On April 2, 2021, Erie County celebrated its bicentennial anniversary, kicking off a year of celebration. This significant milestone is an opportunity for the community to reflect on the history, stories, and legacies of the many men and women who came before us.
Author, Thea Hassan, Gobike Buffalo
The Future of Buffalo and Biking
A month ago, Brian Benson, GObike’s summer intern, didn’t own a bicycle. Now, he’s commuting by bike from Tonawanda to Buffalo and reconsidering the need to own a personal vehicle.
What would lead him to such a considerable shift? For one thing, money– car ownership is expensive, especially for graduate students. But, most importantly, as someone interested in improving his health and reducing environmental impact, he needed little convincing about the benefits of biking over driving.
“Exercise has always been a big part of my life up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” said Brian. “Relying on gyms for exercise made me realize just how important it is to consider other forms of exercise that may be less affected by closures or public health restrictions. Plus, my recent experience with cycling and taking the Metro Rail has been a big influence in altering the way I think about transportation. ”
GObike’s vision for the future of biking in Buffalo is one in which everyone can rethink their travel patterns, as Brian did. More and more people want to align their commutes in support of personal and global health concerns, and emerging technologies are making it easier to do so. The future will include the infrastructure, programming, and policies to support new-age travel patterns as gas-guzzling private automobiles become less in vogue and less practical.
Buffalo Builds a World-Class Trail System Accessible by Everyone
Brian is fortunate to have access to the Shoreline Trail near his house to get to Buffalo. Unfortunately, many do not share this access.
Thankfully, the Buffalo Niagara Bicycle Master Plan, finalized by the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council in 2020, outlines an expansion of our region’s multi-use trails.
When built, the network will add an additional 847-miles of separated cycle tracks, dedicated bike lanes, and on-road bikeways to connect communities and regional destinations throughout Erie and Niagara counties. The plan also supposes the completion of rails-to-trails projects like the 80-mile Southern Tier Trail and the Peanut Line trail in Clarence.
When combined with state bike routes, like the 750-mile Empire State Trail, these networks will create a world-class trail system, spur further investment in our region, and create regional resiliency as we face the increasing challenges of climate change. They’ll also provide safe infrastructure for people like Brian using bicycles to get to work, school, or internships.
The future will be a connected regional bike network, and biking to Niagara Falls from downtown Buffalo, east to Rochester, or down to Springville will be a breeze.
Every Street Will Feel Like a Walk in the Park
Last week, GObike hosted an Open Streets event on Grant Street (lead image), featuring three Slow Roll Buffalo rides. One of the bike ride routes rolled down Lafayette Avenue to the protected cycle track on Niagara Street.
“Wow! Grant Street needs better infrastructure!,” a septuagenarian from the suburbs told me after the ride. “I felt so much more comfortable biking down the cycle track than on the neighborhood roads with no bike lanes.”
This man is no outlier– studies conducted throughout the nation demonstrate 60 to 70% of people feel more comfortable biking in protected cycle tracks. In comparison, less than 1% of people feel comfortable biking on a street with no infrastructure.
Our regional bike network will flourish only when all residents are able to access it, and, to do so, we will build walkable, bikeable, universally accessible neighborhood streets.
In the future, every street will feel as safe, comfortable, and easy as a walk in the park. We’ll get there by prioritizing the pedestrian experience–a feet-first approach–and allowing universal access to lead street design.
We’ll also use curbside space more innovatively and efficiently rather than simply assigning it all to parking. Instead of parked cars, the street will be brought to life with parklets and café seating, bikeshare and bike parking, benches and street furniture, public art, and play spaces. On-street parking will still be available, but we’ll rethink allocating all curbside space to motor vehicles.
And we won’t get hung up when a proposed complete street design causes a two-minute vehicle travel delay because we understand the safety, comfort, and quality of life of Buffalo residents is more important than a “car-go-fast” mentality.
Micromobility Options are Revolutionizing How We Move
“These e-bikes make me want to sell my car,” said the float tank employee on Allen Street, surrounded by CBD bottles and multi-colored sunglasses. “My boss has one and he rides it everywhere. They go so fast and you can go so far!”
While a regular bicycle works for many, new micromobility options like e-bikes, e-scooters, and other emerging technologies are revolutionizing the way we move. Finally legalized by New York State in 2020, these emerging options are fast, cheap, and enjoyable.
That’s why, when Mike Galligano, CEO of Shared Mobility, Inc., read that Uber was throwing out thousands of their e-bikes en masse last May, he contacted Uber to ask if they could donate them to his non-profit instead. Uber shipped 3,000 bikes to Buffalo, allowing Shared Mobility, Inc. to launch an e-bike pilot program with the upcycled bikes this summer, granting riders free access to their fleet. After testing the program in Buffalo, their ultimate goal is to establish free community-run e-bike libraries throughout the country.
The prescient planners at the City of Buffalo knew these technologies were coming and would compliment the already-booming bike scene in our region. With the passage of the Buffalo Green Code, Buffalo became the first city in the nation to eliminate minimum parking requirements in new development projects. Instead, developers are now required to develop a transportation demand management plan to accommodate all opportunities to access a destination, including transit, biking, walking, bikeshare, carshare, and micromobility technologies.
The future will be the substitution of traditional parking lots with mobility hubs, making right-sizing travel far more effortless. When Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation began designing their downtown grocery store and affordable housing project at 201 Ellicott, they integrated transportation demand management principles into the project to create the region’s first mobility hub. We’ve already witnessed the success of mobility programs on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which capitalized on their proximity to the Metro rail and bus routes and provided access to bike share and car share, alongside programs like a guaranteed ride home and carpool matching services. Their GOBNMC program successfully reduced the number of people driving their cars solo to the campus by several hundred – significant gains when a single parking space takes up about 180 square feet.
The Future is Bikeable
The future is not a-few-feet-from-the-door parking spots. The future is not “car-go-fast.”
The future will be bikeable, walkable, accessible, and equitable. Elected officials will champion complete streets, support emerging transportation technologies, and fight to find funding for our burgeoning trail network. Our world-class infrastructure will attract young professionals from across the country, encourage expats to move back home, and we’ll be able to welcome climate refugees to our region. Our community members will be healthy and happy because our built environment encourages rather than deters physical activity, which boosts our brains and bodies. Because active transportation has been embraced, transportation will no longer be the leading sector of climate change in New York State or nationally
This is the future GObike is working to build.
If you want to embrace the future of mobility, here are a few resources to get you started:
- Sign up for GObike’s newsletter to stay up-to-date on how to get involved on projects and public meetings.
- Join the e-bike pilot program–participation is free.
- Join a group bike ride – East Side Bike Club rides every Saturday, Slow Roll Buffalo rides on Mondays, and Campus Wheelworks hosts a ride every Tuesday. Learn some history on a Buffalo Bike Tour and ride the Skyway on August 15 during GObike’s SkyRide.
- Contact your elected officials and let them know you support complete streets policies, smart curbside management and transportation demand management, and building our regional trail network.