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Car traffic to be restored to Main Street block; Complex reworking of pedestrian mall expected 
to start this fall after selection of contractor

City officials are moving ahead with the effort to restore car traffic to Main Street.

Addressing board members of the downtown business improvement district Wednesday, Debra Chernoff, manager of planning for Buffalo Place, said plans call for selecting a contractor and starting the actual construction work this fall, focusing initially on the area from Tupper Street to roughly the Buffalo Place offices in the middle of the block. Work then will proceed to the second half, to Chippewa Street, in the spring and summer of 2013.

The complex project involves a redesign of the street to accommodate one lane of car traffic in each direction, plus the train tracks for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Metro Rail, as well as parking spaces, pedestrian walking areas and loading or drop-off zones. Planners also had to account for the train "portal" that takes Metro Rail underground about halfway down the block.

For the lower half of the street, where the train is above ground, plans call for bike lanes, 45 parking spaces and five loading zones. The tall catenary poles, which hold the electrical wires in the middle of the street, would remain in place and be protected by curbs. The street would be beautified by 49 street trees in 22 planters and 18 sidewalk tree pits, including Triumph Elm, Columnar Zelcova and Ginkgo trees, as well as both stone and decorative wooden benches for sitting.

The bike lane would turn right onto Chippewa and would proceed down Pearl Street to link up with the rest of the bike lane network.

Railroad-style crossing gates would be installed at the intersection with Chippewa, with one on the tracks to be used whenever a train is coming and one on the street to close it off in case of emergency.
Midway up the street, at the Market Arcade Film & Arts Center, plans call for a pedestrian crosswalk and signal where many people cross from parking lots on other streets.

A special drop-off zone will be created in front of Shea's Performing Arts Center. And a new stainless-steel fence will be installed around the train portal, to separate it from the pedestrian and car areas.

New light and signal poles also will be installed, and stones will block off the median in front of the former Studio Arena Theater and the B District police station, to discourage parking on the median and keep it for pedestrians.

The city also plans to install "You Are Here" signs, with eight-inch globe lights on top and a mixture of theater history and architectural information on the back, in seven locations: two in the already-completed 700 block of Main Street, three in the 600 block, and one each on Washington and Pearl streets.

"It's kind of ironic," said developer Paul Ciminelli, a member of the Buffalo Place board. "We're bringing cars back to Main Street, but it's also going to be more pedestrian-friendly."

The city will accept construction bids from contractors for the $12 million work on the 600 block work through July 11, and then will submit them to the Common Council before its August recess, Chernoff said.

Meanwhile, the city has received approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the 500 block of Main Street, and will start final design work this summer, to be completed by year-end.

Plans call for that section of the street to go out to bid in late winter, with construction to start in the summer of 2013 and be completed by fall 2014.

In other matters, Buffalo Place has received 14 applications for grants from its Theater District Main Street program, totaling $800,000. That's about twice the amount of money available through the state's New York Main Street program, designed to help communities revitalize their downtowns.

The projects include a variety of mixed-use efforts to reuse vacant buildings and storefronts, and range in size from small to large, Chernoff said.

An advisory committee will meet next month to make recommendations.

"The projects are really great," she said. "They're just what we hoped to see."