Canalside: When is the NFTA going to step up?
by Andrew Kulyk (@akulykUSRT) - posted 10:24 pm, August 7, 2012
Looking out at the panorama of the Central Wharf and the Inner Harbor at Canalside, it is almost like a dream come true. Cranes are in the air and shovels are in the ground everywhere one looks: the newest series of canals on the Aud Block are beginning to take shape. The new lawns and landscaping on the development parcels abutting the cobblestone streets under the Skyway have given the neighborhood a fresh new look (Props again to Terry Pegula!). Work is progressing steadily on the Donovan Building, redubbed One Canalside. One can only hope that things will move methodically along with the Webster Block and come next year at this time we will be looking at a big hole in the ground and a magnificent new structure will be taking shape.
With all the good things happening right before our very eyes, and people coming in throngs right now to enjoy the waterfront and its growing list of amenities and things to do, there remains one very large sore spot that needs to be addressed, and needs to be addressed now. And that is the sorry state of conditions of the two Metrorail stations that serve the Erie Canal Harbor neighborhood.
A little historical timeline here: when the Metrorail began service in 1983, the “Auditorium Station”, as it was then called, was the southern terminus of the main train line. Beyond that station was nothing but vacant rubble strewn lots, some old decrepit buildings and plenty of nothingness leading up to the rail storage yard at the old DL&W Terminal.
Things changed in 1996, when the new arena opened. Coupled with the HSBC Atrium, and new interest in Inner Harbor development, ideas were proposed to relocate the rail station to a location closer to the arena and the Central Wharf. In fact, then Congressman Jack Quinn secured funding for such a project in a Federal transportation bill. The station never got to the final design stage, the proposal languished, and the NFTA instead went ahead and built a temporary “events” station, basically two platforms augmented with some pretty hanging baskets, to be used when the arena was open for business. “Lighter, Faster, Cheaper.”… The mantra of the obstructionists who have sucked the life out of this community. That is what we got instead of a sleek, state of the art rail station to complement the emerging Inner Harbor.
As proposal after proposal and rendering after rendering for Canalside was rolled out in the past decade, the ECHDC’s planners and designers never addressed the condition of Main Street, and how road and rail station redesign would affect everything else going on around it. It became apparent that the NFTA had not been a participant in the planning and design of Canalside. Main Street was always drawn as a blank slate. Yet that piece of real estate, and the efficient design of public transportation to serve all of this neighborhood, is vital and crucial, and can not simply be ignored.
So what do we have today? The “Aud Station” is a rotting eyesore, with peeling paint, tumbledown platforms, and garish sports art that might have blended well when the Aud was steps away, but looks hideously out of place today. The track bed is crumbling and unsafe to cross over. The red tile pavers are uneven and falling apart. And sadly, the designers and builders of One Canalside are unable to move forward with their arterials and road plan for their new building, while the fate of the Aud Station remains in limbo.
The “Special Events Station” is no panacea either. Patrons have little protection from the elements in the cold weather, yet amazingly, hockey fans pack the rail cars in droves and Metrorail is a key component in delivering people to the First Niagara Center whenever something is going on. With the construction of the new building on the Webster Block, what a great opportunity this would be to build a permanent rail station on the west side of Main Street, and connect that with wide, weather-protected overpasses into the new structure and then across Perry Street into the arena pavilion. Climate controlled access into a sports venue is not a novel or unique concept – Montreal’s Bell Centre has a subway station right underneath the arena; in Washington DC, the Verizon Center is served by a Metro station. New York’s Madison Square Garden sits atop Penn Station and is connected to the city and the world. Why not here in Buffalo?
The NFTA needs to step up; they need to take part in planning and development discussions with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, the City, and the private investors who now have or will soon have a stake in Buffalo’s waterfront. And they need to respond.
There is one more key player in this scenario, and that is the involvement and leadership of Buffalo’s Senator, Tim Kennedy. This past year he took on the NYS Department of Transportation, for its egregious shortfall of funding in its allocation of state dollars to pay for road and bridge repair here in Western New York. The sum came to a massive $167-million shortfall. Kennedy held hearings, he demanded action, and in the end got the results for this community.
Once he is past the campaign season, Kennedy has an enormous opportunity to brand himself as the “Transportation Senator”. With his big win in restoring the rightful dollars to Western New York for roads and bridges, he can and should turn the spotlight to the NFTA in addressing the public transportation needs of his constituents, especially now that he will be representing most of the City of Buffalo. He needs to help bring the NFTA to the table in ensuring their cooperation with the DOT and the ECHDC as Main Street is reopened to cars, and that the transportation buildout serving Canalside and the cleanup of the station eyesores is accomplished post haste. And then there is the bolder brush: dusting off the 70s regional Master Plan for the buildout of the Light Rail system. Rights of ways, design studies and plans are in place. All it takes is the will, the political leadership and the fight for funding to make it happen.
Memo to The NFTA Board of Commissioners: Do the right thing. NOW. The Aud Station is an eyesore and it has got to go. Put the plans in place for a dymanic new Erie Canal Harbor Station and let’s get it going. This is yet another important component of The Waterfront We Deserve and you are the ones who can make it happen.
Follow Andrew Kulyk on Twitter @akulykUSRT