BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When you’re sitting in congested traffic, waiting to get home after a long day at work, what — or whom — do you blame? Other drivers?
Perhaps technology, culture, generational differences, the state of the economy, Washington politics, or some combination would be a more apt target.
At a meeting of the Capital District Transportation Committee at Niskayuna Town Hall on June 18, where the planning group presented a draft plan for the next 25 years, all these factors and more became topics of discussion.
First things first: the CDTC is not CDTA, the regional bus operator. Plenty of people read that acronym quickly and never notice the difference; in fact, CDTC Executive Director Michael Franchini said he never knew the organization existed until he sought a job there.
Furthermore, the group, which is technically a metropolitan planning organization that represents eight cities in the region, plus the town of Colonie, does not make laws, collect taxes, or own roads. It does allocate some federal funding to various projects, but mostly, its members gather data and try to predict and plan for the future.
“We are really about local input,” Franchini said during the presentation, where about 20 attendees held up red, yellow, green, or blue cardboard “stoplights” to indicate their opinions. Green signified agreement, yellow signified a desire for more information, red denoted disapproval, and a blue and white question mark indicated neutrality.
“We plan because things are changing so quickly nowadays,” Franchini said.
The New Visions 2040 plan, which was the result of years of data collection and budget-balancing, reflected that rapid change. Technology had made new solutions to old problems more viable, while younger generations’ shifting priorities predicted new ones.
In contrast, one thing hasn’t changed: political disagreement in Congress has meant that no new long-term spending plan for transportation has passed since 2008, creating a funding shortage.
The result was a plan filled with creative solutions and a bit of uncertainty. Conspicuously absent were any plans for adding to existing roads, other than a project near the Albany International Airport that has had support, but no funding, for years.
Some proposals met little resistance from the attendees. They held up green lights to support the idea of designated bus lanes in more places, which could reduce congestion, help the environment, and speed commutes for many local people. The idea’s viability is supported by the fact that public transportation has had record ridership in recent years, and appears to be gaining popularity.
Another warmly received proposal was the idea that more designated bike lanes could serve the needs of commuters. By making biking safer, those lanes could also reduce congestion while helping the environment and serving the preferences of the millennial generation, who drive less than their parents and grandparents.
Self-driving cars were identified as a possible solution to existing problems, such as congestion, accident-prone areas and limited parking in the urban spaces to which millennials increasingly gravitate. At Niskayuna Hall, this concept was met with a greater degree of hesitation.
“It can drop you off where you are and go find a parking space,” Franchini said. He noted that, whether people like it or not, at least four automakers are expected to commercially offer self-driving vehicles by the end of 2016.
Franchini said self-driving cars can help the elderly and those with disabilities, a key concern as the Capital District’s population ages. He added that they can drive closer together than vehicles piloted by humans, and faster, too. Still, unease with the idea of cars that could be hacked or malfunction garnered a mixed response from the audience as they raised their cardboard traffic lights.
Even as Franchini read off twelve planning points that optimistically focused on safety, the environment, economic development, and better quality of life for Capital Region residents, he tempered his enthusiasm with reminders that funding is increasingly tight.
“We have to be realistic,” he said, responding to one man who asked if new lanes would be added to the Northway to reduce congestion. They probably won’t, especially because there’s barely enough funding to maintain the roadways that already exist.
“Adding capacity is just going to compound that problem,” he said.
Read the full draft plan and voice your opinion at cdtcnewvisions.com.