A Real Transformation For Main Street: City Of Buffalo, N.Y.
By Dan Ziemianski, PE, Vice President of Erdman Anthony
The University Plaza and entrance to University of Buffalo in New York State were shifted to the east to create a new four-leg intersection. The bus turn-around was relocated to a different intersection and a new facility for the drivers was constructed. The solution created two intersections which provide greatly improved levels of service. A pocket park was installed at the intersection of Main and Kenmore. A large tree was originally planned for the center of the circular patio, however the final design called for the clock instead.Photos courtesy of Erdman Anthony
This redesign addressed multi-leg, skewed intersections, which created confusion, heavy delays for motorists and safety issues for pedestrians. In some places the street was seven lanes in width. Over 25,000 vehicles per day moved at either breakneck speeds or in long idling lines competing with heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic with crosswalks few and far between.
In addition, landscaping was non-existent except for a few trees which clung to existence adjacent to their long dead companions. The sidewalks, which were heaved and buckled from years of service and utility cuts, made even the shortest walk an adventure. It was not a pretty picture. Yet this was the condition of Main Street in Buffalo as it runs through the historic University District. This community remains one of the healthiest with active business and residential districts in a city buoyed by the presence of the colossal Main Street Campus of the University of New York at Buffalo.
Therefore, the New York State Department of Transportation and the City of Buffalo Department of Public works retained Erdman Anthony to perform respectively, preliminary and final design, construction, inspection and administration for the Main Street Reconstruction project.
The design process from start to finish took seven years. It took five years for preliminary design, final design, plus community, city and state approvals with their modifications. The project also expanded in size in order to get in as much as possible of what the community needed. Then the state had to get additional funding. In addition, right of way acquisition was required and the process of New York State has a lengthy environmental approval as well.
Main Street in Buffalo, New York runs through the historic University district, which meant that this very active and tightly knit community desired a lot of input into the planning. A high volume of block clubs, pedestrians and bicycles were an important factor. Traffic calming was another significant issue as well as improving the aesthetics.
Preliminary Design and Public Participation
From the beginning, state and city officials knew they wanted to involve the public in the design. Erdman Anthony developed a process centered around a Public Advisory Group. This group would meet regularly throughout the design process to work with the design team and give their input on numerous facets of the planning. The north Buffalo Communities surrounding Main Street were some of the most active and involved in Western New York.
The desire of block clubs, community organizations, bicyclist groups, elected officials, walkable community groups, business owners and concerned citizens to be a part of this process soon swelled the membership of the advisory group to over 50 people. Advisory group meetings soon took on the look and feel of public hearings. Ensuring that everyone had a chance to relay their opinion on parts of the project important to them became a challenge.
Through numerous advisory committee meetings, individual meetings, public meetings and a public hearing during preliminary design phase, the designers received tremendous insight into the desires and needs of the community. Consistent among these desires was the improvement of the visual aesthetics of the community and improvement to the streetscape. This was utilized in the creation of the final design and construction documents.
This kiosk was put up for postings of local events in the college or community and to inform people of coming fairs. Stamped concrete was installed in the area between the main sidewalk and the curb. For the sidewalk itself, an exposed aggregate mixture was used, which is a historic sidewalk mixture heavily composed of bank run (streambed) gravel.
Despite all that, it wasn’t such a bad installation. During design they worked with the businesses and community and set up small phasing areas one or two blocks at a time and half of the street at a time. The contractor had a fairly well defined area he could work in at a time and it was comparatively small, relative to the whole size of the area.
Crosswalks are stamped concrete, colored to give the effect of a brick pattern. The bricks are raised slightly to add to traffic calming and pedestrian safety. There is no doubt as you’re coming down the street that you’re entering a crosswalk because of paving delineation.
It’s a very active and tightly knit community with lots of block clubs, pedestrians and bicycles. Traffic calming was a big issue for them. Improving the aesthetics was another. The road was rather barren with few plantings. A few businesses tried to provide plantings and an occasional bench, but nothing was cohesive in the neighborhood.
There were also competing desires such as preserving parking in front of businesses. The community wanted more landscaped islands, but if you put in center islands, you eliminated parking.
There were many compromises and not everyone was happy, but they really liked the end result. Additional parking areas were provided by using a vacant lot that was on a side street right behind Main Street. The city acquired the site and got enough space for 25 to 30 vehicles. Landscaping was also installed in the parking lot. In addition, some major trees in the vicinity were retained as were plantings around the perimeter of the parking lot.
The transformation included maintaining the two vehicular entrances to the campus, and this one maintained the large maples and added plantings such as clematis, rigosa rose, impatiens, hosta and juniper. The site amenities were updated to include more seating at regular intervals as rest areas and to encourage conversation.
Final Design and Construction Inspection / Administration
The over $15 million Phase 1 Project included a reconstructed roadway using full-depth asphalt pavement with granite curbs. Additional features and enhancements included:
- Concrete pavement at high traffic intersections.
- The relocation of Kenmore Avenue, the University Plaza entrance and the State University of New York at Buffalo entrance.
- Installation of decorative street lighting with banner arms and hanging planters.
- Installation of a state of the art, interconnected traffic signal system using decorative poles and appurtenances.
- Decorative concrete sidewalk treatments.
- Fully landscaped, raised islands situated at the center of Main Street utilizing specifically selected drought and salt tolerant low maintenance plantings.
- High visibility stamped concrete crosswalks incorporating state of the art pedestrian crossing controls.
- Construction of two new pocket parks at the Main Street and Kenmore Avenue intersection featuring an exterior clock as the focal point of the park.
