Some businesses along a stretch of Main Street north of downtown Buffalo that would be redesigned and narrowed are objecting to the city's plan to reduce the four-lane stretch of road to one lane in each direction, with a turning lane in between.
The business owners fear the changes to the 1.6-mile stretch of Main Street north of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will have a negative effect on traffic, parking and truck deliveries.
"Main Street has a lot of commercial businesses on it," said Curtis Martin, a partner at Flexlume Sign Corp., a century-old maker of electric, neon, LED and other signs that is located at 1464 Main. "It’s going to create a huge disruption for them."
City officials want to extend their "Complete Streets" infrastructure and streetscape improvements to what they are calling "Middle Main Street" – the section of the thoroughfare starting just north of the Central Business District. They're starting with the first phase, from Goodell to Ferry streets.
That's a straight portion of the thoroughfare, from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus at the southern end, to the bend in the street where Main starts heading northeast toward Amherst.
The roadway is much wider in that section – about 60 feet, with two lanes of traffic on each side and room for on-street parking in many areas. But the road surface has deteriorated, with bumps and potholes along the route. And the business makeup along the street tends to be more industrial.
The tentative plan by the Department of Public Works calls for remaking the street, narrowing and slowing the flow of traffic to make the area more walkable and friendly to both pedestrians and bicyclists.
That's similar to what has been done in other areas, including currently on Niagara Street on the West Side. The goal is to make it both safe and convenient for residents of the neighborhoods.
But officials recognize that their task won't be easy.
"This project, like all of our projects, will be a challenge to balance all of the needs and wants of the people who have their businesses, live in the corridor, as well as use the corridor," said Mike Finn, Buffalo's commissioner of public works.
Indeed, it's already facing criticism and opposition from more than half a dozen major businesses and institutions – including a church, a moving and storage company, a safe company, a locksmith, a restaurant, a sign company and a paint store.
"This should be an absolute embarrassment to the leadership of the City of Buffalo," said Bishop Michael Badger of Bethesda World Harvest International Church at 1365 Main, at the corner of East Utica Street. "Whoever thought this up gave no consideration whatsoever for the businesses and residents that live in the area."
Business owners say the plan is inappropriate for that stretch of Main, and will impede and ultimately destroy businesses along the route.
The plan would reduce the road to three travel lanes – one in each direction, with a turning lane in the middle. The west side of the street would continue to have parking, interrupted by widened sidewalks and "bump-outs" to slow the pace and encourage more walking. On the east side, a dedicated lane for two-way bicycle traffic would extend alongside the length of the street.
The plan also covers repaving, restriping, new traffic signals, new trees, new lighting and the utilities underneath the surface.
Business owners agree that the street needs repairs to the surface, and they support new trees or lighting.
"It’s a terrible road, and our trucks are new trucks, with only 30,000 miles on them," Flexlume's Martin said of the $250,000 vehicles. "We’re always going through shocks and stuff, because Main Street needs to be repaired and redone."
"I really can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen them repave Main Street," said Elyse Bruscia-Webster, vice president and owner of Diamond Moving & Storage Co., at 1440 Main.
But they say the rest of the work is unnecessary.
"It doesn't make any sense. This is a main thoroughfare. It's not a parkway," said Rick Culliton, owner of AAA Safe & Lock Co., a 15-year-old business with five employees at 1458 Main.
"Not every street in Buffalo has to be sexy," agreed Maura Crawford, owner of Coco Bar and Bistro, which leases its space at 888 Main and has struggled through the coronavirus pandemic. "It’s not Delaware Avenue. It’s not Linwood. It’s a main arterial."
They argue that narrowing the road, reducing lanes and taking out parking entirely from one side would limit their customers' ability to get to them, and would interfere with big trucks coming and going from the businesses.
"It fouls up deliveries that we might be getting from a semi," said Culliton, who said he receives monthly semi-tractor deliveries of hardware, plus pickups from commercial customers and daily visits by FedEx and UPS trucks. "And furthermore, it fouls up the emergency traffic coming down the street. It’s a public safety issue."
The proposed changes would similarly affect Flexlume, the Sherwin-Williams paint store and adjacent carpet store, which also get truck deliveries. And Diamond Moving gets 53-foot trailers coming in daily, Bruscia-Webster said.
"We have tractor-trailers that come daily, and a large amount of our own crane trucks that are parked in front of our building," Flexlume's Martin said. "To get rid of the lanes, you’d be blocking traffic. I don’t know how that’s feasible."
Small businesses like Coco also worry about the loss of parking for customers.
“We don’t need less parking. We need more parking,” Crawford said, citing a reduction of 60% to 70%. “I’m struggling to stay in business, as are others I know. ... Proximity to destination is important.”
The business owners also warn that the redesign would push traffic onto parallel streets and into neighborhoods.
"It’s an insult to the residents of the East Side," Badger said. "It would flood traffic over to Masten and Michigan, which would become a highway or thruway by which people would try to avoid the traffic on Main."
Most of all, though, business owners complain that they weren't consulted, and didn't even know about the plan until recently. Bruscia-Webster said “some teenager came around a year or so ago” to talk with her, but “then I never heard another word about it” until early August.
"So there’s no consistency in keeping the business owners aware of what is actually happening," she said.
Finn said the plan is far from a done deal. No decisions have been made, nor has an environmental review been conducted. The proposed project is currently in the "public outreach" phase of the planning and design stage, after more than a year of preparation.
"We're very early in the process of getting public feedback," Finn said. "We've gotten some, and the results that we've got back so far show that there's a mixed bag."
City officials say they conducted stakeholder interviews in September and October of last year, along with door-to-door outreach to more than 80 businesses, and email and social media updates that have targeted more than 400 people.
DPW also conducted a walking tour and public workshop last November, with more than 100 participants. Finn said three virtual public meetings have been held, with more to come, plus one-on-one interviews and a virtual "block chat."
Finn said a mailer will be sent out to residents and businesses in and near the corridor. And he's meeting with outspoken critics, including Badger, to hear their concerns.
Businesses say they just hope the city takes their livelihood into account.
"I’m all for beautifying Main Street, but you’re playing with people’s lives, the way they make their living,” Bruscia-Webster said. "This is a commercial street. This isn’t some quaint street in a village."