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Archives for December 16, 2015

Detroit plans to plant thousands of trees to go green

DETROIT (AP) – In what may be the city’s most ambitious ecological project ever, Detroit plans to plant tens of thousands of trees in two quarter-square-mile patches to show how greening strategies can improve life for everyday Detroiters.

Maurice Cox, the city’s director of planning, told the Detroit Free Press ( ) the project will target two districts: the Fitzgerald neighborhood and the area in and around the old Herman Kiefer hospital complex.

Cox said every vacant lot within those quarter-square-mile districts would be either planted with trees or given some other “green” or “blue” treatment – rainwater gardens, fields of sunflowers, urban farms and more. It would be paid for largely with money from philanthropic foundations. The city will team with the nonprofit Greening of Detroit to get the work done.

The project represents a big bet that embracing green and blue strategies on a major scale will convert Detroit’s vast expanses of vacant and abandoned land – estimated variously at 20 square miles to more than 30 – from a negative to a positive.

“Land is our greatest asset,” Cox said.

Economic development strategies usually involve new housing, retail, commercial or industrial projects. But the greening campaign will test – on perhaps the largest scale ever – whether widespread greening strategies can deliver an economic benefit as real and significant as new construction.

“We want to show that you can increase property values without building a single house in a neighborhood,” Cox said. “Research shows that the greener the neighborhood the higher the property values, so we think we can have an impact on that.”

Detroit and other cities have already been experimenting along these lines for years, with hundreds of community garden plots created in the city and projects such as Hantz Woodlands and the RecoveryPark farming project moving ahead. But the plan Cox describes would be bigger and more concentrated than any yet seen and could serve as a model for postindustrial cities worldwide.

The multiple goals include creating jobs by hiring and training residents as landscape workers, cutting air pollution, and keeping rainwater and snowmelt out of the city’s already burdened sewer overflow system.

Training a workforce from among neighborhood residents will become a key part of the program. Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of the Greening of Detroit, said her organization plans to hire up to 100 residents from the districts this winter to have them trained and ready to do the landscaping work next spring and summer.

“Our goal is to recruit people from the neighborhoods where these things are happening,” she said. “A change in landscape feels a lot better to you when someone from your neighborhood is chosen to do the work.”

Academic research in recent years in cities such as Philadelphia has found a link between greening strategies and benefits such as crime reduction and improved health for residents.

“We think we can have an impact on safety and security, and impacts on illegal dumping,” Cox said. “People generally don’t dump on beautiful flower beds. There’s a whole psychology about areas that are cared for, that appear that someone genuinely is taking care of it, stewarding that land.”

With that in mind, the project will not appear “wild” as if left to nature, but will appear well-tended and planned, Witt said.

“It’s going to create real significant ecosystem services” for residents, Witt said. “They’re going to notice that the air feels cleaner, that the flooding is reduced, that their property values are going up.”

Story Continues →

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Business in bloom: Clovis-based SYNLawn thrives due to drought

In the midst of California’s historic drought, many homeowners have ditched their front lawns for alternative landscaping methods. Drought tolerant, water-wise gardens are a popular choice, but not necessarily appealing to those who prefer the traditional look of a lush, green front lawn.

Enter SYNLawn Central California.

For nearly a decade, the business has specialized in the installation of synthetic lawns for both home and commercial use. In the absence of rain clouds, the family-owned company has found a silver lining.

Brothers-in-law Matt Price and Blaine McQuown — both graduates of Buchanan High School — formed the company in 2006. Neither had prior experience in the industry but Price, while perusing magazines for franchise opportunities, read about the concept and knew it was unique. With few competitors in the area, the time was right to enter the field. He brought brother-in-law McQuown on as a partner and the two began the business in his parents’ garage.

“We were doing all the sales and installs ourselves,” recalled McQuown. “I did it for the first 10 to 11 months and Matt did it the first couple years, and we hired our first installer after about 11 months.”

Now, as the Central Valley’s authorized distributor of SYNLawn products, the company employs nearly 30 installers. They’ve also moved out of that garage. Headquartered at 247 N. Minnewawa Ave., the company serves the Central Valley and beyond, having completed installations as far away as the Bay Area and Central Coast.

The majority of their clients, Price said, are residential homeowners, but they do sell their product directly to landscapers and contractors. They’ve also worked with developers and commercial clients.

