Bicyclists Bring Business Roundtable and Bike-a-Round held in the Tonawandas on October 14 and 15 highlighted significant local enthusiasm for the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonwanda to serve as a regional cycling hub. Situated at the intersection of several long-distance trails, including the Erie Canalway Trail, and close to the Canadian border, the two cites are well-positioned to market to national and international cycling tourists.
Roundtable discussion sets the stage for discussion
A wide variety of stakeholders from the Tonawandas and the broader western Erie Canal community packed the Niawanda Park Pavilion, located on the Shoreline/Erie Canalway Trail, for an evening roundtable discussion on how to better serve cyclists and cycling tourists. Mayor Rick Davis from the City of Tonawanda kicked off the event by welcoming all in attendance. John Dimura of the NYS Canal Corporation provided an overview of the Canalway Trail System and a report on progress on Erie Canalway Trail construction and refurbishment. Using examples from Quebec and long-distance trails in other states, PTNY’s Robin Dropkin spoke about the opportunity that cycling tourism can bring to communities such as Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. Those in attendance benefitted from the attention and participation of Mayor Davis and his staff, Robert Welch from North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt’s office, as well as seasoned cyclo-tourism experts from Ontario, Canada. Local business owners and cyclists were also involved, and provided much needed perspective on current trail use and future needs.
The next morning, Bicyclists Bring Business (B3) participants took to the streets for a Bike-a-Round, which included a ride along the Erie Canalway/Shoreline Trail and the business disricts in Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. The purpose of this component of B3 was to experience the cities from the perspective of a cycling tourist. Before heading out, participants quickly reviewed the checklists found in PTNY’s Bicyclist Bring Business guidebook, framing the ride that followed. Issues such as lodging, restaurants, local attractions, and the overall on-street environment are included in the checklist as items that communities should consider when catering to trail cyclists. Following the Bike-a-Round, the riders gathered for a lively follow-up discussion and a great meal at North Tonawanda’s Risa and David’s Restaurant.
Highlights from the Bike-a-Round included a stop at the proposed site for an Intermodal Hub in Tonawanda. This project would bring accessible long-term parking, bathrooms, and other facilities that would allow Tonawanda to attract more Erie Canalway Trail vacationers. Another stop that all enjoyed was a tour of the Herschell Carousel Museum in North Tonawanda, which included a ride on a restored carousel!
Take-aways from both events included an appreciation of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda’s strategic position at the intersection of the Niagara River Greenway, which provides access to Niagara Falls, and the Erie Canalway Trail. In addition, a planned rails-to-trails project will provide a direct off-road connection to Buffalo. They’re location makes the Tonawandas an ideal base camp for short or long-term cycling trips.
Beyond the potential afforded by their location, municipal authorities from both of the Tonawandas and the surrounding areas showed a commitment to catering to cyclists, and to educating their constituencies about potential benefits from cycling tourists and recreational users. Participants on the Bike-a-Round noted that you can’t get much better access as a local cycling advocate than biking with Mayor Davis or Robert Welch, assistant to Mayor Ortt.
The Bike-a-Round made apparent other issues mentioned in the B3 guidebook. First among these was the need for improved, consistent signage in the Tonawanda area. Their are currently several styles of signs, and even multiple names for certain trail segments. Signs directing cyclists to area attractions and businesses could have immediate positive effects for trail users and the local economy.
A full analysis of this year’s Bicyclists Bring Business in Tonawanda will be released later this year. You can view past reports on the B3 page, as well as slide presentations (Canalway Trail Overview, Bicyclists Bring Business) from the Tonawanda roundtable.
A big thanks to all who participated and to our great hosts from Tonawanda and North Tonawanda!