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Another Voice: Traffic equity would improve health and safety

By Sam Magavern and Daniel Cadzow

Buffalo is on the move. But how smartly and how fairly Buffalo moves will be critical to its long-term success. Currently, a diverse array of community groups is working to improve how we handle traffic and its negative impacts, making our city cleaner, more beautiful and more just.

In a recent report on traffic equity, we summarized some of the disturbing data on the health impacts of traffic. Traffic accidents, of course, are a major source of death and injury. But traffic pollution is actually worse – accounting for 53,000 premature deaths in the United States each year.

Vehicles contribute as much as 90 percent of the air pollution in typical urban areas. Researchers have linked traffic pollution to diseases such as asthma, cancer and heart disease. Scientists have also found connections with many other conditions, including autism, obesity, lower IQ, anxiety and depression. Last, but hardly least, transportation creates 27 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, these negative impacts are not equally distributed. The very people who contribute the least to traffic pollution get the worst air quality and the most destructive, dangerous roadways. People with low incomes live in neighborhoods suffering from the worst pollution and the most disruptive highways.

Right now, residents all over the city are rising up to call for saner, healthier traffic patterns. What might Buffalo look like if we listened carefully to those concerns? Here are a few examples:

We would route truck traffic away from the Peace Bridge, where its fumes blow into the densely residential West Side. We would cap over the Kensington Expressway and restore the Olmsted parkway it destroyed, giving back a healthy, green, undivided neighborhood to the East Side. Similarly, we would turn the Scajaquada Expressway into a parkway, with permanently slower speed limits, multiple pedestrian and cyclist crossings and robust plantings. Throughout the city, we would plant more trees to soak up pollutants and noise.

We would enact policies that prevent and remedy the tragic and expensive impacts of traffic pollution. We would increase funding to the NFTA, allowing it to expand routes without raising prices, because mass transit produces much less pollution than cars. We would stop subsidizing wasteful and unhealthy sprawl, and focus economic development dollars on the region’s urban core. And we would expand Buffalo’s complete streets efforts, making all of our streets more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.

Each of these measures is one step toward a healthier Buffalo for all.

Sam Magavern co-directs the Partnership for the Public Good. Daniel Cadzow serves on the Parkside Community Association Traffic Committee.