The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

October 12, 2012

OUTSIDERS' VIEW

Forum, cycling tour show local officials how towpath travelers experience Albion, Medina

By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Cyclists come in the thousands each year down the Erie Canal Towpath, but those pedaling people are only potential consumers for canalside communities.

Parks and Trails New York, the advocacy organization that organizes the annually Cycling the Erie Canal event that creates a 500-resident tent city in Medina, came to Albion this week to show local officials and business owners how they can attract visitors and consumers that may be speeding by just outside of their grasp.

Representatives from PTNY, the New York State Canal Corporation, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the Western Erie Canal Alliance gathered with local officials Wednesday to showcase ways to appeal to cyclists. Those travelers are a group that looks for specific things — bike shops and bathrooms — but also seeks more general things, like directions to places worth seeing and information about where they have arrived.

And on Thursday, a group of cyclists showed them firsthand what it’s like when someone unfamiliar with the area makes the decision to pull in to Medina, Albion or Holley. They came, they saw and they con ... structively made recommendations for more things that welcome in those unfamiliar with the area.

“There are things that can be done to make it more welcoming ... we went up to the Crooked Door (Tavern), we wouldn’t know about it because of (a lack of) signage. You had to know to go there,” Robin Dropkin, the executive director of PTNY, said towards the end of the group’s first ever “bike around” followup to the “Bicyclists Bring Business!” presentation. “Albion has a lot of potential, but for a bicyclist, you have to give them reasons to stop, you have to communicate that.”

Similar observations were made about Albion’s church district and attractions that are removed from the downtown business district that is the entranceway to the village from the canal. The cobblestone district are short bike ride away is also unknowingly missed by many.

“We found these things only because we were with people from Albion,” Dropkin said. 

Riders from the Albion area said they had not noticed that informational signage wasn’t up to date in some cases and lacking in others.

“I thought there was an informational sign,” said Lou Becker, whose Erie Canal Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast is frequented by canal cyclists, at a post-tour lunch at the Golden Gourd Cafe. 

“It’s strange ... we forget for cyclists and pedestrians that it’s difficult to find the landmarks we live with every day,” Thom Jennings Jr., who grew up in Albion and rode with the group, said.  “All of our attractions are on the south side of the canal.”

County Tourism and Planning Director Hale said more will be done to provide informational signage, perhaps getting a kiosk in the Courthouse Square back up and running.

Jennings said that a mobile application, like the kind that can be launched by scanning a QR Code with a smartphone, could show attractions and resources for a group that largely travels lightly.

“People aren’t traveling with lots of maps anymore,” Jennings said.

The ability to reach a diverse group of travelers was the main topic of conversation during Wednesday’s forum, which attracted business, municipal and community leaders to the Hoag Library in Albion.

“We wanted to show examples of communities doing a lot to welcome cyclists and profiting from it,” Fran Gotcsik, the Director of Programs and Policies for PTNY, said. “Get people thinking, ‘How do they find us when they are at the bridge’ .”

The presentation brought out many examples of individual businesses and communities boosting business from a group that local and state officials have noticed are growing.

“People understand what needs to be done,” Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Director of Planning and Heritage Development Hannah Blake said. “Standardizing communication with businesses is the next step.”

Their recommendations will be summarized for local governments and business groups, but the message was well understood Wednesday.

“There were a lot of ideas about what the merchants can do,” Lisa Stratton, a business owner and member of the Albion Merchants Association, said. “I took a lot of notes.”

Albion Main Street Alliance Executive Director Katelin Olson said the timing of the sessions will help with the development of a plan to expend between $30,000 and $50,000 in grant funding for benches, bike racks, signs and other streetscape improvements.

“This is a great opportunity to get feedback from cyclists as we redevelop our gateways,” Olson said. “We can use it in a tangible way.”

When it comes to puling cyclists into the community

“People who bike the canal are explorers by nature,” said Jacqueline Sullivan, who rode in from Spencerport Thursday. “It doesn’t take much to draw them in.”

Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.