Revitalize Dunkirk meeting held at SUNY Incubator

Special to the OBSERVER

Exciting renditions of what the new look of Dunkirk’s Route 5 and Central Ave business district could be were revealed at the Revitalize Dunkirk meeting recently at the SUNY Incubator.

Michele Bautista and Skeeter Tower, neighborhood representatives for Washington Park and Academy Heights, welcomed about 20 community members who gathered to listen to a presentation by Ann Abdella from the Health Network on Complete Streets .

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute describes complete streets as, “Roads designed to accommodate diverse modes, users and activities including walking, cycling, public transit, automobile, nearby businesses and residents. Such street design helps create more multi-modal transport systems and more liveable communities.”

Typical features include wider and better sidewalks with seating, curb cuts and ramps, crosswalks with pedestrian refuge islands, bike lanes, bus lanes and shelters, center left turn lanes, lower traffic speeds and landscaping. (For more detailed data see www.vtpi.org/compstr.pdf). New plantings and trees will make this area more attractive to shoppers, tourists and residents of the city out for a stroll toward the waterfront. The goal is for safety, beautification, a boost to local businesses and encouragement of a more active lifestyle; preventive health measures .

Participants of Revive Dunkirk had a chance to offer feedback and express enthusiasm for this top goal of the group following the visit of George Grasser and his team of “new Urbanists” and their walk around assessment of the city.

Enthusiasm is growing as the vision becomes closer to reality. Steve Neratko and Nichole Waite of Dunkirk’s Office of Development have already had conversations with the state Department of Transportation and work may begin as early as March. With active input from residents, participants can have a say in how and which improvements are implemented. The Main Street grant of $250,000 will offer matching funds to business owners in the first two blocks of Central Avenue for storefront renovations, new trees, landscaping, benches and other amenities.

A separate resolution will be requested of the council to permit bike lanes along Central Avenue from the lakefront to Fredonia. Residents are encouraged to write or call Mayor Dolce and city council members to express support of this plan. Increased bike traffic into and around the city is expected to be good for business, healthier bodies and the tourist trade.

Joe Bartelo wanted assurances that the proposed bike lanes will connect with new bike paths along the lake.

Richard Goodman shared his most current proposal for a partnership between the city and Spokefolk to establish a mobile bike kiosk at the pier to service the growing number of cyclists who travel along the Great Lakes Wine Trail or belong to a cross county Adventure cycling group along Route 5 and usually stop in Dunkirk. Goodman states this is an untapped source of tourism, which can be facilitated by a new partnership extending repair and safety services to these travelers and local bikers as well.

This could happen at no cost to the city since it is a not-for-profit operated by volunteers. Goodman is also suggesting that weekly family friendly bike-riding events be planned for bike paths along the lake to encourage outdoor activity and broadcast this city asset.

New signage is planned for the city with input from the Dunkirk Chamber of Commerce. No one was present from the chamber to report on progress.

There is also a group of fishing enthusiasts and Conservation Club members working on developing the already active fishing interests along the lakefront.

There have been recommendations to consider an updated city manager/mayor form of government. Effective models from other small cities across the nation are available for review. Community gardens were briefly discussed with the accompanying health benefits to participants and more productive use of vacant urban lots.

Discussions continue on how to engage and involve a greater slice of Dunkirk residents in the planning, making better use of technology to address this need.

Paul Somerfeldt offered his technical expertise if additional funding can be located.

The group wants to identify who is coming to local festivals and concerts, where they are from, how they learned about Dunkirk and what their impressions are.

Goodman believes this kind of survey is “low hanging fruit,” capable of providing vital information to encourage tourism. SUNY and the Lakeshore Economic Development Group may be looking into how to develop this tool for tourist growth.

Steve Rees has been chosen as liaison with SUNY Fredonia and will take notes at the meetings. Meetings are planned at the SUNY Incubator every fourth Thursday at 6 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 27. Everyone is welcome. Residents and officials involved in the renovation of the Village of Hamburg will be invited to share their experiences in working with DOT, and reviving their business core.