One Region Forward Community Congress Workshops: This Week

This week, “One Region Forward” will be holding a series of workshops, soliciting public input regarding planning for a sustainable future for Buffalo and western New York. 

One Region Forward is working to create a long-term vision for making Buffalo Niagara a more sustainable and equitable region by helping inform decisions on how we use our land, coordinate housing and transportation decisions, prepare for climate change and grow and distribute food locally.

Community engagement is critical to this initiative, and One Region Forward has stressed the importance of one-on-one interactions by traveling across the region this year to hear how Buffalo Niagara residents view sustainability in their lives (a full list of engagements to date can be viewed here).

Starting tonight and continuing on through Saturday the 16th, One Region Forward will be hosting five Community Congress Workshops across the region. These workshops will involve a hands-on mapping exercise where small groups of people will be asked to work together to map what they think the future of Buffalo Niagara should look like while answering questions like: How will we get around? Where will we live? Where will we work? Where will our food come from? What will we protect?

To provide some context for the Community Congress Workshops, preview the “What the Data Tells Us” data story, which explores the trends of the past and projects what Buffalo Niagara might look like in 2050 if we keep doing things the way we have in past decades. Also, check out an update on Regional Vision & Values, which summarizes the feedback we heard from citizens at the initial Community Congress meetings in early 2013.

One Region Forward Community Congress


Workshops will be held as follows: 

11/12/13: Amherst Central High School 6pm – 8pm

11/13/13: City Honors Buffalo 6pm – 8pm

11/14/13: Parkdale Elementary School East Aurora 6pm – 8pm

11/15/13: Starpoint Central High School, Pendleton: 6pm – 8pm

11/16/13: Niagara Power Project Visitor Center, Lewiston 12 – 2pm


One Region Forward – Likely Without You

Last night, something called the “Community Congress” as part of a new regional planning effort called “One Region Forward” was held at Babeville. First I heard of it was when I started seeing pictures and Tweets about it as it was going on.

Admittedly, this is partly my own fault, since both the Buffalo News and Buffalo Rising had regurgitated key points from its press release in the last week, but regionalism and regional planning are things that I’m extremely interested in – I think it’s a huge component of what may be WNY’s improvement, if not renaissance. 

So, given that I pay at least marginally more attention to this stuff than the average person, I was genuinely disappointed that I knew nothing about it, and had no idea that it was going on. It was, however, well-attended, so that’s why I’m so surprised. One way the effort could have gotten the word out would have been to follow lots of people on Twitter – the moment you get followed by a local regionalism congress, chances are you’d check it out. Instead, as of this morning, it’s following 39 people. On Facebook, it has a paltry 208 followers.  That’s a crappy job getting the word out, if you ask me. Given that we have more marketing, PR, and social media experts per capita than we deserve, this is amazing to me.

UPDATE: I learned today that no one at the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation knew about it at all. 

So, what’s this all about? 

 One Region Forward is an effort to better plan how we grow or shrink western New York through a collaborative process; a way to reduce wasteful sprawl without population growth that wastes resources and empties existing communities, rather than trying to repair or reverse their stressors. It is a huge issue that is fraught with difficulty related to racism and classism. From the press release, 

The regional vision will help guide development of One Region Forward, an initiative aimed at ensuring long-term economic prosperity, environmental quality, and community strength across the two counties and 64 municipalities of the Buffalo Niagara Region.

“We will face enormous challenges as a region in the 21st century,” Hal Morse, executive director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council said. “Where we work, how we get around, what kind of neighborhoods we live in, and many other aspects of our daily lives – even where we get our food and water – will be under pressure. One Region Forward is about repositioning our assets to support long-term sustainable growth and development.”

The One Region Forward effort is building on a series of recent planning initiatives aimed at reviving the Buffalo Niagara economy, reducing our regional “carbon footprint,” regenerating core cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, developing the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and growing the University at Buffalo, among others.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” Howard A. Zemsky, chair of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, a leading partner in the effort, and co-chair of the Regional Economic Development Council, said. “Our commitment is to make sure that all the plans for our region are working toward the same ends.”

Discussions at the Community Congresses will build on recent planning work in the region – not just the Regional Economic Development Council strategy, the “Buffalo Billion,” the Buffalo Green Code, and others – but others including more than 160 regional, municipal, and special purpose plans throughout Buffalo Niagara.

“We’ve read all of these plans and abstracted a series of statements about what values are common across them – statements about economic development, parks and recreation, transportation, housing and neighborhoods, climate change, water resources, food access, and more,” continued Shibley

“It will be up to citizens participating in the Community Congresses to tell us whether or not we got these right,” Shibley added, “and how we have to change them if we didn’t.”

Based on this direction from the general public, detailed implementation strategies will be developed by a series of working teams on land use and economic development, housing and neighborhoods, transportation, food systems, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. A subsequent Community Congress will review these strategies later in 2013. Further work will produce a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, a document that will give our region priority status for funding opportunities today and into the future.

One Region Forward will develop more than just a plan, it will build capacity and tools to support local decision-making, conduct public education activities, and launch implementation campaigns for prototypical projects around key issues such as redevelopment of suburban retail strips, strengthening village Main Streets, or rejuvenating urban neighborhoods.

The effort is led by a broad-based steering committee that includes representatives from both counties; mayors and supervisors from across the region, the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, major community based organizations, major public agencies in housing, education, and transportation, and the leading business sector organization in the region.

One Region Forward is funded by a highly competitive, first-of-its kind, $2M federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Initiative, an interagency partnership among HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is administering the program through our region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

 One Region Forward is sponsored by the following entities: Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC), Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), Erie County, Niagara County, City of Buffalo, City of Niagara Falls, Association of Erie County Governments, Niagara County Supervisors Association, University at Buffalo Regional Institute and Urban Design Project (UBRI/UDP), Daemen College Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement (CSCCE), VOICE Buffalo, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Buffalo (LISC), The John R. Oishei Foundation, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Inc. (Belmont), Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP), Empire State Development, Niagara County Department of Social Services, and Niagara Falls Housing Authority.

There will be a second congress held in the Niagara Falls Conference Center on Saturday February 2nd from 2pm – 4pm.  

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.


A Century of Bad Planning Illustrated

Mark Byrnes, a former contributor to and current fellow at the Atlantic Cities and graduate student in publications design at the University of Baltimore posts this depressingly eye-opening article comparing the Buffalo of 1902 to the Buffalo of 2011.

It’s a stark depiction of failure and loss; failure to plan, failure to adapt, failure to lead, and loss of population, industry, and wealth.

The Buffalo conundrum illustrated – downtown is unattractive because of all the people and businesses that have left; but people and businesses don’t come downtown because of how unattractive it is.

The problem is how downtown development has taken the path of least resistance when it comes to parking. Businesses have demanded one spot for each commuter, and instead of expanding and modernizing its bank of public parking structures in a planned, targeted, and aesthetically pleasing way, the city has permitted developers to just throw up a surface lot willy-nilly. Surface parking lots are the bane of downtown’s existence and should be disincentivized through a land value tax.