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Rails to Trails project in Tonawanda offers residents a new way to improve their health

The Tonawanda Rails to Trails initiative has taken off in a “if you build it, they will come” way that those who have been walking, biking and skating along it can truly appreciate.

In a post-grand opening that was muted only because of the fact that so many people were already using the trail, town leaders decided to get it on the record with an official opening Thursday morning. The trails are open for business and all are welcome.

Besides the obvious healthy benefits, the 4-mile trail has already made its mark by bringing people together in a family-friendly atmosphere. Folks just want to get out and enjoy the day, explore their neighborhood and get to know their neighbors.

And that is the outgrowth of taking a former railroad right of way and connecting it to the new North Buffalo Rails to Trails at Kenmore Avenue. Shannon Hurst and Jenna Ciffa, featured in a News article on the opening, love it: “… it’s nice and flat.”

And it acts as a way to see and be seen, to notice the scenery and engage.

Navigating the trail has been made easier with the new HAWK, short for high-intensity activated crosswalk, beacon on Sheridan Drive. The traffic-control device is new to New York but used in other states throughout the country. It is critical for those wanting to cross vehicle-clogged intersections and continue on with their own serene passage.

The trail was built by Erie County atop a former railroad right of way. Construction was funded by $2.8 million from the federal government and $700,000 from the county.

Repurposing rails into something that can be enjoyed by the young and young at heart promotes health and wellness while adding to the economy as people are exposed to businesses at a slower pace. This represents money well spent.

Such lessons are being learned many times over as bicycling initiatives are beginning throughout the area.

The newest is the Reddy Bikeshare, a new bike share service, launched by Independent Health and Shared Mobility Inc. in the City of Buffalo. The 200-bike fleet is available to local residents and visitors and racks are stationed throughout the city.

Bike stations are spread throughout the city from Hertel Avenue to RiverWorks and parts in between. There is a budding bicycle-friendly culture happily taking shape.

GObike Buffalo has worked with the mayor and city leaders on Buffalo’s Bicycle Master Plan so there will continue to be lanes on which to ride. There could be as many as 150 miles by 2018. Mayor Byron W. Brown deserves kudos for his leadership.

There are lots of opportunities to commune with other bikers: Slow Roll Buffalo events bring throngs of bicyclists together and the East Side Bike Club is pedaling off to a great start.

Building trails, bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways encourages healthy activity and community connections. It is quality of life on a grand and important scale that should be encouraged.

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