The Grand Island Town Board wants New York state to create a bike path along the side of West River Service Road, and leave West River Parkway open to vehicle traffic.
The new bike path plan is one of four options that New York’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is considering.
The Town Board voted 3-1 on Aug. 15 to support a West Service Road bike path concept, after voting two weeks earlier to oppose the alternative preferred by the state parks office. The state’s preferred plan would close West River Parkway to vehicle traffic and transform it into a paved bike path.
The plan the Town Board proposed would locate the bike path on land next to the West River Service Road, which runs parallel to West River Parkway. Both roads would remain open to vehicle traffic. No additional parking lots would be added. Four existing parking lots in the vicinity would be expanded.
Councilmen Michael H. Madigan, Christopher K. Aronica and Raymond A. Billica voted for that option, while Councilwoman Beverly A. Kinney voted against it. Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray was not present for the meeting, and did not vote.
The state is currently “reviewing” the Town Board’s proposal, said state parks spokeswoman Angela Berti.
The Town Board did not have a estimated cost of its new bike path proposal. It asked the state to come up with the projected cost.
The state’s budget for the project is $2.5 million. Most of it comes from a federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant the town applied for in 2014, with the state paying the balance. The state timeline calls for final design approval in the fall and construction starting in the fall 2017. Construction would wrap up by summer 2018.
The trail on Grand Island, which would stretch from Beaver Island State Park to Buckhorn State Park, would complete a bike path from Buffalo to Niagara Falls.
Safety was a big concern for town officials while developing the new option, Madigan said. The Town Board’s plan would move bicyclists and pedestrians from the road to a path, without the uptick in traffic West River Service Road would see if the parkway was closed.
The state’s proposed closure of the parkway could lead to between 1,000 to 3,000 more vehicles per day onto West River Service Road per day, Madigan said.
“We don’t want to create a more dangerous situation,” he said, calling the state’s preferred alternative the least safe.
Madigan said that increasing traffic on West River Service Road would create more risk for pedestrians, especially during peak drive times when children would be waiting for or getting off of school buses. West River Service Road was built to handle low traffic volumes. A lot of the homes have short driveways and are close to the road, he said.
Another consideration, Madigan said, is that the Town Board’s plan will allow the elderly and people with disabilities to continue to drive on West River Parkway, in close proximity to the Niagara River. That option for motorists would no longer exist if the parkway is closed.
“They will lose what is currently an extremely beautiful drive along the river,” he said. “Proximity does matter.”
“I think we need to design it with (Grand Island) residents in mind, more so than off-islanders,” he said. “Will off-islanders come? Yes. Will they come in droves? I don’t think so.”
New guardrails won’t be needed for the town’s proposed bike path, Madigan said, due to the terrain. There are berms and ditches along most of the land between the parkway and the Town Board’s proposed site of the path, he said.
The bike path has been a issue that exposed friction on the Town Board. McMurray, the supervisor, has strongly advocated for the state’s preferred option, closure of West River Parkway for the path. U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins also wrote a letter supporting that option in early August to the state parks commissioner.
Madigan said building the parkway in the first place was a mistake, and building a bike path on it will be another mistake.
“We’re talking about replacing one error with another error,” he said.