Tag Archives: build it to the curb

Main Street in Williamsville

4 Dec

How Hamburg did it

Will this finally be the time that Williamsville’s Main Street stops being an Autobahn and becomes a more pedestrian-friendly shopping high street? It’s 2012, and there appears at least to be something of a genuine push to make crossing Main Street less horrifying. 

And it’s not just Williamsville – there’s a regional anti-pedestrian mindset at work here. I dare you to find so much as one zebra crossing within Buffalo city limits. There are a few, but otherwise we’re still living in the 50s. I dare you to find so much as one “cars must yield to pedestrians in crosswalk” sign within city limits.

The rule is this: pedestrians must obey mechanical walk/don’t walk signs. (V&TL 1112) But in a crosswalk not governed by such signals, vehicles must yield the right of way to pedestrians. (V&TL 1151).  When is the last time you saw that happen? 

Back when I lived in Boston and had daily bouts of road rage, I would honk wildly at pedestrians crossing the intersection of Congress & North Streets by Faneuil Hall who were crossing against the light, pointing up at the bright red hand, saying loudly: “you don’t even need to be literate to understand that signal.” Or similar.

But I was extremely conscientious about yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks that were not regulated by walk/don’t walk signs. After all, Boston is a driver’s nightmare, but it’s a pedestrian’s dream. Sidewalks, window shopping, and well-marked crosswalks.

As far as pedestrians are concerned, Buffalo is stuck in the mid-70s. There are no zebra crosswalks. It’s as if they built the abysmal failure of a pedestrian mall on Main Street and figured that was enough.

Zebra crosswalk ca. 1969

And most suburbanites with whom I’ve spoken always complain about the lack of parking downtown. There is no lack of parking downtown. When parking costs $5.00/day or less, there is a veritable parking glut.

Instead, we have a Benderson mentality. Under Bendersonization, you have no problem parking for free within eyesight of your destination. Buffalo is a city. You can’t do that here. Sometimes, you might have to walk a few blocks, or park around the corner, so you can’t see your destination. If you park illegally (check the signs posted along the roadway for clues), you might get a ticket. Which you’ll have to pay. Shock horror. 

What Buffalo needs is smart parking, so that people who need a spot know where to go. Signs pointing the way to ramps, showing how many spots are available. Lights within the ramps glowing red for occupied and green for available. Signs within the ramps indicating how many spots are currently available on each level. 

If Batavia can undertake traffic calming measures on its Main Street, bringing it into the 21st century, Williamsville and Buffalo are capable of doing the same. Hamburg’s downtown is the model for everybody. It’s walkable and the roundabouts make it easy to navigate. These are changes that many cities made a decade ago. It’s as if our civic leaders never leave town. 

Main Street in Williamsville, Delaware Avenue north from the Scajaquada, Elmwood north from the Scajaquada, Transit, Southwestern: they all might as well be turned into limited-access parkways like the Taconic, Robert Moses, or Bronx River.

When I see the sidewalks on Main in Williamsville expanded; when I see roundabouts at the major intersections; when I see crosswalks at every corner, then I’ll know that walkability and aesthetics are being taken seriously. When I see a landscaped medium on Transit, I’ll know that our town fathers and mothers don’t want our area to look any more like Anaheim, CA than it already does. When I see curb extensions at crosswalks on Delaware, and real zoning that limits the construction of set-back plazas with ample streetfront parking, I’ll know that someone with a brain is in charge.

I wrote pretty much the same thing in 2005. Here’s something I wrote in 2006: 

I once read somewhere (damned if I can find it now) that large malls generally build their corridors at angles, because people will balk at walking a long distance if they can see the entire length. Main Street in Williamsville could be a shopping and stroller’s mecca.

Instead, it represents the 5th through 9th lanes of the New York State Thruway.

My dry cleaner used to be on Main Street, and I fully expected that one day my car door would get ripped off by a tractor-trailer racing by westbound at 70 miles per hour. There are few walk/don’t walk signs. There are poor crosswalks. The traffic lights are out of sequence, especially between North Union and Park Lane. The sidewalks are far too narrow; the street wide enough to be a Thruway extension.

I also think that several key intersections should have landscaped roundabouts, and the road should have a landscaped median, similar to what the City’s done on Main between Hertel and Bailey.

The hope is that some of the traffic would get on the Thruway when the toll barriers are shifted back from Williamsville to Newstead or Pembroke. Also, the News article mentions that Wehrle Drive, which is bumper-to-bumper at rush hour, is set to be expanded.

Could Williamsville be the next Niagara-on-the-Lake? Not without a Shaw Theater. Or a lake. But traffic calming combined with making the stretch between Evans and Union more pedestrian-friendly would certainly bring us closer to that ideal. Furthermore, the Village has to start getting smart about zoning. The Walgreen’s/Panera plaza at the corner of Union next to DiCamillo’s is idiotic. Who allowed that? It should have had parking in the back and abutted the sidewalk – yes, yes make all the jokes about “build it to the curb”, but even Carl Paladino’s new hotel project does that. 

You don’t see many parking lots fronting Queen Street in NOTL, do you? Mostly, traffic parks behind the buildings or on side streets. At least Williamsville is talking about it. Again.