Category Archives: Albany

No, they mustn’t.

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bicyclists must walkLike most people, I obey the law, except when I don’t. I follow all the
traffic rules when I’m cycling. I do not ignore stop signs, and I don’t
roll through red lights (and if that’s made me annoying to erstwhile
riding companions, so be it – the whole problem with drivers today is
their absolute sense of entitlement, of a right to the road superior to
everyone else’s rights, and I’m tired of it). I signal my stops and
turns when it’s safe for me to do so (but with the rough pavement we
have, releasing the handlebars isn’t always a good idea). I don’t cut
through parking lots or ride on sidewalks. I even stop for school buses,
not because my bike is going to run over some kindergartener, but
because it’s the law. It’s just what you do.

But I’ll be damned
if I’ll obey the signs on the ramps up to the Dunn Memorial Bridge that
say “Bicyclists must walk on ramp.” There is no reason on earth for this
rule. First, it doesn’t recognize that on that narrow ramp, a cyclist
walking his bike is twice as wide, making it harder for people going in
opposite directions to pass each other. Second, it doesn’t recognize
that it’s nearly impossible to walk that steep ramp in bike shoes.
Third, it would add at least 40 minutes to my commute every day if I
were to actually walk my bike on the ramps. But most importantly, there
is NO REASON for it. Why would I have to get off my bike and walk it? If
I can’t control my bike on a hill, then I couldn’t be riding on that
bridge anyway, because the choice on either side of the bridge is a
hill.

Do we periodically require that drivers get out and push
their cars on a stretch of highway? No. Why not? Because it would be
insane. Same with this. You want to tell me to yield to pedestrians,
fine. You want to set a speed limit, fine. You want to warn me to slow
down on the complete afterthought of an elbow in the ramp where the
homeless drop their crackpipes to the pavement, fine. But you want me to
get off and walk my bike just to make getting across the river on a
nasty, unmaintained, glass-strewn sidewalk just a little less pleasant?
Not fine.

What brings this to mind? Coming home from a hot ride
on Sunday, getting ready for a long slog up the hills to home. There are
hundreds of cyclists along the river because the Bike the Canal ride
was finishing up in Albany that morning. And I get behind a couple of
them with their big cruiser bikes and their packed saddle bags who have
decided to go across the river. And like any good tourists, they are
obeying the sign and walking their bikes up the ramp. They’re so wide I
can’t get around them even on my bike, and if I get off and try to walk
up the ramp in my skittery bike shoes I will be even wider and
completely unable to get past them ,and now I’m stuck spending 10 extra
minutes in the hot sun just slogging across this unfresh hell of a
bridge cursing the bureaucrat (possibly someone I know, I realize) who
decreed that bicycles must be walked on this ramp. When I finally got to
a point in the glass-strewn gardenway where I could squeeze myself
between their depanniers and the chainlink fence and get by, I got to
the down ramp and found another pair of cyclists, dutifully walking
their pack mules down the ramp.
Why do I not obey this sign? Because it is insane.

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Concrete grace

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Thankfully, it’s becoming more common that our highway design engineers give some thought to aesthetics. For too long, millions was spent for concrete and asphalt without a thought given to making it look even slightly appealing. Increasingly in recent years, we’ve had some local examples of highway designers thinking of aesthetics. This was most notable with the Lansingburgh bridge reconstruction, which was a faithful reproduction of its predecessor. And along the Route 85/Slingerlands Bypass corridor, some lovely touches have been included. This particularly nice tulip is in a spot where probably only folks who live in the neighborhood would ever see it, along Berkshire Boulevard. (And if you want to see what preceded it, you can see the old bridge under reconstruction on Google StreetView here.)

This gives me some hope that if the State ever gets around to reconstruction the badly crumbling 9/20 bridge in Rensselaer, it might recreate its graceful crossed appearance and maintain something that was lovely in its time. I’ve seen some recent repairs on another bridge that looks similar, which makes me hopeful that when the time comes aesthetics will be considered, rather than tearing down something lovely and replacing it with jersey barriers and guiderails.

Steal this blog!

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Community has become an odd and interesting thing in this internet age. We are able to join communities around common interests with people from all over the world, people we will never meet, and they seem just as real as the community that revolves around your local school. But there is still something about place, about having place in common, that binds us, especially those of us who are deeply interested in local history. So if you’re from the Capital District, Metroland, the Tri-Cities, or whatever you like to call Albany, Schenectady, and Troy (and Saratoga, Amsterdam, Cohoes, Rensselaer, etc.), then you should be looking at what these local sites are offering.

First, of course, is All Over Albany, which is kind enough to publish some of my historical ramblings and is a great guide to what’s going on in the Albany area.

