Lewiston pitched as future hub for biking
By Joshua Maloni
A new Center Street bike trail proposal from Niagara River Greenway Commission Executive Director Greg Stevens and Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch was not an instant hit with the crowd attending Tuesday’s municipal work session.
Stevens and Welch explained the New York State Department of Transportation will repave Center Street in 2021. As part of that project – which Stevens said is funded, despite New York’s COVID-19-related economic shortfalls – an opportunity exists to add two bike paths along the south side of Center Street.
A conceptual drawing shows the two-way bike paths nestled in between green space and a buffer abutting new parking spaces. The remainder of the roadway would be narrowed, but all existing lanes would remain.
“We’re trying to come up with a long-term plan for looking at everything from the Village of Lewiston north to Lake Ontario, and think about what the future recreational infrastructure – trails, connected parks, green spaces, conservation areas – which is what the Greenway does, working with our parks department. What would the communities like that to look like? What’s the best connection?’ ” Stevens said.
He noted, “From Devil’s Hole, you’re connecting to the whole renewed Robert Moses Parkway, and the Empire State Trail, which goes all the way to Manhattan and Montreal. So, we have arriving in Lewiston by next spring the longest continuous off-road trail network in the country.
“It’s a big deal, and people are going to come from all over the world to ride that trail system, which right now ends in the village. So, we’re trying to plan ahead to what does it look like with significantly more cycling traffic. What does it look like when tourists are coming by bicycle instead of by car? And how does the village participate in that? And what infrastructure do we need to plan ahead for, to host what we hope is a significantly increased volume in active recreation, which is what all New York state tourism is now behind and promoting.
“So, all the indications we have is that this is going to be quite popular. And that Lewiston is going to be, obviously, a very exciting place to be.”
Feedback Poses Questions
Planning Board member Tasia Fitzpatrick said, “I’m not sure the businesses are in favor, and I think, as a community, we want to hear specifically from the Lewiston businesses, from the chamber.”
She expressed concern about upkeep of the new islands next to the bike lane, and speculated the parking spaces aren’t large enough for trucks – let alone cars with open doors.
“I really think we should wait to hear (from) all the businesses – what they come back with. I think they’ll give you some good feedback on that.”
She later added, “I just think there’s huge safety issues.”
Tom Deal of Deal Realty said, “I’m not so sure; I’d like to get a better feel for (the proposal), because I am a business owner and I cannot agree with what (is said here) anymore. I mean, the two biggest issues on Center Street are safety and parking, and this new plan hurts both of those. Plus, it hurts the festivals. I mean, I don’t see any reason why we will be sending bicycles down Center Street and reducing it. … We’re making it worse.”
Welch said bikers won’t be allowed to use the lanes when there is a festival or event closing Center Street to vehicular traffic.
Paul Luzzi said he is a bicyclist and, “I have to agree with Tom.”
“I ride my bike. And I don’t agree with the bike path on Center Street, and I’ll tell you why. … There’s not enough room.
“And what do we want to do with the bicyclists when they get to Lewiston? We want them to spend money. They’re not going to ride Center Street and stop in the middle of Center Street. I think the way we should be thinking is destinations. These bicyclists want to come to Lewiston, park their bikes at Academy Park, walk up and down Center Street. Maybe we should be thinking about an alternative route to get to Center Street – to get to the center of the village and get down to the waterfront – and ask ourselves the destinations these people are going to want to go to.”
Kiwanis Club of Lewiston Past President Marty Pauly asked, “Are you allowing for places for people to park their bikes along this path? Or is the idea if they want to shop on Center, they’d have to park at one end and walk or bike to the other end? Is there going to be room for bike racks,” if people want to, for example, bike down and stop at Apple Granny’s for a bite to eat?
Stevens said, “We have not designed that detail, but that would certainly be appropriate.”
He said there will be a “significant gateway, destination, bike racks, information, bathroom stops, fill your water bottle – things that cyclists do when they get somewhere. But you would also want to have them be able to park their bikes periodically along the way,” to get a coffee or shop.
Deal said Lewiston’s biking season would be less than half of what’s possible in cities with warmer climates – “It’s not 12 months. It might be four, five months; I don’t know – depending on how brave you are, I guess.
“It just seems like a lot of commitment, and a lot more to take care of, that we don’t have the money to do.”
Shown above is what a section of Center and Fifth streets looks like today. That is contrast to an artist’s rendering of the conceptual bike path plan. (Graphic by Alta, courtesy of the Niagara River Greenway Commission)
Here’s the Pitch
Stevens said Lewiston could be “sort of the nexus, the epicenter, the hub of all this activity we’re anticipating.”
