Save the Pine Bush Comments on Proposed Hotel

written by Lynne Jackson

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Read the Developer’s outrageous response to this issue that says "walking or bicycling . . . should be discouraged."

Public Health Issues

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Residence Inn says the following about bicycle and pedestrian access:

d. Bicycle Access – Page 19

“There is no convenient bicycle access to the site through the use of dedicated or shared bicycle lands. The Applicant does not anticipate either employees or guests making use of bicycles for transportation.”

e. Pedestrian Access – Page 20

“There are no sidewalks or paved shoulders along the existing South Frontage Road from Rapp Road to the site. There are paved shoulders along Washington Avenue Extension. The Applicant does not anticipate either employees or guests will arrive at the Site as pedestrians.”

The Common Council of Albany and has been charged with the responsibility of ensuring the public health when approving developments. We, at Save the Pine Bush are extremely concerned that many public health issues have been completely ignored in the DEIS for the Residence Inn proposal in the Pine Bush.

Public Health Issue #1 — Urban Sprawl Increases Pedestrian Deaths

Walking is one of the most dangerous modes of travel. Though only 5% of all trips are made by walking, 12% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians.

Motor Vehicle deaths are the leading cause of deaths of Americans between the ages of 1 and 34. In 2001, the total traffic fatalities in the United States were 38,000, of which it is estimated that 4700 were pedestrians.

Sprawl has long been suspected of being a factor in these traffic fatalities. In the September, 2003 issue of American Journal of Public Health, a research study entitled “Urban Sprawl as a Risk Factor in Motor Vehicle Occupant and Pedestrian Fatalities” by Reid Ewing, PhD., Richard A. Schieber, MD, MPH, and Charles V. Zegeer, MS determined the association between sprawl and traffic fatalities.

The researchers created a sprawl index, with lower numbers indicating more sprawl and higher numbers more concentrated development. The sprawl index was created using information from the US Census data on population and density of development was determined using US Census data concerning block size.

From this, the researchers looked at information from 448 counties. The most densely populated county (according to the sprawl index) was Manhattan, NY with a sprawl index of 352.07 (higher values indicate more density). The All-Mode Traffic Fatality Rate per 100,000 for Manhattan was 4.42. In contrast, Geauga County, Ohio (Cleveland Metropolitan Area) had the lowest sprawl index of 63.12 (less dense) had a fatality rate of 20.90, or five times higher than Manhattan.

The results stated by the researchers were, “For every 1% increase in the index (i.e., more compact, less sprawl), all-mode traffic fatality rates fell by 1.49% . . . and pedestrian fatality rates fell by 1.47% to 3.56% after adjustment for pedestrian exposure . . .

“Conclusion: Urban sprawl was directly related to traffic fatalities and pedestrian fatalities.”

The Residence Inn proposal does not address the basic problem of sprawl. No sidewalks are to be built. Employees will not safely be able to walk to work or to use mass transit. Customers of the hotel won’t even be able to walk to Crossgates Mall to shop. Though this Residence Inn proposal is less than 1.5 miles from the new nanotech facilities at SUNYA, they will not be able to walk or bicycle safely to this destination. Employees and customers October 23, 2005eds, which increases their risk of being involved in a traffic accident. This hotel does not belong in the Pine Bush; it should be built downtown.

Public Health Issue #2 – Bicyclists and Pedestrians Would Access Hotel

The DEIS states “The Applicant does not anticipate either employees or guests making use of bicycles for transportation.” and “The Applicant does not anticipate either employees or guests will arrive at the Site as pedestrians.”

This completely short-sighted. There are many times where people staying at the Residence Inn would want to arrive by bicycle or on foot. For example, the City of Albany is a co-sponsor of the annual “Pine Bush Triathlon”. The Triathlon had 400 participants last year. The starting point for the Triathlon is only 1.5 miles from the site of the proposed hotel. It seems that participants would stay at this hotel, if it were built, and would find it convenient to bicycle to the beginning of the Triathlon, if it were safe.

