One of downtown's busiest and best-known streets is getting a makeover.
Later this summer, $6.5 million of work will go into widening Allen Street, jazzing up its streetscape and redesigning sidewalks, all making for what designers hope will be smoother and safer traffic flow for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. New infrastructure for water and utility lines below ground also is on tap. So are Victorian gas lamp-style light posts, new garbage receptacles, benches and bike racks.
When the work is completed, local officials hope Allen will resemble the Theatre District's 500 block of Main Street.
"We're very excited because now Allen Street will meet the needs of all the various activities and users," said Jonathan L. White, a member of the Allen Street Improvement Project Committee and the Medical Campus board. "The street will be much better tailored for better pedestrian movement. It will be very welcoming to employees from the Medical Campus that we hope will be coming to Allen Street to shop, get their hair cut and have lunch or dinner after work."
The first leg of a two-phase reconstruction will begin closest to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus at Main and Allen streets, where the University at Buffalo's new Medical School just opened. From there, work will extend three blocks, not counting Virginia Place, to Delaware Avenue.
Part of that work includes finishing a landscaped pedestrian path known as the Allen Street Extension from Main to Ellicott streets that has a wide opening beneath the medical school. Still to be completed is the one-block section between Washington and Ellicott streets.
Once bidding is complete and contracts awarded, work is expected to start later in the summer and extend into next year, said City Engineer Michael J. Finn.
In 2019, the second phase on the western end of Allen, from Delaware to Wadsworth with an estimated $3.5 million price tag, will be tackled. Funding for that is not yet in place.
When complete, the redesign is expected to make it easier to block off sections of parking lanes for special events in Allentown without having to close the street to traffic. It will be transformed into a street that is flexible and adaptable for multiple uses, White said.
"The time is prime, given all the activity going on on the west side of the Allen Street neighborhood, as well as the medical campus, to be able to redevelop this corridor and promote it for residents and businesses," Finn said.
Most notable will be the elimination of traditional sidewalks that have a curb setting them off from parking and driving lanes. The reconstruction will lead to sidewalk and parking lanes at the same level, and will slope down several inches to driving and bike lanes.
Posts known as bollards will set off where lanes begin and end. That will allow for sections of parking lanes to be blocked off for special events without having to close the street to traffic. The flexible pedestrian space will come in handy for events, festivals and pop-up vendors, including the neighborhood's First Friday Gallery tours.
Construction work is being structured to be done in chunks to lessen the impact on the neighborhood, drivers and businesses.
The city will have a community liaison as part of the construction inspection team who will work with residents and the contractor to ensure that lines of communication are open and that everyone is advised of the timing for impacts and progress of the construction.
Finn said one block at a time will be closed for construction. "We've discussed that with business owners. The major pro is that we get in and we get out as quickly as possible to minimize the amount of disruption to each block," he said.
The side streets that are one-way (Franklin and North Pearl) will be temporarily converted to two-way when work is done at the intersection at Allen and the road at Allen has to be closed.