Jane Miszuk drives over the Skyway every day, to and from work. But riding her bicycle over the 110-foot-high bridge was a thrill she had not experienced before – especially riding downhill, with the wind blowing at her back and reaching speeds of almost 20 mph.
Miszuk on Saturday joined more than 800 bicyclists who pedaled over the Skyway – part of the first SkyRide, a 29-mile tour of the city and its developing bicycle trails.
“It was awesome being up there,” said Miszuk, who commutes to Independent Health from her Lackawanna home. “Just the wind blowing, the sun shining, the beautiful day, the sky so blue, it was beautiful up there. The scary part was riding down it when you’re going so fast.”
The Skyway was shut down for two hours so the cyclists, ranging from young children to senior citizens, made the journey.
Mary Simpson of Allentown said that when she drives her car over the Skyway, she wishes she were on a bike instead, to soak up “the best view of the lake and the city.” So, when the opportunity came about to cycle across it, Simpson didn’t think twice.
“The only people seeing the view of the lake cannot just be people in cars, cannot just be people in office buildings,” Simpson said. “So I commend GObike Buffalo for putting this together, and we need to take our roads back for everybody. They’re not just built for cars.”
GObike Buffalo, a nonprofit organization that advocates for environmentally sustainable and bicycle-friendly transportation options in the city, organized the tour Saturday to emphasize just that – Buffalo’s roads weren’t constructed for cars only.
Justin Booth, executive director of the organization, wanted area residents to experience the city’s new bicycle infrastructure, realize the city’s recent efforts to make Buffalo bike-friendly and experience how cycling can build the quality of life in Buffalo.
“People start riding their bikes as kids because it’s fun,” Booth said. “As adults, it’s kind of finding that fun again, but it also turns into whether it’s for your health, whether it’s for a better environment and improving air quality, or whether it’s for building the local economy.”
GObike Buffalo began organizing Saturday’s event in February, but the organization’s efforts to transform Buffalo from a stereotypically too-cold-to-bike area into one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country started long before then.
In 2008, Booth teamed up with the city to launch the Complete Streets Policy, which means each time the city develops, changes or designs a road, it must accommodate all modes of transportation on the streets.
Saturday’s tour took bicyclists down roads the city has retargeted in recent years for bicycle traffic, including Delaware Avenue downtown and South Park Avenue in South Buffalo.
Part of GObike Buffalo’s plan with the city is to conduct “road diets,” taking major thoroughfares like Delaware Avenue and replacing two lanes for motor vehicles in each direction with one lane in each direction and a bike path.
“We were a city that was built for a mass population. Now, we have half the population, half the amount of traffic,” said Booth, who cycles year-round and only uses a car when absolutely necessary. “So, we have opportunities where the threshold is 25,000 vehicles a day to do a ‘road diet.’ ”
This summer, the city is teaming with GObike Buffalo and a consulting firm, Alta Planning and Design, to work on a bicycle master plan over the next year. They will analyze Buffalo’s infrastructure, find ways to implement new bike paths and develop ways to make cycling safer.
Buffalo has committed to adding 10 miles of bike lanes per year, and by next year, there will be 70 bicycle lane miles, according to Mayor Byron W. Brown. By the summer of 2015, for instance, the city is adding a bike path to Ohio Street, which will be separated from the road.
Many Buffalo residents want the city to be more bicycle friendly.
Anthony Armstrong, who participated in the Saturday tour with his wife and two children, cycles year-round.
Two to three times per week, he and his 5-year-old son, Milo, cycle from their Edward Street home in Allentown to prekindergarten at Bennett Park Montessori School on Clinton Street.
“At this point, Milo wants to do it as much if not more than me,” Anthony said of his son’s desire to cycle. “There was a day that it was 7 degrees out, and I said, ‘Milo, it’s a bus day.’ And he said, ‘No, I want to ride.’ So we rode.”
Milo rode a trailer bike that attaches to Anthony’s bike – much like he usually does on their commute to school. Milo used the pedals and handlebars to help his dad ride up the Skyway.
Dozens of parents brought their young ones to the bicycle tour.
Buffalo’s bicycle infrastructure is growing as the number of residents commuting by bike increases.
Buffalo ranked No. 14 in the country for residents who cycle to work, according to 2012 census data analyzed by the League of American Cyclists.
In 2013, Buffalo was awarded a bronze designation by the League of American Bicyclists, which rates cities on a platinum, silver or bronze level for how bicycle friendly they are.
Michael Cropp, a GObike Buffalo board member, said there is no reason Buffalo can’t achieve platinum, and added that Saturday’s ride was an important milestone toward reaching that goal.
Alex Davies, the manager of Campus Wheelworks on Elmwood Avenue, has watched bicycle business steadily increase.
“It’s been growing by leaps and bounds in the last three to five years,” Davies said. “GObike has been a very big part of that, creating an infrastrucutre that is more friendly to bicycles in Buffalo by adding new bike routes, new greenway paths, shared roadways that are bike paths and bike routes.”