The proposed plan for the future of Niagara Street is ambitious and incredible; it envisions how the prominent city street should be in the 21st century. The project is the result of two semesters work between eight students from five different countries, in the department of architecture and urban planning at UB. It brings all disciplines together to create more livable and sustainable places. The group's definition of a complete street is one that is accessible to all users, this includes pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, etc.
While the plan is very ambitious it does recognize the
challenges like the erosion of urban fabric, the auto-centric lifestyle, and
the continuing impact of sprawl on the central city. Regardless of all this,
the street still has great potential. The proximity to the water, downtown and
the expanding Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus are all assets which can be built
upon to see future investment along Niagara Street.
Focusing on four and a half miles of Niagara Street, from Niagara Square to Ontario Street, the students worked diligently in producing their proposal drawing from various case studies, talks with the community, and personal observations. Main goals of the project include transforming the street from a semi-highway to a complete street, redeveloping the urban fabric, utilizing sustainable/green design and integrating the green code to name a few.
By putting the street on a "road diet" the students propose reorienting Niagara Street from four lanes and confused street parking to a street with traffic going one way in either direction with a center turning lane, designated bike lanes separate from traffic, and reorienting street parking. Traffic calming measures such as a raised table, which makes drivers aware of pedestrian crossings were also part of the plan to give priority to the pedestrian. A traffic circle was also proposed at Niagara and W. Ferry to break up the overall length of the street and further calm traffic and was also designed to be big enough to accommodate semi-trucks.
While some may think the road diet will significantly slow traffic along the streets, the students cited Hertel Avenue as an example, where the street has traffic one way in either direction with a center turning lane. According to the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC) that stretch of Hertel receives more traffic than Niagara Street without severe congestion and delays, therefore justifying the reorientation on Niagara.
While the physical street is a crucial aspect, the built environment along Niagara must also be transformed. One proposal includes rethinking the Tops on Niagara Street as a mixed use property, built to the curb. The addition of a three-story residential building with retail in the first floor can be added to the side of Tops which faces Niagara. With the reorientation of Niagara Street and associated on-street parking, it is possible to reduce the amount of parking spaces in the Tops parking lot, adding more pedestrian-friendly components such as small green space.
Taking a comprehensive look at the proposal, the students also focused on the addition of pocket parks, reducing storm water runoff, and creating a greenway along the Black Rock Canal which would be linked across Niagara Street. Utilizing green infrastructure such as rain gardens, the unsightly runoff can be redirected into planted areas capturing the water and effectively keeping the plants alive.
One of the key ideas of the proposal is linking the community with the waterfront via a bridge over the I-190 to a greenway along the Black Rock Canal as well as better links to Squaw Island. The bridge would be part of a new park at Lafayette and Niagara Streets as illustrated in the main image. While the bridge may seem unrealistic, it has been done in other cities, like Vancouver and Seattle.
Through a mixture of public and private investment, the proposal is very realistic. The first step would be "re-stripe" the street in order to allow drivers time to recognize the changes before anything permanent takes place. It would also allow for any final details to be altered if necessary.