Bike lanes lauded as economic boosters in Williamsport

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
by Heather Keels, Herald Mail

Williamsport, Md. — Local officials gathered Tuesday afternoon at Williamsport’s Cushwa Basin to celebrate the opening of a pair of half-mile-long bike lanes they hope will bolster the town’s economy by drawing more C&O Canal towpath users off the trail and into town.

“Even though these are just bike lanes and just paint on the road, they really are the beginning of something much bigger for the town of Williamsport,” said Michael Sparks, the town’s new director of economic and community development.

The bike lanes run both directions along Potomac Street from the towpath access point at Cushwa Basin to Byron Memorial Park, passing through the town center. In addition, “share the road” markings have been added to the block of Conococheague Street from Potomac Street to Salisbury Street to encourage motorists to cooperate with bicyclists, and bike racks along that block are in the works, Sparks said.

The lanes connect two of the town’s most important attractions, Sparks said. There are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 visits a year to Cushwa Basin, where the former Cushwa’s Coal and Brick warehouse has been converted to a C&O Canal visitors center, he said. In addition, there are an estimated 100,000 visits a year to Byron Memorial Park, home of the historic Springfield Barn and the site of popular town events like its Fourth of July celebration and Williamsport Days festival, Sparks said.

Before the bike lanes were added, getting from the towpath to the park could be intimidating to cyclists, Sparks said.

“They’d look like they were scared to death,” he said. “They’re hugging the side of the road and everything.”

Since the bike lanes were finished June 2, Sparks said the route has become a lot safer and the number of bicyclists on the road has increased.

The bike lanes cost about $1,200, which the town might be able to recover through a potential grant, Sparks said. He said by piggybacking on a state contract, the town got them for less than 6 cents a foot.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Thomas B. Riford said he was proud of the town for taking an important step toward economic development.

“How great it is that we have the potential of hundreds of thousands of people riding right past Cushwa Basin right here,” Riford said.

Tonya Williams, owner of the CandleLight Inn Bed and Breakfast, was among those at the ribbon cutting. CandleLight Inn, which opened at the end of 2008 at 14 N. Conococheague St., gets almost all of its business from towpath users, she said.

“I’m looking forward to this,” said Williams, who said the bike lanes would not only make her guests’ trips easier, but also help indicate to towpath users that there are businesses in the town that cater to them.

Rose Harris, owner of Desert Rose Cafe at 21 N. Conococheague St., said she, too, gets much of her business from towpath users, and carries healthier, vegetarian foods to appeal to the towpath’s health-conscious users.

Other town center businesses that might appeal to cyclists include the Lunch Box, Tony’s, River City Cycles and an ice cream shop scheduled to open in July, Sparks said.

With a revitalization plan that includes a focus on rebuilding old properties and aligning existing businesses with tourists’ needs, the town hopes to add more visitor- and cyclist-friendly destinations to that list, he said.

“When people come into town, we want to be able to offer them a place to eat, a place to stay, a place to listen to music, a place to grab an ice cream cone, whatever it might be,” he said.

By Joe Crocetta | Staff Photographer
Cutting the ribbon on the new bike lanes Tuesday in downtown Williamsport are, from left, Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore; Washington County Commission President John Barr; Del. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington; Williamsport Town Councilwoman Tearza Knode; C&O Deputy Superintendent Brian Carlstrom; Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Williamsport Mayor James McCleaf; Julianna Albowicz, Western Maryland representative for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; CDCB Project Manager James Castle; at rear, Robin Summerfield, field representative for U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.; Rebecca Fishack, chief of staff for Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington; Washington County Commissioner James Kercheval; and Washington County Commissioner William Wivell.

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