Recently, they helped Elaine’s Pet Resorts upgrade their dog runs. Pet-friendly artificial lawns that keep paws clean, absorb liquids and control odors continue to be a popular product for both residential and commercial clients, even as the popularity of their other products has grown.

That’s because the drought has affected business — in a good way.

“We were big before … and then the drought happened and we got bigger,” said Price.

“We went from three crews to six over a six-month period, trying to keep up with everything,” added McQuown.

Prior to the beginning of the drought, they said, the majority of their residential installations were backyards. Now, about half are front yards. That’s partially due to the drought they said, but it’s also because technological advances in the industry have resulted in a more attractive, natural-looking product.

“The look of them got better,” said Price. “It’s becoming acceptable. Our most popular is more of a fescue-style grass [with] a real tall pile height to it. It’s more natural-looking compared to the high-traffic product.”

As a distributor and installer, SYNLawn is involved in planning and installation of a new lawn from beginning to end. After receiving an estimate, McQuown said, new clients schedule their service. Right now, due to demand, they’re scheduling installations one-and-a-half to two months out. But a typical residential installation only takes a day or two.

Though Price acknowledged concerns that have been raised over the eco-friendliness of artificial lawns, he said those concerns primarily apply to older products or those manufactured in China. All of SYNLawn’s currently available products, he said, are made in the United States and are 100 percent recyclable by weight. So when the time does come to replace it, homeowners can breathe a little easier knowing their lawn isn’t headed for the landfill.

Beyond saving water in the short term, McQuown said their lawns provide financial savings over time, via reduction in maintenance and water use costs. Depending on the product and the project, said McQuown, clients typically see a return on their investment within five to seven years.

“For a product that’s warrantied for 10 to 15 years,” he said, “it could pay for itself two to three times over.”

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26 parks and nature areas to close daily at 4 p.m. during Ann Arbor deer cull

Restrictions on usage of more than two dozen Ann Arbor parks and nature areas are set to take effect for the next three months as the city begins a controversial deer cull.

Starting Jan. 1, that means no more late-afternoon, evening or early-morning visits to some of the city’s most popular parks and nature areas until April.

The city has announced the following 26 parks and nature areas will be closed from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily from Jan. 1 to March 31 while sharpshooters kill up to 100 deer.

Parks and nature areas in Ann Arbor that will close daily from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. from Jan. 1 through March 31 while the city carries out a deer cull. 

  • Arbor Hills Nature Area
  • Argo Nature Area
  • Bandemer Nature Area
  • Barton Nature Area
  • Bird Hills Nature Area
  • Black Pond Woods Nature Area
  • Bluffs Nature Area
  • Braun Nature Area
  • Cedar Bend Nature Area
  • Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area
  • Foxfire South Nature Area
  • Foxfire West Nature Area
  • Furstenberg Nature Area
  • Huron Parkway Nature Area
  • Kuebler Langford Nature Area
  • Leslie Park Golf Course
  • Leslie Woods Nature Area
  • Narrow Gauge Nature Area
  • Oakridge Nature Area
  • Oakwoods Nature Area
  • Olson Park
  • Onder Nature Area
  • Ruthven Nature Area
  • South Pond Nature Area
  • Stapp Nature Area
  • Traver Creek Nature Area

Amid much controversy and protests by animal rights advocates, the City Council voted 10-1 in November with Mayor Christopher Taylor opposed to hire the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, also known as USDA-APHIS, to carry out the cull at a cost of up to $35,000.

City officials said USDA-APHIS has trained sharpshooters on staff who have experience safely culling deer in urban areas.

The city’s goal is to decrease complaints from residents about deer, including damage to landscaping and gardens, and to support biological diversity in natural areas where city officials believe deer are damaging the ecosystem.

Members of a group called FAAWN, standing for Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature, hold up “stop the shoot” signs at the City Council’s meeting on Dec. 7, 2015. Council members who support the cull have faced recall threats from a group called Save the Deer Ann Arbor, which considers the cull an unnecessary slaughter.

Members of another group called FAAWN, standing for Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature, also showed up to the City Council’s most recent meeting to protest the cull, advocating for nonlethal methods to control the deer population.

A survey done by the city found 43 percent of residents are against using lethal methods, and 48 percent are specifically against bringing in sharpshooters.

An aerial survey earlier this year counted 168 deer in and around the city, mostly on the north and east sides of town where the culling is set to take place.

The Humane Society of Huron Valley, which is continuing its “stop the shoot” campaign, organized a showing of the documentary “EXPOSED: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife” Tuesday night in Ann Arbor.

