Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Regular readers of this blog will remember a post I wrote back in February imagining what a car-free Lark Street would look like. Then came the Coronavirus and restaurants closed their dining rooms. In the ensuing months, New York has slowly started reopening. At first restaurants and bars could serve patrons on socially distant outside patios, and more recently reduced capacity indoor seating has been allowed. The Cuomo administration has since postponed indoor dining for New York City and judging by the local restaurants who have decided to close again, most notably Wolff's Biergarten because customers don't want to follow the rules and several positive tests that have been linked to restaurants, it wouldn't be surprising if indoor dining is soon rolled back in more areas of the state, or at least more restaurants decide to closed their dining rooms on their own.
And this brings us back to the issue of Lark Street. It was announced last month that the City of Albany was looking into expanding outdoor dining options in several areas of the city and that included possibly closing Lark to all vehicle traffic on Friday nights, and Saturdays. I finally thought that we as a city was going to do something cool (even if not that innovative as cities have been doing this for years, hell Albany even did it on Pearl Street back in the early aughts). The city in recent years has been adding bike lanes and trails, and putting roads on diets. It seemed like we were ripe for closing Lark and giving it to the pedestrian for a couple hours a week.
So I was very disappointed to learn of the plan to block off some of the parking lane on each side so that restaurants could extend patios to the curb and kick pedestrians onto the street with barricades the only thing between them and often speeding cars and illegal ATVs.
One of the first things I noticed about the new setup was that someone in a wheelchair has to get on and off the sidewalks via rubber ramps that don't offer a smooth transition where they meet the pavement (see picture below). Once someone in a wheelchair gets off the sidewalk, they have to traverse the lovely surface of the street (see picture below); say what you will about Albany's sidewalks, but if you've ever driven on a road here, you know they are also not the smoothest, especially Lark.
I also just witnessed a heavy downpour that caused the street to become a river. A
pedestrian was walking up the sidewalk and came up to a barrier placed by a restaurant and was faced with the choice to move to the street-river or hop the barricade. The rain water was also blocked by the orange barricades and started piling up onto the sidewalk. The ramps are pretty heavy, as I found out pushing one back into place after the torrent of rainwater moved it out of place.
I don't fault the city with doing what they can to help the businesses of our city, and right now they don't have much facing a financial crisis caused by the pandemic, but I would have loved to see Lark closed for the weekends. Pedestrians would have total control over the street and not have to worry about navigating a maze of barriers, temporary ramps, and potholes galore.
Hopefully the redesign and eventual rehab of Lark allows us to do what other cities did in the 1980s. Hell, even Cohoes is bold enough to do it.