Reimagining Lark Street

The stretch of Lark Street between Washington and Madison Avenue could be in for a bit of a makeover – eventually.

Liz King, a landscape designer with Bergmann Associates, recently provided an update on the Lark Street Improvement Study for dozens of business and property owners and Lark Street area residents at a public open house at Hackett Middle School.

The study, launched in May, should wrap up in December with a series of recommendations to:

– Create a strong sense of place;

– Support multiple modes of transportation;

– Stimulate local growth; and

– Attract and retain residents, businesses and visitors.

After meeting with stakeholders along the corridor, the project team analyzed existing conditions of the streetscape, zoning, parking availability and usage, as well as crime and accident (car vs. pedestrian or cyclist) statistics. Preliminary recommendations to support the goals above include:

– Insertion of curb extensions at strategic intersections to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians and calm traffic.

– Creation of raised intersections (proposed at State and Lancaster Streets and Hudson Avenue). These would be intersections flush with the sidewalk – pedestrians enter the crossing at grade instead of stepping off a curb or ramp – and encourage drivers to slow down.

King noted that she heard from many Lark Street stakeholders that the Belgian Block intersections were difficult to navigate on foot, bike, or pushing a wheelchair or stroller.

In addition, the granite pavers, introduced decades ago in an earlier Lark Street redesign, have sunk and shifted in ways that make vehicles – especially heavy buses and trucks – bounce through the intersection, shaking nearby buildings.

– Consideration of sidewalk expansions to create additional pedestrian space and contribute to traffic calming.

Net loss of parking from all these recommendations would be 20 spaces – or 1 percent of some 2,000 spaces in the Lark Street catchment area. The study recommends tactics to improve the use of existing parking options, including better signage and access to the Albany County lot between Washington Avenue and Spring Street.

The study also provides a vision board for street amenities to give a coherent look and feel to the 8-block corridor. These range from bollards to delineate pedestrian space to structures like benches and bike racks, trash cans and even street trees.

Further, a proposed street lighting scheme would mark the gateways of the corridor at Washington and Madison Avenues with illuminated sculptures and bring back the much-missed strands of white lights across Lark Street at strategic intersections.

Of course, these are just recommendations unless or until funds are allocated to put the plans into place. But as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said in her welcoming remarks:

“You don’t get funding to make changes unless you have a plan. And I think we’ve been able to demonstrate time and time again that when we have good ideas and get community input and collaboration, we’re able to attract funding.”

The Lark Street Improvement Study is supported by the Lark Street Business Improvement District, the Albany Parking Authority, and a grant recommended by the Capital Region Economic Development Council. Visit https://larkstreetbid.org/lark-street-improvement-study/ for more information or to offer feedback.

Colleen M. Ryan has always been a storyteller. An innovative communications professional with experience in government, nonprofit and business sectors, she recently launched CMR Communications.

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