By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
A strong majority of Islanders at a public meeting Wednesday opposed the state's idea to turn the West River Parkway into a bicycle and pedestrian-only path.
A public input session to discuss the proposed West River Greenway Connector Trail, held by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, drew about 400 people to the Grand Viking Theater of Grand Island High School.
A draft proposal for a West River Road Connector Trail met with much opposition, but also many suggestions for alternatives not under considered.
Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who is championing the repurposing of the parkway from a car-only road to a bike path and pedestrian trail that excludes motor vehicles, maintained the preferred alternative presented that night would not block a clear view of the river for residents and would open up the area for increased recreation, in a concept he has called "West River Park."
Vic O'Brien, of C&S Engineers, gave an overview of the project, which has $2.5 million of federal and state money. He said previous sessions on options for the parkway gave designers input and information used to create the three alternatives presented. No. 3 involving closure of the parkway was the least expensive of the alternatives.
One part of the plan bothered many residents: a design for addition of parking lots where crossovers from the service road to the parkway currently exist.
Many speakers on the night said they agreed with the alternative idea presented by Valerie Funk of GI, who said she has seen many changes in the state property, not all for the good, and that she doesn't think a bike trail would bring many users. She supported a bike trail, but not by closing the parkway, which she called a "perfectly good road," and suggested a fourth option, to widen the shoulder on the waterfront side of West River Road, which is already a designated bike trail.
Mike McDonough gave mixed support for the plan, but expressed misgivings that the state Department of Transportation might be charged with maintaining it. He said the DOT has been poor stewards, and he would look much brighter upon the project if it maintained by State Parks. He echoed Funk and said her proposal of bike trails on West River Road would be inexpensive and practical.
In an email titled "My take on the bike path hearing last night," McMurray described the meeting. Regarding the parking lots in the plan, he said, "I think we can do without most of those lots, and I think we could place the ones we will need in better locations."
McMurray added, "some of the options suggested yesterday won't work either. For instance, we don't have the budget to widen that service road, and the service road is not a state road. Again, this is a state project. But I think we are a step closer to creating a plan that works for most of us."
Speakers such as Jay Hardy and Nancy Killian said closure of the 50 mph parkway would drive its traffic, estimated at 1,300 vehicles per day, on to West River Road, where the speed limit is just 35.
The connector trail option was not without its supporters, such as Philip Haberstro of Kenmore, who favored the plan, saying, "quality of life is the community currency of the future." He praised the plan's health, economic and environmental benefits and asked Islanders to view it as a win-win opportunity.
Greg Stephens, chairman of the Greenway Commission, said Grand Island is a jewel in the Greenway process and that the option has so much more potential in its plan to connect Niagara Falls and Buffalo.