By Justin Booth, Executive Director GObike Buffalo:
Beginning with the bicycle lanes striped in front of their own Delaware Avenue building earlier this year, Channel 2 has aired exclusive, negatively-toned stories about the city’s new bicycle infrastructure. GObike, Buffalo’s high-profile bicycle advocacy organization, has not been contacted for any of Channel 2’s stories regarding bicycle lanes on city streets.
In a Channel 2 News story titled, “Delaware Avenue Lines Are Drawn,” the reporter passionately told the City’s Commissioner, “People never heard of this,” and asked him “Were there efforts to publicize this and discuss it?” The answer is yes – Mayor Brown spoke passionately about making Buffalo more bicycle friendly, identified his commitment to add 10 miles of lanes per year and provided a detailed map of improvements scheduled to take place, which were built from the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council’s 2008 Master Plan, at a joint press conference with GObike on National Bike to Work Day this past May.
“I am very confident this is going to work,” the Commissioner responded. “We’ve done the traffic studies. We’ve know the traffic volumes. We know the turning needs on this area. This is not just about Delaware. It’s about downtown accessibility and being able to move around downtown. We feel very confident in our master plan.”
The Commissioner’s predictions have been proven correct, with traffic flowing smoothly along Delaware throughout the season. However, in Channel 2’s latest story titled, “Humboldt Bike Lane Confusion & Frustration,” the station assigned a reporter to spend their morning monitoring bicycle and automobile traffic on “one major city roadway,” the newly striped Humboldt Parkway.
Almost as if the news station were manufacturing an opposition to bicycle lanes, the news anchor starts off the story suggesting that the Humboldt Parkway bicycle lanes are, “starting to cause confusion for the drivers and the bicyclists too.”
After a cyclist says of the new bike lane, “I feel comfortable with it, honestly,” the story goes on to suggest that the lanes somehow cause a hazard at the intersection of Humboldt and East Ferry. This is where the story gets confusing. While a motorist describes a scenario where bike lanes are blocking their ability to make a right-hand-turn, the video shows what is assumed to be the intersection of Humboldt and East Ferry with clearly visible right-hand-turn arrows and no bike lane in sight. Careful examination suggests that the “confusion” highlighted in the story is largely a matter of motorists not obeying basic traffic laws, such as not using a bicycle lane as a parking spot and not going straight when you are in a turn-only lane. One interviewee even said, “It’s not confusing as long as you pay attention to the signs down there.”
Humboldt Parkway is one of the latest of Buffalo’s streets to receive new bicycle infrastructure as part of the city’s Complete Streets program, mandating that re-design of roadways improve access for all users (pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities, etc.) rather than just automobiles. Buffalo’s Complete Streets legislation was approved by City Council in 2008, with much fanfare and community participation. The irony of this story is that it appeared the same evening as the announcement and kick-off for CNU22, the Congress for New Urbanism’s annual conference coming to Buffalo in June. This kick-off event featured remarks by CNU President and CEO John Norquist and Norman Garrick, a transportation expert from the University of Connecticut and CNU Board member. While the Ch. 2 story talked about the conference coming to town, it did not include any of the discussion from the two presenters.
The substance of the talk featured was on the impact of auto-centric transportation policy from the 1950’s and how this policy has left a negative legacy upon Buffalo and many cities across the United States. The destruction of Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway and our highway system has had devastating consequences that have eroded our neighborhoods, health, environment and the economic vitality of our city – this was identified as one of our greatest mistakes in the recent film by John Paget “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City”. The speakers went on to highlight how Buffalo is making strides to revitalize our city and recent investments in transportation such as the traffic calming improvements along Delaware Avenue are excellent examples of this.
The kind of improvements we are beginning to see along Buffalo streets is far from experimental. All new facilities and traffic calming techniques (such as the sharrows seen on Elmwood – lead photo) are taken from federally approved design manuals, are proven to improve the safety as well as the efficiency of our transportation system and have been in place in countless major metropolitan areas across the United States and around the world for decades. Buffalo has traditionally been behind the curve, but is now making significant strides to catch up with the pack. Bicycle lanes are among the kinds of improvements that Buffalo needs to be making to become a more livable city. If we want to see our city become a place where people want to be, that boasts of a thriving local economy, provides transportation options for all members of our society, has clean air and better health and quality of life for everyone – we all need to adjust to and embrace the positive changes occurring and have a productive dialogue as to how we can continue to make Buffalo the best place to live.
*You can see the importance of bike lanes, such as the ones on Humboldt in Steel’s latest post (with image of Humboldt lanes).