Envisioning a Complete Niagara Street for the 21st Century

The proposed plan for the future of Niagara Street is
ambitious and incredible; it envisions how the prominent city street should be
in the 21st century. The project is the result of two semesters work
between eight students from five different countries, in the department of
architecture and urban planning at UB. It brings all disciplines together to
create more livable and sustainable places. The group’s definition of a
complete street is one that is accessible to all users, this includes
pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, etc.

While the plan is very ambitious it does recognize the
challenges like the erosion of urban fabric, the auto-centric lifestyle, and
the continuing impact of sprawl on the central city. Regardless of all this,
the street still has great potential. The proximity to the water, downtown and
the expanding Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus are all assets which can be built
upon to see future investment along Niagara Street.


Focusing on four and a half miles of Niagara Street, from
Niagara Square to Ontario Street, the students worked diligently in producing
their proposal drawing from various case studies, talks with the community, and
personal observations. Main goals of the project include transforming the
street from a semi-highway to a complete street, redeveloping the urban fabric,
utilizing sustainable/green design and integrating the green code to name a

By putting the street on a “road diet” the students propose
reorienting Niagara Street from four lanes and confused street parking to a
street with traffic going one way in either direction with a center turning
lane, designated bike lanes separate from traffic, and reorienting street
parking. Traffic calming measures such as a raised table, which makes drivers
aware of pedestrian crossings were also part of the plan to give priority to
the pedestrian. A traffic circle was also proposed at Niagara and W. Ferry to
break up the overall length of the street and further calm traffic and was also
designed to be big enough to accommodate semi-trucks.

While some may think the road diet will significantly slow
traffic along the streets, the students cited Hertel Avenue as an example, where
the street has traffic one way in either direction with a center turning lane.
According to the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC) that stretch of Hertel receives more traffic than
Niagara Street without severe congestion and delays, therefore justifying the
reorientation on Niagara.


While the physical street is a crucial aspect, the built
environment along Niagara must also be transformed. One proposal includes
rethinking the Tops on Niagara Street as a mixed use property, built to the
curb. The addition of a three-story
residential building with retail in the first floor can be added to the side of
Tops which faces Niagara. With the reorientation of Niagara Street and associated
on-street parking, it is possible to reduce the amount of parking spaces in the
Tops parking lot, adding more pedestrian-friendly components such as small
green space.

Taking a comprehensive look at the proposal, the students
also focused on the addition of pocket parks, reducing storm water runoff, and
creating a greenway along the Black Rock Canal which would be linked across
Niagara Street. Utilizing green infrastructure such as rain gardens, the
unsightly runoff can be redirected into planted areas capturing the water and effectively keeping the plants alive.

One of the key ideas of the proposal is linking the
community with the waterfront via a bridge over the I-190 to a greenway along
the Black Rock Canal as well as better links to Squaw Island. The bridge would
be part of a new park at Lafayette and Niagara Streets as illustrated in the main image. While the bridge may
seem unrealistic, it has been done in other cities, like Vancouver and Seattle.

Through a mixture of public and private investment, the proposal
is very realistic. The first step would be “re-stripe” the street in order to
allow drivers time to recognize the changes before anything permanent takes
place. It would also allow for any final details to be altered if necessary.


About the author  ⁄ queenseyes

Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Catalyst behind the Pierce-Arrow Film Arts Center. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette. Themed New Years mayhem at various locations. Next up: Porchfest... Also offers package tours of the city for groups or individuals. Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com


Yes, because what they're doing in Pittsburgh and Cleveland is so progressive and admirable.

I love reaching; but striving to be like Pittsburgh is pathetic. I'd like to reach beyong like cities in Scandinavia...


European cities are doing...what? Building skyscrapers and suburban shopping malls? Because that's what they're doing.

Mike Duff
Mike Duff

I don't think we have identified or embraced our uniqueness or learned how to build off our strengths. Instead we play catch-up to what other cities are doing and fail to differentiate ourselves from these other cities. I can't think of anything in Buffalo that isn't found in most other rust belt cities, including the unique architecture. Every rust belt city has unique architecture, they all have a storied past and a hope for a better tomorrow. The difference is that some are making it while others (Buffalo) are not.

What will it take for Buffalo to see itself as a unique, beautiful, and different type of city? What will it take for us to have the creative inspiration that sets us apart? I don't think it is lack of information or travel, this is just an excuse.

What is really holding us back? Lack of travel and insight, politics, finances, lack of motivation? If we look into this we might find the root cause of why we continue to decline and what we need to do to reverse the trend.


How 'bout European Rust Belts?


Travelrrr, I'd prefer that Buffalo study (and implement) what European cities are doing; not Rust Belts.


