is estimated that curb extensions will eliminate 12 parking spaces.

The one week trial of these cut outs was met with mostly positive reviews from the community and local officials. One local resident and prominent radio DJ however found the experiment rather inconvenient and useless. The dystopian hellscape alla Ray Bradbury that the writer describes would feature pedestrians being able to navigate intersections with less chance of being hit by cars and where rainwater would be allowed to drain more naturally into the soil instead of overwhelming the city's fragile sewer infrastructure all at the cost of 12 parking spaces in a neighborhood that has over 2000 parking spaces for residents and even more on Lark and in Washington Park that is time restricted during the weekdays.

I would recommend that if anyone is truly upset about losing 12 parking spaces in order to lessen the chance of pedestrians being struck by cars, then they should probably move to Ellsworth Commons.