CE Neighborhood Transportation Day

Justin Shaw, Dixon Schwabl

What truly defines a city? There are many possible answers—ranging from its culture, history, government leadership, architecture or even its sports teams—but for many, the answer is that a city’s people truly define its essence. Look around Buffalo and it’s hard to disagree, as a collage of people walk our streets: Immigrants from every nation in the world. People who’ve lived here for generations. Captains of industry and corporate executives. Entrepreneurs and small business owners. Artists, academics, professional athletes, factory workers, bankers and everyone in between—of every color, sexual orientation and religion. There’s no doubt the Queen City’s incredibly diverse human fabric is what makes it special.

However, two important fibers or threads keep us all connected: the neighborhoods we live in and the transportation we use to navigate this great city. On July 17, Leadership Buffalo Class Experience 2019 focused on these two facets of Buffalo during its Neighborhood & Transportation Day Session.

Teams broke into groups that each investigated 1-2 neighborhoods. Areas toured included Black Rock, Riverside, the Old First Ward, West Side, Lower West Side, Broadway-Fillmore, Humboldt Park and the Fruit Belt.

In true LB fashion, class members didn’t just visit these neighborhoods—they traveled to them via public transportation and experienced both the positive aspects of the transit system and the drawbacks that come with getting out of the car and riding Buffalo’s bus and train network.

Some LB groups found it easy to navigate the bus/train schedules and had simple, drama-free trips throughout the day. A few groups, however, had different experiences. Stormy weather left a few groups soaking wet and wondering why so few Buffalo bus stops have shelters—a question posed to NFTA executives later in the day. (The answer, as it seemed to be with many transit system shortfalls, is lack of funding.) Another group experienced a major issue when their NFTA bus broke down and they were forced to walk 20 minutes to their next neighborhood stop.

And while having the LB groups use public transportation was a one-time, artificially created scenario, it was apparent to nearly every 2019 class member how challenging relying only on public transportation can be for the many lower-income Buffalo residents who lack a car and must use the system every day. More than a few classmates mentioned how difficult it would be to navigate the transit system with groceries in hand and kids at your side, or traveling to work or school on the other side of town. And that’s in good weather. Try doing that in the middle of a cold Buffalo winter day, as the lake-effect snow fills the streets and sidewalks.

On the positive side, the Day Session also included discussions with NFTA leaders about planned expansions to the system, such as extending Metro Rail to UB’s North Campus and continuing efforts to provide more shelters on bus routes and optimize bus routes to better serve the needs of Buffalo residents. Funding, it appears, will still be the major hurdle to overcome to make these plans reality, but there was excitement generated in LB discussions regarding the major positive economic impact transit system upgrades could have on the city.

On the neighborhood front, once LB groups departed the transit system, they navigated their chosen neighborhoods on foot. This enabled groups to see the many exciting changes happening in these communities. The team that traveled though Black Rock, for example, highlighted the gentrification taking place there. They noted the rise of craft breweries, luxury condos in the former Pierce-Arrow factory and high-end restaurants popping-up on many corners—and questioned how the improved status of neighborhoods like this could end up negatively impacting lower and middle-income families who’ve lived there for years, as the area becomes too expensive for them to live in.

The entire day was incredibly impactful for many who participated. LB Class Experience 2019 got a firsthand appreciation for the opportunities and challenges a major city transit system must address, and for the quilt work of wonderful neighborhoods that make this an amazing city to live and work in. Leadership Buffalo is, in many ways, about making connections between leaders from all walks of life here in Buffalo, and Neighborhood & Transportation Day Session 2019 certainly brought all of us a little closer—even if some of us had to jump off a broken bus and walk a few blocks to get there!