Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Part and whole

Hudson has much of the complexity of a larger city, but its small size makes one continually aware of the whole. When looking at a small part of it, one almost unavoidably becomes aware of the other systems and the whole with which it interacts. This interaction of parts with systems, of details with whole, is a big part of what makes urban design compelling to me.
It was in this vein that, while looking at the potential redesign of Hudson's Seventh Street Park, I became distracted by the presence of U.S. Route 9 running along its southeast side. As one of the official truck routes through Hudson, it brings heavy traffic into the heart of the city. Reducing this traffic would go a long way toward improving pedestrian experience.
U.S. Route 9 takes an odd jughandle at Hudson.

Route 9 enters the Hudson street grid due to an abrupt jughandle in the route's more general path. A more natural course lies a couple blocks to the east; why doesn't Route 9 follow it? Are there physical factors preventing this, and can they be successfully mitigated to the benefit of park users?

The bird's eye view below allows a closer look at the route's circuitousness. Drivers traveling northward on Route 9/Worth Avenue must turn left onto Warren Street, right onto Park Place, right onto Columbia Street, left onto Green Street, and finally left onto Fairview Avenue. A shorter and simpler route would involve a soft right onto Prospect Avenue, which leads almost directly to Fairview Avenue and points north. Your GPS knows this: ask it to get you from a point south of Hudson to a point north of it, and it will skip the jughandle and have you follow the dashed line.

The reason trucks do not have this option apparently lies in a two-block stretch between the end of Prospect Avenue and the head of Green Street. The roadway here is particularly narrow, with parking on both sides and residences sited close to the sidewalk. There is barely enough space for passenger cars, and widening the street for trucks would be disruptive to a number of residents and property owners. I'm not eager to demolish houses, whether or not of historic value, but from my armchair blogger perspective the possibility is worth a look.
Existing: A two-block stretch--one block of Columbia Street and one block of Fairview Avenue--is very narrow. This limits
road capacity and forces U.S. Route 9 to follow a complicated jughandle through the heart of Hudson.

The street widening I look into below began with a revision I suggested several weeks ago to the end of Prospect Avenue, where it meets Columbia Street and Columbia Turnpike. At the time, I proposed simplifying the complicated street geometries into a more conventional four-way intersection. I also introduced a public garden in a triangular space that resulted from the closure of a portion of Columbia Street. These suggestions are shown in the images below.

With that as my starting point, I've widened one block of Columbia Street and one block of Fairview Avenue. Assuming street parking is maintained (desirable for the residents' convenience, as well as for the safety of sidewalk pedestrians), this would necessitate the removal of at least three residential buildings on the north side of Columbia Street.
Street widening: An increase in the width of short sections of Columbia Street and Fairview Avenue would allow Route 9 to be
relocated to a shorter, more natural path. However, several buildings on the north side of Columbia Street would be lost.

Going a step farther, Prospect Avenue could be merged directly into Fairview Avenue, making the two streets into one continuous street (below) and eliminating a left turn for northbound traffic. This would endanger the same three buildings as the preceding scheme.  
Street merging: Prospect Avenue and Fairview Avenue merged into a continuous street. 

Such concerns aside, the possibilities are appealing. Prospect and Fairview Avenues have an inherent scale and sensibility more conducive to handling trucks and through-traffic than the streets within the city grid. And if the hospital expands in the future (as seems likely), the merging of Prospect/Fairview could allow the creation of a more coherent streetscape in an area where street identity is currently muddled.

A closer look at the other end of the jughandle, where the head of Warren Street meets Worth Avenue and Prospect Avenue, is in order. I'll save that detail, and the larger discussion it will lead into, for another time.


  1. I suppose that one obstacle would be the potential of increased truck and other traffic running past the hospital. But it certainly deserves a look. The intersection there is a fiasco as it is anyway.

  2. I have a couple of thoughts on this post and your idea. One, the truck is terrifying from that perspective. I may jaywalk less after seeing that. Two, I never paid too much attention to the ongoing issue of the truck route(s) through the city. Probably because although I agree with the need for a change, so much of the discussion seemed to peter out after the main point of getting the trucks out of Hudson's core streets and perhaps even Hudson proper (and letting it be someone else's problem). As consumers of too much of the crap that's hauled in these trucks, I think we need to own a piece of it. That goes for the quarry/ gravel trucks, too. We use those materials when we need it, and shouldn't expect to tidily push the problem off on someone or somewhere else. If there is a better solution to be found than what exists today it probably will end up hurting in some ways (i.e. necessitating teardown of some houses as in your scheme), but hopefully doing more good than just rerouting big trucks. In this case, if it fixes that godawful intersection up near the hospital, more power to it. Or perhaps we should look at a truck tunnel that burrows under the the hospital hill and emerges on 9.

  3. Your maps focus too much on Hudson. Truck drivers Don't want to drive anywhere near the city if they don't have too. Most traffic enters off of 66 and 23b not 9. look into long proposed connector between 66 and 23b to County route 29 for answer I think makes most sense.

    1. My admittedly limited goal here was to address one aspect of the problem, truck traffic on the east side of the Seventh Street Park, without bringing other local governments to the table. I think--think--I addressed this with some success, albeit at the cost of losing several houses and widening a street. In the real world, I wouldn't put forth a piecemeal solution without fully grasping the problem at a regional scale and all its implications.

      That said, it does seem likely that Hudson will have to solve the within its own borders, given the difficulty of getting Greenport to move its truck routes. And even if the 66/23b connector were to happen (a seeming longshot, but I don't know), wouldn't Hudson still have the gravel trucks on Columbia Street every day?

      I'll try to look at this whole mess at a regional scale another time.

    2. Not if they were allowed use their existing roadway from their quarry south of route 9 across 9G south of the city and across the south bay to their slip on the river. They need to get that material to the river somehow and I would rather they take the most direct route and monitor the effect it has on the bay but everyone is against St Lawrence and there's no compromise. They Won't go away. They have a 100 year supply of limestone here. We just need to find a better way for them to get it to the river.

    3. I agree. The complaint parade against StL/Holcim aims to put them out of business instead of accepting that they have a right to be here, like it or not. Their all or nothing demands lead to more of the status quo. I suspect that the complainers, when they need their building products, expect them to be waiting for them on the shelf at Lowe's. They refuse to entertain the connection.

      Too, they frame the causeway across South Bay as one of the great crimes against the environment, and demand that it be removed. But they don't make the same complaint about the Amtrak line, which made at least as much environmental impact. That's because they are self-interested in getting to NYC on demand. But they refuse to respect the self-interests of StL/Holcim.