The Western New York Environmental Alliance is an umbrella group that is committed to the preservation and restoration of our regional environment. The work of the Alliance takes place in Working Groups focused on environmental topics.
To get involved with transportation issues in Western New York, read on to learn more, join the Working Group listserv, and come to a meeting.
- Review on-going city initiatives to ensure that all roadway users are accommodated and green infrastructure measures utilized in all city-wide policies, plans and street projects;
- Work to share resources and leverage opportunities to educate the public, practitioners and leadership on the value and implementation of complete streets and green infrastructure; and
- Develop administrative guidelines on the implementation of the City of Buffalo’s Complete Streets policy.
In 2013, all Transportation Working Group Meetings will be hosted at the Public Works Department in Buffalo City Hall. GrowWNY calendarPlease sign-up for the Working Group listserv to receive notices about upcoming meetings.
Working Group Chair
Justin Booth, Green Options Buffalo
OUR WESTERN NEW YORK HERITAGE
Transportation is at the heart of Western New York history, beginning with the completion of the Western terminus of the Erie Canal in Buffalo (1825). The opening of the Erie Canal that same year resulted in one of the region’s first population surges. Connecting the Great Lakes to New York City, Buffalo became a critical link between growing industry and international trade along the East Coast and the Mid-West’s agricultural center.
Not long after, the Canal would eventually be replaced by rail as the primary mode of industrial transportation. The first railway system in Western New York was constructed in 1833 and ran between Buffalo and Black Rock. The first rail cars were towed by horses, later replaced by steam locomotives. In 1852, three railroads combined to provide a complete rail system linking Buffalo and New York City. Ultimately, the rail system would be replaced by cars as the dominant form of transportation following the wide spread construction of roadways and interstate highways, leading to our modern day obsession with the automobile.
In contrast to the historical focus on developing faster and more reliable means of transporting goods across large distances, today we are seeing an emphasis on sustainability and efficiency both in terms of personal daily and longer-distance travel, as well as the transportation of goods.
While personal travel by car is viewed by many to be the most comfortable and convenient mode of daily transportation, recent events such as rising gas prices, catastrophic oil spills, and political instability in countries that produce much of the oil we use have left many of us seeking alternatives.
Even as we work to develop more sustainable fuel sources, alternative modes of transit have great advantages. Walking, biking, carpooling, and public transportation (busses, subways) consume fewer resources and cost less money. Walking and biking also offer added health benefits. For longer trips, high speed rail, a popular mode of transportation in other parts of the world, is currently a much-discussed option in the United States. Buffalo and Western New York have a long history of leading new innovations in transportation – are we poised to once again be on the cutting-edge of transportation?
Complete Streets initiatives work to change our current infrastructure, which favors cars over other modes of transportation. Studies have shown that residents of our region actually want to use alternative forms of transportation, but are prevented from doing so by lack of infrastructure such as sidewalks, bus shelters and bike lanes. Locally, many small villages are revitalizing their communities by making it safer for youth to walk and bike to school and work, while the City of Buffalo has adopted a new Complete Streets Policy to help provide “safe, convenient and comfortable travel by foot, bicycle, transit, vehicle, car and truck.” While replacing our entire transit infrastructure is far too costly, it is possible to make a meaningful difference by thinking about all aspects of transportation when we build, re-construct and maintain our roadways. US Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood agrees, stating recently that we have reached “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”
Click here to learn more about the City of Buffalo’s Complete Streets policy.
High Speed Rail
Currently a much-discussed topic in transportation, high speed rail is emerging as a potential alternative to long drives or short flights for inter-city travel. Already popular in Europe and Asia, high speed trains (also called ‘bullet trains’) offer many of the advantages of airplanes, travelling at speeds ranging from 120 – 220 miles per hour, but require less energy and create less pollution. Buffalo and Western New York could benefit greatly from a nationwide high-speed rail system if it provided convenient and rapid access to other metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Toronto, New York City, Boston or Philadelphia.
Recent developments in New York State:
- In 2009, The New York State Department of Transportation released a statewide rail plan, including a program of capital investments to increase passenger rail speed and reliability. To view the plan, visit the New York State department of Transportation’s website.
- The Northeast region was awarded $485 million in Recovery Act High Speed Rail funding to develop a New York – Albany – Buffalo – Montreal line. For more details on Recovery Act High Speed Rail funding, click here.
New Uses for Old Transportation Infrastructure
As our region continues to move away from our industrial past, we are looking for what will define us in the future. With great natural resources and our proximity to Canada and Niagara Falls, we are re-discovering ourselves as a place rich in opportunities for tourism and outdoor experiences. In this light, the level paths and waterways constructed for the Erie Canal and subsequently the railroad are once again becoming great assets for expanding our recreational opportunities in such activities as biking and kayaking.
HOW CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Re-examine Your Routines
When many people think of traveling somewhere, they immediately think of their car. The next time you plan to travel, think again! Is there a more sustainable way to get to your location? First ask yourself if you can walk or bike? If that is not an option, can you drive to a location and then make use of public transportation? Even the smallest changes can drastically reduce your impact on the planet over time.
BicyclingBicycling is a renewable, non-polluting form of transportation. Bicycling reduces the consumption of fossil fuels, alleviates traffic congestion, and also improves the region's air quality. Cycling also improves one’s health as it is a good form of aerobic exercise.
Green Options Buffalo provides several great resources to help you get started biking more in your everyday life. In addition to other helpful programs they offer a bike to work toolkit, a bike sharing program - Buffalo Blue Bicycle – and offer bicycle maintenance workshops for both youth and adults.
If you are already an active cycler and ready to move on to a new bike, consider donating your used bike to Green Options Buffalo’s community bicycle workshop--this reduces waste and recycles your bicycle back into the community to those who otherwise cannot afford one.
Carpooling & Public TransportationNot only does carpooling offer cost- and energy-savings, it can be a fun and social way to start and end the work day. If you have talked to your co-workers and neighbors and are still having trouble finding someone to carpool with, Good Going WNY is a great resource that can help you find a sustainable way to make your daily commute and even pair you with someone to carpool. Additionally, the Center for Transportation Excellence helps coordinate transportation services to seniors and others who might need additional help.
Public transportation, such as the NFTA-Metro (for those in Erie and Niagara counties), requires less gasoline per passenger than cars or other passenger vehicles. Maps, schedules and fare information is available online.
If you do not have a car, or if you find you only need to use your car occasionally and are considering giving it up, check out Buffalo Car Share as a greener option that allows you convenient access to a car when you need one.
One gallon of diesel fuel carries cargo only 59 miles by truck. Shopping local not only reduces this energy consumption and pollution, but also strengthens our local economy.
Buffalo First offers a directory of local stores and restaurants. See how many of them you have been to and make an effort to visit new places. Ride your bike or walk to ones close to you- this is also a fun way to explore different neighborhoods and get to know all Western New York has to offer.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
- Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society
- Buffalo CarShare
- Buffalo First
- Center for Transportation Excellence
- City of Buffalo: Complete Streets
- Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
- Field & Fork Network
- Green Options Buffalo
- Grunwald, Michael. Can High Speed Rail Get on Track?, Time Magazine, July 19, 2010
- New York State Department of Transportation: State Rail Plan
- Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
- Parks & Trails New York
- White House.gov: Recovery Act High Speed Rail Awards
- The Scajaquada Expressway Presentation, 2-28-2013