Tanya Hilgendorf, Humane Society president, said everyone she has spoken with is shocked by the scope of the cull. She questions the need for daily closures in 26 parks and nature areas for the next three months.

“I have seen no community do it like this,” she said. “These parks are right next to homes, in my own neighborhood, where people walk and jog, where people walk their dogs, where kids play and teens hang out.”

Hilgendorf said she remains concerned about the safety implications, and she doesn’t see the justification for the cull.

“All we have are wildlife that eat plants, and there are cheap and easy ways to address those concerns,” she said.

“Rochester Hills remains a great example of an effective, inexpensive and nonlethal approach that their citizens consider a success. This cost to taxpayers, threats to safety, and damage to community cohesion have no justification.”

City officials said cull sites were chosen based on public safety, size and shape of properties, terrain, surrounding land use and housing density, proximity to neighbors, ease of access, and attractiveness of the location for deer.

According to a news release from the city, USDA-APHIS personnel are wildlife biologists and wildlife specialists trained to kill deer using a single shot.

Signage will be posted at the entrances of impacted parks and nature areas to notify visitors of closures.

Residents living near designated parks or nature areas will be informed of the closures directly via postcard.

The city also plans to use social media, Community Television Network, the city’s website and email notifications to inform citizens.

Taylor, who has opposed the cull because of a lack of community consensus, said last week he believes the cull will follow strict safety procedures, and any venison that’s suitable for consumption will be donated to a local food bank.

In August, the City Council approved a deer management plan that includes culling deer on city property in wards 1 and 2 each year for the next four years.

Sabra Sanzotta, organizer for Save the Deer Ann Arbor, said she’ll be filing a lawsuit against the city to challenge the culls.

The city has answered frequently asked questions about the cull in a document available at

Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at

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Easy-does-it winter cleanup tips for lawn and garden

There’s still time for end-of-season garden cleanup.

“It’s a good idea to rake the last of the leaves off the lawn,” siad Doris Taylor, Plant Clinic manager at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. You don’t have to remove every last leaf, but a matted layer of leaves under winter snow can give rise to fungal diseases in spring.

Don’t worry about how you’ll get rid of the leaves. The best thing to do with them is to rake them around the trunks of trees, under shrubs or over perennial beds as mulch. You may want to shred them by raking them in a pile and running the lawn mower over them: “Shredded leaves don’t pack down as much as whole leaves,” Taylor said, and they won’t blow around as much.

By spring, many of the leaves will have vanished, consumed by fungi, and you can rake up and compost the rest.

In the meantime, they will insulate the soil against sudden warm spells in winter, which can lure plants to come out of their winter dormancy too soon. It’s actually better to replenish mulch once the ground has gotten frosty, because the goal of winter mulch is to keep the ground frozen and prevent frost heaving, not to keep the soil from freezing.

What if you don’t like the look of brown leaves in the garden? “Add them to the compost pile,” Taylor said.

Wait to prune trees and shrubs until after the holidays to be sure they’re dormant, she said. But you can cut back the dead foliage of perennials now. “Good housekeeping is essential,” Taylor said, and the more tidying up you do at the end of the season, the less you will have to do in spring.

Make sure to cut back any plant that had disease problems and clean up any leaves that have fallen from it. Dispose of the entire plant outside your garden, not in your compost. Bacteria or fungal spores that caused disease problems can often survive in home compost piles.

Do the same with leaves fallen from diseased trees, such as crabapple trees with apple scab.

Ornamental grasses are usually left standing for interest over the winter and cut back in February. When it comes to cutting back other perennials, it’s a matter of taste. Some gardeners cut back every brown stalk at the same time; others like the look of dried seed heads and flowers on plants such as echinacea and astilbe.

“You can always cut back the unattractive ones now and leave more interesting ones standing until they start to show wear and tear,” Taylor says.

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Naples Botanical Garden executive director Brian Holley set to retire in 2016

The man who guided the growth of the Naples Botanical Garden into one of the area’s favorite spots and a nationally recognized attraction has announced he is retiring at the end of 2016.

Brian Holley, the Garden’s executive director since 2005, said he plans to stay onboard to guide the development of the Garden’s next 10-year master plan and plans to stay involved even after his official last day on the job.

“I’m not going to fly away someplace, never to come back again, ” Holley said Tuesday. “My heart is with the gardens, and it always will be.”

