By Elizabeth Giles
As unveiled earlier this week, the DOT's plans for rebuilding Buffalo's downtown Amtrak station pay only lip service to the widely stated goal of providing seamless connectivity between modes of transportation. It's not true that the proposed Exchange Street station is "directly connected" to the Metro Rail. It is actually a substantial walk, much of it uncovered, from the nearest Metro Rail station. Try wheeling your suitcases along the path laid out – several blocks – through an inch of slush and wind-driven rain or snow off the lake. The fittest person would find this miserable, let alone the disabled.
Although the plan proposes moving intercity bus service to the Exchange Street site from its current depot at the Metropolitan Transportation Center on Division Street, the MTC is already served by most local NFTA bus routes. How many Greyhound, Trailways, and Megabus customers are students and people of modest means, arriving at the MTC by public transit with luggage in tow? We're going to make them all transfer to some other means of getting to and from Exchange Street? What about other modes of transportation, like car-share and bike-share, which are so much a part of our official future mobility plans?
If its isolation weren't enough, the Exchange Street location still demands the operation and maintenance of the second Amtrak station in Depew, so as to serve westbound trains. Operating two stations is not only costly over the long haul, but Depew is out of reach to travelers without cars. (Taking up to two hours on two buses to get to the Depew Amtrak Station from downtown makes it inaccessible for all practical purposes.)
Since the train station siting process began, the Broadway-Fillmore area has been picking up steam. Many new adaptive reuse projects are springing up along Broadway between downtown and Buffalo's Central Terminal. Broadway-Fillmore has been named an historic district, which should spur further investment. The terminal itself has just been granted $5.62 million towards the initial phase of its rehab and was recognized this year by the World Monuments Fund as a global cultural heritage treasure.
The Central Terminal conveniently sits on a publicly owned railroad right-of-way between Canalside and the airport, with Larkinville, the Walden Galleria, and many neighborhoods in need of equitable investment in between. Wouldn't it make more sense to extend the existing Metro Rail line to Central Terminal and have a boast-worthy place to disembark from intercity trains – with a five-minute rapid transit connection to downtown and, ultimately (in the other direction) to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport?
Most importantly, the Central Terminal can accommodate intercity rail travel in any direction. The complex has plenty of space for multimodal connections: intercity bus, local bus, car-share, bike-share, taxis, ride-hailing, covered long-term and short-term parking – even potential for possible future high-speed rail and Belt Line commuter rail, should those dreams one day come to fruition.
The key is to think big and aim high, especially with Toronto's stupendous projected growth in the coming decades. (The population is expected to increase by a third!) Buffalo, Rochester and even Syracuse are poised to benefit from forging ever-closer ties to Canada as part of a cooperative binational economic powerhouse ringing Lake Ontario. But efficient rapid transit connections are required to enable these opportunities.
Toronto's commuter GO Train is already on its way down here, set to cross the Whirlpool Bridge into Niagara Falls, N.Y., in a matter of years. Will we be ready to take it from there?
Elizabeth Giles is a public transportation advocate.