Author: Bruce Haydon
On Thursday December 4th, Buffalo cyclists again showed up in force to voice their support and provide input on the 2025 Buffalo Bicycle Facility Master Plan. The event was standing-room only, and the audience pulled from a wide cross-section of Buffalo residents, from avid cyclists to environmentalists and forward-thinking urban planners.
The 2025 Master Plan represents a partnership between GObike Buffalo and City Hall, to develop a network of new bike paths and lanes throughout the city with the objective of make cycling safer and more enjoyable. The consulting firm, Alta, was selected and hired by the partnership to carry out the planning and design work to date. This was the second public consultation used to draw out feedback from urban stakeholders on the draft Plan, the first taking place earlier in July.
The format of the meeting was to start with a brief slideshow introduction on the project and the draft Plan, and finish with the audience being divided into facilitated breakout groups. The overarching objective was to solicit feedback on the prioritization of the proposed routes, along with identifying potential new ones.
Mayor Brown started the meeting by vocalizing his strong personal support for the project. It should be pointed out that the Mayor ended up staying the full duration of the two-hour meeting, a pleasant surprise in this age of photo-op politicians. Phil Goff of Alta Consulting (inset photo) then used a presentation to walk the audience through the multi-step process of consultation, prioritization and selection, finishing up with images of city maps overlaid with the proposed new routes.
Next came the facilitated breakout groups in the adjoining room, where participants stood around large maps brainstorming and providing vigorous feedback on the draft plan. In wandering around and listening to the various conversations, there appeared to be no shortage of stakeholder interest nor diversity of opinion on where the priorities lay.
In talking with a senior City traffic engineer, it appears most of today’s existing bike lanes were somewhat easy “low-hanging fruit” opportunities, taking advantage of wider (18+ feet) city roads which were due for repainting — think Delaware Avenue (south of North St), Linwood Avenue, and Richmond. In cases like these, bike lanes were simply included in the regularly scheduled laying down of new lane marker paint, with almost zero incremental cost. These easy wins will continue to present themselves over time as sections of these wide city streets come up for repainting. However, the remainder of proposed bike route network will involve a lot more heavy-lifting in terms of dealing with challenges like narrow, high-traffic roads, access entitlements, and natural obstacles.
Take Delaware Avenue for example: many cyclists wish the bike lanes extended further north past North Street, but it’s at that point the width of the street narrows. This makes bike lanes all but impossible on that stretch without reconfiguring Delaware to go from 4 lanes to 3 (2 lanes + a center turning lane), known in urban transportation parlance as a “Road Diet”. Possible, but on a heavily travelled and congested street like Delaware, this could be a tough sell to the car-driving public.
In sharp contrast, the re-engineering of Linwood Avenue was far easier: the city simply reduced two lanes of traffic to one, and divided the space on either side into bike lanes running in opposite directions. Unlike arterial routes like Delaware or Elmwood, it’s relatively easy to introduce changes like that on Buffalo’s quieter thoroughfares. Any street being considered for use as a bike route must be evaluated first in terms of its width and traffic density, among a host of other factors.
One particular highlight of the draft Plan is an ambitious project to develop a corridor of protected bike lanes running the length of Main Street from Canalside to UB South Campus. This would involve overcoming some significant obstacles, but would represent a huge high-profile success story for the partnership, given its enormous impact on urban accessibility for cyclists travelling the north-south axis.
Another concept calls for the creation of bicycle “beltway” circumscribing Buffalo’s city center, using a variety of pathways and dedicated bike lanes. During the presentation, Phil pointed out that many progressive urban centers strive to provide at least one dedicated bike route accessible within two blocks of every urban dwelling. A beltway with a series of parallel routes crisscrossing its interior would be a solid start towards the realization of that goal.
Another creative idea was the potential use of abandoned or in-use rail lines as bike routes . A quick glance of Buffalo using satellite imagery shows clearly the hundreds of miles of rail lines that span the urban core, ripe for a mixed-use application.
Along with presenting a compelling future vision, the draft Plan takes pains to identify the many existing obstacles the planners face in connecting Buffalo’s neighborhoods. As with any urban transportation undertaking as complex as this, there are no easy answers, and a multitude of trade-offs. That being said, one gets the sense from a holistic perspective that GObike and the City of Buffalo have got this right. A high-functioning partnership comprised of local government and a well-respected consulting firm, committed sponsors at the highest echelons of City Hall, an operating model that systemically incorporates citizen stakeholder input, and a pragmatic timeline that reflects the reality of grassroots municipal projects. Along with all the other headlines our great city is making lately, it isn’t hard to believe that if anyone can pull this off, it will be the enthusiastic urban change agents driving Buffalo forward.