I just attended the WNED Buffalo City Forum, where Environmental Architect Jeff Olson discussed many of the same quality of life issues that grassroots activist Justin Booth has been preaching for years. The difference is that for quite some time now many of the most progressive cities have been listening to the commonsensical initiatives being preached by planning and design experts like Olson. Thankfully Justin’s efforts are beginning to pay off, as some influential members of our community are starting to realize that cars are not always king, and the payoff for promoting alternative forms of transportation like biking is immeasurable.
After the forum I paid a visit to the corner of Elmwood and Cleveland avenues, where for years I have been pleading that a crosswalk be added. The response that I have been issued, in the past, from The City was that people can walk to the corner of Elmwood and Breckenridge and cross at the light – there is no reason to put a crosswalk there. This is the same corner that I’ve watched, repeatedly, people get hit by oncoming cars as they try to dash across the street to get to Spot Coffee, frogger-style. In a perfect world pedestrians and cyclists would have the time and the patience to cross a block away… though in a practical world it would be better to grace that ‘path of desire’ with a crosswalk or maybe even a stop sign.
I waited less than a minute at the corner to see the first group of high school kids dash across the street. If you look closely, you can see another person doing the same thing mid-block. Are we, as a community, really asking for that much when it comes to crosswalks and bike lanes? I know that the recently passed Complete Streets initiative takes many of these scenarios into account (mainly when infrastructure improvements are underway). Can’t we also be retroactive at the same time? Jeff Olson spoke of the ability to weigh the reward when considering the investment. In cases like this, the payoff is considerable when you think about the minimal investment. When you hear NY Times call cycling the ‘new golf’, you wonder why the buy-in is so slow, especially when you consider that when golf was the ‘new tennis’ everyone scrambled to build golf courses – probably because there was money to be made.
Well, there’s money to be made here too. When you look at the greatest cities you will notice that these are also the best cities in which to bike, jog and walk. While we’re talking about our nation’s physical inactivity epidemic, we should be talking about road diets too. Buffalo’s population loss is unfortunate, but it leaves us with opportunities to re-envision a smart streetscape that would be impossible for similar sized cites to even fathom. According to Jeff Olson, we need buy-in from the public and the private sectors in order to realize these measures. Is it going to take an out-of-town expert to tell us what’s best for the city? If so, then so be it. At the same time, maybe we can finally start listening to our own experts who have been treading the same pavement for years? Thanks to Jeff Olson for coming to Buffalo to reinforce similar initiatives that Justin Booth has taken. Thanks to the private and public sectors for finally waking up to the ideas that were long ago squashed by Robert Moses and his ideas of progress. And thanks to WNED and sponsors for bringing these quality of life issues to light.