The Utica Common Council recently passed legislation implementing a policy called Complete Streets in the city.

Stephen Sonne has a simple dream.

The owner of Dick Sonne’s Cycles, Fitness & Skis in New Hartford wants to make the area’s roads more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

“There’s no way of riding safely in Utica,” Sonne said. "I think we need to connect the dots and we need to make it super friendly."

A dream come true?

Sonne’s dream may be closer to coming true.

The Utica Common Council recently passed legislation implementing a policy called Complete Streets in the city.

Signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011, Complete Streets, according to the state Department of Transportation, requires state, county and local agencies to consider the convenience and mobility of all users when developing transportation projects that receive state and federal funding.

Projects that are 100 percent locally funded are not subject to the law, according to the DOT, but local agencies can choose to adopt Complete Streets practices.

Possible features for the roads could include sidewalks, lane striping, bicycle lanes, paved shoulders suitable for use by bicyclists, signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic-calming measures.

“Now … you don’t just make them vehicle friendly, but you make them pedestrian and bicycle friendly as well,” said Councilwoman Samantha Colosimo-Testa, R-6, who sponsored the legislation.

Under the new plan, each time the city wants to pave a road it would have to go through a checklist to see if certain enhancements can be made. That checklist includes questions such as:

* Is the highway considered important to bicycle tourism by the municipality or region?

* Are there conflicts among vehicles (moving or parked) and bike, pedestrian or transit users that could be addressed by the project?

* Are there opportunities to improve vehicle parking patterns or to consolidate driveways (which would benefit transit, pedestrians and bicyclists) as part of this project?

"I think people just are becoming more conscious of their health,” Colosimo-Testa said. “Not everybody wants to drive everywhere they want to go. They want to be able to ride the bike, they want to be able to walk. With the people coming to our area with the future development of the harbor and the North Genesee corridor, they want to walk to dinner or ride their bike to the Erie Canal safely."

Finding funding

While Mike Mahoney, the city’s deputy engineer, wasn't immediately available to comment, he did express concerns in the past about where the money would come from to implement any desired changes.

“I don’t typically have money to do striping, like to do bike lanes,” he said in May. “I don’t get to do that much striping at all because I just don’t have the funding. A lot of the striping that we’ve been doing lately we just do in-house and the paint doesn’t hold up as long.”

Colosimo-Testa said the city could look at grants and other means.

“The city of Utica has a proposal for a raise for the administration,” she said. “If they have money for that, they certainly should have money to make our streets safer. Also, there are several grants the city can apply for such as the recent announcement of the $99 million from New York state specifically allocated to policies such as Complete Streets.”

Joining the club

In the meantime, Utica now joins other local municipalities such as Herkimer, Dolgeville, Ilion and Little Falls that already have Complete Streets policies.

Brian Thomas, Utica's commissioner of urban and economic development, said the majority of the city’s streets have been designed and constructed in such a way that they already are pedestrian and bicyclist friendly.

“Most streets have sufficient width to accommodate bikes along the curb without impeding vehicular traffic while also incorporating sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians,” Thomas said. “Rather than availability of such facilities, the present concern is more with the condition of such facilities given their age.”

To that end, the city has reinstituted the sidewalk rebate program, which offers property owners partial reimbursement for sidewalk replacement costs through the general fund, Thomas said, and the engineering department has been undertaking reconstruction of crosswalk approaches citywide in recent years to ensure that they are in compliance with federal regulations.

“The city is actively working with the regional office of the New York State Department of Transportation on several transportation projects that ultimately will result in improved pedestrian connections with better facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Thomas said.

The push for making streets more accommodating for pedestrians and those riding bicycles isn't just a local one. It's been sweeping the nation over the last couple of years.

Kyle Wagenschutz, director of local innovation for PeopleForBikes, a Boulder, Colo., bicycling advocacy organization, said more than 500 communities across the country — representing a range of sizes and demographics — have adopted Complete Streets policies.

“I think if we look back 20 years ago or so,  I think we would find out that those kinds of considerations weren’t being made across the country, and Complete Streets was really about sort of changing the conversation and changing the mindset of how we think about people in our communities getting around," Wagenschutz said.

Major cities like Chicago, Ill., Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Pa. are among those adding or expanding the number of bike lanes in their cities.

“I think professionally engineering and planning really wasn’t there 20 and 30 years ago,” Wagenschutz said. "A lot of that’s changed, though, particularly if cities are interested in redeveloping the more urbanized areas of their cities. As people are returning to urban cities with denser populations, there just isn’t space for all of those cars to actually come in and so cities are thinking about, ‘Well, how do we create places that are really great to walk or really great to bicycle?’”

Next steps

As the city moves forward with its Complete Streets project, Sonne said he would love to see a bike lane marked off — possibly along Genesee Street — for a weekend to test out how things would work.

Things could start off small, he said, and the weekend could be promoted. There could be vendors, and people could see how they can ride their bikes safely downtown.

"If I had absolute power, believe me, we'd have an infrastructure tomorrow and a month from now or next year people will say, 'Oh, my God, this is phenomenal,'" Sonne said. "But, you know, absolute power doesn't exist."

Follow @OD_Gerould on Twitter or call him at 315-792-4995.