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Train Station Summit/Rep. Higgins Letter to NY DOT/Exchange St Roof Collapse

Citizens for Regional Transit endorses efforts by Rep. Brian Higgins and Sen. Charles Schumer to support a new Amtrak Station for Buffalo, NY and for a comprehensive study of optimal location(s).

The current Exchange Street Station has been voted as the “saddest rail station in the US” and is woefully inadequate to support an upward trending Buffalo and its transportation needs. The recent Exchange Street Station roof collapse intensifies the urgency of building a new station.

There are many requirements that must be considered in evaluating locations and design for a new Buffalo train station:

1. The station must provide intermodal connections. This includes connections to transit, intercity bus, taxis, and air; as well as safe and comfortable links to pedestrian and bicycle modes. Connection with Buffalo’s light rail is a major plus, especially for providing future connection to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.
2. As an Amtrak station, any new station must be able to accommodate the needs of high-speed rail (HSR) in the future.
3. Any new station should provide a gateway to Buffalo that speaks proudly of our city and region. Our new station should say “welcome to Buffalo-Niagara” in a way that reflects our proud heritage and our successful present and future.
4. The location must accommodate adequate parking for Amtrak customers, some of whom will be making extended trips and leaving their cars.
5. The location must be able to accommodate eastbound, westbound, and trains going to and from Niagara Falls and Toronto. This may lead to the need for two stations like today, since downtown locations, like the Exchange Street Station, can now only serve trains going to and from Niagara Falls and Toronto. If two stations are deemed necessary or recommended, one should be the main station serving all trains and the second station should be a smaller station or “stop”.
6. The location should be able to serve tourists traveling between Buffalo and Niagara Falls and thus support Buffalo-Niagara as a regional tourist destination. Buffalo’s waterfront, museums, architecture, and cultural attractions, together with Niagara Falls, already a world-renowned tourist attraction, can make our region a must-visit tourist destination.
7. The location should be able to support those coming to Buffalo to attend sports and cultural events such as Bills and Sabres games, and large concerts.

Citizens for Regional Transit (CRT) has joined the Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) in calling for the development of a plan for a Downtown Regional Multimodal Transportation Center to replace the inadequate Exchange Street Station. The CRT-PPG plank calls on the City of Buffalo to serve as lead agency for the downtown station, working with the GBNRTC, ECHDC, NFTA and other key stakeholders. CRT has also been a strong proponent of Central Terminal as the eventual site of Buffalo’s main train station, replacing the Depew Station. Central Terminal offers a grand architectural and historical venue with plenty of indoor and outdoor parking for both short-term and long-term. Most importantly it can serve all trains, including those to and from destinations to the west such as Cleveland. It should be a key focus of the proposed comprehensive study.

We believe that satisfying all the above requirements may ultimately justify having two stations, as we have had for many years. If so, it is possible that a downtown location can be found that will allow a low-cost, more modest train station or ‘stop” that is affordable, while Central Terminal could serve as Buffalo’s main, grand train station. Some low-cost downtown sites that can be considered are Canalside (site of the old Memorial Auditorium) and Seneca Tower. There may be others.

We applaud and support Rep. Higgins’ call for a comprehensive study of alternative sites and look forward to contributing. We also thank Sen. Schumer for his support in seeking Federal funding for the study. We also thank NYS Senator Tim Kennedy and NYS Assemblyman Sean Ryan for their support at the state level.

Transit Oriented/Joint Development: Buffalo-Niagara

This presentation was delivered at the October 15 CRT meeting by Darren Kempner, manager of Manager, Grants and Government Affairs for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

CRT Comments on Outer Harbor Development

These comments were submitted as public comments to the Board of Directors of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation on September 24, 2014.

Representatives of Citizens for Regional Transit attended the Outer Harbor public meeting at the WNED Studios on September 9th as well as the previous public meetings. We hope that feedback received from community organizations and individuals will be used by the ECHDC to establish a framework for an Outer Harbor that complements our city, takes best advantage of the unique location and character of the Outer Harbor, and reflects the concerns of WNY citizens. However, we are disappointed with the planning process because it restrains and limits public engagement. We also are opposed to some key aspects of the preferred plan.

The fundamental problem with the process is that it does not allow adequate ability for the public to voice concerns and ask questions. Without meaningful public engagement the plan will not reflect public desires for the use of this public land, and it will not benefit from the expertise of organizations knowledgeable in important issues relating to development of the Outer Harbor. For example, relegating public comments at meetings to “yellow stickies” and informal small group discussions does not provide an effective means for the public to raise questions, and does not require the ECHDC and its contractor to respond publicly, on the record. This short circuits the openness of the process and leads to results not fully reflective public views. We want a chance to publicly express our views and to be informed by the views of other groups and citizens. The ECHDC should want this too. We hope that the next public meeting will allow public comments and discussion of issues, and will provide a forum for the ECHDC to respond publicly. Microphones should be available for this purpose.

Also, we are concerned that the preferred plan calls for significant mixed-use development on the Outer Harbor. One ECHDC representative after the meeting said that this could include apartments for 4,000 to 6,000 people. Here are our concerns and questions about this aspect of the plan.

1. Infrastructure costs. What are the costs of the new infrastructure (e.g., roads, sewer, water, electrical)? Will developers pay for these facilities? Who will be responsible for maintaining them in perpetuity? The City of Buffalo? Erie County? New York State? We believe this is just more sprawl that will take more tax dollars to maintain. We should invest in improving our existing infrastructure (e.g., fixing our antiquated sewer system, extending the light rail) rather than building new infrastructure. Investment in new mixed-use development would be better made in the Cobblestone District or First Ward; locations that have existing infrastructure, space for development, and are near the inner and Outer Harbors.

2. Transportation. More development on the Outer Harbor will require more transportation facilities to be developed and maintained. As we stated at the recent ECHDC Board Meeting, we strongly support the planned ferry as a way to get to and from the Outer Harbor. This is affordable and perfect for low-density uses such as a park and hiking trails, perhaps supplemented by a fun people mover like the tram at Niagara Falls and / or bike rentals. The presentation called for extending the light rail to the Outer Harbor. As a transit advocacy organization, we strongly support extending the light rail, but not to the Outer Harbor. We believe there are higher priorities for extending the light rail where ridership will be greater. Every NFTA study over the last 40 years (and there have been many) identifies the airport and Amherst extensions as the highest priority extensions in terms of ridership and need. The light rail can comfortably carry up to 600 people every 10 minutes. What uses and activities on the Outer Harbor are envisioned to require such high-volume transit? We believe a lower volume, less expensive approach (like the ferry) is better. We also believe the light rail should be extended through the DL&W Terminal and along the old DL&W right-of-way (ROW) toward Riverbend and Larkinville. This NFTA-owned ROW could serve new mixed-use developments in the Cobblestone District and First Ward and could eventually be extended to provide the long-dreamed of and badly needed airport extension.

3. Unique resource. The Outer Harbor is one of the few remaining large open spaces on the Great Lakes. Once lost to development, it will be lost forever. The location of this resource next to a major city makes it well suited for recreational uses. Olmsted recommended a waterfront park for Buffalo but it was never built. We agree with those calling for a park on the Outer Harbor. Large portions of the park can be left in a natural state to minimize the cost of maintenance, while providing a sanctuary for wildlife and people looking to escape the sights and sounds of the built environment.

Thank you for considering these inputs. We hope the ECHCDC will provide a public forum soon where these and other issues can be raised and discussed publicly.


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