The City of Albany hosts many other athletic events, such as the Last Run (during the First Night celebrations), the Freihofer’s Run for Women (in May) where 4,000 women come to run through Washington Park, the Neighborhood Run, and numerous other running/walking events. Athletes attending these events often do not wish to have to find places to park, and would prefer to bicycle. For the applicant to state that “The Applicant does not anticipate either employees or guests will arrive at the Site as pedestrians . . .[or] by bicycle.” is ridiculous.

The Applicant anticipates that people coming to work at the nanotech sites at SUNYA would be customers of the Residence Inn. What do high-tech computer people want? They want to work all day, and then, go bicycling off to their lattes. People who are attracted to the high-tech and computer fields are often avid bicyclists. They want safe places to ride their bicycles. This project will not give bicyclists a safe place to ride.

Also, many customers of the proposed Residence Inn would be staying at the inn for weeks or months, rather than days. People who are temporarily living at the inn may prefer to walk or bicycle to work, shop, and for recreation.

Public Health Issue #3 — Promoting Save Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health

In the September, 2003 issue of American Journal of Public Health, a research study entitled “Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from The Netherlands and Germany” by John Pucher, PhD. and Lewis Dijkstra, PhD. This study examined the public health consequences of unsafe and inconvenient walking and bicycling conditions in American cities and improvements that could be made, based on successful policies in The Netherlands and Germany.

Measures discussed in this research article would not only reduce pedestrian and bicycle accidents, but would allow millions of people (who are dangerously overweight) to walk or bike for short trips, and get needed healthy exercise in the course of daily life.

The article states, “The United States is gripped by a worsening epidemic of obesity. Nationwide surveys based on self-reported weight and height indicate an increase in obesity from 12% of adults in 1991 to 20% in 2000. Estimates of obesity based on clinical measurements of weight and height are considerably higher, indicating that in 2000, 31% of the adult population was obese . . . and 64% was overweight. Many studies suggest that lack of physical exercise is one important reason for the alarming trend towards increased obesity. . . [T]he US surgeon general specifically recommends more walking and cycling for practical, daily travel as an ideal approach to raising physical activity levels.”

Further, the article notes that for 2001 in metropolitan areas, 41% of all trips were shorter than 2 miles and 28% were shorter than one mile. Despite the fact that most Americans can walk one mile, and that bicycling is easy for a 2-mile trip, the automobile is used 66% of the time for all trips one mile or less, and 89% of the time for all trips between 1-2 miles.

There is a clear benefit to the public health to encourage walking and bicycling for these shorter distances.

However, there are two problems with encouraging the increase in walking and bicycling; due to the lack of pedestrian and bicycle amenities, these activities are dangerous and inconvenient in most cities. The good news is, that changes, such as the ones made to increase walking and bicycling in The Netherlands and Germany over the past 20 years, can be made here. The study states. “The Netherlands and Germany provide valuable lessons for integrating more physical exercise into the lives of Americans.”

The study uses information on walking and bicycle trip use and pedestrian and cycling fatality and injury rates for the United States, The Netherlands and Germany.

It is interesting to note, that the percentage of urban trips by walking or bicycling in the US fell from 10% to 6.3%, which is far lower than other countries. Contrast that to non-motorized trips in The Netherlands of over 40%. Perhaps even more interesting is the percent of trips made by people over 75. Half of all trips by residents of The Netherlands and Germany over the age of 75 were made by non-motorized travel.

This ability to walk well into old age is good for health and gives people an independence that enhances the quality of life. Perhaps even more striking is that the life expectancy in Germany and The Netherlands is 2 years longer than in the US. The study observes, “ . . . walking and cycling are discouraged in the United States by longer trip distances, the low cost and ease of auto ownership and use, and a range of other public policies that make walking and cycling inconvenient, unpleasant, and above all, unsafe.”

Compact land development patterns in The Netherlands and Germany greatly contribute to the encouragement of the use of walking and bicycling.

According to this study, in the United States, pedestrians are 23 times more likely to get killed walking than riding in a car, and a bicyclist is 12 times more likely to be killed. Policies implemented in The Netherlands and Germany demonstrate that it is possible to greatly reduce this number by implementing strategies to protect pedestrians and bicyclists. The study says “American cities lack only the political will to adopt the same strategies.”

