Over the weekend, I drove my dog over the the LaSalle Metro Rail Station. After parking (in a massive parking lot), we hopped out of the car and hit the bike trail that starts at the foot of Main Street.
After walking for about five minutes we found ourselves in an inspiration rails to trails environment. Actually, I immediately felt as if we were no longer in a city. On one side was a residential environment, though not immediately encroaching the trail. On the other side was a natural bluff. Until walking the rails to trails path, I never knew that this neighborhood even existed.
About ten minutes into our walk, we came upon two stone train trestle foundations that were situated at an intersection of trails. Sitting on one of the lower parts of the foundation was an old timer who was happy to chat with me about the history of Linear Park.
“This was a completely different place five years ago,” he said. “It was dangerous – you would not want to be back here. There were a lot of young punks looking for trouble. It was a scary place to be. They left me alone, but nobody from the neighborhood would walk back here. Now it’s a completely different place – there are bikes and families. There are still some kids who like to come back to the trestles to party. Look up there [pointing] – they shot the glass on that lamp up there so that it would be dark at night.
“Nobody has replaced it. Look below the light [pointing] – that’s a police camera. If there’s no light, the police camera can’t see anything. It’s not dangerous like it used to be – the kids just want to party back here because it’s the perfect place for them to party without anyone bothering them.”
Talking to the old timer, I learned about the history of the trains, and the neighborhood. As much as he was sad to see the trains go away, he felt that the rails to trails was the best thing to happen to the neighborhood. He like the police cameras, and the garbage cans, and he liked watching all of the wholesome activity. He told me that he had even cycled all the way to the end of the trail, which is very close to Isle View County Park along the Niagara River – that’s quite a trek!
This Rail-to-Trail path is helping to transform the neighborhood. It’s given me an entirely new perspective of this part of city. Walking down the trails, the only sounds that could be heard came from nature, not cars. Birds chirping, rustling leaves, crickets chirping – it’s a very natural and peaceful area. I can only imagine that this investment has helped to raise the surrounding property values.
The City did a great thing here. Seeing this success story, it would be interesting to research what other rails to trails opportunities exist in other parts of the city. I am aware that there are some opportunities in the Old First Ward. I have also heard that there are opportunities leading along the Buffalo River. Where are other abandoned railroad tracks that could be converted? For years, I had to bike to Canada to get on a rails to trail bike route. Now there’s one right off Main Street, just off Hertel Avenue. Can you imagine if The City had put bike lanes in along Main Street instead of the concrete medians? If The City had been proactive with its cycling initiatives a few years ago, all of Main Street would be connected to this Linear Park. Can you imagine?