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
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.