LACKAWANNA, N.Y. – It doesn't open until next week, but on Friday we got a sneak preview of the new bike path that’s been constructed through the old Bethlehem Steel property.
Along for the ride: Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who donned a bike helmet and used pedal power to traverse the new section of the Shoreline Trail.
The new, 1.5 mile leg extends the existing bike path south from where it currently ends at the Union Ship Canal to near Dona Street.
”The goal is to acquire another one hundred acres to the south, so that the trail can continue through the remainder of Lackawanna and then connect into the areas that already exist in Hamburg,” said Poloncarz. “Bicyclists can go north on the trail system all the way to Youngstown, or hop onto another in the Erie canal area and go right across upstate New York.”
An Expensive Leg.
“It’s not like we came and put in a mile and a half of new black top to just instantly create a new trail,” said Poloncarz. “This was a lot of work.”
It was also very expensive.
An entire rail line had to be removed, along with the security fencing surrounding it, as well as a mile long earthen berm. There was also a need to re-scape the land for drainage purposes.
All told, the price tag for the 10 foot wide bike path came to close to $1 million.
It was completed in just five months time.
The end result is a so called Class 1 pedestrian/bicycle trail , which in the parlance of two wheeled travel means that it's wide enough to accommodate two way bicycle traffic and pedestrians, and doesn't involve any vehicular traffic.
“The idea was to expand recreational activities in our area,” said Poloncarz, who defended the expense as an investment in the Western New York community. “One also has to remember that it was largely built with grants that are for the sole purpose of constructing bike and recreational trails, and not designated by the federal or state governments for any other purpose.”
A Path Toward Improvement
Poloncarz also insists the trail is a potential path to prosperity, claiming that it’s become a selling point for businesses who’ve inquired about setting up shop in an industrial park being developed on land the county purchased in 2017 adjacent to the bike path.
“Developers we’ve spoken to love the idea of having a having a bike and recreational trail for employees to ride bikes to get to work, or just to enjoy during the lunch hour,” he said.
"This land has never ever seen any recreational use… at least since before the steel company was here," said Poloncarz, who might know better about that than many, as a native son of Lackawanna and the son of a steel worker who once labored at the plant.
“My father laughed when he was on the site about a year ago and got asked how many trees were here…. I mean, there wasn’t even a blade of grass here… it was all concrete and steel and wall to wall buildings,” he said, as pedaled and reminisced about an area that has gone from fire, to rust, to green.
“I think this is an example of how you can invest in your community and increase the quality of life,” he said.