Monday, April 29, 2019

Empire State Trail’s Highway Rock Cuts Raise Concerns

proposed Empire State TrailYippee, it’s Harley Davidson season again — that time of year when 7 million people all ride the same motorcycle, wear the same clothes, go to the same places, eat at the same spots and travel around in packs of 60. All to express their individuality.

I don’t mind the concept. It’s a free country. But I do mind the noise. There has to be a better way for some balding, dentist from Altoona to address his insecurities than by trumpeting his existence across three adjacent counties, particularly in the Adirondack Park — you should not have to hike two full miles into the bush to escape the mechanized flatulence echoing off the canyons.

All that said, my own sport of choice is bicycling, and I know some people feel exactly the same way about me. I’m a nuisance because I’m going 6 miles an hour up a narrow winding road, a serious impediment to motorists with 200 horsepower at their disposal.

So I fully understand that one person’s sport is another person’s spittle.

When I was a kid I rode my bicycle across the United States, and nowhere did I feel more loathed than on the back roads of Kentucky, where coal trucks thundered down the mountains at breakneck speeds, their drivers having no use for any impediment to their income and convenience.

This bicycle route was called Bikecentenniel in 1976 (see what they did there?), and it still more or less exists, but with a different name. It wasn’t so much a bike route, as it was a route for bikes, traveling on existing roads with no particular improvements other than a sign about every 500 miles, pointing in the wrong direction as a general thing.

They passed out maps, but they were not good maps. They appeared to be overlaid on U.S. Geological Survey maps (or pirate treasure maps c. 1740, it was hard to tell) and made no sense whatsoever, and every so often we would wind up in Arkansas when we should have been in Illinois. But we were kids out from under the thumb of our parents for a whole summer, so what did we care?

Bikecentenniel reminds me very much of what they have in mind for the Empire State Trail, at least as it pertains to the greater Champlain Valley, where there are no designated bike paths, just regular highways and byways on which bicyclists will be assigned to ride.

The Empire State Trail resembles a sideways T, running from New York City to the Canadian border and then from Albany west to Buffalo. It’s a marvelous thing and a great idea and I am all for it. But a handful of supervisors on southern Lake Champlain are raising an important concern that the state really ought to listen to: Between Crown Point and Port Henry, NY 22 squeezes through what are known locally as the Rock Cuts — sheer cliffs to the west and railroad tracks and/or lake backwaters to the east with narrow lanes and zero shoulders. It is much like the road past the Cascade Lakes on Route 73 east of Lake Placid, except that the road twists and undulates and there are no sightlines allowing for motorists to spot slow-moving bicycles in advance.

Nor is the pavement always in great shape. Most long-haul bicyclists will be able to hug the right-hand stripe on a good road, but crumbling pavement forces them to dodge into the middle of the lane, which obviously can be unpleasant if oncoming cars are meeting in the same spot. Adding to the stew, this is a road where locals who know the terrain habitually drive fast, because they do not expect any obstacles to appear in their way.

I’ll ride a bike just about anywhere, but I’d think twice about riding one here. And I can’t imagine a family with a couple of kids feeling comfortable doing so.

An idea was floated to route the bikes along parallel, local roads, but the supervisors didn’t want the liability. And since the state likes to support tourism in any inexpensive way that it can, I don’t imagine we’ll see the road repaved anytime soon — and widening it doesn’t even appear to be possible.

So then, at a discussion of the Crown Point Reservation UMP last month, along comes Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington with this idea: Route the bicycles to the Crown Point State Historic Site and then run a ferry across Bulwagga Bay to Port Henry.

Harrington said people look at him like he’s from outer space when he makes the suggestion, but then maybe they haven’t seen the bike ferry in operation across the lake on the causeway north of Burlington.

Consider the benefit to Crown Point as well, a beautiful peninsula studded with ruins going on three centuries old and multiple historic storylines, with dozens of species of birds, the foxes, and fossils of aquatic plants and animals that were alive hundreds of millions of years ago. And yet Crown Point is begging for visitors.

Consider the benefit to bicyclists who might otherwise miss this jewel, and who could also take advantage of the state campground next door (and how many campgrounds have a lighthouse and authentic Rodin on the grounds?) right across the street. Not to mention getting a scenic boat ride across the bay.

Consider the benefit to local residents who not lose time and valuable blood pressure points to a herd of vehicular turtles.  And even consider the benefit to the taxpayer, the cost of running a party barge across the bay a few times a day almost certainly being less than an accident or two each summer.

