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Buffalo’s decade-old Main Street medians draw praise, criticism

Few things in Buffalo are as maligned and beloved as the landscaped brick and concrete medians on upper Main Street.

After a decade of taking hits from cars and trucks but also receiving care from volunteer gardeners and city workers, the medians are at the center of a debate over whether they should stay or go.

“Love them – adds richness to Main Street,” said Kathryn Lubick, who lives in the University Heights neighborhood.

“A hazard and should be removed,” countered Jan Bernas, who lives off Starin Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda.

And this:

“Removing the medians on Main Street is like saying we should do away with guardrails because too many people run into them. Maybe there needs to be more proper lighting and fewer speeders and drunks,” said Philip Bobrowski, of Kenmore.

“The medians were a bad idea from the start,” said Charles Campbell, of Buffalo. “It makes snow plowing even more difficult and problematic ... vehicles are always hitting them ... Making a left turn can be dangerous ... They also encourage U-turns.”

This back and forth has repeated itself again and again in recent weeks, following a community meeting sponsored by University Councilman Rasheed N.C. Wyatt and Delaware Councilman Joel P. Feroleto that gave residents a chance to tell city officials what they think of the Main Street medians.

What city officials heard – and continue to hear – was a split opinion, with some people wanting the medians to stay up, and many others wanting them to come down.

“Since the meeting, we’ve received lots of emails and phone calls – people advocating for removal and for keeping the medians,” Feroleto said. “One person may make an argument that if someone drove into the median, it creates damage, and another would say if the person didn’t hit the median, it would have hit incoming traffic.”

The medians were built over a decade ago, as part of a $30-million federally funded overhaul of Main Street from Bailey Avenue to Humboldt Parkway.

They were intended to calm traffic while also beautifying the neighborhood.

A decade later, some people say the medians achieved both those goals and more, arguing they protect pedestrians and motorists from unruly drivers.

But others view the medians as obsolete and dangerous, pointing to damage and injuries that occur when cars and trucks slam into them.

Some critics also indicate that the trees and shrubs in the medians are struggling in the dry weather.

While the city does some of the gardening work, much is done by volunteers. The medians are not irrigated.

Opponents also argue the medians hamper the city’s ability to install bicycle lanes on Main Street.

“This area is currently dangerous for people traversing by bikes, with even the most experienced cyclists opting for the sidewalk over the street,” wrote Justin Booth, executive director of GO Bike Buffalo, which supports removing the Main Street medians.

As the debate rages on, City Hall is deciding what to do.

Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak was on Main Street Tuesday, overseeing some of the repair work city crews are doing on the medians.

Eight of the medians, about half of the total, are in need of repair, Stepniak said. The city is also increasing signage so the medians are more visible to motorists at night, he said.

For a longer-term solution, Wyatt is assembling a resident committee to continue working on the issue. The Public Works Department, meanwhile, will commission a study to help determine if some or all of the medians should be removed, what other traffic-calming measures could be established and what changes might be needed should any or all of the medians remain.

It could cost as much as $1 million to remove the medians and repair the roadway, Stepniak said.

Wyatt said he would support removing medians that pose a safety hazard and would also like to see the requested bicycle lanes on Main Street.

But, Wyatt said, he also recognizes that some people want some of the medians to remain because they beautify Main Street. If medians remain, he said, the city needs a better way to maintain the trees and shrubbery in them.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he has no problem with the medians but knows some in the community are troubled by them. The city is listening to the concerns, he said.

Brown said the city’s bicycle master plan does call for bicycle lanes on Main Street.

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