Buffalo Knows Snow

Buffalo’s making world news for something other than its architecture, its culture, its startup entrepreneurs, and its Shark Girl.

This time, it’s the snow.

If you think about it, this is the first major, news-making snowfall to happen in Buffalo since things like Facebook and Twitter became ubiquitous. The October storm was in 2006, and the last time communities around here saw 6 feet or more of snow in just a day from a freak Lake Effect situation was back in December 2001. (There was a similar storm in November 2000 that messed with afternoon rush hour and left thousands stranded in short order).

I live in the Northtowns, and we got nothing – just a dusting of wet, sticky snow on Monday night. All of Tuesday was sunny, but we could see the looming band of lake effect cutting the sky to the south and west. Schools were closed because teachers couldn’t get in, and there weren’t enough subs to go around.

While Clarence saw a mere dusting, the adjoining town just south of us – Lancaster – is one of the hardest-hit communities, seeing over 5 feet of snow.

But what’s different this time as compared to past massive snowstorms is the use of social media. No longer solely reliant on radio or TV updates, people are communicating via Twitter and Facebook. Snow-free Northtown people are in awe of the walls of snow their friends in the eastern suburbs and Southtowns have – these types of pictures even made it to the front page of Reddit. Amazing photographs of the edge of the snow event, taken from the air, have gone viral.

They canceled school again Wednesday and I wanted to go into downtown to grab some work to do from home. I knew the 190 was closed from the 290 to the 90, so as I exited the 990, I opted to take the 290 towards the 33.  I forgot, however, that the Thruway is closed from Rochester to the Pennsylvania line. So, all traffic was forced to exit the 290 at Harlem Road / Sheridan Drive.

I took Harlem south to meet up with the 33. There was no snow at all until I crossed Main Street.  Then, there was a dusting.  The snow progressively intensified as I traveled further south, through the double roundabouts at Kensington, and again at the next light.  By the time I got to the T-Shirt man, it was a whiteout, and I already knew the lake effect band had hit downtown.  I thought I could do a quick grab & dash at the office, but I turned around on Harlem Road, not wanting to end up going 10 miles per hour with my hazards on in a blinding whiteout on the 33.

If you track back to the middle of the last decade, when the effort to change Buffalo’s image from a snowbound post-industrial wasteland picked up steam thanks to blogs and social media, the freak October storm of 2006 is the only thing that made any sort of news. But that storm now pales in comparison to storm events that have crippled many parts of the Northeast in the past few years, so it’s not something that outsiders link with Buffalo’s overall reputation.

We’re hyper-aware of every time Buffalo makes national news, because we’re defensive about how we’re perceived as a gray, cold, failure. No listicles this time, no Forbes survey has us peeved – now we’re in the midst of a proper snowpocalypse just 2 weeks into November, and our lake effect is all over social media and regular news.

It’ll be 60 degrees on Monday, by the way. We were wearing shorts last Tuesday in 70 degree weather.

What, if anything, will be the effect on Buffalo’s reputation? We’re seeing news all over about good samaritans with snowmobiles and snowblowers, further cementing our reputation as the city of “Good Neighbors”. The brunt of the storm hit the affected areas somewhat late in the day Monday, so traffic was not at its peak – we don’t have the mass strandings that we’ve come to expect. So, we get a few snow days, people post incredible – and often humorous – pictures of walls of snow and massive drifts, and we take it all in stride.

In all, epic snowfall like this and the way in which people are finding the light, empathy, and humor in a tough situation should serve to burnish Buffalo’s reputation as a fundamentally livable place, in spite of the snow. After all, the snow might keep you stuck where you are for a time, but it’s generally not, e.g.,  washing or blowing your house away. No epic drought, no fires, no landslides. We’re just, for the most part, sitting tight.

So, sit tight, Buffalo. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Keep warm, help each other out, and marvel at what’s going on.

Trucks to Lewiston? Good Idea!

The Sunday Buffalo News published a story about a ultra-top-secret plan to divert all truck traffic away from the Peace  Bridge and onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. A lot of customs brokerage jobs would have to be moved from Buffalo and Fort Erie to Lewiston and Queenston, but neighborhood concerns over diesel particulate would be assuaged. 

Funny, because here’s what I wrote in February 2008 – six years ago:

The Peace Bridge Expansion is Dead. That’s my prediction. It is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Frankly, I think that increased traffic capacity isn’t needed in Buffalo anyway. Why shove it down Buffalo’s throat if it so clearly doesn’t want it?

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and we all know about Al Coppola’s threat to move his Pan Am house. What else could be more persuasive?

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond.

I think that the current Peace Bridge span should be replaced with a more modern, signature span, and that the current steel span should then be demolished. We should move forward with shared border management, which would allow US-bound traffic be pre-screened in Fort Erie with perhaps only spot-checks on the US side. The problem isn’t just neighborhood anger, the access to the I-190 is very poorly laid out, with the southbound ramp located about 1/4 mile west from the northbound ramp access road.


And it’s still a crime that we don’t have a visitor’s center to promote local businesses and attractions to Canadian visitors coming off the bridges, or really any tourism services of any sort, such as currency exchange. Ontario maintains one on the 420 in Niagara Falls, and another on the QEW near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Let me know if I can help you with any other ideas.