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State transportation officials are calling the repaving of Route 86 a “preservation project.” That means the heavily-traveled highway will get a makeover, but that’s about it.
Local officials and bikers recently called for bike lanes to be included in the project. DOT says that could happen sometime in the future, but for now it’s not on the table.
Cycling advocates say if bike lanes are out of the picture, the state should at least try to widen the road to provide a decent shoulder for all users.
Kenny Boettger owns Placid Planet Bicycles in Lake Placid.
“It’s most important to have not necessarily a bike lane, but a shoulder,” he said. “Bike lane takes in a whole different legality and more stuff that needs to be done. But a usable shoulder (is) for the safety of everybody using it – pedestrians, cyclists, motorists – anybody who is going to be using that road.”
Boettger says the Tri-Lakes area, home to the Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, offers great road biking. He says Route 86 provides a critical link to scenic roads in Saranac Lake and beyond.
“There’s great riding in Saranac Lake and the other side of Saranac Lake, there’s good riding here, but connecting the two is almost impossible because of the state of the road,” Boettger said. “It’s a real challenge for most people to ride it and dangerous for cars and for bikes. The road is just so narrow in many places that it’s hard to share.”
“I think there’s two things that really scare people when they’re riding along this corridor,” said Matt Young, a physical education teacher at Lake Placid Elementary School.
“One of them is the proximity that you have to be with passing vehicles,” he said. “I can remember times when I felt like if my elbow was 6 inches to the left, I would have clipped a mirror – it’s absolutely terrifying. The other thing is just the condition of the extreme right side of the road. White line or not, it’s a mess. There’s crumbling pavement, there’s sand, and a lot could be done to make the experience better.”
Last week, Young launched an online petition at change.org to lobby the state to accommodate all users of Route 86. The petition asks DOT to include a 5-foot shoulder when it repaves the highway.
The petition has racked up nearly 1,500 signatures in less than a week.
“It’s an easy thing to identify with,” Young said. “I think motorists as well as cyclists appreciate just having more room to share the road.”
Transportation officials say widening Route 86 would require costly engineering, something that’s not included in preservation projects.
But Boettger says Route 86 doesn’t necessarily need to be widened. He says the state only needs to repave the road in a way that includes those worn down areas that once served as a shoulder.
“That way we would have a great lane for someone with a flat tire in a car,” Boettger said. It would be just safer for everybody, and I don’t think it needs to be re-engineered, from what it looks like. There’s just places where the white line is actually in the gravel in some places along that road. They didn’t make it that way originally, it’s just what it’s become now after not being repaved in such a long time.”
For North Country Public Radio, I’m Chris Morris.