Building our Region, Investing in Transit

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is currently in the process of assessing transit options at both ends of the Metro Rail. The system has served Buffalo along its 6.4 mile route since its completion in the mid-1980s. This line has remained relatively unchanged for 30 years.

Bank of America 13However, the economic and transportation needs of the city and region have evolved in recent years. Growth and development in the Canalside and Cobblestone districts have brought many more people to the southern end of Metro Rail, and with additional development planned, the popularity of these areas will likely continue to increase.

At the same time, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is in the midst of an employment boom. By 2020, the campus will be home to an estimated 20,000 employees, a number 33% greater than today and nearly double the campus’ employment of five years ago. Included in BNMC’s development, the University at Buffalo is constructing a new, 628,000 square foot school of medicine. Other projects include an expanded Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a new Women & Children’s Hospital and the $110 million, LEED-Platinum Certified Conventus medical office building.

Numerous properties around the medical campus and downtown Buffalo have been redeveloped in recent years adding to the housing units in the city, further adding to transportation demands. Given this growth, the need for efficient, reliable public transportation is abundantly clear. As downtown and other parts of the city experience a development boom, public transportation infrastructure has become more critical. A light rail system with easy access to jobs, housing, schools, universities and other attractions can be an important factor in housing selection. Developer Nick Sinatra owns a number of properties near the Metro Rail’s Main Street spine, including the recently refurbished Fenton Village on W. Ferry Street. Sinatra knows the value of being located near quality public transit. “Many people today want to live in accessible and walkable neighborhoods, so certainly it helps make the Main Street corridor more appealing to the residential market. Expansion will only help increase Metro-Rail’s value to the region.”  As such, the NFTA has begun to explore transportation options in the Amherst and Cobblestone areas.

On the south end of the Metro Rail, the NFTA is conducting the Transit Options Canalside Cobblestone study. This study will look at potential expansion of the Metro Rail past the DL&W terminal to Michigan Avenue. The impact of an expansion is interesting to consider.

Buffalonightsky242While the new station would be roughly a half mile from the current end station, Erie Canal Harbor, it could open up new possibilities for development. This is particularly true for the dormant second floor of the DL&W terminal. The current alternatives being evaluated in the study all provide relatively easy access to the second floor of the terminal. The station could also provide a closer link to the emerging Ohio Street corridor, as well as the Buffalo Riverworks complex.

To the North, the Transit Options Amherst study is examining a transportation connection between UB’s South Campus and North Campus. Options include an extension of the existing light rail line or the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit system. Potential routes include Millersport Highway or Niagara Falls Boulevard. A light rail extension would provide riders with “single seat” transportation from UB North to downtown Buffalo, meaning there would be no connections needed. The potential benefits of transit expansion in Amherst are immense. This could help alleviate parking congestion in the medical campus and in downtown Buffalo. UB students would have an efficient connection to all three of the school’s campuses, as well as amenities in Buffalo.

More options thanks to a larger system will make Metro Rail appealing to more riders. Ultimately, a potential expansion would help realize the original vision of Metro Rail, a public transportation system extending from  downtown to North Campus, and beyond. Adequate funding for any potential expansion of the Metro Rail system will be vital. The effect of Metro Rail perfectly demonstrates the importance and impact of investment in transportation.