A section of Kenmore Avenue for decades was mired in “bureaucratic ambiguity,” according to one local official, as Erie County and the City of Buffalo brushed off responsibility for its maintenance.
The potholed portion between Fairfield Avenue and Main Street became a nightmare for shocks and struts.
But no more.
“Connectivity” and “cooperation” were the buzzwords Thursday morning among city, county, state and federal officials who announced completion of a $7.56 million reconstruction of the mile-long stretch of Kenmore Avenue straddling the Town of Tonawanda and Buffalo border, including installation of a unique traffic control device known as a HAWK.
“It’s no longer city vs. suburb, county vs. city, county vs. town,” said Erie County Legislator Peter J. Savage, III.
Along with repaving, new sidewalks and curbs, there’s bike lanes in both travel directions, connecting the University at Buffalo’s South Campus at Main Street to the new North Buffalo and Tonawanda Rails to Trails entrances.
“Now it’s the smoothest and best roadway in Erie County and we’ve been hearing from citizens how pleased they are to ride down Kenmore Avenue,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.
What changed after decades of intransigence?
New leadership on the county and city level came together and found state and federal funding to make it happen, according to Savage.
"Now we’ve got millions of dollars in investment, not only on Kenmore Avenue but we have the connectivity of a Buffalo rails to trails system to a Tonawanda rails to trails system," he said.
Also Thursday, the HAWK, short for “high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon,” was activated to allow trail users to safety cross the two lanes of Kenmore Avenue, which daily carries over 16,000 vehicles.
It’s the first HAWK in the City of Buffalo, and joins one that debuted over the summer on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda.
A HAWK is dark until activated by a trail user who pushes a button. Then motorists see a cycle of flashing yellow, steady yellow, steady red and flashing red, before going dark again.
The flashing red has been a point of confusion for motorists. They should treat a flashing red HAWK like a stop sign, said Buffalo's public works commissioner, Steven J. Stepniak.
“You can proceed forward as long as that lane is clear,” he said.
Meanwhile, Town of Tonawanda police and the state Department of Transportation report no issues with the Sheridan Drive HAWK since it was activated June 24.
“The HAWK beacon on Sheridan Drive is functioning well,” DOT Spokeswoman Susan Surdej said by email. “We have not received any notices of accidents and after an initial flurry of public concern over the safety of that installation, it is quiet.”
The Kenmore Avenue HAWK is located in the 500 block, between Fairfield Avenue and Klauder Road, adjacent to the NOCO gas station.
The addition of bike lanes was consistent with the city’s pledge to add 10 miles of bike lanes per year and “fundamental to enhancing the life quality of right here in the City of Buffalo,” said Rep. Brian Higgins.
Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, said he hopes the improvements attract new residents and businesses who may have avoided Kenmore Avenue when it was in such bad shape. Sharing a rails to trails path has already spurred contiguous town and city residents to collaborate, he said.
“We didn’t talk to each other before but we’re talking to each other now,” Vertino said shortly after using the HAWK to bicycle across Kenmore. “This connected us with the ideas they have over there that we can use over here, and vice versa.”
Some ideas for the trail being discussed are festive lighting during holidays, concerts, yoga classes and even a Caribbean Festival, he said.
“Every time I walk the trail I meet new people that I haven’t seen before,” said Vertino. “It’s a lot of joy. You can see the smiles on their faces. Everybody’s excited about this.”