Can bicycles drive Copake recovery?

COPAKE—This town is on the road to revitalization. But the journey is not without a few bumps or at least one hill that makes it hard to see what’s ahead.

With a dry spell of economic growth in the hamlet, where old businesses have departed and new ones have not jumped in, one of the ways Copake is reinventing itself is as bicycling destination.

Bicycle riding events like the one in conjunction with Copake Auction’s annual antique and classic bicycle auction featuring the “high wheelers” and the upcoming September 20 second annual Roe Jan Ramble Bike Tour are among the initiatives supporting the bicycle destination goal.

Copake Community Service, Inc., in cooperation with the Copake Revitalization Task Force, has even produced a color BikeCopake brochure with a listing of area attractions, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, services and a road map of possible bicycle ride routes cyclers might like to try. “This rural area has rolling country roads with vistas of the Taconic Mountains to the east and the Catskill Mountains to the west,” says the brochure.

It is precisely one of those rolling country roads that prompted a letter emailed to Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer that came up at the August 9 Town Board meeting. The subject line reads: “Deat[h] trap for bicyclists.”

Letter writer George Reiter said that he was riding his bicycle headed north on County Route 7A (Center Hill Road), when he was making a left turn onto Snyder Pond Road just north of Brown’s Dam and was struck by a southbound car as he tried to complete the turn, July 10.

“Fortunately, the car was almost able to stop, and it looks like I will recover from my injuries,” Mr. Reiter wrote.

The problem at the intersection is that the terrain limits sight distance. North of the intersection is a hill that prevents northbound travelers who are turning left onto Snyder Pond Road from seeing oncoming southbound travelers. To the south of the intersection is a curve that makes northbound travelers “not visible” from the intersection.

Mr. Reiter said the “dangerous situation” is “compounded by inconsistent speed limits.” He points out that there are separate signs denoting the speed limit as both 35 and 45 mph in the same location.

“This makes no sense, and at the very least, this sign [Speed Limit 45 mph] should be removed. Had the car been doing 35 instead of 45, I might have completed my turn without injury.

“I trust that you will take the situation seriously, particularly as we are advertising Copake as a bicyclist’s destination, which it is,” Mr. Reiter wrote.

At the Town Board meeting, Councilperson Jeanne Mettler, who lives on Snyder Pond Road and has made that left turn on her bicycle, testified that it can be dicey and said the situation “needs our attention,” particularly the signage.

Supervisor Nayer said, “We don’t put the signs up, it’s a county road.” He also pointed out that the state Department of Transportation recently lowered the speed limit in that area from 55 to 45 mph and is not likely to agree to another speed limit reduction.

Noting that one or more of the suggested bike rides in the BikeCopake brochure sends bicyclists along that exact route, Ms. Mettler said the board should refer the problem to the town’s Revitalization Task Force and its “bike team” to see what they come up with.

Councilperson Susan Winchell-Sweeney said the town can still ask the state to lower the speed limit again. She said the county, in conjunction with it recent installation of the new bridge at Brown’s Dam and improvement of County Route 7A project, had also promised two “Share the Road” signs, which it has not yet posted.

Councilperson Kelly Miller-Simmons said motorists are not only inattentive to bicyclists, but also farm equipment.

Calling Copake a farming community, Ms. Miller-Simmons said her father has narrowly escaped being hit on his tractor three times by speeding motorists. She said signs should also alert motorists to farm machinery, adding, “I don’t know how you get people to pay attention to the signs.”

The board agreed to refer the issue to both the Revitalization Task Force and the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Committee.

“We have been put on notice by a letter. We don’t want to see any problems down the road … literally,” Ms. Mettler said.

Also at the meeting, Roberta Roll, who chairs the Revitalization Task Force, gave a report updating the board on task force business. She mentioned that the task force was recently involved with bringing the Hudson Valley Rail Ride into the hamlet for the first time. “Over one thousand riders participate in this event. Many of them came through the hamlet, and although most of them did not stop during the ride, they got a chance to see the town and what we have to offer.”

Later in the meeting, Ms. Roll told the board that the task force needs a hamlet planner to develop a “cohesive design plan that takes into account the varied elements of commercial, residential and community growth specific to our hamlet. The task force can identify certain aspects, such as appropriate businesses or initiatives, but many of these require siting and specifications, which we are not qualified to make.”

The task force estimates the services of a planner will cost between $30,000 and $35,000 of which $14,000 has been secured by two grants: one from the Rheinstrom Hill Community Foundation for $5,000, the other from the Hudson River Valley Greenway for $9,000. “We have researched and applied to other agencies, but in spite of our best and most diligent efforts during the past year, we have not found any that would fund the remaining amount,” she said. “We are asking for $20,000.”

The hamlet design plan is also a crucial part of securing grant funds for any future projects the task force may recommend. Without the plan in place, grant funding will not be forthcoming. Time is of the essence, Ms. Roll said, because the Greenway funds will not be available after May 15, 2015. The work of the planner must be completed by then.

With the 2015 budget already heavy on his mind, Supervisor Nayer said, “That is a big, big amount to get from the budget. I’m not going back to the days of 5% to 6% increases.”

He called for a motion to let the task force put out requests for proposals (RFPs) for the services of a planner, adding that from the responses “we’ll have an idea of cost and we’ll know exactly what we’re doing.”

The board agreed.

In other business, Mr. Nayer said that Copake Community Day organizers and participants seem to be “burned out” and the town “might be doing away with” the event in favor of music in the park for eight weeks. He said he would talk to Kirk Kneller about related insurance issues.

The next board meeting is September 11, starting with a public hearing on a proposed local law on hydrofracking at 6:45 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email .

 

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