A proposal for a new downtown train station with a ceiling over the tracks and a connection to buses would be located on the opposite side of the tracks from the current Exchange Street station.
The proposal by Tim Tielman, an urban geographer and planner who designed Larkin Square, is the second to put a station downtown.
His idea is for a 400-foot train shed next to a decorative 200-foot terracotta tower with an LED light sign, where a city-owned parking lot is on a right of way that once was Green Street. The shed would have a continuous ceiling extending under the Thruway and above the tracks from the station through to Main Street. He suggests a transit plaza for buses between there and Washington Street, next to the Metro Rail line.
The focus would be the train shed commonly found in Europe, Tielman said, and wold tie together the intermodal station, while providing shelter and dampening sound.
"This is the cheapest, the easiest and the most equitable place to have a future intermodal facility for Buffalo," said Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo. "If you look at everything -- the bus routes, the highway routes, the train itself, the growth in areas of Buffalo, the office buildings and the users, everything you look for in multi-use transit -- this is the place."
"This would humanize the surroundings by making the area compelling to go to, unlike now where it feels dangerous," Tielman said. "When people talk about downtown being cut off from the waterfront, this is what cuts it off."
The $50 million plan is the fourth proposed to replace the current station. Other proposals include a mostly underground site at Canalside, just north of the canal; a station-within-a-station in the Central Terminal; and at Larkinville.
Mayor Byron Brown is due to announce a panel any day that will determine the location of the train station in the next six months.
One criticism of a downtown station has been that trains can't go west to Cleveland and Chicago. Those lines are served instead by the Depew Station, 11 miles from downtown. But Tielman considers that a non-starter, noting only one train travels daily in each direction between Buffalo and Chicago.
The future of rail transportation in Buffalo rests between Toronto and New York City, Tielman said.
"They are the two growth markets, both are used to trains and both are currently served from Exchange Street," Tielman said. "Southern Ontario is going to gain 1.5 million people in the next 10 years, and there's talk of extending the GO Transit in Toronto past Hamilton, where it stops now, into New York City.
"Toronto is the biggest market in Canada, and New York is the biggest market in the United States," he said. "If you had to look at where you spend New York State tax dollars, this is where you would look."
Tielman said his plan offers advantages over the one proposed for Canalside. It doesn't require building underground, or building a new parking ramp since there is one directly across the street from his proposed station. There also wouldn't be the problem that a curve in the tracks under the tunnel between Main and Pearl streets could pose for a station at Canalside, in meeting handicap accessibility requirements for getting on and off trains.
The transit plaza, he said, could potentially serve local, intercity and rapid transit buses, and offer taxi and bicycle services.
Tielman has long advocated for the rehabilitation of the Central Terminal, but he believes its future rests with a mix of residential, offices and possibly retail – but not rail transportation.
"I established the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. I was born on the East Side. I had banners saying the Central Terminal was Buffalo's favorite landmark," Tielman said. "It's a beautiful building and means a lot to the East Side, but there is simply not enough traffic for it to profitably be a train station."
Downtown, with its residential and business development, and population growth, makes more sense, he said.
"I don't think any transportation planner on planet earth would look at a map of the transportation infrastructure in Buffalo, and suggest a train station and intermodal hub should be built anywhere except downtown, along the existing rail line," Tielman said. "For equitable transportation access, the best place to do it is where everyone can travel to."
The merits of the other station proposals, and possibly ones that have yet to come to the surface, are expected to get a hearing once the train station panel is selected and begins its work. A decision is expected in mid-2017.