New Paltz: A One-Way Main Street feasibility study

Before deciding to “further study” something already studied on the public’s dime, it’s a good idea to first take a hard look at whether it makes any sense to waste more time and resources on the thing.

That will be my purpose in throwing a cold eye on the proposed One-Way Main Street Loop for New Paltz.

Under this proposal Main Street would become one-way heading downtown from Manheim Boulevard to the lower Main traffic light at Chestnut.

Uptown traffic, under the plan, would take South Chestnut (Route 208) for a hundred yards or so, where it would then take a left turn onto Hasbrouck, which it would take up to Plattekill, and then take Plattekill to South Manheim where it would take a left turn that would bring it, after a few hundred yards, back to Main Street.

The purpose of this ragged series of detours is to “improve traffic flow” on Main Street. In fact, the consultant responsible for the “Transportation and Land Use Study” for New Paltz, in which the One-Way proposal is advanced, believes that this one-way system is the sine qua non, the essential element, of improving traffic in New Paltz.

Here, contra the traffic experts, are my findings:

Conclusion: The One-Way Main Street system is unfortunately a typical example of boilerplate central planning. It would displace a reasonably balanced roadway system in downtown New Paltz with a “traffic concept” that during hours of light traffic would inconvenience drivers, and during hours of heavy traffic make delays worse, while taking multiple navigational options and alternative routes away from drivers. At the same time the use of Hasbrouck would make heavy traffic a new feature of Hasbrouck Park, the main outdoor space for public gatherings in the village. The one-way system would have a pronounced negative effect on the physical character of the downtown core.

Key Findings:

1. In advancing itself as a solution to traffic congestion, the One-Way proposal eliminates the most efficient uptown artery (Main Street) between Chestnut and Manheim.

2. It forces uptown traffic to use an alternate route that is already available to drivers at their discretion.

3. During the heaviest traffic it creates a high probability for serious traffic jams on Chestnut between Main and Hasbrouck and again on Plattekill as it approaches the intersection at South Manheim. This is the combined effect of at once removing the most efficient uptown route while forcing all traffic to negotiate two additional difficult intersections. (There could also be a problem at the point where Hasbrouck flows into Plattekill, which involves a crosswalk for the main pedestrian route from the college to the downtown district).

4. Under certain conditions the approach back to Main Street along South Manheim will also become jammed, but at the very least will always show delays that are worse, under similar traffic conditions, than those that currently occur on the uptown approach to Manheim on Main.

5. For drivers the net effect of taking the One-Way detour is to be returned to Main Street after being inconvenienced (in light traffic) or serially delayed (in heavy traffic) at the Chestnut-Hasbrouck and Plattekill-South Manheim intersections and again at the South Manheim-Main intersection.

6. One of the most serious impacts of the One-Way detour is to eliminate the only practical alternate downtown route to the south side of downtown (Manheim to Plattekill to Hasbrouck, which would become one-way only uptown). This will leave drivers with no practical alternative to taking Main all the way down to Chestnut to get to the south side of downtown.

7. Another serious impact will be an immediate increase of traffic on Henry DuBois Drive, which will tax the efficiency of that as the parallel alternative to Main Street on the north side of the village.

8. Under current conditions there are three routes downtown and three uptown via Main, Dubois, and the Plattekill-Hasbrouck “slide.” The one-way plan would reduce these by 33%, to two routes each way, including the elimination of the only practical alternate route to the south side of downtown.

9. The One-Way Main proposal also includes a plan to make downtown sidewalks wider between North Front and Chestnut such that a pedestrian mall of sorts would be created. This is a typical planning fantasy that will always look wonderful in an artist’s sketch but that has no purpose other than to fulfill the planner’s wish. It misunderstands and ignores the fact that the social space of the downtown core of the village of New Paltz is interior space, of which there is an abundant supply. This pedestrian plaza or mall will likely have an unwanted social impact that would involve a tragedy of the commons effect.

Further Comments: Advocates of the One-Way plan seem oblivious to the rather obvious problems with it. Their arguments in defense of the plan include such fallacies as that it was the product of a “long study” involving “important people.” To specific objections that show the plan is at best impractical they respond that it needs more study, seemingly confident that even the most obvious physical complications (leaving aside the aesthetic and social concerns) will be resolved by yet more of the head-scratching and conjecture that took place during the “long study.” The five additional turns (if one approaches the one-way uptown leg from the Wallkill bridge on Main) and three additional intersections will somehow be worked out by “further study.” This is, of course, absurd, just as spending another $300,000 to study just one recommendation from a four-year $500,000 study is absurd. The defense that it “won’t cost us anything” because the state is paying for it is another way of evading the problems with the proposal while wasting other people’s money.

Another bit of nonsense constantly repeated by advocates of the One-Way plan is to say that the village board had “adopted” the study back in 2006 and is therefore being unreasonable in now questioning recommendations from the study. I happened to witness this “adoption” by the village board, and it appeared to be nothing more than a formality, with little debate, no public hearing, and no discussion of any of the recommendations. That advocates of the study and the One-Way plan keep repeating this canard about the board having “adopted” the study shows the weakness of their argument.

Much credit is due here to the members of the current village board who, under the leadership of mayor Terry Dungan, are thoughtful, principled, and deliberate, and are resistant to being railroaded by the money being waved at local officials by the state or the glib assertions and petty digs of the One-Way advocates.

Well, that’s my feasibility study of the One-Way Main Street plan. I’ve had a model of the core village roadway system running in my head for nearly a year, and I’ve made several of the observations I make here at different times and in different places. What I’ve written here is hardly all that I have to say about the plan or its advocates. I don’t even want to get started on the consultant who is responsible for the transportation study and this one-way proposal. Any reader is welcome to email me (see upper right of the main page) with further discussion, which I will publish if it is germane and serious.

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