West River Road

Dear Residents;

Next on my goal list is West River Road. I don’t want to bury the lead, so let me just come right out and say it. I want a bike path to be built along that stretch.  It’s been talked about for years. With your help, I believe we will finally get this done.  

Ever since Pete McMahon first proposed the idea of a bike path on West River Road there has been a cloud of conflicting emotions lingering over that side of the Island. Here we are, years later, with nothing done, still caught in the cloud of fear and hope. But good ‘ol Pete was right. And I’m not afraid to take a little heat by opening the discussion again. It is my sincere opinion that we need a bike path on West River Road because it would be great for the residents there and it would help transform Grand Island. 

Please remember that bike paths bring wealth and they protect green space. You scoff? Well, just look around the country. From Houston to Hamburg, when these things go in, property values go up. If you live on West River, you will almost certainly benefit from the path. If I could, I would build paths all around the Island. It’s almost the perfect length for a marathon. Heck, I would put one up and down the Boulevard too if I could—but let’s take this one step at a time. 

I’ve been working hard with the State Parks.  

The money the state originally set aside for the West River Project was in jeopardy, but the good people up in Niagara Falls saved the cash. Together with the team at Town Hall, we have worked up several plans, which we hope to present to the public soon. 

One of the plans is to add an additional ribbon of concrete, but it features awful looking guardrails. Most of the plans would only allow the path to travel along a shortened length of the river because the funds are limited. But one of the plans, the one I like best, would allow us to connect North to South, Beaver Island to Buckhorn, Niagara Falls to Buffalo. That plan involves closing the Parkway. 

The Parkway is already a dead road

West River folks, before you charge town hall with pitchforks and torches, please allow me to justify why I like this option. That Parkway is part of the blemished legacy of Robert Moses. It’s a road to nowhere, and a danger really. I call it the Audubon of Grand Island, because of how joy riders speed down it. 

Plus, it’s already closed half the year anyway and badly maintained. Even getting the DOT to cut the grass is painful. And do you realize, even at the height of summer, the Parkway has as little as only a few hundred cars passing on it? That makes it one of the least used roads in Erie County. 

There are numerous benefits to closing that dead road

Like I said, if we close the Parkway we can finish the entire path. And under the new plans, the closed road won’t just look like we bonded it. That's the mistake they made in Niagara Falls. If we go with the plan that closes the Parkway, there would be enough money to put in flower pots, canoe and kayak launches, and very limited parking options in more isolated areas away from housing. It would not look like Coney Island, or even Niawanda Park, for that matter. It would be subtle, natural, and calming, thus accentuating the natural setting of that space.

Plus, if West River becomes an actual park, as opposed to a parkway, the State Parks will be required to maintain it. They can’t pass the buck anymore. I don’t expect that it will ever look like a putting green—and it shouldn’t in my opinion. Natural grasslands and heather are beautiful. But no one wants his or her view of the river obscured either. The officials I am working with have assured me that they will cut the grass and maintain it properly. 

Closing the Parkway year round will preserve that space forever

There is no better way to stop development than to turn that space into parkland. If you think it’s safe now and forever, think again. It’s not. 

It’s so darn beautiful out there that you either lock it up as a park or live in perpetual fear of something worse—like dare I say it, waterfront condos. Behind the scenes there are already whispers of other development schemes. I’m not trying to scare you, but if the plans for the bike path fall apart again, remember dear friend my warning. There are hungry eyes about—leering.

I am aware of the painful history of many of the West River residents who consider that space their land. And I get that. But if we close the Parkway and put in a bike path, your docks will stay and it will ensure there are no development projects in the future. Thus, putting in the path really is the greatest way to ensure that space remains a cherished haven for both you and your families—forever.

On GI, in nature we will reclaim our identity  

Enjoying and preserving natural habitats and enhancing outdoor recreation are how GI will find its identity and future. If you look at the history of GI, it was always a place of natural beauty and recreation. The Victorian elite of Buffalo’s gilded age used to swarm here in old-fashioned swimsuits, carrying picnic baskets. From the likes of President Grover Cleveland to our families and friends over at Grass Island, our river and trees have always been a place of frolic and fun. 

It's about more than just higher property values and good times. It's about establishing our identity, or dare I say it, understanding our very soul. I remember reading Emerson as a young man and then walking along West River contemplating his words. His call to respond to that still small voice or that better self within us—absent fear of censure from the outside world—pushed me then and still resonates within me now. Emerson encouraged us to seek that voice through harmony with nature. Or to listen to the “wind in the willows” as the story I read my children calls it. I ask you to consider all of this, and listen again now. 

In the end, the people of Grand Island will decide

I make this plea because no matter how much I think this is the right way forward, the plan will fail unless the people of Grand Island support it. We just got word that the date for the public hearing will be set for the end of the July. We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, let the discussion begin, but let it begin only in good faith, with mutual respect, and with the goal of sincere edification. Thank you in advance.

With warmest regards,

Nate

 The bike path idea (closing the Parkway and turning it into a path) has created a lot of buzz. Here are a few more things to think about: