By Barbara Brewer La Mere
Saratoga County, along with others in the region,
has scenic bicycle paths that are well used by the
many residents who enjoy bicycling for fitness and
fun. The paths even link to other counties so people
can take extended treks.
Officials involved in tourism know that these
paths can be an attraction to bring people in.
However, there is a glitch they would like to see
Amtrak has long allowed bikes on trains on
Boston to Portland, Maine, railroad lines, and on
New York City to Charlotte, N.C., routes and it
encourages train-and-bike tourism on its website.
But bikes are not allowed on the railroad from
Montreal to New York City, and Rensselaer/Albany
to Vermont. That effects Washington, Warren,
Saratoga and Capital District counties that have
bicycle paths tourists can take advantage of. Those
counties are seeking change.
In June, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer launched a plan to get more visitors and tourism dollars to the Capital Region and urged Amtrak to add baggage cars capable of carrying bicycles on their Adirondack and Ethan Allen trains. Schumer joined state senators Betty Little and Brad Hoylman in the effort. Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce was also present.
In addition, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce launched an online petition in June, at the website change.org, seeking support to encourage Amtrak President Joe Boardman to add baggage cars for transporting bicycles onto trains on its routes in the New York to Montreal and Rensselaer/Albany to Vermont corridors in order to increase bicycle tourism.
The effort seeks to increase bicycle tourism in the local area and to develop green transportation alternatives. Support has been strong not only from private individuals who have signed the petition, but also from state and national legislators whose constituencies may benefit from this service.
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Tourism Annamaria Bellantoni recently attended the NY by Rail Expo at New York City’s Penn Station to promote train travel to Saratoga and encourage signing of the petition.
“We decided to create this online petition to allow chambers, elected officials, trail enthusiasts, cycling organizations, and New York State residents to come together in support of what seems like a win-win-win.” said Shimkus.
He said it would be a win for Amtrak in terms of increased usage, for cyclists seeking easier ways to travel with their bikes to other communities, and for those communities and their businesses.
Shimkus noted that as of June 21, there were over 600 signatures on the petition. He said Saratoga County alone has over 200 miles of bike trails, and if the Amtrak bike car proposal is approved, entities from the local area will spend money promoting the travel option in both the New York and Montreal areas.
He said the Saratoga County Chamber will reach out to other organizations, communities and the media until Amtrak takes the desired action. Pete Bardunias, president of the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said his chamber partners with Amtrak on various projects and that, in his discussions with Joe Boardman, there has long been an interest in adding bike cargo space on local trains, but that funding was needed to support this measure in order for it to be implemented.
Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce President Peter Aust not only made members of the Adirondack Chamber aware of the petition, encouraging them to sign it, but was also a member of a group of nine heads of New York State Chambers of Commerce, representing areas from Columbia County northward to his own area, who visited legislators in Washington, D. C., on June 6. The group encouraged lawmakers to urge Amtrak to allow the addition of bike cars to its New York, Montreal and Vermont runs.
State senators Little and Kathy Marchione have signed the petition along with Hoylman. Little said that foreign tourists, many from places where traveling with bikes on trains is common, might extend their travel itineraries upstate beyond New York City if they realized that combined bike and train travel was an option.
She said that people may have interest in numerous scenic upstate bicycle trails and events like the Tour of the Battenkill and various competitions, including the Lake Placid IronMan, but the need to rent a car to carry their bikes may preclude their venturing to these areas with their tourist dollars. Schumer noted that Amtrak is currently building baggage cars in a facility in Elmira. He plans to encourage the allocation of these baggage cars for carrying bikes on passenger lines within upstate New York.
According to Schumer, 69 percent of lodging facilities had guests that brought a bicycle along with them or were travelling by bicycle. He said allowing bikes on Amtrak baggage cars would offer downstate travelers, especially those from New York City and Long Island who do not frequently travel by car, an option to commute to these locations and events by the Adirondack and Ethan Allen lines. This move by Amtrak would bolster an already positive trend.
In addition, Schumer highlighted that Amtrak’s decision to add special bike cars to these rail lines could have an enormous economic impact. Local studies have shown that bicycle tourists spend on average between $100 and $300 per day and stay multiple nights when they visit the Capital Region. In 2011, tourism in the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley, and Capital-Saratoga region had a combined economic impact of nearly $7 billion, which was a 5 percent increase from 2010.
According to Schumer, tourism in those four regions supports over 120,000 jobs and contributes nearly $850 million in state and local tax revenue. Increased visitors and bikers would be a boost for lodging, restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions Josh Wilson of the New York Bicycle Association and Janet Kennedy of Lakes to Locks Passage (which encourages biking, boating, hiking and riding trains) have are both in favor of the change.
The Saratoga County Chamber petition is at www.change.org/petitions/tell-amtrak-presidentjoe- boardman-to-allow-bikes-on-trains-betweennew- york-city-and-canada