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Stuck in Transit Road paved with good intentions needs more land use, transportation planning

Despite all the planning, designing, digging, paving and placement of large orange barrels that have gone and will go into the newest upgrade of Transit Road, the final result may be allowing more motorists to share in the honor of being stuck in traffic along one of the Buffalo area's most-traveled roadways.

Local officials do have some hope that the improvements they have designed into the three-year, $28.4 million reconstruction of Transit Road from Main Street to Aero Drive -- plus improved design standards for the commercial areas that run along that boulevard on the border of Amherst and Clarence -- will significantly delay the day that the new road is just as snarled as the old one was. If not, calling a road that is so commonly gridlocked "Transit" may be too painful. It may have to be amended to Sick Transit Gloria.

Avoiding that fate will be a complicated process that requires big-picture thinking, taking into consideration not only what sits on the road but also what is to be built for miles around, and who will be taking that thoroughfare to get somewhere else.

One irony of the situation is familiar to traffic engineers everywhere. When a road is so popular that traffic is frequently stalled, you make the road wider. That attracts more motorists, some bound for the many auto-oriented businesses that spring up alongside, and some who chose to live farther and farther from where they work on the theory that wider roads would make their commute bearable.

The other irony, specific to the local situation, is that one key reason why there is so much congestion on big Transit Road is that there is too little transit on the road. Mass transit, that is.

Sadly, the expected behavior of Americans will allow planners to apply the "build it and they will come" model to streets and highways, but not to transit systems. Widen a busy street, and it will fill with cars.

Add more buses, and they won't necessarily be filled with passengers. That will happen only if the buses go where the people want to go, when they want to go there. Designing such a system takes a lot of research and expertise, and won't happen without a clear demand from both local leaders and the business community, which has an interest in getting its employees and its customers into their offices and stores and not spending all their time and money in their slowly creeping cars.

Individually and collectively, leaders in the affected towns, Erie County, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority and the New York State Department of Transportation will all have to get on board. Because without a great deal of forward-looking cooperation from all concerned, there just isn't enough concrete in the world to pave our way out of these traffic jams.

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