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Buffalo Pipe Dream: The Central Terminal

May 1, 2012

The past few years have seen a surge in development within Buffalo’s city limits. A great deal of attention has been paid to the action (or inaction) down on the waterfront, but there has been a plethora or projects popping up around the city.

The Central Terminal could be a perfect home for the NFTA along with Amtrak, bus and high-speed rail service.

I would never claim to be an expert on urban development. But I’ve certainly made my way around North America enough to know what I like, what I hate, what works and what doesn’t in various cities. No I’d like to lend my experiences to some big picture concepts for projects around Buffalo. I have always wanted to use this space to start conversation and this Buffalo Pipe Dream series is designed to do just that. None of the thoughts I have come up with are attached to any sort of development plan and they shouldn’t be considered in that light. Each idea has been conceived with no concern for cost or how obstructionists or conservationists may view them.

Again, the point of this exercise is to share some thoughts and create conversation. I encourage you to use Twitter or the comments section to tell me how terrible my ideas are, what you like, what you hate or what could be improved on. Maybe you just want to chat about what could be done one day, share your thoughts. If there is one thing this city needs it is fresh ideas. Hopefully we can come up with a few during the series. Project number one? The Central Terminal.

The Central Terminal, to me, stands as one of the beacons of opportunity in the city. While there is little more than houses in the immediate vicinity; the Central Terminal sits in an interesting spot along a number of rail lines. Namely, the right-of-ways owned by NFTA that connect up to the airport and UB North. Developing the Central Terminal could work in concert with extending the Metro Rail.

By extending the Metro Rail past the casino, through the Larkin District and to the airport (by way of the Central Terminal) would connect downtown Buffalo with the airport by a green, low-cost means of transportation. Not to mention, there would be room for a stop at the Galleria Mall on the way. This would connect downtown with the main port of entry and exit for the region, along with area’s premier shopping location. Doing this would also provide a cheap and easy means of transportation into the city without needing to utilize the barren canyon that is the 33.

For what it’s worth, I would also connect the rail line straight to UB North, thus providing a full circuit light rail service that connects the area’s largest student population to downtown, the region’s primary shopping destination and the airport.

It is almost criminal how pathetic Buffalo’s Amtrak station is.

The Terminal factors into the equation as the primary hub for these projects. It would serve as the main hub for the NFTA’s operations (bus and light rail) for all of Western New York. I would also make the Central Terminal the main location for arrivals and departures for those on buses, Amtrak and the future high-speed rail service. This would eliminate the need for the pair of eyesores that currently serve as the bus and Amtrak stations downtown. Moving light rail storage and service would also open up the DL&W Terminal for private development.

My plan would also move the NFTA offices to the Terminal’s tower, providing an tenant for space that is otherwise going to be very difficult to fill. There is plenty of space on the massive property for bus and light rail car and there is plenty of room for shops and restaurants in the main Terminal building. Considering the traffic that would be going in and out of the building on a daily basis, plus the NFTA employees, there would be no trouble finding patrons for those spaces.

The one hurdle for any sort of Central Terminal project revolves around getting people in and out of the location. I’d propose a secondary access route that would basically run parallel to the rail line near Fillmore Ave. (consult Bing or Google Maps). Coming off the I-190 right near Seneca St. and the Larkin District, this route would keep most of the traffic (namely buses) away from the surface streets in the neighborhoods surrounding the Terminal. There is likely another way to re-route bus traffic to centralize at the Terminal without the need for a brand new street, but I wanted to explore every option.

Imagine shops and restaurants in this space being patronized by NFTA employees, train and bus commuters each day.

As previously stated, consolidating the Amtrak and bus station operations here would eliminate the awful bus and rail stations that are located downtown. The Central Terminal would serve as an iconic beacon to welcome visitors to the city and region. Comparing the Central Terminal to the two current stations would be apples and oranges. Secondly, the consolidation would allow those arriving by bus or train to transfer to a secondary mode of transportation (taxi, Metro Bus or subway) without needing to leave the original location they arrived to. Incorporating this plan with the rumored high-speed rail project would accomplish the same progress the you would achieve by moving the bus and train stations to a singular location.

Obviously the mission of rehabbing the Central Terminal is arduous at best. The additional burden of expanding Metro Rail service, relocating offices and making this a central transportation hub is that much more difficult. However, this strikes me as a project that could reverse some of the silly decisions made over the past few decades by those in charge. An underwhelming bus and train station would be replaced by an architectural beacon while also providing a direct connection between downtown, the airport and the region’s largest student body. It also would free up a prime waterfront property while filling a parcel that will otherwise be difficult to fill.

Here is a bullet point rundown of the overall approach:

  • Consolidate all NFTA operations to the Central Terminal. Includes light rail and bus storage, primary light rail hub and NFTA operations and offices in Terminal tower.
  • Allow shops and restaurant space to develop as more traffic moves through the building.
  • Build a new parking structure to accommodate those working in the Terminal.
  • Develop rail right-of-ways to connect airport, Galleria Mall, Terminal, Larkin District, Casino and UB North to downtown.
  • Rehab, renovate or rebuild the Terminal’s warehouses as means for storage and service of NFTA vehicles.
  • Move bus and Amtrak station to Central Terminal to centralize public transportation at a single location. Amtrak presence could also be a prelude to connection of high-speed rail to this station.
  • Develop a secondary access road to bypass surrounding neighborhood.

Thoughts, comments, improvements and criticism are all welcome. What do you think?

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