North Buffalo is one step closer to getting a project twenty years in the making. Early last month, the Common Council and City Capital Improvements committee voted to acquire a small piece of land from My Kids Daycare that allowed City officials to officially request nearly $1 million of Federal funding for a Multi-Use trail on a former railroad right of way.
On September 25th, the New York State Department of Transportation approved the request, locking in the time-sensitive funding with only four days left until it was set to expire. “They cut it close, but it’s a victory for the community,” said Michael Vertino, President of the University Heights Collaborative (UHC), who had been working with the City to make the long delayed project a reality.
Representatives from the City have begun the process of finalizing a ten-year renewable lease with the NFTA, who currently owns the abandoned former rail line. The short path through Minnesota Avenue Linear Park will be improved and incorporated into this plan, allowing easy access to the trail from an increasingly vibrant University Heights neighborhood and the eastern edge of North Buffalo.
The new path will stretch between the LaSalle Metro Rail station and Kenmore Avenue, before linking up with the new path being created by Tonawanda on the other side of Kenmore. Once both projects are completed it will be possible for recreational cyclists and commuters alike to ride separate from automobile traffic between the City of Tonawanda and Buffalo, connecting many popular bike paths along the water (such as the Riverwalk) to the NFTA’s most popular form of mass transit.
The existing path through Minnesota Avenue Linear Park will be widened to 12 feet to mirror the new segments, which will connect to the Linear Park path at Merrimac Street and run to both Kenmore Avenue and Taunton Place on the rail property. All sections of new path will be lit for added safety, with the possibility for the addition of BlueLight cameras at several key locations.
Jacob Jordan, a member of the UHC’s Rails-to-Trails committee, co-founder of Queen City Rail Trails, and newly elected President of the Merrimac Street Block Club has been one of the many community members tirelessly working with the City to make this project a success. Jordan explains, “In addition to the Federal funding, which is unaffected by the current furlough, the City has also placed a request for over $400,000 in Bond money to fund additional lengths of trail that were currently unfunded by the CMAQ portion. If the Comptroller and the Common Council approve those bonds, it’s very possible that we’ll see additional path running from the abutments at Merrimac down to the Shoshone Park area, and maybe even over to Starin. Regardless of what the final project looks like, we’re going to get a trail built here in North Buffalo, so it’s nice to see everyone’s hard work has paid off.”
This summer, the University Heights Collaborative collected 1,300 signatures from residents of the neighborhood in favor of a bike path, understanding the need to compromise with the City. “I think our flexibility paid off,” Jordan continued, “We worked with both the community and City to get the CMAQ money before time ran out, which was the ultimate goal. Now that the funding is secured, we can work on ironing out the details of the project.”
Over the next few months there will be public hearings, and design details will be finalized. One of the most remarkable things about this project has been involvement of the younger generation. While not currently part of the plan being pursued, Jordan and his fellow QCRT members Nathan Layman and Juliana Gadanyi hope this project spurs similar development throughout the City. “UB grads Aaron Krolikowski and Darren Cotton at the University Heights Tool Library have been working with UB Academies students and the Honor’s College to develop a reuse plan for parts of the NFTA right of way that aren’t included in the City’s project, such as the old bridge abutments. It’s great to see more young people getting involved and becoming passionate about this neighborhood and the City”