Rochester City Article

As a member of the Advisory Committee for the Auburn Trail extension, representing the Coalition to Save the Railroad Mills Special Environmental Area, I agree wholeheartedly with Richard E. Williams (letter June 17) that the Auburn Trail be accessible to everyone.  We believe that the trail can be improved, accessible, and the environment protected. Yet we disagree with the Town of Victor’s claims of no significant environmental damage resulting from its plans, which call for unnecessary overwidening of the trail corridor.

Accessibility has been one of the cornerstones of the Coalition position.  Rather than being cast as a “special interest group”,  we are a coalition of some of the leading environmental groups in the Rochester region: Sierra Club, Rochester Birding Association, Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, Rochester Butterfly Club,  and Genesee Valley Audubon, comprising over 5000 members.  I encourage City readers to read our Position Paper http://www.rochesterbirding.com/auburnposition.pdf.

Mr. Williams is wrong in stating that the Coalition is not compromising.  The trail is currently a 1’ wide foot path – we are recommending a safe, 3’ wide ADA-compliant trail with sufficient wider areas for wheelchair turnarounds that would double as interpretive places.  We propose signage at either end to welcome people to the Railroad Mills Special Environmental Area – users should be aware they are entering a special place.  Our compromise proposal is a substantial change from what currently exists.

There is no reason that every “rails to trails” corridor in our region should look like a roadway.  Should not the environment, in a case like this,  guide the design? Here it is saying that it is worth going slowly, and savoring what is here.  We have documented an extraordinary diversity of birds, plants, frogs, butterflies and more, in a magnificent setting in the Irondequoit Creek Valley. 

Our environment keeps getting chipped away – small piece here, another there.  Each loss may not seem a big deal.  On this short part of the larger Auburn trail extension project – just a 3500 foot section  -– we have a chance to protect and highlight a special area where nature is up close and personal. Why destroy that with, essentially, a 10’ wide swath that will look like a road for bicycles to zoom through, while the current and future nature lovers (including bicyclists, joggers, people with disabling conditions, people with strollers, walkers, etc.) will have lost another natural treasure.

It is wrong to frame this as an issue of able-bodied vs disabled, or compromise vs none.  Let’s do what’s right for the present and future. The Coalition plan is inclusive, supports the project’s goals of connectivity, yet does it in a way that is thinking “out of the box” – different from what the transportation planners who carry out these projects typically do.

 

Steven Daniel