Next Steps in Smart Growth: Transit Oriented Development

As talk of extending Buffalo’s Metro Rail beyond its current footprint is becoming a more serious conversation, there is a growing sense that Transit Orientated Development (TOD) must be a part of Buffalo Niagara’s economic development future.

At the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s June 13 Development Advisory Council meeting, industry leaders listened to a presentation by WSP USA regarding transit oriented development along the potential expansion of NFTA’s metro rail line.  The presentation addressed the opportunities for new development that an infrastructure investment of this magnitude has the potential to support.  The project is seen as a key component of transforming aging developments, such as strip plazas and single-use office parks into 21st century live, work and play environments, attractive to growing employers to locate within.

Transit Oriented Development is also a key strategy to addressing another of WNY’s major challenges: workforce development.  Since the Partnership stepped up its role in addressing workforce concerns among employers beginning in 2014 and continuing with the establishment of Employ Buffalo Niagara, the most common challenge that we hear from both employers as well as prospective employees is a lack of access.  Depending on where an employee lives or where a job is located, specifically related to public transportation, access between home and work is often too great a challenge, causing members of the workforce to remain unemployed and jobs to remain vacant.

Transit Oriented Development weaves together housing, places of employment and entertainment opportunities, linked by a transit line that enables residents, employees and visitors to commute with a variety of transportation options.  It connects people to jobs and to a more diverse lifestyle.

However, this type of new construction is currently a challenge in Western New York.  WSP USA’s presentation highlighted that given the cost of construction in WNY and still a relatively affordable real estate market, deals often do not pencil out.  Unlike existing buildings, which can utilize ECIDA Adaptive Reuse incentives, Historic Tax Credits and even the City’s 485A program , new buildings do not have access to similar financial tools to make this type of growth feasible.  WSP USA’s presentation highlighted a number of other communities that faced similar challenges and addressed them through collaborative efforts to build financial capacity along their transit lines to facilitate new investment that addresses the predominant needs of the community.  The result in each case has been the growth of TOD as a centerpiece of regional economic revitalization efforts.

As Buffalo Niagara invests in important projects such as the expansion of Metro Rail as well as improvements to other key transportation corridors, we should also be developing the tools to facilitate TOD growth and supporting the broader needs of Western New York employers.