The state Department of Transportation has modified its plan to repave the Sara-Placid Highway this summer to widen the shoulders and accommodate cyclists a little better.
The department will now aim to leave as much room as possible along the shoulders of state Route 86, spokeswoman Carol Breen told the Enterprise Wednesday. She said the changes were made following input from local officials and cycling advocates.
"We have committed to re-striping the section between Saranac (Lake) and Lake Placid," Breen said. "That would create 10-foot travel lanes for motorists, and it would add an extra foot of shoulder room for bicyclists on each side of the road."
Kenny Boettger, left, owner of Placid Planet bicycle shop in Lake Placid, and Matt Young say the state Department of Transportation responded reasonably when it decided to re-stripe the Sara-Placid Highway, leaving extra room for cyclists.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Breen said DOT will only be repaving "what is there, not build new." She said the project will result in a smoother riding surface, but some locations will still have a narrow shoulder, even with the re-striping.
"The existing shoulder width varies widely along this route," she said. "There will still be some spots that have a narrow paved shoulder with gravel adjacent to it."
Transportation officials never planned to include actual bike lanes, which have a legal definition under state traffic law, include special traffic markings and are designed specifically for bicycles. Bike lanes also require engineering work that is not included in the upcoming rebuild of Route 86.
Breen said it's "extremely expensive" to reconstruct roads in general. Building an extra shoulder in itself can be pricey, she said.
"So just by striping the road in a different spot and moving that white line on the side in by a foot - just by doing that, it's simple, it doesn't cost anything, and we can give bicycle riders a little bit of extra room," Breen said.
The 8-mile stretch of highway between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake is among the most heavily traveled roads in the Adirondacks. It's also a popular route among cyclists and would be much more so if it was less dangerous, they say.
In less than two weeks, more than 1,600 people signed an online petition at www.change.org urging to DOT to build 5-foot shoulders wherever possible on Route 86. The petition also led to the formation of a new group called BIKE 86.
Josh Wilson of Saranac Lake, who works for the North Country Healthy Heart Network, said BIKE 86 and the petition quickly gained support from the New York Bicycle Coalition and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
"They sort of caught wind of the petition and offered to help spread the word about it," Wilson said.
Wilson said improving bicycle infrastructure "is an evidence-based way to enhance physical activity."
Placid Planet bicycle shop owner Kenny Boettger and Lake Placid Elementary School physical education teacher Matt Young, members of BIKE 86, said they were pleased with the updated DOT plan.
"It's a reasonable compromise that reflects the needs of cyclists and also motorists," Young said.
"It sounds like a good compromise," Boettger said. "I hope it works really well for everybody using the road."
BIKE 86 submitted its petition to DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's deputy secretary for transportation, Karen Rae.
Asked if the petition had anything to do with the DOT's decision to re-stripe the highway, Breen said her agency always tries to listen when the public calls for something.
"There's a lot of things people ask us to do that we can't do," she said. "But when the community really, really wants something and it's as easy to do as this, we're definitely going to take that into consideration and try to make that happen."
State Sen. Betty Little applauded cycling advocates, business owners and local officials for raising awareness about the issue.
"Cycling is more than exercise," she said. "It's a tourism draw. It's an activity that promotes interaction and commerce between communities."
Breen said the stretch of Route 86 between Lake Placid and Wilmington, which is also scheduled to be repaved this summer, won't get the same treatment as the shoulders on the Sara-Placid Highway.
"At that location, the road already has narrow travel lanes," she said. "In most sections, it's already about 10 feet, and we can't make it any narrower than that."
That road through the Wilmington Notch, along the West Branch of the AuSable River, is narrow and curvy. Breen said DOT will try to accommodate wider shoulders wherever it can.
"We don't want to compromise safety of the motorists, either," she said.
Breen said DOT is still determining a schedule for the Route 86 project. She said her agency will release information ahead of time so people know when work will occur and where to expect lane restrictions.