I quite agree with you, Mike; one of the greatest things Buffalo could do is truly accept its uniqueness, and build from there.

However, part of Buffalo's problem has always been that it is a provincial city, and many people don't actually leave to see how things are done elsewhere (Boston is similar in this vein, as well.) Therefore, our own progress is hindered by lack of creative inspiration by other cities' successes.

Should Buffalo be doing whatever NYC or LA do? No. We can't afford it, nor would it be directly applicable (to your point). However, should we study closely what other Rust Belts, which have met with more success (Indianapolis, Pittsburgh) in their growth strategies, and appropriate some ideas? Hell yeah.

Mike Duff
Mike Duff

I always enjoy the comments that argue Buffalo should do x because another successful city has x. For example, Seattle and Vancouver have a land bridge and they are thriving cities, so if we have a land bridge then we could be thriving too. It reminds me of my 13 year old daughter talking about getting the jeans that the most popular girls in her class wears. She will just die if she doesn't get them and she will never be popular if she doesn't get them. No one will like her if she doesn't get them so she simply must have them if she has any chance of surviving middle school.

So many discussions about Buffalo sound the same. We pick and choose what is most important and try to emulate one facet of success in other cities while minimizing our focus on the more difficult things that need to be done. We think that by changing the street design or cityscape that somehow this is going to make Buffalo a more amenable destination or place to live? Somehow spending millions on a more narrow Niagara street, a land bridge, or traffic on Main Street is going to be the pair of jeans that will make us all more popular.

As I tell my daughter, what you have inside is what counts. You have to believe in yourself first and don't try to emulate others with the hope that if you look like them then you will be like them. It doesn't work for a 13 year old and it doesn't work for a 210 year old city. We have a unique identity that we have failed to embrace and celebrate, instead we focus on all that we feel we lack when compared to other cities. We hear all the time from our expats that things are better in city x or that they just couldn't make it in Buffalo but they are doing well in city x. The sad part is that we listen to them and put more credence in what they have to say than what most of see around us everyday.

I think Buffalo has some serious maturity and leadership issues that hold us back. Success won't be found in the redesigned street or the new high rise, it will only be found in the people and places that make Buffalo a great place to live, work, and play.


Niagara needs these enhancements, especially new street furniture and multimodal accessability. But Niagara also needs more traffic calming measures (without a stupid traffic circle)and hopefully a massive residential upzoning to foster high rise residential along the route. Niagara has the potential to be an impressive streetwall coming into Downtown.


New York city has gone through a massive transformation in recent years making city streets better for mass transit, bikers, and people. Today, more than ever cities are realizing the power of making small changes to the way streets are constructed can make a huge difference for property owners, pedestrians, and commuters alike.

The great thing about this is that Buffalo does not need to recreate the wheel, just modify others approaches. Bring in someone from the Bloomberg that has experience doing this and they can work with UB students and whomever to modify for Buffalo.

Captain Picard
Captain Picard

The vacant store fronts and ghetto homes will not disappear just because a truck plaza is built. You are a fool if you think otherwise.


...spending money on visible changes to the street scape and infrastructure will encourage people to spend money filling those storefronts and rehabilitating those ghetto houses.

I own a house near Porter/West and there are already neighbors talking about how nice the Porter Ave. project is coming along. Word gets around.


I think there is a difference between "Urban Design", "Urban Planning" and "Engineering" in the case of complete street, especially regarding the Niagara Street. In this studio, I think students are more focusing on the connectivity, urban fabric, multi-model transportation and potential public space. The main goal is to bring a vision to the communities and the City that how a complete street and better urban environment could be achieved on Niagara Street. Absolutely, more studies in architecture, engineering, real estate and financial studies are needed to realized the vision for a complete street.

Mr. Underhill
Mr. Underhill

I wonder if this is really worth it? What happens if the truck plaza at the Peace Bridge isn't built and Niagara Street stays the way it is today with closed stores and ghetto homes? What then?


These are good plans-too "ambitious" and "aggressive"? Hardly. They should be the bare minimum for Buffalo going forward.

Now, can we start to conceive of really interesting, modern infill designs??? Can UB architecture students start to help us think outside the box??

Captain Picard
Captain Picard

The renderings are nice, and Niagara Street really should be a priority for the city for all the reasons you mentioned. You're being quite honest by using the word "ambitious," but I would take it a step forward and call it "impossible" unless a careful balance between private and public investment can be struck without politics and grandstanding getting in the way. Properly funded, this could do fantastic things for an important part of the city.

One thing is certain: to leave such waterfront and river view property to rot as is would be a mistake.

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