March 21, 2019
For decades, Buffalo has been known as a 20-minute driving city with free-flowing expressways and ample parking. However, speed and ease for vehicles has come at high costs, both to individuals and to our regional outlook. The average annual cost of owning and using a sedan in 2018 was $8,800, more than 25% of the total income for half of Buffalo households. But that’s just the beginning. Businesses and governments contend with paying for parking, maintaining roads and expressways (road user fees and gas taxes cover less than half the cost), and employee turnover and unfilled positions due to limited commute options. Zooming out even more, the externalized costs of driving dominance fall on no person or organization in particular, but drain our community with sprawl, traffic jams, injuries and fatalities, stark social inequality, and pollution that poses health risks while accelerating climate change.
As transportation preferences, needs, and technologies change faster than ever before, our region cannot afford to cover these costs any longer. More shared mobility services are coming to the market like car-share, bikeshare, Uber, and Lyft, with driverless vehicles soon to follow. Eighty-one percent of millennials and 77% of “active boomers” value alternatives to driving as important factors in deciding where to live and work.
Other cities ranging from Seattle to Columbus are adapting to these changes by investing in transit, carpooling, vanpooling, walking, and biking. These efforts have been transformational: transit ridership doubled in three months in Downtown Columbus after offering free bus passes to all Downtown employees. While Buffalo-Niagara has also reimagined its transportation system—again and again through the Green Code, One Region Forward, Moving Forward 2050, the Transit-Oriented Development Study, and the Bicycle Master Plan—we are still far from meaningful implementation of these plans to value people over cars. Buffalo was the first city in the U.S to eliminate minimum parking requirements citywide, a best practice that attracted international media attention in early 2017 when the Green Code was adopted. But this policy hasn’t yet curbed myopic practices of providing ample free or discounted parking and investing in sprawled development. Meanwhile, transportation spending continues to favor expressways over public transportation, bike lanes, and sidewalks.
While public investments in bike lanes, sidewalks, and transit service would set us on a better path, individual businesses can act now and reap the benefits quicker. Businesses can expand transportation options for their employees, tenants, and visitors by developing 1) encouragement programs and 2) mobility hubs.
Early Success on the Medical Campus
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) has demonstrated the success of these practices by reducing the drive-alone commute rate from 88% to 80% in six years, removing demand for over 1,200 parking spaces. The GOBNMC commuter incentives program and easy access to mobility services like rail, bus, bikeshare, secure bike parking, and preferred carpool parking, made this feat possible. Through our program Go Buffalo Niagara, GObike is excited to scale up the BNMC’s practices to the entire region, working with employers and developers to implement commute programs and mobility hubs.
Commute programs: Go Buffalo Niagara business membership delivers comprehensive commute programs through personalized assistance and perks like Guaranteed Ride Home, which provides a free ride home “just in case” of a sick family member, a missed bus, a broken bike, or other unexpected situation. By assuring commuters that they won’t be stranded at work if they choose not to drive, Guaranteed Ride Home lowers the barrier to trying other mobility options.
Business membership also provides commuters with discounted memberships to GObike Buffalo and Reddy Bikeshare, as well as entry into monthly raffles for logging their commute trips on the 511NY Trip Tracker App. Go Buffalo Niagara also helps businesses avail themselves of free, state-sponsored services like 511NY Rideshare and discount programs like the NFTA’s corporate pass, where the NFTA knocks $10 off the price of a monthly Metro pass if an employer matches the discount with at least another $10 and orders in bulk (25+ passes per month). For developments, business membership to Go Buffalo Niagara provides 50 to 100% of the trip reduction credits needed to meet the Green Code’s transportation demand management requirements. These perks attract talent and contribute significantly to people’s lives, especially in a business culture where free or cheap parking has been the same, tired trick on the table year after year.
Mobility hubs: A mobility hub is a designated place that offers connections to and from multiple modes of transportation, including buses, rail, transportation network companies, car-share, bikeshare, real-time travel information, and other amenities. While commute programs provide education, incentives, and encouragement, mobility hubs provide a physical one-stop shop for mobility services and information. Buffalo Niagara’s long range transportation plan Moving Forward 2050 identifies mobility hubs as a key strategy that advances our region’s desired future for mobility, which is built on access to services, not on vehicle ownership. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has led the region by implementing a mobility hub on campus. Go Buffalo Niagara works with developers and employers to design and implement mobility hubs, improving access for all.
Until more businesses adopt commute programs and mobility hubs, we will not see meaningful progress on putting our visions for a better transportation system into practice. Through Go Buffalo Niagara, GObike is proud to be working on an extraordinary project that will move the dial toward our regional transportation goals. We have partnered with Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation to develop a comprehensive transportation program for the 201 Ellicott development, which will bring over 200 units of affordable housing, community gathering space, a fresh food market to Downtown Buffalo. Our next post will go into detail about this project and our work on it.
We hope you will join us in this movement to kickstart a regional transformation of transportation! You can show your support by attending tonight’s project community information session, which is being held in downtown Buffalo at the Bank of America Financial Center (10 Fountain Plaza) from 6:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. (3/21). Stay tuned also for details on other upcoming public hearings with the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Common Council.