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Citizens' transit group urges Council to change plan for cars on Main Street

A citizens' transit group is imploring engineers to make major design changes to blueprints for returning traffic to the 600 block of Main Street.

A plan to have vehicles share the same right of way with Metro Rail trains on Main between Tupper and Chippewa streets would cause service delays and jeopardize safety, according to a presentation Citizens for Regional Transit made to the Common Council.

The coalition also is voicing opposition to a plan that would eliminate the Theater Station on the Metro Rail line.

But the head of Buffalo Place, a partner in the "Cars Sharing Main Street" project, said design schemes have been scrutinized by experts. Executive Director Michael T. Schmand said the time for debate is over, adding that the design for returning traffic to the 700 block of Main is 90 percent done.

"This has been fully vetted," Schmand said Friday. "It's time to move forward. We can't delay this project one more day."

The city is working with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and officials hope to begin construction this fall.

The citizens' group, which has been around since the mid-1960s, stressed that it does not oppose a return of traffic to Main Street. But it's urging planners to make major revisions as they finalize a design.

The volunteer transit advocacy group met with the Council's Transportation Committee this week to outline concerns. Board member Douglas Funke said research has shown that having traffic and trains share one lane is a "fundamental flaw" that will delay public transit service every time there's an accident. The group cited research performed by the American Public Transit Association.

Funke said there are also fears that impatient motorists might try to pass stopped trains.

"As everybody knows, you only need one yahoo out there who is frustrated -- who is in a hurry -- to really cause a serious problem," Funke said.

He showed lawmakers an alternative design that would have a center lane dedicated to Metro Rail, traffic lanes on each side and two parking lanes. Funke insisted there is enough space to accommodate the multiple lanes and still have wide sidewalks, a contention that Schmand disputed.

The group also stated that closing Metro Rail's Theater Station is a "bad idea" that will force many of the 2,000 people who use the station each day to walk up to a quarter-mile to get to their destinations. Eliminating the station is unnecessary, Funke insisted.

"Let's take our time to do the project right. We're going to have to live with it for a long time," he said.

Gladys Gifford, the group's president, denied that her organization is trying to halt the project.

"We are not saying that the Cars on Main Street project should not go forward," Gifford told lawmakers. "We are saying that there are certain basic flaws to the design that need to be changed."

A leader of another grass-roots group agreed. Andrew R. Graham, an anti-sprawl advocate for VOICE-Buffalo, said Citizens for Regional Transit raises valid issues.

"It seems completely the wrong direction to eliminate the Theater stop and certainly to do anything to disrupt the flow of the light rail and make it less efficient," Graham said.

The first phase of the project was implemented a couple years ago when traffic returned to the 700 block of Main. The effort is part of a long-term, federally funded $40 million plan to return traffic to the entirety of Main Street, from Goodell Street to the Buffalo River.

Schmand said Buffalo Place has been well aware of the stands taken by Citizens for Regional Transit.

"But we've been talking about this project for 10 years," Schmand said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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