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Williamsville-to-Canalside bike path stirs suburban bicyclists

Canalside is becoming so popular, even the suburbs are beating a path to the downtown waterfront.

At least that’s what’s under consideration in Williamsville, where there’s a move afoot to carve out new bike paths and lanes in and around the village so bicyclists can connect to existing routes leading to Canalside.

It’s just one more sign of the region’s changing lifestyle and yet another acknowledgement of one of its more popular outdoor destinations.

“Canalside is obviously a development project that is going to continue for a number of years,” said Chris Duquin, the Williamsville trustee who is spearheading the proposal, “so the opportunity to go there in a different form of transportation – to leave your car in Amherst and go to Canalside by bicycle – is something we’ve talked a lot about.”

The idea is to add new bike paths and lanes that link Williamsville to the Ellicott Creek Bike Path on North Forest Road, near Maple Road. Once there, the Amherst bike path connects with a nearly contiguous stretch of off-road bike routes through the Town of Tonawanda, beside the Niagara River in the City of Tonawanda and into Buffalo along the city’s waterfront to the redeveloped terminus of the Erie Canal.

And now a bike ferry was recently added at Canalside to shuttle pedestrians and bicyclists across the Buffalo River to the Outer Harbor, where they continue on with their journey.

The Williamsville-to-Canalside concept is still in its infancy but has been batted around the past few months among officials from Williamsville, Amherst and their state representatives in hopes of submitting a grant application to the state by this summer, Duquin said.

“The culture is changing,” said Duquin, who also is Williamsville’s deputy mayor. “People are looking for opportunities to run and ride their bicycles and go somewhere – go to a destination. The bike path on North Forest and its parking lot is not a destination. It should be a midpoint where people can park and ride back to Glen Park, or ride up to the canal terminus, but it is not a destination.”

Conceptually, a bike path in Williamsville would begin near the parking lot in Glen Park, head north and connect with nearby Amherst State Park. The trail would then deposit bicyclists on-road – first along Reist Street and then North Forest, where shared or dedicated bike lanes would lead the way to the entrance of the Amherst bike path.

“There’s more than enough room,” Duquin said of bike lanes.

A better option, though, would be to steer bicyclists off North Forest onto the Westwood Country Club property near Sheridan Drive, where developers are proposing a large-scale, mixed-use neighborhood that includes plans for open space and trails.

The Westwood redevelopment, however, still needs Town of Amherst approval, which is by no means a guarantee.

It will take some effort to pull off this bike plan, but what’s worth noting is Williamsville’s track record for getting money for its pet projects.

Over the past couple of years, the little village has secured $5.2 million in federal funding to create a more walkable Main Street and a secondary business district on East Spring Street.

In December, Williamsville received $1 million in state grant money to fix up an old industrial side street for redevelopment. Now, Duquin said, the village has set its sights on the first phase of the plan: getting money for a path connecting Glen and Amherst State parks.

“It’s a fabulous concept,” said Justin Booth, executive director of the advocacy group, GObike Buffalo.

The city – which recently unveiled its citywide bicycle master plan – has been the region’s leader in making room on city streets for bicyclists, but that mindset is starting to spread to the suburbs, Booth said.

A proposal like this tends to take years before actually coming to fruition, Booth said. But, he said, once it happens it spurs more interest in bicycling because it provides a safer option for those wary of biking the more traffic-congested roads.

It’s also the type of multi-modal option the region needs to attract the younger population, said Tim Trabold, transportation programs manager with the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

“It’s forward thinking,” Trabold said. “They’re trying to make a walkable, bikable community so it all fits in.”