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Not enough to make highway safe

May 24, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

Kudos to the cycling community for getting its voice heard. In response, the state Department of Transportation will re-stripe state Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, giving cyclists an extra foot of width - but taking that foot away from each automobile lane on this busy two-lane highway.

It's a small step in the right direction by the DOT, since the department is finally doing something after more than a decade of local requests. Nevertheless, it's a cheap response - free, actually, since it doesn't cost the state anything - and it could have fatal consequences.

Cyclists, especially those from out of town, likely will hear of this move and think, "Now we can ride that stretch of highway." But it might be a road to catastrophe. The worst thing that can happen is that the relining is thought of as an opportunity to get more cyclists traveling this route. Even after a re-stripe, the road will still be dangerous - too narrow for trucks, cars and cyclists to coexist on many sections.

More cyclists will add to the danger. Already, there are tight portions for cars - and tractor-trailers - and putting more of a squeeze on them will be an collision waiting to happen, especially when cyclists ride two abreast or drivers are careless.

Recognize the re-striping for what it is - a Band-Aid, and a weak one at that. A real solution is possible, and cycling enthusiasts should ride their wave of momentum and put even more pressure on DOT and political leaders.

Maybe some thinking outside of the box will help. If the state continues to insist that creating a bike lane is too expensive, then rally all the troops who support bike lanes. Monetary contributions and fundraisers might be part of the solution to help defray the costs.

The re-striping is one victory in the campaign to get bike lanes for that highway, which is necessary for the entire region.

Unfortunately, it often takes a catastrophe to prompt a solution - for example, when residents of a community push for a traffic light and one isn't installed until there is a fatal accident. In a worst-case scenario, someone would die when the road is re-striped, car-truck lanes are narrowed and more cyclists hit that portion of Route 86. That would be way too high of a price to pay to make Route 86 safe for both cyclists and motorists.

This Sara-Placid Highway is one of the Adirondack Park's busiest roads - arguably the busiest. The people of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake have been asking for these bike lanes for more than a decade. The DOT has steadily disappointed us while putting bike lanes on other highways with far fewer tourists and elite athletes. It's long past time to set that right.



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