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Cycling advocates call for wider shoulders on Route 86

May 4, 2012

LAKE PLACID - The state already said no to bike lanes on the Sara-Placid highway, so cycling advocates are petitioning the state to create a usable shoulder when transportation crews repave the highway later this spring.

An online petition at called "New York State Department of Transportation: Create a cycling friendly shoulder between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake" had nearly 1,500 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

The petition was launched by Matt Young, a physical education teacher at the Lake Placid Elementary School. It asks DOT to repair Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake to include a 5-foot shoulder on both sides "for use by cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles in distress.

"Our message is urgent because this section of highway is scheduled to be paved during the Summer of 2012, and this opportunity to improve safety and accessibility should not be overlooked," the petition reads.

"I ride my bike between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid a lot, and it's very scary; it needs a shoulder bad," Young said. "That's my personal perspective. Professionally, as a physical education teacher that's inspiring kids to be physically active, it's important to have resources for that. Having a safe place to ride - that's definitely a resource."

Young said a safe shoulder on Route 86, one of the Adirondack Park's most heavily traveled highways, would promote tourism in the region and encourage bicycling as an alternate form of transportation. He said a 5-foot shoulder would also increase safety for both drivers and cyclists.

The petition says that state taxpayers can't afford to spend "limited transportation dollars on projects that only benefit automobiles to the detriment of other modes of travel."

Kenny Boettger, who co-owns Placid Planet Bicycles in Lake Placid with his wife, said many cyclists won't even try to ride Route 86 "because it's in such deplorable shape." He said he tells a lot of his customers to stay away from it.

"Once you get to Saranac Lake, the riding is stellar, but that's a tough connection," Boettger said. "You either have to drive to Saranac Lake, which defeats the purpose, or you have to ride the gauntlet."

Boettger said the area already has a solid reputation among cyclists because of events like the Ironman triathlon. He said adding better shoulders to Route 86 would boost that reputation.

"We are a tourism-based economy," Boettger said. "If more people are coming to ride here, it's just bringing more business and more money to the area. And more people will experience what we have to offer."

Boettger said cyclists aren't asking for much.

"We were putting together a petition to try and encourage DOT to do a better job than just the strip down the middle," he said. "It seems like when they're paving, it just gets narrower and narrower. Five feet seems like a reasonable amount of space; a usable shoulder is what we're striving for."

DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen said recently that actual bike lanes won't be part of a repaving project scheduled to start this spring. She said DOT will remove and replace the existing pavement.

Breen said bike lanes could be considered as part of a more in-depth reconstruction of the highway sometime in the future.

Local government officials have been supportive of adding bike lanes. The North Elba town board passed a resolution in support of the idea earlier this month, and two weeks ago Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau orchestrated a conference call with DOT officials to push for the plan.

Rabideau said he spoke with DOT's regional director, Mary Ivey, and went "right down the whole echelon of alternatives" for trying to add wide shoulders to the project.

Rabideau said transportation officials told him re-engineering the highway could cost in the tens of millions of dollars, something he found "incredulous.

"Surely there's places we can widen the shoulders," he said. "This is the most heavily traveled road in the Adirondacks."

According to Rabideau, Route 86 is considered a "preservation project" by transportation officials.

Morganson said he hasn't received a positive response, either.

"I called the statewide planner and the region-wide planner, and they indicated the cost would be too much," he said.

The online petition includes a comment section that asks people to leave a reason why they support widening the shoulders.

Scott LaClair wrote that Route 86 represents the "best access to reach Lake Placid from the north by bike."



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