On March 7, I posted that Buffalo was somewhat behind the times when it comes to ramping up bike friendly infrastructure. That post led to a national website devoted to bicycle advocacy to chime in on the conversation. PeopleforBikes.com pointed out that the best way to get Buffalo to where it needs to be, is for people to create a stir, the same way that a number of top rated cycling cities did back in the day.
The national press prompted Justin Booth from GObike Buffalo to share the latest 2018-19 updates from the City’s Bicycle Master Plan (see below). After reading what Justin had to say, I decided to call him up, to talk bike shop. I told him that I had been examining the 2018/19 list of projects planned for the city, and felt that, while it was exciting to see some progress, the map’s mileage numbers (that he refers to in his address) looked to be padded a bit. The map features a lot of “neighborhood bikeways” such as Norwood and Ashland that are included in the list of 2018 Proposed Facilities. Being overly familiar with these streets, I wanted to know what was being planned for them, to justify listing them (and other streets) in the City’s map (master plan). Justin told me that the streets could have some traffic calming measures added at some point, like bumpouts, or signage, but they were mainly listed because they are already relatively safe streets to bike on. Hmmm. That changes the map a tad. Yes, I hope that these streets get some signage, but we shall see if that happens. And I doubt that they will see bumpouts any time soon.
So it appears that the map takes into the account the “comfort level” of cyclists, which automatically, and generously, adds some “accommodating” streets to the map. OK, I get it. The City wants to show that there are already bicycle friendly streets in place. But those streets shouldn’t be listed, unless there is a clear plan for further safety enhancements. Otherwise the Master Plan map is more like a guide.
Let me quickly state that Justin Booth has been the leading pro cycling advocate for Buffalo, and if it were not for his tireless, relentless pursuit of new bike infrastructure, we would still be living in the dark ages. By challenging statistics that the City has mapped out, I am merely calling for a more aggressive plan for new bike infrastructure, as it relates to the needs and wants of the cyclists, instead of simply coordinating bike lanes (for example) with streets that are scheduled to be repaved. And let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s be very upfront and clear about what we’re actually getting, as opposed to throwing in a bunch of streets that will continue to function much like they already do.
According to Justin, the best way to get more bike lanes is by bugging our common council representatives. That means that people must demand more bike lanes and safer cycling conditions. He agreed with me that other cities are winning the bike battle, thus attracting young people, which then attracts more companies that are looking for a healthy pool of job candidates. One could say, the more progress a city is when it comes to bike infrastructure, chances are that that same city will also be more progressive in various other departments, including business, cultural, and real estate.
Going back to the map, I was also struck that a lot of the crisscrossing of Master Plan streets are “future proposed”, which are not included in the City’s “40+ miles this year” stat, but they do make the map look a lot “busier” than it actually is. For example, Amherst Street and Hertel are demarcated with “future proposed” dotted lines, but I’m pretty sure that these advocacy conversations have not even begun to take root. So we might as well take those lines off the map too, because as far as I’m concerned they are misleading. And even if the City does eventually call for sharrows to be put down on Hertel (for example), we all know how effective sharrows (shared street signs) really are. Hertel needs bike lanes… period. But chances are the avenue is a long, long way from getting them. Why? Because it would be a long, draw out battle. Just take a look at what happened on Niagara Street (near Jersey). There are no bike lanes because it appears as if some of the businesses didn’t want them. So the City kowtowed, and now we have parking lanes and turning lanes. Instead of running legit bike lanes from Porter to Niagara Square, the connectivity has been broken. That means that the number of cyclists on that stretch of Niagara Street street will remain as stagnant as it always has been, because there is no safe bike route leading directly to Porter (which is connected to the waterfront and Richmond Avenue. Ugh. Talk about a missed opportunity.
Now, how about getting dedicated bike lanes on the crucial streets that could really benefit from them? Streets like Michigan, Exchange, Delavan, etc.? The Master Plan map needs to be reworked to focus on creating cross-city connectivity sooner rather than later. Why not repave the streets that desperately need the bike lanes first, instead of waiting years for them to align with the list of Master Plan bike lanes? The City should reprioritize and be proactive, instead of being reactive. That’s how cities like Portland and Seattle are winning the race to attract young people. Part of Michigan Avenue is designated “future proposed” on the map. Can we wait that long? Another section of Michigan Avenue is calling for sharrows. Sharrows? On Michigan? Might as well issue a death warrant for cyclists.
Following is the statement that was released by Justin Booth, who should get 10 gold stars for continuing to beat the drum for bike advocacy in Buffalo. Mayor Brown should set up a new position at City Hall that is dedicated to taking Buffalo to an entirely different level of planning, where bike infrastructure is taken seriously, and not just used as a campaign platform. Then he should hand the office keys to Justin. The guy is worth his weight in gold, and of you’re familiar with Justin, we’re not talking about chump change.
From Justin Booth:
The City of Buffalo has released plans for the addition of more than 40 miles of bicycle facilities in 2018, keeping us on track to reach 150 miles this year!
Yes, there is always room for improvement. We understand that the demand for more and better bicycle infrastructure is increasing, and that waiting for implementation of facilities in some areas that feel unsafe can be frustrating.
It’s also important to remember that building a bicycle-friendly city is a process — as People for Bikes reminds us, even cities like Portland had to start somewhere. Progress takes time, and the road is rarely straight and often full of potholes.
Buffalo’s current policies and plans are more than 10 years in the making, and the city remains committed to building a comprehensive network of bicycle facilities as laid out in our Bicycle Master Plan. In fact, we will see some major progress in the next two years: the city has released a list of planned bicycle facilities for 2018 and 2019, and Buffalo is on track to meet Mayor Byron Brown’s commitment to reach 150 miles of bike infrastructure by the end of this calendar year.
The current plans include 40 miles of new facilities in 2018 and more than 30 miles already identified for 2019 and beyond. These projects range from shared-lane markings to dedicated lanes to cycle tracks.
Moreover, the City of Buffalo recently received a $1.8 million Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant to implement many of the catalyst projects laid out in the Bicycle Master Plan. We may not have the protected bike lanes or cycle tracks of Portland, Boston or Minneapolis yet, but between public policy, the commitment of the City and dedicated dollars, we’re moving in the direction of a safer, more connected system of bicycle facilities in Buffalo.