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Friday, September 09, 2005

The Streets of Albany Were Designed by Sadists

I was walking my daughter on Manning Boulevard recently, when a couple pulled over and asked for an address on North Manning Boulevard. I had to laugh out loud. "OK, go a couple more blocks north (as they were going), then suddenly the street will head east for a few blocks, then curve back north. When you cross Central Avenue, then you'll be on North Manning, with a whole new numbering scheme."

Another time I was walking along State Street near Washington Park. This man was walking to an address on State Street, but he was very confused because State Street seemed to end. "Go over to Western Avenue, go two blocks, turn right a block, and you'll find State Street starts again."


Albany is an old city. Its roots run back to a voyage by Henry Hudson in 1609. It was incorporated in 1686. Thus, a lot of the streets are not exactly parallel.
For instance, start at the bottom of the hill at State Street and Broadway. Get to the top of the hill, pass to the right of the Capitol (where the traffic pattern suggests) and suddenly, you're on Washington Avenue. Where did State Street go? To the left of the Capitol on a one-way street, going the way opposite the numbering.

OK. Get to Lark Street. The bulk of the traffic seems to be going at 1 o'clock, and that continues to be Route 5. But that's not Washington Avenue, that's Central Avenue. No, stay straight in one of the worst-designed intersections in any city. Go about three blocks to the firehouse. Go straight and you're suddenly on Western Avenue. Where did Washington Avenue go? You should have veered right.

In the opposite direction, Western and Madison Avenue do a divergence, with Route 20 suddenly moving from the former to the latter. New Scotland Avenue is an interesting street that is perpendicular to Madison Avenue at one point, and parallel a few blocks later.

The situation is made worse by development over the years. The creation of the Empire State Plaza, Washington Park, Albany High School at its current location, and the UAlbany uptown campus mean that there are MANY streets that start and stop and start again. An example: Hudson Avenue. It starts at Broadway and ends with the Empire State Plaza, built in the 1960s. It starts again on the other side of the plaza and ends at the park. There's another segment between the high school and Allen Street. Thee are lots of examples of that. One would think this must be a police/fire department nightmare.

And the highways are no better. A peculiarity of the New York State Thruway, which is a toll road, is that it is on I-87 going north from NYC to Albany, then I-90, heading west to Buffalo. But there are also free segments of each interstate, not part of the Thruway. There's a sign on I-787 that says . What if one wants to go to Saratoga or Schenectady? Go towards Buffalo. If Saratoga's the goal, then you hop up I-87, the FREE portion known as the Northway, towards Montreal. According to a newspaper story, some folks coming from the New York City area to go to the casino on Exit 30 of the Thruway come up I-87, the Thruway, end up staying on I-87, the Northway, way up in the Adirondacks. What they SHOULD have done is stay on the Thruway, which becomes I-90, and take THAT Exit 30. And because of our arcane roads, New York State is not likely to get exits tied to the miles to/from the border, which is how they do things in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Virginia, for three examples. Maybe that's why the Monday road section of the local paper is one of its most popular features. Even people who live here are still trying to figure out the best way to get from here to there.

1 comment:

ADD said...

As someone who drives these roads frequently -- and used to, daily -- I appreciate the insight and information about why Albany is so confusing. I'll have to show this to my wife, it will make her feel much better, Roger. Sometimes I think she thinks it's me, or her, that is confused. :-)