UTICA, N.Y.-- New York cyclists have a nickname for the area surrounding Utica.
"Utica is like a dead zone," Christine Ceely, an avid cyclist said. "The ruts where you find the trees are pulled up, the asphalt."
"A lot of the roads in this area are in really bad condition, so to get out on them on a bike is kind of treacherous," Greg Baum, another local cyclist said.
State officials are hoping the Empire State Trail program will connect Utica to the rest of New York. The proposal involves an east-west trail from Buffalo to Albany, combined with a north-south trail from Lake Champlain to New York City.
Right now, bicyclists must often ride on city streets throughout the Mohawk Valley. Empire State Trail officials are designing more off-road bike paths, in addition to more clearly marked on-road paths that run in between. They are also planning to find funding to rehab existing trails of poorer quality.
"Our primary goal right now is to close those gaps by building new off-road trails," Andy Beers, the Empire State Trail director said. "As part of the project, we are inventorying older sections of trail that may have some condition issues, tree roots, other problems that need to be addressed and we're sort of going to be prioritizing those and looking for funding sources over the next three to five years to rehabilitate and remedy any problem situations."
State officials fielded questions from the public Wednesday night during a forum on the Utica-Schuyler portion of the trail. This proposed 3.7-mile length will run from Aqua Vino restaurant to Dyke Road, along the canal.
One major concern for residents is the trail's proximity to Aqua Vino, as roughly 300 feet will run in front of the restaurant's entrance.
"We've got a lot of handicapped people coming in, large buses come in, and they're parked there and just to maintain the ease of access to the restaurant," Steve Clinton, an Aqua Vino employee said.
The trail designers plan to designate that 300-foot length a "dismount area," meaning cyclists will be asked to get off their bikes and walk them past the restaurant, rather than ride.
"Where cars are coming and going, people are coming and going from the restaurant, we want to avoid any conflicts," Beers said. "The Canal Corporation has had meetings and discussions with the city and with the owners as well. There's very good compliance with signage. People understand it's about safety and so I would expect we'll have good compliance here."
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