In holding meetings with local stakeholders, Stevens said he’s heard, “We love our gardens. We’ve got a very active Garden Club. There’s a lot of beautiful flowers and little, mini pocket parks. Can we do more with that? Build on that theme?”
He added, “The Arts Council has come to our previous meetings here and talked about, ‘We’re an arts community. We want more public art,’ and a trail is a wonderful way to have more public art.
“We’ve heard that we want fewer signs. There’s the De-Sign Lewiston concept, which is a wonderful idea and, actually, when you think about it, could you have, instead of having manmade signs, could you have art and flowers, which sort of tell you where you are? So, it’s intuitive.
“And we’ve heard from the business community on Center Street that they want to slow down Center Street; they want more of a village feeling with slower traffic, with something that looks less like a thruway with tiny green signs on aluminum overhead. And something that really speaks for the Village of Lewiston and makes people slow down.”
He explained, “When you come into the village … you get off of the high-speed road. You see this giant thruway sign and you see five wide-open lanes, and you think, ‘I can go pretty fast, because there’s nothing slowing me down.’
“All of the research that we’re doing around the country on pedestrian-friendly and cycle-friendly communities tell us that we can’t just change the speed limit and expect people to slow down. You have to change the physical infrastructure. You have to make them feel like, ‘OK, this has gotten more narrow, and I’m in a city center (or) the heart of the village now, and I need to be going 30 or 20 or 23 or whatever that lower speed limit is.’ You do that by physically reengineering the street and compressing the lanes. And so, the challenge is how do you do that and at the same time maintain parking and serve your commercial businesses.
“So, these are the factors that the experts (including Bergmann and Alta Planning + Design) are juggling. And what they’ve come back with is this idea of a cycle track down the south side of Center Street, which separates the pedestrians and the bicycles and the cars, from the bicycles and pedestrians.
“It’s a very modern concept. It’s what’s going on in Portland and Denver and sophisticated upscale places with a lot of visitors.”
Lewiston a Key Spoke
The village’s portion of the bike trail starts at Seneca Street. In the conceptual plan, it would continue to Academy Park (a welcome area would be built next to the Niagara River Region Chamber office), cross Center Street, go down Fourth Street and around the Red Brick Municipal Building, with connections to Mohawk Street and down Lower River Road.
Stevens said a public presentation of the complete trail proposal – from Buffalo to Youngstown – will take place Oct. 8.
“Just so you know, our board is in agreement with Greg,” Welch said. “This is a great opportunity for the village to have this bike lane, to bring business to the businesses. People can stop or, you know, stay overnight in a hotel; or shop; or go to lunch, dinner; go to the waterfront; and it really makes the most of the destination for these outside visitors – and residents alike. …
“(Deputy Mayor) Vic (Eydt) and I took a walk last week and talked to the businesses about the bike lane. And while we were walking, we had probably 25 people on bikes – kids – you know, whizzing up and down the sidewalk. It’s not safe. It’s not safe for them to be on Center Street, but it’s not safe for them on the sidewalk, either.”
“This would take care of all of that,” Welch said. “It’s much safer. It’s designated so they can all ride in that bike lane and feel secure. I know I wouldn’t want my grandkids riding on Center Street. But I also don’t like to see them on the sidewalks, either, because it presents quite a problem for the business people. And the restaurants, they have the tables out. …
“So, if you look at the plan, the conceptual plan, I think it really fits the village. I think it’s great for us to have something like this.”
Sizing of the bike lane, the parking spaces and the roadway is still a work in progress, as far as actual measurements. Eydt reiterated the proposal is conceptual.
Stevens has convened a series of meetings this year, including a walking tour that began on the Chamber of Commerce steps. Local elected leaders and people participating in those meetings have offered more favorable comments toward the conceptual bike trails.
Village Bake Shoppe owner Michael Fiore oversees the Chamber of Commerce’s Lewiston Business Group subcommittee. He said, “We are actually meeting next Tuesday. We meet every month to discuss all of these problems. We also have a chamber board meeting tomorrow to get the process rolling. So, all the businesses will have their input. I did speak to a few today, just walking here and there. A lot of businesses right now are kind of unsure. The plans just came out. We have a lot of questions.”
He added, “If you are a small business owner in Lewiston, please feel free to come to the Lewiston Business Group. … We will be having a Zoom call. If you’re a chamber member, or you’re not, you are still welcome.”
Fiore also said business owners can drop comments off at his Center Street bakery.
Tuesday’s meeting at the Red Brick was just the second public forum for the Village Board since the coronavirus pandemic put “New York State on PAUSE” in March. This was the first time residents were in attendance in about six months. Recent meetings have taken place virtually on Zoom.