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Residents criticize changes to Main Street

Several Metro Rail riders Monday said they opposed plans to eliminate the Theater Station on Main Street, as well as the return to automobile traffic in the 600 block of Main Street.

The public meeting, which attracted about 35 residents, was called by VOICE-Buffalo and held at City Hall.

Many who attended the meeting complained that residents had not been informed of earlier meetings held by city officials on the plans to restore motor vehicle traffic to Main Street between Tupper Street and Chippewa Avenue.

The plans to eliminate the Theater Station were their primary concern because it would force resident Theater District patrons to use the Fountain Plaza Station 500 feet away. They also argued that mixing cars and light-rail vehicles is unsafe.

"We want that Theater Station and, of course, the smart thing to do is not put cars on the tracks. You know, our mothers told us, 'Don't play on the tracks,' " said Bunny Malone, a senior citizen who regularly uses public transportation.

Doug Funke, a board member of the public transportation advocacy group Citizens for Regional Transit, said aspects of the design crafted by DiDonato Engineering & Design work against the city's key goals to increase multi-modal access on Main Street.

"Having the cars share the rail bed with trains will degrade the entire system," Funke said.

"Toronto has had some major problems when they have cars sharing the rail bed with their streetcars. So they've spent a lot of money to rebuild one of their lines to overcome this problem," he added.

Walter Zmuda, former director of Surface Transportation for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said that although it may seem counterintuitive, several studies have shown that having cars and light-rail vehicles share the same rail bed is safer than having them travel in parallel lanes.

Zmuda said drivers traveling in a lane separate from light-rail vehicles may be tempted to turn in front of the light-rail vehicles, increasing the chances of accidents.

Meanwhile, Metro Rail and Shea's Performing Arts Center have been working out issues with the possibility that Shea's traffic could block trains. Because traffic will be routed around the portal where trains enter and exit underground, city officials said the Theater Station will be sacrificed because of space.

In response to complaints that eliminating the Theater Station will cause a hardship for senior citizens, the handicapped and parents with small children -- particularly during the winter months -- city officials, including Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak and City Engineer Peter J. Merlo, vowed to look more carefully into the issue.

However, no plans were announced to push back construction.