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Unused rail bridge in Olean being eyed for walkway

OLEAN – For decades, pedestrians walking east or west in the city have defied safety by using railroad bridges over Olean Creek, a major waterway through the heart of the city. Over the years, many close calls have been reported to city police and railroad owners, as trains screech to a halt to avoid hitting those looking for a quick route to the downtown area.

With an active rail bed just to the north of the William O. Smith Recreation Center on the east side of the creek, the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad has two parallel bridges spanning the dike-protected creek. One of the steel bridges sees train traffic and, according to both rail and city officials, around 50 pedestrians per day. The other bridge, which currently is not being used by the railroad, could be used as a pedestrian or bicycle walkway, connecting trails through the area, according to Mary George, director of community development for the city.

“We have applied for a grant through the Federal Transportation Enhancement Program,” George said. “We want to make the passive trestle into a pedestrian bridge to get foot traffic from the east side of the city to places like Jamestown Community College and other stores in the downtown area.”

The plans for North Union Street play into the plan well, George said. Once the streetscape is in place, a bike lane in both north and south directions would connect to the downtown college campus. The campus is currently tied into a path that goes to the bridge and veers south and under East State Street on the west side of Olean Creek.

Should the grant funding come in, a partnership between the city and the railroad would bring repairs to the unused bridge, making it safer for pedestrians while trains travel on the other parallel bridge. Walls and floor planking would be part of the pedestrian project, George said.

The plan George envisions would include the creation of a pathway that runs along the rail bed north of the recreation center to the west sidewalk on Front Street, connecting across State Street and to a path that leads to Forness Park and to the area occupied by Good Times of Olean.

Forness Park is populated with many baseball and softball diamonds and a football field, situated just to the southeast of Bradner Stadium.

The loop in the east side of the city is nearly completed.

George said the North Union Street project would build more walkability and bicycling into the city infrastructure, more connections from North Union to Wayne Street, via Whitney Avenue, and would offer a travel lane for walkers and bikers to move toward the west end of the city, eventually completing a connection with the Allegany River Trail, on Constitution Avenue.

“We are doing what people have wanted for years,” George said. “We are connecting East End with West End for everyone.