On a day when New York state is in the federal government’s gun-sights to take a $2.3 billion hit on Medicaid expenses, now might be a good time to have the “needs versus wants” talk with Gov. Andrew Cuomo when it comes to spending $200 million of taxpayer money to create a statewide recreational trail.
New York has many needs.
A contiguous 750-mile bike trail isn’t one of them.
So as they spending the next couple of weeks crunching the numbers in anticipation of the April 1 budget deadline, the state Legislature should reject the Empire State Trail proposed in the governor’s budget and put that money to better use fixing our roads and bridges, providing more money to support struggling schools, and maybe putting a downpayment on that impending healthcare cross.
The governor sees the trail as a boon to tourism and as a preventative cure for some of New Yorker’s health issues, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Providing New Yorkers with a super-long bike path from Buffalo to New York City will not only help restore them to physical health, but, he says, provide an economic boost to the state by drawing hikers and bikers to the state, where they presumably will spend millions of dollars on bottled water and hostels.
We’ve got no quarrel with the benefits of exercise.
And rural communities in the Adirondacks and elsewhere have benefited by paving over old railroad tracks and establishing designated bike paths along roadways.
But does New York need a contiguous trail to draw those people here?
A quick survey of New York’s recreational trails shows that we’ve already got plenty of opportunities for both people who want to bike and walk around their communities and for those people who want to slide into their wear spandex pants and run and pedal long distances.
The website bikenewengland (Bike New England) offers a lengthy list of trails and a handy locator map crowded with upside-down teardrops showing the trails.
Among them are the 400-mile Erie Canal trail, which runs from Albany to Buffalo roughly following the canal route and towpaths. About 300 miles of the trail is off-road. Elsewhere, we’ve got the 47-mile Lake Champlain Bikeway, the 112-mile Southern Adirondack bicycle trail through the Adirondacks, the 518-mile Great Lakes Seaway trail up near the Canadian border, and the 80-mile North Creed “Teddy’s Trail” (Roosevelt, not the bear) that runs through North Creek, Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake and Long Lake in the Adirondacks.
If New York City is your destination, the city offers hundreds of miles of streetside and protected bike trails throughout all five boroughs. Check out the maps and routes online.
Add to those offerings hundreds of miles of local scenic recreation trails, supported by individual communities and local organizations, that wend through villages, towns and cities, through parks and alongside rivers and canals, up steep hills and through acres of farmland.
If you want to ride your bike, take a hike or just push a stroller around town, New York already offers you plenty of opportunities off the main streets to get your exercise and fresh air.
The state doesn’t need to spend 200 million of our precious tax dollars to fill a want that’s already being met.