The Tonawanda Common Council recently met with representatives of Go Bike Buffalo and Aspire of Western New York, which provides support to individuals with developmental disabilities, to discuss ways to make the city more friendly for bikers, walkers and individuals in wheelchairs.
The need is especially great for those in wheelchairs who can't just step over cracked curbs and uneven sidewalks, said Charlie Rech, administrative assistant to the City of Tonawanda mayor.
"They are trying very hard to be independent and get out and get around," said Rech.
He said the city has tried to make improvements, but it's just not enough.
In the past few years the City of Tonawanda has begun a number of programs to study and improve the downtown and waterfront, including a study of the city's comprehensive master plan and a new program called Tonawanda Main Street, which is designed to improve the look of the business district and make the city more attractive to tourists, walkable and bike-friendly.
Justin Booth of Go Bike Buffalo said he implemented a program in Buffalo in 2008 to make the streets more bike-friendly, which has since been expanded into the statewide program called Complete Streets.
In that program, municipalities are encouraged to design a "complete street" that considers the safe, convenient access and mobility of roadway users of all ages and abilities. Complete street roadway designs include sidewalks, lane striping, bicycle lanes, paved shoulders suitable for use by bicyclists, signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic calming measures.
"We've had great success in Buffalo," said Booth. "We are currently at 100 miles of bike lanes in the city (of Buffalo.) At this point, I've probably been to over 50 communities across the state working with small towns, villages and other cities to talk about the benefit of complete streets and how they can have a positive impact on their communities."
Booth told the Common Council that making streets more friendly for bike lanes could be as easy as repainting roads. More costly projects could be eligible for Department of Transportation funding if they are state roads, he said.
Rech said the widths of Main, Young and Niagara streets in Tonawanda are extreme, which offers the city an opportunity to add bike lanes. City Engineer Jason LaMonaco said that decreasing the lane widths on streets such as Niagara Street would automatically slow the traffic down.
Kendra Steck, the site supervisor for Aspire in the City of Tonawanda, attended the Council meeting with client, Michael Dinsmore, who used a GoPro camera to show the council members some of the difficulties he and others in wheelchairs face when trying to navigate streets with broken curbs or uneven sidewalks.
"Feel free to take a walk with us and see what they go through, through their eyes," Stack told the Council.
Tonawanda Main Street program director Allison D. Harrington said making downtown, more accessible, more walkable and more pedestrian-friendly is one of that program's goals. The timing to discuss street updates couldn't be better, according to Harrington. She said the city is currently reaching out to business owners and residents to make sure everyone is represented in planning for new downtown City of Tonawanda.
Booth told the Council that the next step will be to put together an action plan and policy.