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Rails to Trails
One of the committees of the UHC focuses on converting an old rail right of way that runs along the western perimeter of The Heights into a multi-use recreational trail. Rails-to-Trails is a national movement that seeks the conversion of disused railway easement into a multi-use path, typically for walking, cycling and sometimes horse riding.The hope is to create a network of trails to connect communities and build healthier places for healthier people.
On May 7th Ray and Jake met with John Honon, PE, from Watts Architect and Engineering, P.C., along with Peter Merlo, Gary Litulski, Seyed Ghasemi and Andrew Rabb from the City of Buffalo. We met for an hour and a half, and had a very frank and fruitful discussion. We presented them with the community's reaction to the City's proposed route, which was that it didn't work well given the terrain, and also that we would much prefer a more robust plan with a path extending through the western portion of the right of way. Jake provided the attached proposals, with number 5 being our most desired option, but understanding that cost or NFTA considerations might make this unattainable.
The City started out by agreeing that Jake's map, having the Linear Park option zag over to NFTA property at Merrimac (orange line on Map 2) was the way to go, whatever else was decided. They also indicated a strong desire to use available funds to upgrade the Linear Park area (and any other area that was City owned) rather than NFTA property because of the permanent nature of any City improvement (they own that property), so it would be a permanent improvement, as opposed to improvements on the right of way, which might have a much shorter duration (only 10 years guaranteed).
However, they did indicate a willingness to work with us to the extent there are funds available for possible improvements to the basic plan. In Map 3, for example, we discussed the western parallel path to the Linear Park route and the access to the path from the west, on Shoshone. Although they did not think the full path was doable, we did strongly suggest that the spur from Shoshone to whatever path was built be part of the initial plan. Most of those present thought that was doable, but they did need to go back to the Office of Strategic Planning for confirmation. They were very concerned that the NFTA would come exercise its right to take back the site, and that might require the City to either reimburse the Federal Government for the CMAQ funds used (although the project manager thought that obligation burned off after 10 years) or have to pull out the path at its expense. But ultimately I don't think that will be an obstacle.
They did not think they would have funds to pay for the extension of the trail to the West, as outlined in Map 4. But, they thought that we could certainly keep that in mind as a phase 2, either directly through the NFTA or with some joint NFTA/City involvement. I think it was just too much for them to handle in one project. But, we also discussed the ability of the community to directly discuss with the NFTA and implement a community cleanup effort in their right of way to pave the way, so to speak, for possibly additional improvements with other funding sources to extent the trail. Or at least, in the meantime, make it more "walkable".
The next step is for the City to meet with the NFTA to begin the process of securing the lease required to go forward. We will keep you informed as things develop.