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Right direction on Main ; Restoring traffic to another block adds to downtown's synergy

Buffalo's downtown development continues to offer good news.

This time it has to do with much-needed work on the infrastructure to make the area more viable for those seeking to live there and more attractive for those "visiting" during work hours to stay longer.

Key to that effort is the restoration of vehicular traffic to downtown Main Street.

That work appears to be moving in the right direction as the next phase of the project gets under way in the 600 block of Main, between Tupper and Chippewa streets.

This isn't a "silver bullet" project but something that has to be done to revitalize Main Street, which is still, for the most part, cut off from vehicular traffic.

That isolation is the penalty we pay for a bad decision, made decades ago, to remove cars from downtown Main Street to make way for a Metro Rail system that runs a scant six-plus miles.

When cars were banned, pedestrians vanished. No pedestrians, no sales, shuttered businesses. It has been a very hard lesson.

It's taken a combined effort by the City of Buffalo and its Public Works Department, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the New York State Department of Transportation and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to rewind the clock and set things right by including both public and private transportation.

The goal is to have trains, vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians all co-existing through a carefully executed plan on which the public can voice an opinion until Feb. 4 at www.buffaloplace.com/planning.

Ultimately, the $40 million federally funded effort will return automobile traffic to the entirety of Main Street, from Goodell Street to the Buffalo River.

The first step of this crucial project occurred a couple of years ago with the successful -- ahead-of-schedule and under-budget -- reopening of the 700 block of Main.

The future was cloudy for the $8 million effort in the 600 block -- which includes the Theater District -- since money had to first be spent by the state, which is facing a $10 billion deficit.

Under those circumstances, the timing has been thrown off. Design is expected to be completed in April and the project set out to bid in May. Construction is set for the fall, or earlier. DiDonato Associates, with Matthews Nielsen Landscape Architects and Parsons Brinckerhoff Engineers, led the design work, which began in October.

Finally, the pieces are falling into place for a block that will include a 1950s-style railroad signal and gate in front of the Alleyway Theatre. A few more things have yet to be done to bring traffic back, but they're minor in the context of the ultimate goal, which is full access to Main Street.

The idea is for public sector infrastructure investment to be met with private sector commercial investment. Indeed, that was the case in the 700 block, where developer Chris Jacobs, who owns five buildings on the east side of Main Street, and others have stepped up. Jacobs is also renovating some buildings in the Theater District.

It's about synergy and continued optimism with respect to the downtown core, the Canal Side project in the lower Main Street area and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to the north.

A return of vehicular traffic to downtown Main Street should spur entrepreneurs whose businesses will stand a better chance of being visited, along with suburbanites, many of whom would like to leave empty nests and experience the kind of vibrant activity available in the Theater District.

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