A national search is planned to find Holley’s successor.

Holley oversaw the conversion of melaleuca-infested land at the corner of Thomasson Road and Bayshore Drive in East Naples into man-made lakes, winding pathways and 21,000 varieties of native plants that represent the culture and flora of the tropics. Some 220,000 people visit the garden each year.

A market research firm recently found the Naples gardens ranked third in visitor satisfaction among the nation’s top botanical gardens, behind sites in St. Louis and Chicago.

Before Holley arrived, the garden had been in the planning stages since 1993. The late Harvey Kapnick Jr. donated $5 million in 2000 to buy 170 acres, but work on the first phase of a $50 million master plan wouldn’t start until 2008.

“There was just such an amazing pent-up desire to get these gardens built,” Holley said. “I walked into something that was basically just really ready to burst.

Holley, who also led the Cleveland Botanical Garden until 2007, said he caught the last flight out of Fort Lauderdale to Cleveland as Hurricane Wilma bore down on Collier County in 2005. He spent that week recruiting the Naples garden design team.

The first gardens opened in 2009, followed by more gardens and a research and education center in 2010. A visitor center opened in 2014.

Naples Botanical Garden chairman Thomas McCann said Holley’s talents as a horticulturist and team builder were crucial in the garden’s early days.

“He was just the guy to get when we were beginning to build,” McCann said.

McCann said he visits the garden often, and Holley seems always to be there, often answering questions about names of plants — down to a vine growing across the sidewalk.

“He got not only the English name but the Latin version as well,” McCann said.

Collier Commissioner Penny Taylor, whose district includes the garden, credits Holley with helping change the face of the community.

“What he’s done and what the botanical gardens has done under his leadership has set the stage for more and more creativity and vitality and all the things you want in a neighborhood,” Taylor said.

Article source: chairman aims to unseat popular Utah governor

The voters of Utah like Republican Gov. Gary Herbert. They really like him.

A survey conducted for the website Utah Policy and released last week found 72 percent of the state’s voters approve of Herbert’s job performance, a figure that increases to 86 percent when it includes only Republican voters.

Those figures bode well for Herbert as he readies to seek a third election to the governor’s mansion and his second full term in office. Herbert won his first term in a 2010 special election to succeed former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R).

But that unrivaled popularity is likely less welcomed by Republican Jonathan Johnson, a political novice and chairman of the board of online retailer Inc., who is hoping to knock Herbert out of office next year.

Johnson, who launched his challenge to Herbert in September, has been attacking the Republican executive from the party’s right wing, arguing the governor has been ineffective on issues like education and curtailing the state’s reliance on federal appropriations.


“We may say the same things, but he’s said the same things for eight years with very little of it getting done,” Johnson said earlier this month in a mock debate with Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis on Fox News affiliate KZNU radio. Dabakis is not seeking the governor’s office.

In his uphill bid against Herbert — the governor won his first full term in 2012 with 68 percent of the vote — Johnson has spent significant time discussing his desire to transfer much of Utah’s federal public lands to state control.

“I think it really puts Utah in a bind that we have two-thirds of our land owned by the federal government,” Johnson said in the mock debate. He went on to praise the National Park Service, adding that his criticisms are aimed at the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

“Over the decades that the federal government has managed these lands, the health of these lands has gotten worse, the access to these lands has gotten worse, and the productivity of these lands has gotten worse,” Johnson said. “They really manage them as if they are a museum: don’t touch, just look, don’t go in them, don’t use them.”

Johnson added: “I think we need state management of them, state ownership of them, not so that we’re selling them off and we have private ranches … but so all Utahans can enjoy them. And I think we manage them not like a museum but like a garden.”

But Johnson, who has also framed the push for state ownership of public lands as a matter of “self-reliance,” disputes suggestions that the state merely wants to mine and drill on those public lands.

“We’re not looking to put an oil derrick under Delicate Arch or to strip-mine Grand Staircase-Escalante [National Monument] or to clear cut the forests. What we are looking for is to make these lands productive again so that wildfires don’t rage,” Johnson said in the radio debate. “This is not about spoiling the land, this is about protecting it, making it healthier so that all Utahans have better access.”

The issue is one Herbert has directly addressed, signing a bill in 2012 demanding that the federal government relinquish 31 million acres of public land in the state by 2014. No such transfer has occurred to date.

