Concept image for the Elevating Erie bike path (courtesy elevatingerie.com)
Could there be a pedestrian/bicycling path along Erie Boulevard come 2020? According to the Final Erie Concept Plan released last Friday at the City Hall Commons Atrium in Syracuse, there very well could be, and when complete, it has the potential to reimagine the boulevard as a “centerpiece for the Town of DeWitt.”
In conjunction with a meeting of FOCUS Greater Syracuse, the FOCUS Forum Group and Town of DeWitt Planning and Zoning Director Sam Gordon, the plan’s goal, as a part of a statewide initiative to “recapture DeWitt’s historic Erie Canal corridor” (now Erie Boulevard), is to “re-envision and rehabilitate the corridor — as well as adjacent and connecting areas of the town — as an integral and vital part of the community’s economic growth and quality of life,” according to a press release released Thursday.
The plan’s designs are said to support Gov. Cuomo’s vision for New York State’s Empire State Trail and his recent announcement to have the 750+-mile trail completed by 2020.
The Elevating Erie Concept Plan incorporates several key elements within the Town of DeWitt, including a multi-use, landscaped trail/green space in the center median of Erie Boulevard from Thompson Road to Bridge Street designed for pedestrians, walkers and bikers, as well as bike lanes, sidewalks, cross walks, landscaped buffers and a trail bridge over I-481 adjacent to the Kinne Road Bridge.
The trail bridge would connect the proposed trail to Butternut Drive and the Butternut Creek Canal Park. The Dewitt Canal Park additionally links to the 38-mile Canalway Trail that extends from the Town of DeWitt to Rome.
The path along the median of Erie Boulevard East would be buffered from traffic, and would accommodate crossings at Bridge Street and Thompson Road for the connection into Syracuse. A central feature of the overall plan is a green space park in the Widewaters Pond area at the convergence of Towpath Road, Erie Boulevard and Bridge Street. The park has the potential to include trails, water fountains, benches and lighting.
According to studies performed by the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC), there is a need for a mixed-use path in the middle of the boulevard. During an 18-hour period (that included 10 intersections between Kinne Road in Dewitt and South Crouse Street in Syracuse), 1,355 pedestrians and 85 bicyclists were counted along the boulevard. Within the Dewitt section of the counts, a total of 299 pedestrians were counted crossing the crosswalks and midblock locations along the boulevard.
The Elevating Erie Concept Plan is a part of “Elevating Erie,” a collaborative effort to close a 14-mile gap — the Erie Boulevard corridor between Camillus and DeWitt — in the Erie Canalway Trail System. The plan is also an outgrowth of the “Elevating Erie Ideas Competition” which drew proposals from some 64 entries representing 16 countries, and concepts were created with input of more than 1,200 online survey responses from the community.
On behalf of the Town of DeWitt, ALTA Planning & Design and Environmental Design and Research (EDR) studied various design alternatives for the Elevating Erie corridor and completed a technical review of the traffic impacts of each strategy. Their final report included recommendations on the short and long-term prospects for the corridor.
“Connecting our neighborhoods to one another, to our town parks and trails, and to the Erie Canal Trail system, is an integral and important part of our on-going commitment to build community in DeWitt,” said Town of DeWitt Supervisor Ed Michalenko in a press release released Thursday. “This Elevating Erie Concept Plan, especially the proposed Kinne Street Bridge and Widewaters Park — and the connection of these innovative new proposals to Governor Cuomo’s greater vision for the Empire State Trail — serves my community, neighboring communities, tourism, business, the environment and the overall economy of New York State.”
More than $18 million in state funding has been allocated to the project, and an additional $3.5 million will go towards constructing the remaining sections of the trail in Onondaga County.
In January, Cuomo announced his commitment to complete the multi-use Empire State Trail by 2020, a trail that would extend from Buffalo to Manhattan and then to the tip of Lake Champlain on the Canadian border. The more than 450 miles of the Erie Canalway Trail will become a part of the Empire State Trail, and DeWitt’s Elevating Erie Concept Plan will aim to enhance the overall state trail system.
Final designs for the Erie Boulevard portion of the project will be held at another public forum on March 14. Construction is set to begin in 2019.
More information on the project, as well as the complete concept presentation, can be found online at elevatingerie.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.