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HAPPY TRAILS
BIKING AND HIKING TRAILS WOULD ADD TO QUALITY OF LIFE IN ERIE AND NIAGARA

Plans are in the works to connect much of the region through a network of hiking and biking trails. This is one of those quality-of-life proposals that make people feel good about where they live, which in turn helps the image of the area in general.

Our only reservation is the cost of this proposition to Buffalo. This is a worthwhile project, but there are lots of worthwhile projects. The question is whether a city that has trouble affording basic services can spend money -- at least in the short term -- on biking trails.

Planners envision 63 miles of off-road bicycle paths around the region, using a combination of federal transportation money and some local match. The 16 new trails under construction or in the planning stage include a path starting in North Buffalo that will go through the Town of Tonawanda along the old Lehigh Valley Railroad line, ending at Ellicott Creek Road in the City of Tonawanda.

When completed, there will be a 70 percent increase -- about 93 miles -- in the amount of road paths currently available in Buffalo Niagara region. It's estimated that the project will cost $19 million.

Can Buffalo afford its share? Probably not -- unless it can come up with state or federal money expressly meant for recreation projects to cover its local share.

All of the projects call for a local 20 percent match. The portion of the North Buffalo trails are estimated to cost $1.4 million. The city would have to come up with $280,000, a figure that would go up if bids come in higher than expected.

That reservation aside, this is an attractive project. Many Western New Yorkers now travel across the river to hike or bike or skate on the picturesque trail along the river.

Some critics have pointed out that these trails can lend themselves to crime. We don't find that argument persuasive.

Amherst resident Timothy Trabold, an analyst for the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council, said the local reality is that crime is not a problem with bike trials. The key is make sure the trails are well-patroled.

Bike trails may seem like a small thing, but its the aggregation of such small things that can give people a sense of contentment with their community. And for a region with long-standing self-image problems, that's something to think about.

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