Williamsville going back to the future - The Buffalo News

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Williamsville going back to the future

Of course Bill Tuyn is psyched. The guy has pounded away at this for two decades. The way some folks are nuts about the Bills, that’s how Tuyn feels about the “geometry” of streets, sidewalks, buildings and byways.

He is all about shaping, or reshaping, the streets where we live to make people happier.

In the urban-design subculture Tuyn inhabits, Robert Moses is loosely the anti-Christ; Andres Duany – founder of New Urbanism – is the patron saint; and building stress-lite, walkable communities is the holy grail.

Tuyn’s cause finally is converging with the community – Williamsville – where he lives. Plans are in place to “tame” Main Street, the four-lane road that divides the village and sabotages its people-friendly feel. The ceremonial kickoff comes with Saturday’s street festival.

“It’s gratifying,” Tuyn told me, sitting Wednesday at an outdoor patio on Main Street. “Absolutely.”

Tuyn is a solid, slightly graying 54-year-old who drops design-impacting phrases like ”potential vehicle-to-pedestrian conflict” – i.e., odds of people getting run over – without hesitation or irony.

He can go on (and on) about how facing buildings should not be further apart than three times their height, or how roundabouts ease traffic flow while aiding the environment.

It’s a sleep aid to nonwonks. But the real-world impact is easily seen – and appreciated – by anyone with eyes. Would you rather stroll along Elmwood Avenue, or Transit Road? Prefer to live on a leafy village street, or across from a factory wall? The difference is in a deluge of details – from the width of streets and sidewalks, to placement of parking lots, to size of buildings.

There is a science to it, and he understands its elements. For nearly a quarter-century, Tuyn – an urban design consultant – urged Williamsville officials to give Main Street a makeover. The higher-speed, commuter-beset road might as well be a wall, the way it divides the village. It undermines its charm, slices its commercial corridor and forces adventurous pedestrians into a game of chicken.

I saw a young couple trapped Wednesday in the middle of the street. They cowered for nearly a minute, vehicles speeding within reach on either side, until traffic broke, and they scurried to the sidewalk.

Tuyn’s pleas found sympathetic ears two years ago, in an incoming mayor – Brian Kulpa – with an urban planning degree. The goal: Tame Main Street. The plan includes narrowing traffic lanes, building a mid-street median and putting in bulging curbs at intersections. All of it slows traffic and encourages walkers, which helps the small businesses that line the road.

“We want people,” said Kulpa, “to stop being afraid of the street.”

This once came instinctively to us. Before post-World War II suburbia clouded the minds of planners, people built communities that were comfortable to live and walk in. Commercial streets were a mix of shops, stores, banks, churches and eateries, backed by homes. By taming Main Street, Williamsville will reclaim a piece of its people-friendlier past.

“It’s not about silver bullets anymore,” Kulpa told me. “Small place by small place, we can win the battle.”

Which is what Bill Tuyn has been saying. All of these years.

email: desmonde@buffnews.com

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