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After six-month delay, Walmart considering NFTA request for bus access at Walden Avenue store

Walmart says it will consider requests for a Metro Bus stop at its new store on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga and apologized for delays in addressing the issue.

After The Buffalo News reported Wednesday that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority had received no reply on requests for direct bus service to the new facility, the retail giant said a lapse in communication had stymied discussion.

“The lack of connection between Walmart and NFTA was a mistake on our part, an honest mistake, but still ours,” said spokesman Phillip Keene. “We apologize for the delay.”

NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer also confirmed Wednesday that communication was under way and that the hope is still to locate a bus shelter on the new property at 2500 Walden Ave. He added that a bus stop has been located in front of the new store.

Memories of teen’s death linger

As The News reported earlier this week, the uncertainty over the bus service reopened old wounds that still plague the transit agency after a young inner-city woman was killed stepping off a Metro Bus on Walden Avenue in late 1995. Cynthia Wiggins, a 17-year-old mother working in the Walden Galleria food court, was crushed by a dump truck after attempting to cross seven lanes of traffic from the bus stop where she was forced to start her walk to the mall.

Charges of racism ensued after Walden Galleria officials were forced to reassess their prohibition against public bus access. And the Galleria’s parent company eventually faced millions of dollars in penalties stemming from a lawsuit that gained national attention.

NFTA officials once again seemed to be dealing with at least the appearance of corporate indifference to allowing access at the soon-to-be-opened Walmart – this one also on Walden Avenue just east of the Galleria. Six months after the NFTA asked Walmart for permission to serve its new store, and two days after Metro beefed up its Walden Avenue route in anticipation of a surge in ridership, the authority only began addressing the situation on Tuesday following News inquiries.

“In direct relation to our effort to provide our customers with the safest and best service possible, we have reached out numerous times to open dialogue about gaining permission for Metro to access their property,” said NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer. “We have never received a return phone call.”

Hartmayer would not address whether a situation similar to the Wiggins case – in which store operators allegedly frowned on traffic from inner-city locations – was behind Walmart’s failure to address the situation. But he also said the NFTA has never forgotten the teenager’s death.

“Certainly, we are all aware of that unfortunate set of circumstances,” he said. “That’s why we stress providing the safest service we can to our customers.”

Hartmayer said that Metro does not always directly serve Walmart properties, pointing to access at the Niagara Falls store and no access at Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

He noted that on Sheridan, however, several traffic lights just east of North Bailey Avenue and others in the area slow down traffic. He also noted that a light is expected to govern traffic entering and exiting the new Walden Avenue Walmart, but that its exact location has not yet been determined.

Walmart said the opening of the Walden Avenue store is now set for April 20.

– Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report.