Those Kentucky coal truck drivers would make their feelings known by running their trucks as close to the bicycle riders as they could, even grazing a pannier or two in the process. A couple of we younger ones took to standing on our pedals and leaning the bike a little more into the road to give them a fatter target — I don’t think they ever truly liked us, but oddly enough they kind of recognized us as comrades in stupidity for this behavior and awarded us what passes in coal country as respect.

But there was no avoiding coal mines in Kentucky. Here, the danger can be avoided by employing Supervisor Harrington’s compelling idea.

Map of proposed Empire State Trail courtesy New York State.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

28 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Noise pollution is seen as, a right by a minority. I hate it.

    • Dana says:


      I agree. I used to enjoy sitting on my front porch but the speeders and “open-pipers” have pretty much ruined the experience. Especially when the Port Kent Ferry is running. Laws without enforcement are useless.

  2. David Thomas-Train says:

    Great article, Tim!

    Americade drives my hearing acuity down a few more notches every year…

    Those curvaceous highway slices are hairy.

    Did Tom Scozzafava of Moriah support the ferry idea.? if set up thoughtfully, it could be a boon to the fledgling tourist economy of Port Henry, as well as to the Crown Point peninsula venues.

  3. Kevin Donovan says:

    Motorcycles are required to comply with the same noise restrictions as autos. For some reason most law enforcement don’t bother to enforce. Contact your local sheriffs and state police and ask them to. Albany County does.

    • Chris says:

      your kidding, right?

      • Kevin Donovan says:

        Vehicle and Traffic Code section 381(11) states:

        No person shall operate a motorcycle on any highway which is: (1) not equipped with a muffler to prevent excessive or unusual noise; (2) equipped with a muffler from which the baffle plates, screens or other original internal parts have been removed or altered; (3) equipped with an exhaust device without internal baffles, known as “straight pipes”; or (4) equipped with an exhaust system that has been modified in a manner that will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the motor of such vehicle above that emitted by the exhaust system originally installed on the vehicle.

        Additionally, V&T section 386(3)(d) prohibits operation of motorcycles which emits sound greater than 50 feet from the motorcycle in excess of 82 decibels at 35 miles per hour or less, or in excess of 86 decibels when operating greater than 35 mph.

        • Chris says:

          Sorry for being flip, Kevin.

          I fully understand that regulations are in place. But that is different than “required to comply.”

          The norm, and apparently the goal, of the activity for what seems like more than half the riders, and moreso at any group ride or event, is to blast sound as loud as possible. There doesn’t seem like any enforcement at all.

          Non-enforcement of obnoxious-by-design loud bikes enables a real degradation of the environmental from noise pollution. Not much “forever wild” when picnicing streamside as a pack of Harleys goes past. (same for snowmobiles)

          It’s become their right to pollute.

  4. Balian the Cat says:

    The line about a “pack of individuals” put a smile on my face.

  5. Rose Anne W. says:

    Lots of smiles in this article, followed by a really good idea! I hope readers get past the motorcycles and into the heart of the matter that Tim brings up.

  6. Norman Howard says:

    My wife and I live in Westport. Every time we go to the bridge we comment about how scary it would be to ride a bike Through that section. Your thought of running a ferry to ensure a good experience for the riders is one. Probably needs Mr. Cuomo to make it happen.

  7. LeRoy Hogan says:

    We are all feeling righteous for what we like. Just the way it is. I like hiking by the way.

  8. Marcy Neville says:

    Wow– the bike ferry is an excellent idea, and would benefit Port Henry’s little known but fascinating waterfront as well. Thanks for illuminating this possibility!

  9. Matthew says:

    I don’t appreciate the noise of the motorcycles either. But what on earth did that have to do with your main point: the bike ferry. Instead, you took a few cheap shots at motorcyclists (“7 million people … in packs of 60 … [expressing] their individuality”, “some balding, dentist from Altoona [addressing] his insecurities by trumpeting his existence”, etc.)

    Like you, I’ve rode my bicycle across the country on the exact same Bike-centennial tour, now called the TransAmerica route. Like you, I felt threatened by the constant RV traffic on narrow mountain roads throughout the West, coal trucks running me down in Kentucky, and unleashed dogs everywhere.

