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NFTA envisions 'a better environment' at downtown bus hub

The fanciest bus shelter you ever saw is taking shape on the drawing boards of local transit planners.

And if the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority succeeds in gaining about $3 million from Albany and Washington, a new “linear transit hub” also will appear along North Division Street and eventually outside the downtown bus terminal, too.

The transit agency has approved preliminary plans for a Metro Bus hub offering amenities and providing an eventual direct link to Metro Rail’s nearby Church Street station. The structure will feature a far different look and feel than standard bus shelters — with passengers waiting on benches under canopies — and will complement one of the busiest stops in the Metro Bus system.

“We’re trying to create a better environment for transit users waiting for a bus, no matter whether it’s summer or winter,” said Thomas George, NFTA director of public transit. “It will be everything you could possibly want in one contiguous area.”

One of the most important elements of the linear concept, he added, is the direct connection along North Division Street to the Church Street Metro Rail station on Main Street.

“When you get off a bus, it’s just a natural progression from one mode of transit to another,” George said.

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It will serve not only those connecting to and from the busy Metro Bus hub, he said, but intercity bus passengers using the downtown terminal, as well.

Busses and passengers at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus terminal at 181 Ellicott St,, in Buffalo, N.Y. on Friday April 7, 2017. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The downtown station's role for bus passengers on lines like Greyhound, Trailways and Megabus could change in coming years if state planners opt to combine intercity bus and rail operations for a new facility slated for Exchange Street. But even if that move occurs, the NFTA still envisions continued use of the downtown station and its new outdoor shelter as a major Metro Bus hub.

The linear transit hub would replace the busy shelter outside the downtown bus terminal as well as the stop on North Division Street between Main and Washington streets. It would provide transit riders with a one-stop facility to connect with outgoing and incoming buses,  as well as with Metro Rail at the Church Street Station.

No timetable is set for constructing the new structure, because  grant money has not yet been obtained. But George said he is “hopefully optimistic” that state and federal funding will come through, and has so far gained authority approval to pay for preliminary designs.

Planners envision canopies along a North Division Street parking ramp between Washington and Ellicott Streets covering the entire block with an expanded waiting area for riders. Similar structures are planned in future steps next door at the downtown bus terminal, officially known as the Metropolitan Transportation Center.

George said “more efficiency in passenger boardings” will result as the new structure replaces the far less elaborate shelter outside the bus terminal. Benches throughout the structure may not seem like a big deal, he added, but succeed in creating a more welcoming and positive environment. And technology such as electronic “next bus” signs also attract riders.

The NFTA project coincides with the ongoing $5.6 million redesign of North and South Division streets sponsored by the state Department of Transportation that replaces sidewalks, pavement and bicycle lanes between Main and Elm streets, and on Elm and Oak streets.

It also aims to revitalize the small islands of green known as Firemans Park and Five Flags Park along North and South Division streets to provide a more linear and direct connection to waterfront routes.

George noted that the NFTA Board of Commissioners has authorized planners to pursue the project, with more definite costs and design elements to be identified at a later date. Buffalo Place and the City of Buffalo have also given preliminary approval, he added.

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