Main Street in Williamsville

How Hamburg did it

Will this finally be the time that Williamsville’s Main Street stops being an Autobahn and becomes a more pedestrian-friendly shopping high street? It’s 2012, and there appears at least to be something of a genuine push to make crossing Main Street less horrifying. 

And it’s not just Williamsville – there’s a regional anti-pedestrian mindset at work here. I dare you to find so much as one zebra crossing within Buffalo city limits. There are a few, but otherwise we’re still living in the 50s. I dare you to find so much as one “cars must yield to pedestrians in crosswalk” sign within city limits.

The rule is this: pedestrians must obey mechanical walk/don’t walk signs. (V&TL 1112) But in a crosswalk not governed by such signals, vehicles must yield the right of way to pedestrians. (V&TL 1151).  When is the last time you saw that happen? 

Back when I lived in Boston and had daily bouts of road rage, I would honk wildly at pedestrians crossing the intersection of Congress & North Streets by Faneuil Hall who were crossing against the light, pointing up at the bright red hand, saying loudly: “you don’t even need to be literate to understand that signal.” Or similar.

But I was extremely conscientious about yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks that were not regulated by walk/don’t walk signs. After all, Boston is a driver’s nightmare, but it’s a pedestrian’s dream. Sidewalks, window shopping, and well-marked crosswalks.

As far as pedestrians are concerned, Buffalo is stuck in the mid-70s. There are no zebra crosswalks. It’s as if they built the abysmal failure of a pedestrian mall on Main Street and figured that was enough.

Zebra crosswalk ca. 1969

And most suburbanites with whom I’ve spoken always complain about the lack of parking downtown. There is no lack of parking downtown. When parking costs $5.00/day or less, there is a veritable parking glut.

Instead, we have a Benderson mentality. Under Bendersonization, you have no problem parking for free within eyesight of your destination. Buffalo is a city. You can’t do that here. Sometimes, you might have to walk a few blocks, or park around the corner, so you can’t see your destination. If you park illegally (check the signs posted along the roadway for clues), you might get a ticket. Which you’ll have to pay. Shock horror. 

What Buffalo needs is smart parking, so that people who need a spot know where to go. Signs pointing the way to ramps, showing how many spots are available. Lights within the ramps glowing red for occupied and green for available. Signs within the ramps indicating how many spots are currently available on each level. 

If Batavia can undertake traffic calming measures on its Main Street, bringing it into the 21st century, Williamsville and Buffalo are capable of doing the same. Hamburg’s downtown is the model for everybody. It’s walkable and the roundabouts make it easy to navigate. These are changes that many cities made a decade ago. It’s as if our civic leaders never leave town. 

Main Street in Williamsville, Delaware Avenue north from the Scajaquada, Elmwood north from the Scajaquada, Transit, Southwestern: they all might as well be turned into limited-access parkways like the Taconic, Robert Moses, or Bronx River.

When I see the sidewalks on Main in Williamsville expanded; when I see roundabouts at the major intersections; when I see crosswalks at every corner, then I’ll know that walkability and aesthetics are being taken seriously. When I see a landscaped medium on Transit, I’ll know that our town fathers and mothers don’t want our area to look any more like Anaheim, CA than it already does. When I see curb extensions at crosswalks on Delaware, and real zoning that limits the construction of set-back plazas with ample streetfront parking, I’ll know that someone with a brain is in charge.

I wrote pretty much the same thing in 2005. Here’s something I wrote in 2006: 

I once read somewhere (damned if I can find it now) that large malls generally build their corridors at angles, because people will balk at walking a long distance if they can see the entire length. Main Street in Williamsville could be a shopping and stroller’s mecca.

Instead, it represents the 5th through 9th lanes of the New York State Thruway.

My dry cleaner used to be on Main Street, and I fully expected that one day my car door would get ripped off by a tractor-trailer racing by westbound at 70 miles per hour. There are few walk/don’t walk signs. There are poor crosswalks. The traffic lights are out of sequence, especially between North Union and Park Lane. The sidewalks are far too narrow; the street wide enough to be a Thruway extension.

I also think that several key intersections should have landscaped roundabouts, and the road should have a landscaped median, similar to what the City’s done on Main between Hertel and Bailey.

The hope is that some of the traffic would get on the Thruway when the toll barriers are shifted back from Williamsville to Newstead or Pembroke. Also, the News article mentions that Wehrle Drive, which is bumper-to-bumper at rush hour, is set to be expanded.