    Unlike you, I don’t feel the need to put others down. Fact is, motorcyclists — while sometimes loud and brash — also understand what it’s like to be a fragile road user in the presence of dangerous motorists. The motorcyclists I know are from a different tribe, but are cut from the same cloth as me, the freedom-seeking long-distance cyclotourist. You owe them an apology. Heck, you owe cyclists an apology for making us all look like jerks.

    By the way, I love the idea of a bike ferry. Bring that sweet, sweet cyclotourism money to our communities!

  10. Tom Payne says:

    I will replace my stock motorcycle exhaust when the brain dead motorists out on the roads with their head in the cell phones, texting, doing their hair, doing their nails, eating and pretty much everything but paying attention to driving the vehicle and the people on two wheels sharing the road. Better to be heard loud and clear and alive.

    • Dana says:

      FWIW, I have never heard a loud motorcycle coming toward me when I am in a car – and certainly not one with stock exhausts. I am not sure how that makes it safer for you.

    • Steve B. says:

      Except that NOBODY hears your illegally modified motorcycle when they are in a car. If you consider that most riding tales place April to October, then recall that 99.95% of car drivers have their windows up and the AC on.

      The whole “Loud Pipes Saves Lives” is just a huge pile of BS.

      • Tom Payne says:

        Documented study proof? If that was the case why are we provided horns on vehicles?

    • John Warren says:

      Folks should know that Tom Payne represents the New York State Snowmobile Association, which helps explain why they have a continuing problem with loud exhausts.

  11. Michael R Kennedy says:

    That ferry is a great idea. Safety and increased tourism dollars is a no-brainer. Here in Albany, drivers are no more respectful of cyclists than in any other state and I hear motorcycles going up and down the boulevard where I can here them from one end to the other obviously with after market mufflers. I used to have a little 100cc bike. It was fun but I kept it quiet.

  12. Sean A. Nolan says:

    Dead on.

  13. Charles “Kip” Thompson says:

    Wonderfully witty treatment of a significant problem for locals. I would encourage any future articles by this author.

  14. Ben says:

    It’s not just motorcycles with problem loud exhausts, it’s also pickup trucks. It seems it has become very popular in recent years to have as loud of a pickup truck exhaust as possible and to stomp on the gas hard at every opportunity to show off the noise. Go to any small community in the park and you will hear the trucks all day long. There is very little peace and quiet to enjoy.

  15. Suzanne Delaney says:

    I find this article a bit snarky, but what else is new? Having spent a few years riding with my friends on their Harleys, I can assure you that they are not “Bald dentists from Altoona” as you choose to characterise them. They are guys who enjoy the road, and unlike ATVs stay on the highway and don’t rip up the terrain. Those who have loud exhausts are few, and responsible bikers don’t agree with that. Those bikers are hardly Hell’s Angels, but a bunch of folks who love the road, and contribute to the North Country economy. I live uphill by Baxter, and don’t find the motorcycles any more annoying than the usual traffic, like the ATVs who roar up my road.

    • Steve B. says:

      You are correct in the description of the typical older motorcycle rider. I found this out one year when we went to Mt. Rushmore on the first weekend in August, completely unaware of the Sturgis Harley rally. Everybody was polite and accommodating (except the motel owners) and the Hells Angel image was forever dispelled in my mind. There are a few balding dentists that ride though. The loud pipe issue unfortunately places every Harley rider in the same category. They really do ruin a peaceful summer evening. Similar to the annoyance drivers have to encountering a large group of recreational racer wanna-bee cyclists on winding narrow roads, the bikes with modified exhausts are despised.

  16. john says:

    This guy is a typical bicyclist. As a harley rider and owner of a second home in the adirondacks i think maybe he should stay off the roads. bicyclists are the worst for obeying vehicle rules on the roads. Maybe he should discuss with the town of lake george the cancellation of the Americade. then 50,000 people in packs of many well to do bald people wont bring their money to the region.

    • Steve B says:

      How often does the sound of shifting gears on a passing bicyclist ruin your otherwise quiet summer evening ?. How about never.

      And as note, automobile drivers are by far the worst at not following the state traffic laws. Possibly followed closely by rice rocket owners. Maybe bikes before big motorcycle riders (excepting the loud pipe owners). “Harley” riders generally get my respect (when they are riding legal machines) and I sadly watch too many get run down by inattentive car drivers. Is why I would never ride a motorcycle,

  17. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Where are the sources for all of your claimed statistics?

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