By Rosalie Murphy
You’ll soon be able to bike from the Towpath Trail to the Kenmore Boulevard business district almost entirely via a protected bike lane — a five-minute ride that will bring scores of people to the burgeoning district, neighborhood advocates hope.
A $40,000 grant to the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance will extend the recently installed bike lanes east from 2nd Street to Lakeshore Boulevard, where residents can pick up the Towpath via Lewis Street.
This won’t be a direct connection from Kenmore Boulevard to the Towpath, but it will make the ride safer and more comfortable.
“One of the things that floated to the very top of our neighborhood plan was a Towpath Trail connection from Kenmore Boulevard. We believe strongly that, once that’s there, not only will residents of both communities (Summit Lake and Kenmore) be able to get around a lot better, we’ll be able to link people who are looking for retail and restaurants to our great Boulevard district,” says Tina Boyes, executive director of the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance.
“This is the thing not only that will bring us attention, but will consistently bring us the people and hopefully will bring us the investment to get great things that the neighborhood wants and needs,” she adds.
About 2.5 million people walk or bike the Towpath, an 87-mile pathway that runs from Tuscarawas County to Lake Erie, every year, according to the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition.
In greater Akron, the Towpath starts in the southwest, connecting Barberton to Summit Lake to Portage Path and then meandering north to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
But between Wilbeth Road and Summit Lake, where the heavily trafficked path floats on top of Summit Lake, it slips right under Kenmore Boulevard. You can access Kenmore from the Towpath by taking Lewis Street, a tiny cul-de-sac, to Lakeshore Boulevard and then to Kenmore Boulevard.
But there’s no signage advertising the connection either in Kenmore or on the Towpath. If you didn’t know it was there, you might never find it.
That’s a problem for Kenmore — especially as Akronites are increasingly using the Towpath as transportation infrastructure. Tina says many Kenmore residents use the Towpath to get to work downtown, sometimes pulling trailers with groceries or supplies.
Further, it’s a commercial corridor. “You don’t have canal boats coming up and down anymore, but you do have hikers and bikers who are looking for places to eat, shops to visit, places to sleep,” says Dan Rice, president and CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. “In the past five years, we are getting more thru-hikers. Every week, you will find people coming through Akron, eating at the restaurants, staying at the Northside Courtyard Marriott, because it now is a destination.”
Dan’s organization estimates that the Towpath and canal generate some $390 million per year in spending. “It’s not just a spine, it’s the trunk of a tree, and we need branches to the tree. That’s why the connection is so important,” he adds.
At the same time, Kenmore is on the cusp of revitalization, Tina says. In August, the city repaved an 18-block stretch of Kenmore Boulevard, adding protected bike lanes. The city and the Knight Foundation have both invested heavily in the neighborhood’s central business district.
“There is a lot of momentum in Kenmore right now,” Tina says.
The extension of those bike lanes to Lakeshore Boulevard will be funded by two $20,000 grants, one from the Knight Foundation and one from Akron Civic Commons, a project that is jointly funded by the Knight Foundation and four others.
The construction will reduce Kenmore Boulevard to one lane in each direction on the bridge over Summit Lake.
Tina can’t give a precise timeline for the new lanes, but says they could be finished “this year.”
To reach the Towpath, riders and walkers will still have to take Lakeshore Boulevard to Lewis Street. For that, Tina says, signage will be necessary.
She’d like the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance to build a kiosk at that spot on the Towpath — which the city happens to own — but that will have to wait until 2019.
“The improvements will serve… almost like breadcrumbs to get you from the Towpath,” says Akron director of planning and development Jason Segedy. “It’s not really that far, but it’s not necessarily intuitive for people who aren’t familiar, so these are going to be improvements that will guide you from the Towpath to the great business district.”
The bike ride along Summit Lake to the soon-to-be-advertised Kenmore connection only takes about five minutes. The ride into the central business district takes about five minutes more.
By then, riders certainly deserve a pizza at Pierre’s.