“We need a paradigm change when it comes to public lands management,” Herbert said at the time he signed the bill. “The federal government retaining control of two-thirds of our landmass was never in the bargain when we became a state, and it is indefensible 116 years later.”

A state commission on public lands last week urged Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (R) to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a complaint on the issue, although the matter could also go to a district court (EENews PM, Dec. 9).

Johnson has similarly endorsed litigation to secure the public lands, speaking at campaign events and in interviews with state media.

Following the state commission’s recommendation last week, Herbert told Salt Lake City Fox News affiliate KSTU that he did not want to “go to court,” adding: “I’m hopeful we can negotiate rational outcomes.”

Herbert has said that he would favor other options to turn over control of those public lands, pointing to the Utah Public Lands Initiative pursued by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, both Utah Republicans (Greenwire, Nov. 13).

“I think that’s a better way to do it,” Herbert said. “But certainly litigation is a part of the possibilities we have to resolve differences of opinion.”

University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless said the state’s looming fight with the federal government and delay in its effort to seize the public lands is unlikely to mar Herbert’s reputation among voters.

“The governor is not being hurt by this at all. The governor is perceived by elements on the right wing as being too moderate, but the right wing just hasn’t been able to find anything they can really criticize him for,” Chambless said.

Two shots

Chambless noted that in his bid to unseat Herbert, Johnson has put together a respectable campaign staff that includes former Utah GOP Chairman Dave Hansen, who has advised both Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Mia Love, and can rely on his own funds for the campaign.

But Herbert’s popularly remains a nearly insurmountable challenge, particularly given the relatively short three-month window until delegates are selected for the state’s April nominating conventions.

“He’s got money, and he’s got an excellent campaign strategist, but Jonathan Johnson doesn’t have the name recognition with Utah voters, and he’s challenging a very popular incumbent governor who’s got excellent name recognition and also a great deal of money to spend,” Chambless said.

He added: “Could Jonathan Johnson win? It’s possible. Is it likely? No.”

Nonetheless, thanks to Utah’s unusual election structure, Johnson will get two tries to take on Herbert next year.

Traditionally, Utah voters decided their primary contests at intraparty conventions. A candidate could win a spot on the general election ballot if he or she received 60 percent of the vote at a party convention. If no candidate could claim 60 percent, a primary contest would decide the general election nominee.

But the state adopted new rules in 2014 aimed at broadening the pool of voters selecting nominees.

In addition to the intraparty convention, a candidate can now also seek a spot on the primary ballot via petition. A candidate would need 28,000 signatures to qualify for the primary ballot and force a contest.

Johnson is expected to challenge Herbert at the GOP convention in April — an event that typically attracts the party’s more conservative wing — as well as with a nominating petition for the June 28 primary.

Air, water issues

In the meantime, Johnson must also seek to distinguish himself from Herbert, even as he offers support for many of the same ideas the governor has endorsed.

In addition to the push to seize public lands for the state, Johnson’s campaign names air quality and water conservation among his top concerns.

On his website, Johnson calls on the state to be “better stewards of our water supply,” as well as endorsing measures to improve air quality and reduce pollution in the Beehive State.

“Our valleys’ air has a natural tendency to quickly become over polluted increasing health problems and costs while decreasing our overall quality of life,” Johnson’s campaign website says. “Everyone along the Wasatch front shares the same air and responsibility to improve the conditions. To do this Utah should consider implementing tier three fuel standards, drastically cutting vehicle emissions, which accounts for the majority of the pollution in our state.”

In a 2013 op-ed in the Salt Lake City Deseret News, Johnson similarly called for expanding compressed natural gas facilities and vehicle use in the state.

“We must encourage the behaviors that will protect the unsurpassed natural beauty of our state. We should drive less. We should drive cleaner,” he wrote.

But Herbert has similarly endorsed clean air policies.

Although coal remains the major source of energy and a key economic industry for the state — and Herbert has opposed the Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions — the governor has nonetheless endorsed other policies aimed at curbing the state’s air pollution.
and publicly endorsed U.S. EPA’s strengthened fuel and vehicle standards rolled out in 2014.

“As the technology already exists to do something about it, there is absolutely no reason to wait. Expediting this transition will be one of the most significant and effective ways we can immediately take to clean our air,” Herbert said at that time, according to the Deseret News.

Herbert has also pursued water conservation in the state, directing the creation of a 50-year water strategy plan, as well as setting a goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent by 2025.

