When Pat Rush takes a cycling vacation, there are a few things she’s always on the lookout for: good food, something to drink, a good night’s sleep and someplace safe to store her bike.
“I think this community has all of these things in abundance, if they can only kind of pull it together and say, ‘cyclists welcome,’ ” the Schenectady resident observed during the Bicyclists Bring Business Roundtable discussion held Tuesday night at Proctors.
Organized by Parks and Trails New York and the New York State Canal Corp., the meeting’s aim was to find ways to help Schenectady capitalize on the growing bicycle tourist market.
The 360-mile-long Erie Canalway Trail passes through the city.
About 30 people attended the meeting, including cyclists, bicycle salespeople, a representative from the hospitality industry, representatives from Schenectady’s planning and engineering departments, the economic development supervisor for Schoharie County and a transportation planner from the Capital District Transportation Committee.
According to a recent study conducted by Parks and Trails New York, the Erie Canalway Trail gets more than 1.58 million visits per year. Spending by those visitors generates $253 million annually in economic impact and $28.5 million in sales and income taxes. Trail traffic also supports 3,440 jobs in the local economies within the trail corridor.
The segment of the trail that goes through the Capital Region is the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail, a 70-mile stretch that connects Little Falls and Waterford. Along the way, it cuts through towns and cities including Niskayuna, Schenectady, Rotterdam Junction and Amsterdam.
“We in Schenectady don’t think of our trail system as being part of a state network and yet it is,” said Brian Stratton, director of the state Canal Corp. “You can go right out and get on the bike trail. Yes, you can go to Amsterdam. Yes, you can go to Rotterdam Junction. But if you keep going west, sooner or later, you’re going to get to Buffalo.”
Cyclists who use the trail are often looking for places to eat, sleep, sight-see and service their bicycles. Some local businesses say they benefit from that traffic.
Virginia Bohn, owner of The English Garden Bed and Breakfast in Schenectady’s Stockade, said in a phone interview that cyclists “from just about every state you can imagine” traveling the Canalway Trail stop to stay at her establishment. During summer, more than one room in 10 at the B&B is filled by cyclists, she said.
“I had two couples last weekend that were from California,” she said. “They flew into Buffalo, had their stuff shipped there.”
Freemans Bridge Sports in Glenville receives requests from groups riding the trail that need service on their bikes, said sales manager Dave Goikas.
“In nicer weather, probably about once a month we get at least one group that comes through,” he said in a phone interview.
Those who attended the Bicycles Bring Business Roundtable said the part of the Canalway Trail that cuts through Schenectady and surrounding towns is easy to find, fairly well maintained and offers great waterfront views. They also pointed out potential improvements, including signage to make it easier for cyclists to find their way downtown and to point the way to local amenities.
Adding “share the road” signs was also suggested. Meeting attendees also said cyclists could benefit from information about other outdoor sports offerings in the area and other trails located near the Canalway Trail.
Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks and Trails New York, offered other suggestions about how local communities can take advantage of the economic opportunity cyclists offer:
-- Create a strong, safe connection between towns and the bike route.
-- Create a gateway to the community on the bike route with things such as banners, landscaping and signage.
-- Make roads more bicycle-friendly by creating bike lanes, providing ample road shoulders, bike-friendly storm drains and lower speed limits.
-- Provide amenities such as bike racks, water, shelter and restrooms near the trail.
-- Encourage businesses that offer bicycle sales, rentals and repairs.
-- Encourage transportation services for trail users.
-- Create a bicycle advisory group to address issues on a policy level.
--Promote the trail with brochures, print ads, a website and social media posts.
-- Encourage community members to become trail ambassadors.
-- Initiate a “cyclists welcome” campaign to promote bicycle-friendly establishments.
When complete, the New York State Canalway Trail System will span more than 500 miles along the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego and Champlain canals. The 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail from Buffalo to Albany is nearly 80 percent complete as an off-road trail and, when finished, will be the longest trail of its kind in the United States.