What strategies were used? Only six were outlined in the study, but there are many more.

1) Better facilities for walking and cycling: this includes a wide range of crosswalks, pedestrian amenities, and an entire bicycling network. One feature found is “bicycle streets” where cars are permitted, but cyclists have a strict right-of-way.

2) Traffic calming of residential neighborhoods, including a speed limit of 30 km per hour / 19 miles per hour. Studies have shown that these traffic calming methods have greatly reduced the fatality and injury rate.

3) Urban design oriented to people not cars. For example, parking lots rarely surround buildings, they are behind or next to the building, allowing for better pedestrian and bicycle access. Residential and commercial neighborhoods are closer together. Sidewalks and bicycle paths are always built.

4) Restrictions on Motor Vehicle Use: including lower speed limits, limited parking, and no right-on-red.

5) Traffic Education: driver education is far more extensive in The Netherlands and Germany than in the United States.

6) Traffic regulations and enforcement: these policies strongly favor walkers and cyclists. In accidents with bicyclists and pedestrians, the motorist is always found at least partly at fault, and if the accident involves a child or the elderly, the motorist is always found at fault.

The study concludes by saying:

“The European countries with the highest levels of walking and cycling have much lower rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension than the United States. The Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, for example, have obesity rates only one third of the American rate, while Germany’s rate is only half as high. Moreover, the average healthy life expectancies in those 4 European countries are 2.5 to 4.4 years longer than in the United States. . .

“Repeated waves of fad diets, rising memberships in health clubs, exercise equipment in more homes, diet pills and liposuction have all been total failures in fighting the current obesity epidemic. Why not try integrating walking and cycling into the daily travel routines of Americans? That clearly would be the cheapest, most reliable, and most practical way to ensure adequate levels of physical exercise.”

This proposed Residence Inn, if built, will simply further create a health hazard by forcing all visitors and employees to drive, rather than bike or walk, to the hotel. In contrast, if the Residence Inn were built downtown, it would increase the public health.

Public Health Issue #4 — Mortality Risk Associated with Leaving Home

In the September, 2003 issue of American Journal of Public Health, a research study entitled Mortality Risk Associated With Leaving Home: Recognizing the Relevance of the Built Environment, by William H. Lucy, PhD.

Traffic accidents rate among the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. This study examines the danger of leaving home to conduct routine activities, and compares traffic deaths to homicide deaths.

Traffic fatalities contribute much more to the risk of leaving home than homicides. In 2000, there were 2.7 times more traffic fatalities than homicides. Because most homicides are caused by family members, co-workers or friends which are associated with being at home, work or at a neighbors, this study looks at homicides by strangers which would be related to travel.

The study compared rates based on density of population.

The study concluded that “The exurbs are the most dangerous parts of metropolitan areas, because more cars move fast on 2-lane roads, where dangers of driver impairment, mistakes, and inattention compound the dangers. . . A study of effects of low-density suburban sprawl in 83 metropolitan areas found that traffic fatality rates were 50% higher in the 10 most sprawling than in the 10 least sprawling metropolitan areas. . .

“But homicides are not nearly so great a danger as traffic fatalities. Injuries from motor vehicle crashes and aggravated assaults are additional evidence for comparing the relative risks of crime and traffic. In 2000, thee were 3,189,000 traffic injuries stemming from 2,070,000 injury crashes compared with 910,774 aggravated assaults, a more than 3 to 1 ratio. ”

The location for this proposed Residence Inn is in the most dangerous part of the City of Albany — the exurbs. It should not be built here, but downtown, where it is safer.

Just for the matter of public health, the Residence Inn should be built downtown and not in the Pine Bush.

In conclusion, the DEIS is inadequate in addressing Pine Bush ecology issues, the Karner Blue butterfly and other environmental and public health issues.


Lynne Jackson
Volunteer, Save the Pine Bush

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Read the Developer’s outrageous response to this issue that says "walking or bicycling . . . should be discouraged."











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