“Water is one of the state’s most critical resources,” Herbert said in June when he signed an executive order mandating water conservation effort at state agencies, including restrictions on watering landscaping and installation of low-flow fixtures.

He added: “It is clear we need to do everything we can to conserve our water supply, and that includes the state government. We have an obligation to lead by example.”

Another issue that may set Johnson apart is his view, asserted in a speech to the United Precious Metals Association in October, that he expects a “banking holiday” stemming from a financial crisis in the near future.

Johnson revealed that has prepared for those expectations by setting aside “$10 million in gold and silver in denominations small enough” to continue to pay its workers. The company also has a three-month supply of food for each of its workers plus a spouse, he said, explaining that the provisions include items normally for sale on the website.

Article source:

Cyclists, joggers can’t wait for finished trail

The Tonawanda Rails-to-Trails project isn’t complete or officially open yet, but that hasn’t stopped bicyclists, joggers and dog walkers from flocking to the new path during recent unseasonably warm weather.

“To see this come to life is a vision realized for not just myself but for a whole lot of other people in our community,” said Philip L. Haberstro, a Kenmore resident and executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo. “It’s something for all of us to be excited about and proud of.”

Managers of the $2.5 million project also said they’re hearing good things.

“According to our field staff, they’ve gotten a lot of positive comments from people adjacent to the path and people from wherever who are out using it,” said Brian Rose, senior project manager for Erie County. “I think it’s going to be very well received, just by the number of people who are using it while it’s being built.”

The first layer of asphalt for the 4-mile trail which cuts a diagonal line across the heart of the town’s residential core and runs along an old railroad bed has been paved. Much of the concrete work is done and trees and landscaping are in the ground.

Work by Northeast Diversification wrapped up for the year on Friday and will resume in the spring when the top layer of asphalt is paved and HAWK signals, or high-intensity activated crosswalk beacons, are installed where the trail crosses busy Sheridan Drive and Kenmore Avenue.

The site until Friday was still very much a muddy construction zone, active with bulldozers and dump trucks. There are “Trail Closed” signs posted at entrances.

“We don’t shoo people off, we just want people to be aware it is closed,” Rose said. “It’s still a construction site.”

Still, the progress has not gone unnoticed by residents eager to make use of what will be the town’s newest recreation spot.

The concept for the trail languished for decades. Haberstro even included the trail on his platform when he ran for Town Board – in 1991. Only now, it’s nearly done, but not quite yet.

“Folks need to respect the safety issues there,” said Haberstro, who “scouted” the trail last month on his bike, from Center Avenue up to his alma mater, Cardinal O’Hara High School. “It’s not quite ready, but hang in there.”

Other residents are coming forward with ideas to enhance the trail.

“Congratulations to the Town of Tonawanda for making the new rails-to-trails bike path a reality,” Fayette Avenue resident Lorraine Tesmer wrote in a letter to Town Engineer Jim Jones. “Bikers are using it already!”

Tesmer suggested seeding wildflowers and other native plants along the path to “restore a healthy ecosystem.”

“I thought that was a great idea,” Jones said. “We have a little wetland area between Kenmore and Englewood that we may look for some grants to do wetland enhancements.”

Jones also exudes ideas for further enhancing the trail once it opens, including an “Adopt-a-trail” program in which groups would agree to maintain portions and a program for planting flowers or trees in memory of the deceased.

“It’s a good foundation, it’s a good backbone,” he said. “It will evolve into something larger — more connectivity, more enhancements as time goes on.”

Already, the trail connects to the separate North Buffalo Rails-to-Trails project, which is also nearing completion. Crews are putting the finishing touches on that trail, which runs from the LaSalle station Metro Rail stop on Main Street to Kenmore Avenue.

“Having that carry through to Tonawanda, that’s a great thing,” Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said. “It’s something I know people are definitely going to be interested in as we develop these walkable communities. We want to make sure that we’re bike-friendly out there. We’re excited about it.”

Also, a loop trail that will link the town’s path to Lincoln Park is in the design stages now and scheduled for construction next year, Jones said.

Finally, another project will take the rail-trail from its northern terminus at State Street in the City of Tonawanda north to the Canalway Trail. Construction on that portion could begin as early as 2017, Rose said.

When all is said and done, bicyclists will be able to ride mostly off-road from the Erie Canal south to the Metro Rail station and take the subway downtown with their bikes to Canalside.

The frenzy of activity building multimodal transportation in the Northtowns comes as the Town of Tonawanda embarks on a complete streets initiative, which includes a bicycle master plan.

