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Planning a new gateway Design for medical campus will benefit commuters and the neighborhood

With all of the activity under way or planned for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is reassuring to see plans taking shape for a gateway that promises to be both visually pleasing and functional.

Both those elements are important as plans for greatly expanding the campus move forward. In a few years, many thousands more workers and students will be heading to the campus each day.

The question is how to handle that influx efficiently while sprucing up what is currently a lackluster introduction to the neighborhood that is already home to Buffalo General Hospital, the new vascular center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and medical and research operations. Add in a few years the new University at Buffalo medical school complex and Kaleida Health's Women & Children's Hospital.

UB and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority have pledged to cooperate on a transportation plan that will serve both commuters and the neighborhood.

The current medical school will move from the South Campus into a new building of at least seven stories over the Allen/Medical Campus Metro Station. The expectation is that easy access to Metro Rail will mitigate the need for new parking. More parking will be needed, but there cannot be a space for every worker, student and visitor.

Currently, the view from Allen Street across Main Street to the Metro Station takes in a flat, one-story NFTA building with an abandoned lot on one side of the intersection and an old building crying out for rehab on the other side, and next to the station a walking path that most people don't know exists. Otherwise, it's empty parking lots and a bank branch at the corner of Main and High streets.

To change that, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Mayor Byron W. Brown recently talked about streetscape rehabilitation on Allen and Main streets to create a better environment leading from Allentown into the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The improvements would create an attractive connection between the transit station and to the Allentown neighborhood.

Over the next 16 months, the medical campus, Allentown Association, NFTA and UB will engage in the design project that will shape the new medical school building. Changes to the Metro Station will include a glass atrium covering an extended Allen Street for pedestrian traffic into the medical campus.

The atrium will offer access to the current train platform and walkways to the medical school. It could have shops and services to make it a gathering spot, as well as the intersection between the neighborhood, medical campus and public transit.

Today, the Allen station provides functional, charmless access to the medical campus. The project should add to that functionality while creating a true gateway to the neighborhood.