Could Williamsville be the next Niagara-on-the-Lake? Not without a Shaw Theater. Or a lake. But traffic calming combined with making the stretch between Evans and Union more pedestrian-friendly would certainly bring us closer to that ideal. Furthermore, the Village has to start getting smart about zoning. The Walgreen’s/Panera plaza at the corner of Union next to DiCamillo’s is idiotic. Who allowed that? It should have had parking in the back and abutted the sidewalk – yes, yes make all the jokes about “build it to the curb”, but even Carl Paladino’s new hotel project does that. 

You don’t see many parking lots fronting Queen Street in NOTL, do you? Mostly, traffic parks behind the buildings or on side streets. At least Williamsville is talking about it. Again.



  •  It’s as if our civic leaders never leave town. 

    Spot on!  Cape Cod, Myrtle Beach and Fort Erie don’t count.

  • I agree with everything you wrote.  Every word.


    Historically, almost since the city was founded, the bulk of residential growth in the Buffalo area has been directed towards the northeast.

  • fwiw (not much), the resurfacing of the Elm/Oak corridor did include zebra striping at all intersections…

    • Many communities are moving beyond zebra striping, to textured intersection areas and crosswalks.  This involves a real change in pavement material and color, not just stamping ad painting the existing asphalt.  It’s a powerful visual and tactile cue to drivers to expect something different, and it provides a stronger sense of security to pedestrians.

  • It’s not accurate to say there are no zebra crossings in Buffalo. It is true that most crosswalks are of the “two stripes” variety, but the newer ones are zebra crossings, and some street projects (e.g., Main Street) include crosswalks made of stamped concrete to look a bit like brick.

    Regarding Main Street (Route 5), I wonder if NYS DOT has control of it. If so, this will make it very difficult to get any real traffic calming done. From what I’ve seen, the DOT’s first and main priority is to maximize traffic through-put, not to lower traffic volume or speed. They will say that 40,000 cars use this strip and that’s all that is important. Considerations of pedestrians and village aesthetics mean nothing to them beyond some token measures that will be granted if they can be done “for free”.

    •  Go check out some of the brick cross walks to see how they are holding up in other towns.

    • not to lower traffic volume or speed.

      But considering what Dan Blather points out about lack of alternative routes in the same direction, how could the DOT lower traffic volume in that part of Main St even if they wanted to?   

      If they lowered speed but not volume, wouldn’t the result be longer portions of each day during which the heavy congestion makes the impacts it does on pedestrians and aesthetics?

  • My wife attended a meeting of the Grand Island Transportation Commitee, chartered by the town board, to advocate for Complete Streets to make the main thoroughfares of the island more friendly to bikers and walkers. The members of the committee had an average age of 80, and the only topic of discussion (at that meeting or many others for years) was driver’s safety, meaning elderly driver’s safety, meaning making the friendly roads actually more friendly to cars. Someone said to her that the roads are not meant for people and bicycles. I would offer that this view is common in WNY.

  • The lack of leadership and movement in demolishing those lung choking toll booths in Williamsville and replacing them with high speed overhead toll monitors out in Pembroke or Newstead is simply mind boggling. Having free access to Exit 49 on Transit would take so much congestion off of Main Street. This is a no brainer. But without local movers and shakers getting this done, couple with a tiny handful of small minded obstructionists out in Newstead, this will remain in stasis.

    •  Yet another failure of Jeremy Zellner.

      •  Mr. Zellner has nothing to do with that.  Secondly what ever happened to the tolls going away as was stated in the past? I thought we have taxes on gasoline to cover road repairs.

    • They should move that toll collection point as you say.

      One smaller easier change they could make is have the toll be a quarter instead of 15 cents (if it’s still the amount at that exit – I think it is).  All tolls throughout the Thruway should be rounded to the nearest quarter.  The time for drivers and collectors to handle nickels/dimes and to give change is small for each car, but must add up during rush hours. 

      The 190 toll booths which were removed used to have some lanes in which drivers could toss quarters into a basket for the 50 or 75 cent toll.  There could be disadvantages when people miss once in a while, but it seemed to work back then.  Maybe that’s also something they should consider at that exit to speed along lanes without EZPass.  They make the toll be 25 cents and install baskets for quarter tossing in lanes that also have attendants to deal with cars needing change for a dollar (or who miss the toss), but compared to what happens now per car it would be faster for most to just be able to throw a quarter then move on.

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