A graduate class in urban planning in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo reviewed the town’s road network and identified several priorities where bicycle facilities could be improved.

The class presented its findings to the town Planning Board on Dec. 2.

Students under Professor Bumjoon Kang proposed 7-foot designated bike lanes along Sheridan Drive from East Park Drive to Belmont Avenue. From Belmont to Niagara Falls Boulevard a 5-foot protected bike path would go off-road and run parallel to the sidewalk. Their plan would also enhance safety for bicyclists on Sheridan at key intersections with East Park, Belmont and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

“I think it’s very cool,” Jones said. “I like the way they interfaced the Sheridan Drive protected bike lanes into the side path. I thought that was a good treatment.”

The class also proposed 5-foot bike lanes on Delaware Avenue, designated by green-colored pavement, and 4-foot paths on Kenmore Avenue from Military Road to the rail-trail, which crosses Kenmore Avenue behind the former Budwey’s supermarket.

Parker Boulevard, Brighton Road and Sawyer Avenue were also identified as priority candidates for dedicated bike lanes.

In a survey of 113 residents, the class found that 80 percent of respondents would not bike on Sheridan currently, but 90 percent said they would if protected bike lanes were added.

Also, nearly three-quarters of respondents identified a lack of designated bike lanes as the biggest obstacle to bicycling in the town.

Jones said the study will help inform future decisions about changes to the major roadways.

“We’ll take it and roll it into our complete streets initiative,” Jones said. “We’re meeting regularly now with our complete streets committee. We’re hoping to adopt a policy.”

Meanwhile, warm weather has allowed rail-trail construction to stay on schedule. “It has helped,” Rose said. “It’s allowed them to work this late.”

While the trail is closed this winter, town officials are looking at the possibility of keeping it open during future winters for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. They may also add lighting for nighttime use, like on the North Buffalo side, which features decorative light standards.

“We’ve always taken the stance that it’s going to be a dawn-to-dusk facility just like the rest of our parks,” Jones said. “That’s something we can work on in the future. We don’t have to have firm rules right now.”

For now, the bicyclists, joggers and dog walkers itching to use the completed trail will have to remain patient just a little while longer.

“I’m happy with the work that’s been done so far,” said Rose. “I’m looking forward to a successful completion next year and being able to open it to the public, officially.”

When that day comes, Haberstro has one piece of advice:

“Get out and use it, because looking at it doesn’t help you,” he said. “It’s riding it, biking it, blading it — whatever your pleasure may be. Because of the high level of access and the high level of safety that it offers the community I think it’s going to be a very successful addition to our town.”


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Lower Haighters Rank Lighting, Landscaping As Top Priorities For New Plan

Last month, city officials met with the Lower Haight community to gather ideas for the neighborhood’s Public Realm Plan, a project that aims to increase livability with transit improvements and neighborhood beautification. Now, they’ve released an update on what neighbors said they want most for the project area, which includes Haight, Page and Waller streets between Divisadero and Market, as well as Duboce Park, Koshland Park and Laguna Mini-Park.

During the meeting, the Planning Department laid out 34 specific ways the Lower Haight could improve its streets, parks, sidewalks and alleyways. We’ve outlined a few of the biggest community suggestions below, in order of popularity. Keep in mind that these are only suggestions, and may or may not appear in the final plan: 

  • Better lighting in streets, sidewalks and parks
  • Sidewalk landscaping: rain gardens and other greenery along sidewalks
  • Green connections: landscaping and storm water management that make streets and sidewalks more pleasant and easier to navigate
  • More trees along sidewalks
  • Pedestrian safety
  • Cyclist safety
  • Active commercial building fronts: Storefronts designed in a way that gives passersby a sense of whats going on inside. This could mean a community room or a public arts facility with big windows and a welcoming exterior.

The project could also include the Safeway site on Church and Duboce, which is slated for long-term development in the Market-Octavia Plan. At a future meeting, the community will have an opportunity to decide if they’d like this area included in the plan.

The Planning Department, Public Works and the SFMTA will hold a second public meeting on the Public Realm Plan in late Winter 2016. If all goes according to plan, the project will kick off next Fall. 

Lower Haight residents and merchants can share their ideas on the project’s Neighborland page. The Planning Department will use this online forum and input from public meetings to devise a first draft of the Public Realm Plan; we’ll keep you updated on further community meetings and other developments.

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