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‘Complete streets’ initiative aims to rejuvenate city roadways

From the waterfront to the medical campus, and even as far as the Peace Bridge, Buffalo’s major downtown city streets will be getting makeovers.

The city’s work to restore vehicle traffic to Main Street has been underway for a few years, starting just south of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. While that has received most of the public attention, it is not the only streets initiative in progress.

City workers are adding center turning lanes and bike lanes to key thoroughfares, restoring two-way traffic to Pearl and Ellicott streets, installing new LED lighting, enhancing greenery and sidewalks, and repaving or re-striping streets. The multiple simultaneous projects will cost tens of millions of dollars, much of it funded by federal grants and state money as well as by the city.

It’s all part of the “complete streets” initiative to create a new feel for downtown designed not only for cars but also for bicycles and pedestrians.

“The old streets were about cars. Now it’s about cars, people and bikes. It’s multi-modal,” said City Engineer Peter J. Merlo. “It’s a whole package that goes into it.”

Besides Main Street, the work will affect Delaware Avenue and Niagara, Ellicott, Oak, Elm, Ohio, Court, Pearl, Genesee, Mohawk and Chippewa streets, as well as adjacent portions of other side roads.

“There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of moving parts,” Merlo said, speaking to the Buffalo Place board of directors Wednesday morning.

Work on the primary Cars Sharing Main Street is complete on the 700 block between Tupper and Goodell streets, and is now about 70 percent done in the 600 block, or Theater District area. That will be done by September, Merlo said.

The next phase, involving the 500 block around Fountain Plaza should be 75 percent complete through Mohawk Street by yearend, Merlo said.

City officials are now applying for $35 million in additional federal grants for the next phases on lower Main Street below Mohawk. That involves a shared track bed and other enhancements in two sections, from Mohawk to Court streets and from Exchange to Perry streets.

On other streets, Delaware Avenue now has bike lanes and a center turning lane from Niagara Square to North Street.

Niagara Street will receive similar changes in a “gateway” project from Niagara Square to the Peace Bridge. That will start with a first phase that is now out for bid from the square to Carolina Street and then move to a second phase to Porter Avenue that will go out for bid in the middle of the summer.

The streetscape project will include the same lane configurations as on Delaware, but “we will take it up a notch,” with additional “green infrastructure,” new street lighting and curb “bump-outs” to calm traffic, said Associate City Engineer John D. Bidell. About 80 percent of the funding will come from the federal government.

“Everyone’s excited about the traffic calming, because that makes it better for pedestrians, and you’re not creating gridlock, either,” Merlo said.

The $2.5 million conversion of Pearl Street will complement the Main Street work, bringing two-way traffic and bike lanes down as far as Commercial Street and Canalside. Similarly, on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, work on Ellicott Street is 80 percent done, with a two-way conversion that began last year.

There’s also a new “linear park” pedestrian walkway with landscaping and water features, and streetscape enhancements that include LED lighting.

On Court Street, the city is using bond funds for sidewalk and streetscape improvements to tie Niagara Square to the Main Street work with a consistent look.

The Genesee Gateway project will also bring the street themes from the 500 block of Main street out to Ellicott, Oak and Elm streets. Bids for the $1 million job will go out later this year. Sidewalk improvements or even replacement is also planned for Chippewa Street.

“You’re just increasing your accessibility downtown, and that’s one of the points of doing all these projects,” said Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak.

On the waterfront, work began in April to improve Ohio Street as the link between the inner and outer harbors, with a full street reconstruction and a new bike and walking path planned.

And a project is out for bid to enhance the West Ferry Bridge to Squaw Island and Broderick Park, with construction to start Sept. 1 and continue even during the winter.

“We’re pretty proud of the work that’s going on downtown and it’s nice that the stakeholders appreciate what’s going on as well,” Stepniak said.