By Sam Magavern and Daniel Cadzow
The Peace Bridge is back in the news with a new proposal to expand the plaza on the Buffalo side. At the Partnership for the Public Good, we have conducted research on traffic equity in general and on the Peace Bridge in particular, and we offer these thoughts for consideration.
Traffic pollution is deadly: It causes over 50,000 premature deaths in the United States each year (far more than the deaths caused by traffic accidents). Traffic pollution has been linked to a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, asthma and heart disease. It contributes as much as 90 percent of air pollution in a typical urban area, and pollution from trucks is particularly harmful. In every discussion of the Peace Bridge, the health and safety of the city’s residents should be the first consideration.
Our region has several bridges linking the United States to Canada. Ideally, our border crossing policies should respond to the very different environments surrounding each bridge. The Peace Bridge is located in a densely populated urban neighborhood, very close to downtown, filled with historic buildings, beautiful parks and a vulnerable population already burdened with many environmental health risk factors. A good Peace Bridge policy would respond to this location by prioritizing local residents as well as visitors to Buffalo, whether they are the business people, shoppers or tourists. It would encourage these types of visitors more than long-distance truckers who are not stopping in Buffalo or contributing to our local economy.
A good policy would seek to minimize truck traffic in such a highly populated area and divert it to other crossings, where its impacts would be less severe. One way to encourage this would be to add an environmental impact fee for trucks crossing at the Peace Bridge to reflect the greater costs that they impose on this densely settled neighborhood. The fees could then be used for pollution mitigation measures to protect the residents.
Unfortunately, despite many calls for merger over the years, there are still separate bridge authorities managing our different border crossings. As a result, each authority is incentivized to maximize its revenue from tolls rather than to implement a truly regional strategy that protects residents and the environment while also facilitating commerce.
As we think about bridge and transit policies, we should focus on the need to dramatically slash vehicle pollution. We must transition toward greater use of trains, buses, bicycles and other means of transport if we are to reduce the devastating impacts of global warming and air pollution. When focusing on the Peace Bridge, the least we can do is prioritize the health of vulnerable residents and the vitality of historic neighborhoods.
Sam Magavern and Daniel Cadzow serve as executive director and policy fellow at the Partnership for the Public Good and are the authors of the report, “Traffic Equity in Buffalo, New York.”