Then there’s the great little community of indie bloggers that J. Eric Smith has assembled over at IndieAlbany. Eclectic, interesting, and uninfected by commercialism.

Siobhan takes fantastic photos of her kids and shares her life at Ittybits & Pieces.

Paula wanders Albany with her camera, including some parts of Albany where I wouldn’t wander with a camera, and shares little bits of the past with us at Albany Daily Photo.

Chuck Miller writes about trivia, photography and a whole lot else on his Times-Union blog.

If you’ve got any other local faves, feel free to share in the comments.

Swimming is forbidden

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From the 1884 “Albany Hand-Book, A Stranger’s Guide and Residents’ Manual”:

“Swimming in the river near the shores or wharves, between 6 A.M. and 8 P.M., is forbidden by city ordinance. Still, if a man falls overboard, he better swim if he knows how, rather than break the law and go to the bottom. The fine is only $1.”

Crossing the Hudson (bridges edition)

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Hudson River (Livingston Avenue) bridge Harpers LOC.jpgThe Livingston Avenue Bridge, the graceful and anachronistic swing bridge that carries trains across the Hudson River at Albany and still swings open to let larger ships reach Troy, has been part of the landscape longer than anyone now alive. It is often cited as dating to the Civil War, which is, like many local legends, partly almost true.

The earliest bridge across the Hudson was completed in 1804, at Waterford, by Theodore Burr, who also built the first bridge across the Mohawk at Schenectady. Despite being a wooden bridge, it remained in service for more than 90 years. Waterford was, as its name indicates, a good place to cross the river, but the bridge was too far from the population centers of Albany and Troy to satisfy their needs, and soon there arose a call for a bridge across the Hudson at Albany. Legislation was introduced to provide for its construction in 1814, but the booming city of Troy objected vociferously,

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Shocked, shocked!

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…to find that gambling is going on in here! From Whish’s 1917 “Albany Guide Book”:

Athletic sports always have been in great favor in Albany, and the vogue follows the trend of the times. There are a number of associations of various kinds, ranging from athletic to yachting. If a visitor is more “sporty” than athletic, a quiet talk with his hotel clerk in all probability will furnish the necessary information as to the haunts of Fortune. The city is liberal but orderly.

Three channels and nothing’s on

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Screen shot 2010-11-14 at 4.20.09 PM.pngOur elders had the hardships of the Great Depression and the Second World War, and they weren’t shy about telling us how soft we had it. My generation had civil unrest (race riots, Vietnam protests, the Generation Gap), the Cold War, and only three television channels. And while it’s hard to scare kids going through today’s Depression with stories of Kent State and the Watts riots, I’m not shy about telling how hard life was with only three television channels. (Yes, you could say there were four, if you counted what was still called “educational televsion,” and if you could stand in just the right spot, holding onto the UHF antenna in just the perfect way to would bring in what looked like a signal, if you squinted just right.) Why, in my day . . .
This schedule from October 12, 1966, shows the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area channels. Channel 6 was WRGB in Schenectady, the NBC affiliate since television and networks were invented. Channel 10 was WTEN in Albany, the CBS affiliate. Channel 13 was WAST (Albany Schenectady Troy) in Menands, the ABC affiliate and the channel with the worst signal when I was growing up. Except for Channel 17, WMHT, on the UHF band, which required special pliers to adjust the tuning knob and a contortionist to get the antenna into the right arrangement. (Channel 2 here is a Utica station; Channel 3 came from Burlington. Neither one could be picked up in our area but the Schenectady Gazette, source of this listing, was widely distributed.)

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Google Street View, 1907 edition

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Google Street View is a great idea, especially for traveling through towns you’ve never been to before. You can see every intersection in advance, giving you great visual cues.
It was a great idea a century ago, too. In 1907, Photo-Auto Maps were published, with enjoyable rides laid out for the new pasttime of motoring, turn-by-turn directions, and photographs of major intersections and landmarks. At that time, roads were rarely paved and more rarely marked in any way. Even city streets were usually indicated only with signs tacked to the sides of buildings at the corners. There were no stop signs or red lights, no railroad crossing gates, no numbered routes, no real way to know where you were going. And so guides like the Photo-Auto Maps were indispensable.

Roads being what they are, many of these routes have changed over time, but some of the routes are surprisingly traceable. I thought it would be interesting to see what these early Street Views look like today. In the cities, some of the buildings are still the same. in other places, the streets are unrecognizable.

Photo-Auto Maps are found at the David Rumsey Map Collection, www.davidrumsey.com
The routes were traced and Google Street Views collected by Carl Johnson, www.mynonurbanlife.com

Click on the image below for Street View, then and now.