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Cars return to 500 block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo

Joe Incao owns one of the newest businesses on Buffalo’s Main Street.

He opened Furnishings, a home décor and gift shop, a month ago at 500 Main, on the section of the street reopened to car traffic on Tuesday morning.

Incao came back to Buffalo after working in high-end retail in New York City. The fact that cars would be returning to Main Street was one of the reasons he chose the location he did for his business.

Incao said he sees a lot of potential in the 500 block of Main.

“The street is the lifeblood of the neighborhood and without it, neighborhoods don’t thrive,” Incao said. “And so, by having cars come back on Main Street, it not only opens up traffic but it opens up the possibility of businesses coming back.”

Cut off to traffic since the mid-1980s, the 500 block of Main Street between Chippewa and Mohawk streets reopened Tuesday morning, signaling the completion of a nearly $22 million project that will allow drivers to share more of Main Street with the Metro Rail. Construction started in the fall of 2013 and included roadwork, new sidewalks, outdoor seating and landscaping.

The 500 block of Main Street is the latest portion of Main Street to regain vehicular traffic as part of the Cars Sharing Main Street project. North of the 500 block, the 600 block of Main – between Chippewa and Tupper streets – reopened to car traffic in January. The goal is to eventually reopen all of Main Street to cars.

One of the new features in the 500 block of Main is the installation of parking bollards – cylindrical barriers fastened to the ground that can be moved to widen the sidewalk along sections of the street when there’s an expectation of increased pedestrian traffic.

The bollards, which contain lights, also can be set up to allow on-street parking along the 500 block’s elevated curbs, said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak. The parking spaces are at the same level as the sidewalk.

The curbs are built to drive up onto and were a design feature requested as part of the planning for this section of Main Street, Stepniak said.

One important result of the project is having a Main Street that looks good, which will be attractive to businesses, said Keith M. Belanger, chairman of Buffalo Place, which represents downtown property owners.

Jerry McGloin, owner of Jerry’s Photo & Studio at 521 Main, said he likes the new look of the street. His customers will be helped by the new on-street parking right outside his business.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who worked to secure federal funds for the project, said, “Car traffic on Main Street is just what the doctor ordered for downtown business development, which is one of the reasons we were able to secure another highly competitive TIGER grant to continue this project.”

The next phase of the work is planned for lower Main Street, between Exchange and Scott streets. The remaining work is anticipated to cost $84 million; officials are still working to find all of the funding needed for that part of the project.