Cindy Wood is GObike’s Complete Streets Planner. With the organization since 2018, she was initially in our workshop and then leading education programs in Niagara Falls. Cindy officially became one of our team’s planners in 2022. She’s touring the region, talking about good design practices that increase safety where they exist now, and where they should be implemented. First stop, Niagara Street.

Do you feel safe when crossing busy streets with many lanes of traffic? I know I don’t. In the back of my mind, I’m constantly thinking about how drivers these days are distracted and not focusing on the important things, like following the rules of the road or being cognizant of pedestrians trying to cross the street at intersections. The majority of our streets in the City of Buffalo are designed to prioritize car movement and do not give enough consideration to those who travel by means other than a car.

Buffalo has an abundance of overbuilt streets with lanes that are too wide.

  • The wider the travel lane, the faster cars can freely move. Therefore, streets that have speed limits marked at 30mph are designed for cars to travel at 40-45mph.
  • This also applies to one-way side streets with a very wide travel lane.
  • Excessive travel lane widths have a direct effect on driving behaviors through intersections, leaving those who travel by means other than a car at a higher risk of being hit and injured, or potentially killed.

Multiple travel lanes going each way creates longer crossing distances at intersections.

  • At an intersection where multiple lanes meet to stop at a traffic signal, pedestrians have to cross anywhere between 50 to 100 feet to get from point A to point B in a very limited amount of time.
  • For example, the intersection of Delaware Avenue at North Street has a 66 foot crosswalk distance with no time indicator on how long a pedestrian has to cross.
  • This poses a higher risk for more vulnerable pedestrians, including children, elderly, and disabled persons.

With the partial completion of the Niagara Street redesign, we have a prime example that gives real-life context on how streets can accommodate everyone with the right approach to design. It used to be designed with two travel lanes going each way, parking on either side of the street, and little to no paint markings on the pavement. Niagara Street now has one travel lane going each way, a middle turn lane to not disrupt the flow of traffic, and it used the leftover road space to create Buffalo’s first protected cycle-track. This design has not only slowed down traffic, but it has created shorter, safer crossing distances for pedestrians.

Ensuring the safety of pedestrians while they navigate our streets in Buffalo ultimately comes down to how our streets are designed. Narrowing travel lanes to discourage fast speeds, eliminating travel lanes where multiple lanes are not necessary, and shortening pedestrian crossing travel distance at major intersections through improved intersection design is the first step to making streets safer for pedestrians to navigate.

How can we make this happen?

Be loud, and not just on social media. It’s your emails, calls, letters and actual presence at community events that will pressure your Common Council representative to take action. It’s your ability to rally your network of neighbors and friends that gets things moving, too. Talk to your Common Council member often. Tell them that traffic safety matters to you, and call out streets by name that need redesigns to be made safer. Together, we can transform this city into one that prioritizes the safety and mobility of all its residents, regardless of who owns a car or not.