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City officials aware of waterfront traffic woes, but not spearheading solutions

City officials say they are aware of the traffic tie-ups that trapped motorists this weekend on their way to or from Canalside – but none of them seems to be spearheading an effort to fix the problem.

The city’s elected officials put a positive spin on the situation, noting that Buffalo waited for years to have so much going on downtown to draw enough people to have to worry about traffic flow.

“I think that this is an exciting problem to finally have: congestion in downtown Buffalo,” said Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen. “This new challenge that we have literally needs a bird’s-eye view and great strategic planning to ensure that traffic moves smoothly.”

He pointed to the need for the city to be proactive.

“I think there definitely needs to be a major traffic study into these areas that we know are popular right now, and places that may become popular, so that the city is in front of this issue,” Pridgen said.

Who will make that happen? Either the Common Council or the mayor could initiate such a study, he said. But Pridgen did not say he planned to do so. He is out of the country on vacation, he said, so he is not aware of what Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration might be doing to address the issue.

Mayoral spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge responded to a request for an interview with the mayor by directing a Buffalo News reporter to B District Police Chief Joseph A. Gramaglia, who oversees the area of the city that was affected by the traffic woes this weekend.

“We don’t plan these events – we police them,” Gramaglia said. “(Saturday) was almost a perfect storm of events. I think the (World’s Largest Rubber) Duck brought out even a larger number than the event organizers anticipated.”

Gramaglia said he could not comment on non-police issues. DeGeorge said he was unable to comment on whether there was any place to address overall infrastructure issues downtown, in the form of a traffic study or anything else.

Common Council member Joseph Golombek Jr., who chairs the community development committee, commiserated with motorists who were stuck in downtown traffic this weekend.

The problem, he said, is the limited number of entrances and exits to the waterfront.

“The infrastructure isn’t built,” he said. “There are only two exits in downtown, where the real bottleneck occurs – the two on either side of the Marine Drive apartments.”

There does not appear to be a likely solution to alter the infrastructure to accommodate larger crowds downtown, he said.

“Maybe if the Skyway was gone, we’d be able to do something,” he said. Another possible solution: “Not having three or four things going on at the same time – but that’s what you want downtown. Or if we could teach people to take public transit, that would alleviate some of the problems.”

Everyone seems to agree that the traffic snarls on Saturday resulted from a confluence of popular events and attractions. Some of them, such as the Kanye West concert at First Niagara Center and the Bisons’ Superhero Night at Coca-Cola Field, drew crowds that, while largehad a fairly predictable arrival and departure times.

But then there was the World’s Largest Rubber Duck, which was free for the viewing around the clock starting on Friday – making for a steady crowd throughout the weekend, with no precedent in Buffalo to provide a baseline for an attendance estimate. Some drivers reported being stuck in traffic for well over an hour.

Once police became aware of the congestion in mid-afternoon on Saturday, additional officers were brought downtown to help direct traffic.

Ryan Coate, the general manager of Canalside, said he meets regularly with city officials and other stakeholders.

“We do our best to prepare and over-communicate and make sure everyone involved with the event is as well-informed as they can be,” Coate said.

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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