This week’s post is written by Liz Greene, a member of Peekskill Walks who is married to another member of the group that she quotes frequently.
Peekskill’s motto is that it’s “a friendly town.” And, somewhat surprisingly, it’s true. People are welcoming, whether you’re a newcomer like me, or a lifelong resident. But, that storied friendliness is notably missing in one area — Peekskill isn’t friendly toward pedestrians. Anyone who has crossed Main Street at Division, or outside Peekskill Coffee House at Brown Street, knows that it’s often hostile and unfriendly toward people on foot. It can be downright dangerous – three people have been hit by drivers in our city over the past three weeks alone.
“Peekskill is walkable by default, but it isn’t pedestrian-friendly,” says Margaret Steele, one of the founders of a new community group, Peekskill Walks, that’s working to change that.
During the Community Congress earlier this year (where Peekskill residents were asked how they would improve the city), residents Steele and Greg Gutkes both proposed creating a model walkable city. Shortly thereafter, they met up with another neighbor, Conor Greene, who moved here because it’s an easy walk to nature, the train, and downtown, and Peekskill Walks was born.
“Nearly a thousand residents voted in favor of this proposal, so we formed Peekskill Walks to make our city a safer and more interesting place to walk or cycle around,” says Greene. “Even little things we can do to make the city more walkable really add up, and it benefits everyone.”
Studies have shown that walkable cities see an increase in residential property values, growth in jobs, local businesses do better, and it’s a step toward climate accountability. And there are social benefits, too. Children can gain independence by walking to school, senior citizens stay healthier and happier for longer, and it fosters social interaction — how often have you run into a friend at an event or restaurant downtown? In many communities, those things don’t happen.
Within days of its first meeting in May, the group had gained core members Fred Dennstedt, operator of the Peekskill_Exurbanist Instagram account, and Liz Greene, who moved to Peekskill after a gut feeling following five minutes walking around town. From there they quickly garnered a following of hundreds, between newsletters, social media and things like a cleanup day on Diven Street in June.
One of the first issues we decided to tackle as a group is Main Street. We noticed that a lot of people cross mid-block, right at the municipal parking lot, because the nearest intersection is pretty far, and it’s a pretty confusing and scary one.
So, we launched a petition for a mid-block crosswalk on Main Street, right where everyone seems to cross anyway. It’s just common sense to put infrastructure where it’s natural for people, instead of expecting them to walk out of their way to a dangerous intersection. (We’d love if you could please take a moment and join hundreds of your neighbors who’ve already signed online or at recent events like Harvest Fest and the Farmer’s Market!) The link to sign is at the end of this post.
Some of the other things we’re working on are improving basic infrastructure, like crossing signals and painted crosswalks; adding more public art and murals;
making the routes to the train station, parks and schools safer; more green space and trees, space for people downtown; a network of protected bike lanes to better connect the waterfront with downtown; and less litter on our streets. We’re also asking for the city to look at street design to improve safety and calm traffic, especially in locations with prior pedestrian injuries or deaths.
And, Peekskill Walks is thrilled that one of its members, Conor Greene, was named to the Local Planning Committee to help guide the $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant. This is a fantastic opportunity to better connect our waterfront and downtown, bring more public art to our walls and streets, increase the amount of gathering spaces or parks, and just generally make our city more interesting, safe, colorful and human-scaled.
Peekskill Walks meets informally every Wednesday at 7pm at Peekskill Coffee House. Feel free to stop by and hear more about what we’re working on. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and at our webpage.