More than 200 residents came out to Grand Island High School Wednesday evening to debate a proposed bike trail on West River Parkway.
Under the proposed plan, the parkway would be closed and resurfaced. No lighting or guardrails would be added, and there would not be an impact on the waterfront. Under the preliminary plan, six parking lots would be placed along the path and existing duck blinds for hunters would be retained.
Residents voiced concerns over increased traffic from the closure of the parkway, as well as worries over the proposed parking lots. But others supported the plan.
The town worked with the state on the design of the path, the third the state has put forward.
For Michael Billoni, a Grand Island resident who nearly lost his life when he was struck by a drunk driver in Ontario while biking 25 years ago, the trail represents an opportunity for Grand Island to bill itself as “bike friendly” and reap the benefits from visitors and tourists.
“Grand Island can promote itself as a bike town,” he said.
Christopher Taylor, who lives on West River Road, said he came to the meeting to support the path until he saw that there could be a parking lot placed in front of his home.
“It changes everything,” he said. “Think about it if you were in our shoes, and you found out that a parking lot would now be your front yard. That’s tough.”
Valerie Funk, who has lived on Grand Island for more than 60 years, argued against the trail, saying not all change is good for the town. Funk said she didn’t believe closing the parkway down for a bike path would lead to more bicyclists on the island.
“What’s the point of closing down that road when cars are using it?” she asked.
Funk drew applause when she suggested expanding the shoulder of West River Road, which runs parallel to West River Parkway, to build a bike path.
“Hundreds of people use the parkway,” she said. “I don’t think closing it down will bring people in.”
For Mackenzie Hassan, the path offers an opportunity for her to take her young children to a safe area to teach them how to ride a bike. Hassan also pointed out that she wouldn’t walk with her children on the side of West River Road.
“I just think this island is for everyone to enjoy and share,” she said.
The budget for the project is $2.5 million, and comes from a Transportation Alternatives Program grant the town applied for in 2014. The plan calls for final design approval in the fall, followed by construction starting in the fall of 2017. Construction would wrap up by the summer of 2018.
Written and oral comments will be considered while the final design is developed.
In the lead-up to Wednesday’s information session, Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray made a series of YouTube videos advocating for the bike path. In the first video, McMurray traveled up and down West River Parkway in a friend’s helicopter, taking video showing the lack of vehicle traffic. He also urged Grand Island residents to “think differently” in terms of the bike path.
McMurray said the path allows Grand Island to extend the Buffalo waterfront.
“This is an era where we embrace nature,” he said. “This is an era of taking old things that aren’t really in use anymore and turning them into something new. I think we can do this with this plan.”