The 500 block of Main Street between Chippewa and Mohawk streets reopened to car traffic the other day with ribbon-cutting and photo ops, followed by something very ordinary: vehicles driving along the rail tracks.
Drivers anxious to try out this stretch of Main, closed to the general public for decades, should be pleasantly surprised by the view.
Parts of downtown’s Main Street have been undergoing an extreme makeover, including new storefront facades and new windows adhering to the historic preservation framework. The 500 block is finally coming alive, with new storefront businesses adding a vibrancy surpassing that marking the reopening of the 700 block in 2009 and the 600 block between Chippewa and Tupper streets in January.
The years-long Cars Sharing Main Street project is being done incrementally as funding has become available. It is slowly reopening Main Street to drivers who were shut out about 30 years ago when decision-makers opted for a pedestrian mall and public transportation in the form of light rail.
Problem was, the move encouraged shoppers to travel to the suburban malls. Downtown businesses suffered when the trains running aboveground from Goodell Street to the foot of Main Street never managed to bring in replacements for those missing customers.
Now business owners such as Joe Incao, who opened Furnishings, a home décor and gift shop, a month ago at 500 Main are looking forward to customers who can see his store from their vehicles. Returning vehicles to Main Street gives people one more way to access all that is happening downtown: new businesses, new residents and more cultural activities. The new energy provides motivation for finishing the job.
Getting to this point required much effort. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., worked diligently to get scarce funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s sought-after program known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER.
Schumer, with help from Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has produced valuable results in the effort to reopen Main Street to vehicular traffic.
Next up will be lower Main Street between Exchange and Scott streets. Work on that section will require even greater effort to cover the anticipated cost of $84 million. Securing that critical funding will be a key step in the transformation of Buffalo.
It will also demonstrate how automobiles, trains and pedestrians can coexist in an increasingly vibrant downtown.