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Metro Rail: Now is the Time to Plan for the Future

By Gladys Gifford, Citizens Regional Transit Corporation President

The NFTA and the Federal government are
currently engaged in planning processes that will directly impact the future of
transportation in WNY, both now and for years to come.  The NFTA has contracted with
Transportation Management & Design (TMD) to conduct a complete strategic
assessment for its Erie County operations.  The purpose of this assessment is to evaluate the NFTA’ s
current system and develop a plan for the future, in light of economic realities.  At its Board of Commissioners meeting
this week (11-23-09), the NFTA announced that the draft assessment from TMD
will be ready in January, 2010. 
Stakeholders and the public will be enlisted for their comments in
February, with expected completion in March.


Already, the TMD analysis shows that
Metro Rail is the most heavily used line in the whole NFTA transit system.  On average, Metro Rail carries 21,000
passengers daily; the next highest is Metro Bus #3, with less than 7,000
passengers daily.  Put another way,
the average passenger load per hour is 300 for Metro Rail, and the next highest
is 65 for Metro Bus #26.


The U.S.
Congress has mandated regional transportation planning entities for the
metropolitan regions, in the six-year Transportation Act.  GBNRTC is that entity for Erie and
Niagara counties.  The current
Transportation Act expired on September 30, 2009; Congress passed an extension
in order to continue transportation funding through December.  New transportation legislation was
introduced in March (in the Senate) and in June (in the House).  The Obama administration seeks
additional extensions of the current bill until late in 2010.  All indicators show that the new
transportation bill will not simply continue the fiscal policies of the past,
but will establish a national transportation policy which will require clear
goals and mandate compliance in order to receive funds.  Distinct goals include: reduced
greenhouse gas emissions, reduced dependence on foreign oil, and a clear
understanding that transportation choices must not enable urban sprawl. 

Implications for WNY include: greater
funding opportunities for public transit capital improvements, such as Metro
Rail extensions; Federal funding available for operations and maintenance of
transit systems; requirement that the municipalities of the two counties agree
on a regional vision for transportation in order to qualify for all
transportation funding.  Metro Rail
is a proven success, carrying a large percentage of all transit riders.  Metro Rail is also the most “green”
form of transportation available in WNY, since part of its electrical energy is
hydropower from Niagara Falls. 
Therefore, the capital expenditure to extend Metro Rail ful- fills the
transportation goals of the new Federal transportation act.  Will WNY leadership support extension
of Metro Rail?


The track record of WNY leadership for
bold ventures in transportation is rather poor.  We should be grateful for the vision of Lewis G. Harriman,
Joseph Radder, and Gordon Thompson who contributed leadership for the planning
and construction of Buffalo’s light rail line, Metro Rail, back in the
1970s.  However, after the
inauguration of the Main Street line in 1984, there has been no serious effort
to extend Metro Rail into the suburbs. 
We remain hobbled with a short light rail line, not a light rail


By contrast, every other municipality
that started a light rail system in the United States has been expanded!  The list includes: Charlotte, NC;
Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Los Angeles, CA; Min- neapolis, MN; Hoboken, NJ;
Pittsburgh, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Sacra- mento, CA; St.
Louis, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA.  For a complete discussion of light rail transit expansions
in the United States by Dr. Seth C. Triggs, see this article.

The release of the TMD study by the
NFTA plus the next Federal transportation bill plus the next set of data from
the national census all taken together point to a pivotal moment.  Buffalo-Niagara is poised to either build on
the assets of its existing light rail line within densely-populated urban areas, or to follow the
lead of transit-blind developers whose 20th-century mindset requires
automobile parking at every destination. 

Now is the moment.   Let’s craft a regional vision for
all transportation modes.


Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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