The issue of whether Main Street should be reconfigured to carry vehicular traffic at a cost of $40 million should be a contentious one -- but it's not. Many voices of dissent do not currently live downtown. You see, they have yet to arrive; right now some live in other cities, some live in the suburbs, some are currently college students.
What they all have in common is that they are among the hundreds of new residents forecast to arrive during the next five years as downtown housing expands and job opportunities are created. So their voices, so urgently needed to bring perspective, are not being heard.
Recently I attended an information session sponsored by Buffalo Place. The purpose was to solicit input on the project from the public. When I arrived, I viewed a series of graphs and statistics compiled from questionnaires administered only to businesses about the perceived need for this project. The results were predictable -- all in favor of the project.
When I queried representatives of Buffalo Place as to why survey results of residents of the area were not included, they responded that surveys were taken, but the results were not being displayed. Essentially, this information session was nothing but a veritable "love-fest" to glorify the project. Hard questions that I posed were met with blank stares or responses that Mr. So-and-so could answer that but wasn't present. I was shocked at the inability of representatives to address my rather basic concerns.
It is obvious to me and many other downtown residents that this project was conceived long before the current renaissance in downtown housing. The project serves no good purpose for residents, since increasing traffic has never served to improve the quality of life for urban residents, who will eventually be the primary source of business for the current and new establishments on Main Street.
The project needs to be put on hold until a reassessment of the ever-changing face of downtown can be factored in. Perhaps certain parts of Main Street can be opened up and others remain closed to vehicles. For instance, why are we opening the Theater District portion between West Tupper and Chippewa? This portion will always support foot traffic as people walk to the theater and the restaurants and bars. Why can't the project start at the HSBC end of Main? If funding were to run out, why not preserve the Theater District and Fountain Plaza as a pedestrian mall?
In a recent article in The News, a proponent of the project stated that downtown will not reach critical resident mass for five more years and that in the meantime, the project is necessary. This implied that the project was a short-term fix for businesses until enough residents arrive. What happens once this critical mass is reached?
Perhaps 10 years from now, some money to reroute the I-190 and the Skyway -- two other ill-conceived projects -- can be reapportioned for undoing the new "Main Street Traffic Corridor" project and re-creating a desperately needed pedestrian mall. Will we ever learn?
Steve Siegel has lived in downtown Buffalo for 2 1/2 years.