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Radical redesign of Allen Street will have to wait a year

An overhaul of Allen Street that will redesign sidewalks and widen sections of the street will be pushed off another year.

Work is now slated to begin in the spring of 2018 on the eastern end of Allen Street near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a year after the city had planned.

"This is a major overhaul of the street that hasn't had much attention in the last 60 years," Allentown Association Director Andrew Eisenhardt said. "To get the right end result, it's worth the time the city needs to get contracts in line to get the right product."

The project will reflect a radical redesign of Allen Street, most noticeably with a move away from traditional sidewalks that have a curb setting them off from parking and driving lanes. Instead, sidewalk and parking lanes will be at the same level and will slope down several inches to driving and bike lanes.

The rebuilt Allen Street will be wider, with slightly narrower sidewalks, varying by certain blocks, to allow for safer movement of two-way traffic. The streetscape also will have different paving materials, line markings and posts known as bollards that will set off where lanes begin and end. That setup makes it easier to block off sections of parking lanes for special events in Allentown without having to close the entire street to traffic.

The redo of Allen Street will resemble the downtown Theater District in the 500 block of Main Street.

For now, though, it's still a waiting game.

The $7.5 million first phase – from Main Street to at least Franklin Street – will not start this spring, as had been expected. Delays in the bidding process and firming up design details resulted in the backup, in addition to finalizing amenities for the project.

Work on Medical Campus path from Allen Street to start in 2018

The project's timetable is linked to work on a three-block extension of Allen Street onto the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for a landscaped pedestrian and bicycle path. That project is also now slated to begin in spring 2018.

"Both still have to go out to bid as one big project," said City Engineer Michael J. Finn, noting there is enough money lined up for Allen Street improvements from Main Street to at least Franklin Street. "As we continue to final design, we'll go as far as the funding will allow."

The delay of the much-anticipated improvements to Allen Street did not surprise the Allentown Association, which has been working closely with the city and merchants to craft a plan and design. The city and association plan to present the final designs to the public this summer.

Allen Street, which was one-way in the 1980s, will remain open to two-way traffic.

Existing travel lanes are as narrow as 9 feet in some areas, making it very difficult for cars to travel in both directions, especially in winter. A small sidewalk downsizing was necessary to have travel lanes wide enough for cars to move safely down the street and maintain two-way traffic, Association Vice President Jonathan L. White said.

The improvements to Allen Street were originally slated to begin in spring 2016, but addressing parking concerns raised by neighborhood merchants and updating plans for turning lanes led to a one-year delay. The current delay is connected to the bidding process. In addition, construction on a new building for University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and other streetscape work on the Medical Campus impacted the start of the Allen Street improvements.

"We look forward to using the next nine months to work with all the stakeholders to ensure the project moves forward as seamlessly as possible with the least amount of disruption to businesses and homeowners. There's been a lot of angst, so there's some positive value to having it start in 2018," White said. "Although we had hoped it would start sooner, the time lapse has allowed for an additional infusion of money that will allow the first phase construction to go farther than originally planned."

Once the improvements begin, the first phase might extend past Delaware Avenue to as far as Irving Place. "To just get to Franklin Street would have left people disappointed. The ability to go farther is a welcome development," he said.

Sandstone curbing along Allen dates to the 1920s and '30s, and sidewalks go back nearly 60 years or more. Light standards and garbage receptacles are from the 1980s.

The new project calls for light posts similar to existing ones with a Victorian gas-lamp style, as well as new garbage receptacles, benches and bike racks.

"We're not just replacing what's there," Eisenhardt said. "It'll be a very unique streetscape in Buffalo."

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