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Public meeting on plan to fix up LaSalle Park prompts lengthy discussion

A public meeting about a plan to fix up LaSalle Park generated so much interest that a security guard needed to ask people to leave the Niagara Branch Library basement so the rest of the library could lock up at 8 p.m.

The meeting was originally scheduled to end at 7.

Dozens of LaSalle Park neighbors and visitors filled the basement to discuss and question a $1.2 million plan to repave the roads surrounding the park, among other improvements.

The proposed project, designed by C&S Engineers, would include:

• Repaving and reconstruction of the 1.65-mile road around the park, consisting of AMVETS Drive on the water side and D.A.R. Drive away from the water.

• Addition of almost 150 angled parking spots on much of that road, with defined bike and driving lanes.

• The widening of the bike and pedestrian path, at the southeast edge of the park, connecting to the city’s waterfront. Much of that path is 8 to 10 feet wide; it would be widened to 12 feet.

• Partial straightening of that now mostly curved path, which would have a straightaway in the middle of the path.

• Addition of both permanent and replaceable bollards – short posts to block vehicular traffic – along the bike path.

• Playground improvements and picnic shelter replacements.

Andrew R. Rabb, the city’s deputy commissioner for parks and recreation, was on hand with Department of Public Works principal engineer Stephen M. Buccilli to present the plan, lead a community discussion and answer questions, of which there were many.

Most of those questions centered on the roads surrounding LaSalle Park, which some in the audience likened to a “racetrack.” The roads have a posted speed limit of 15 mph, but residents said the limit was rarely heeded – especially at night – and made the park unsafe.

Rabb said the project, along with repaving, would narrow some lanes along the curbs and curves to facilitate more careful driving.

A few in the audience disliked the narrow roads plan, and cheers of “speed bumps” echoed throughout the room.

Residents also expressed worries about child safety, security at night and the future of the park. LaSalle Park lies between the Niagara Thruway and the Lake Erie waterfront; access is via Porter Avenue.

Rabb emphasized that this project was mostly limited to repaving roads and slowing traffic.

“We aren’t trying to solve all of the park’s problems with this project,” he said.

That could be the biggest problem with the plan, neighborhood resident Patty MacDonald said – that it doesn’t do enough to fix bigger problems.

“The deal with this plan is that it privileges vehicular traffic, and all it’s trying to do is calm the traffic down a little bit,” she said. “I’m sure the design they’ve come up with will do that. We want an urban park that’s beautiful, that celebrates the waterfront. … We want that park redesigned.”

email: cjasper@buffnews.com