- Installation of numerous street trees and other landscape features.
- Installation of streetscape enhancements such as decorative benches, kiosks, trash receptacles and bicycle racks.
The installation of numerous bicycle racks, benches, planters and message kiosks also add to the walkability and aesthetics of the community. The curb lanes on Main Street were widened to provide a shared lane for bicyclists and bicycle-safe grates were installed on all drainage inlets.
Challenges and Solutions
Some of the major challenges faced by the Erdman Anthony team during the design included:
Challenge: The intersection of Main Street with Kenmore Avenue, the University Plaza Driveway and the entrance to the University of Buffalo formed a multi-legged intersection with sharp skews, dangerous uncontrolled cross walks and excessive delays. The problem was compounded by the existence of a bus turn-around and driver facility on one of the intersection legs.
Solution: Erdman Anthony divided the existing multi-legged intersection into two separate intersections. The intersection with Kenmore Avenue was shifted westward and tied to Main Street with a Tee intersection. The University Plaza and Entrance to University of Buffalo were shifted to the east to create a new four leg intersection. The Bus turn-around was relocated to a different intersection and a new facility for the drivers was constructed. The solution creates two intersections which provide greatly improved levels of service and vastly improved pedestrian crossings with marked crosswalks, refuge islands, call buttons and visual /audio indicators. New York State Department of Transportation officials credited Erdman Anthony with “out-of-the-box” thinking in relation to the creation and layout of the new alignments.
High visibility stamped concrete crosswalks incorporating state of the art pedestrian crossing controls made for intersections provide greatly improved levels of service and vastly improved pedestrian safety with marked crosswalks, refuge islands, call buttons and visual /audio indicators. New York State Department of Transportation officials credited Erdman Anthony with “out-of-the-box” thinking in relation to the creation and layout of the new alignments.
Challenge: The right-of-way necessary to relocate Kenmore Avenue as described above, utilized a piece of land owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, City of Buffalo, Town of Amherst, Erie County and a private owner.
Solution: Erdman Anthony’s surveyors created acquisition mapping which re-defined the century old city limit, as well as those of the town and the county. The company worked closely with New York State to act as an intermediary for the Highway Right-of-Way transfers. The result was a successful transfer of all the involved property, and the creation of a new pocket park on land previously utilized by the relocated highway.
Challenge: The traffic volumes climbed to over 25,000 VPD in some sections. How do you move this much traffic while still providing traffic calming for the community?
Solution: Detailed computer simulations by Erdman Anthony developed a synchronization system, which safely and efficiently moved traffic through the corridor. A state of the art integrated traffic control system was installed along with improved turning lanes at major intersections, channelizing landscaped islands, lane re-configurations and numerous traffic calming measures. The result moves traffic at a slower overall speed, however it also reduces intersection delay, thus lowering travel time, improving safety and improving air quality.
Fully landscaped, raised islands situated at the center of Main Street utilize specifically selected drought & salt tolerant – low maintenance plantings such as rigosa rose and spirea with a pebble underlayment rather than mulch or soil. Although having center islands reduced the number of parking spaces available, additional parking was installed in a vacant lot behind Main Street.
Challenge: In order to install landscaped median islands in some locations, it was necessary to remove on-street parking. This was judged to be detrimental by some business owners.
Solution: Erdman Anthony found a vacant piece of property on a side street immediately adjacent to Main Street to be used for off-street parking. The city acquired the land, and it was transformed to a parking facility resulting in a substantial net gain in available parking spaces in this vicinity.
Challenge: The Advisory group did not feel that the existing conditions on Main Street were conducive to walking or biking. They also noted there was no signage or landscape features which indicated the University Heights neighborhood.
Solution: The solution to this challenge was multi-faceted. First, all the sidewalks were replaced using an exposed aggregate mix which lends a historic texture to all the new walk. Snow storage strips were replaced with red tinted concrete using a block stone pattern and gray release, resulting in a very accurate representation of aged block. Main Street crosswalks were replaced – and in many locations newly installed – with a stamped concrete in a red brick pattern. These new crossings clearly indicate the location as a crosswalk, are highly visible to motorists, and act as a traffic calming ingredient.
The design process from start to finish took seven years. The project expanded in size and the state had to get additional funding. There were competing desires and many compromises. But despite all that, it has been an interesting project, and most important of all, the community, the city and the state are happy with the results.
The project street lighting was designed using period style poles with short lighting arms placed closer together. This pattern significantly improved the lighting levels in the sidewalk areas along the project versus standard length lighting arms, which throw more light to the roadway. In addition, the greater number of poles will allow for increased usage of the banner arms and hanging basket fixtures which are spread throughout.
The curb lanes on Main Street were widened to provide a shared lane for bicyclists and bicycle-safe grates were installed on all drainage inlets. Furthermore, Erdman Anthony incorporated the clock tower symbol of the State University of New York into all the street signage and welcome signage at the City line. The creation of two new Pocket Parks, the installation of numerous bicycle racks, benches, planters and message kiosks also add to the walkability and aesthetics of the community.
Crosswalks are stamped concrete colored giving the effect of a brick pattern. The bricks are raised slightly to add to traffic calming and pedestrian safety. There is no doubt that one is entering a crosswalk because of paving delineation. The light fixtures were chosen by people on the committees who opted for a historical type the city has used elsewhere and which the advisory committee liked. Even the traffic signal poles are the same style.
The project street lighting was designed using period style poles with short lighting arms placed closer together. This pattern significantly improved the lighting levels in the sidewalk areas along the project versus standard length lighting arms which throw more light to the roadway. In addition, the greater number of poles will allow for increased usage of the banner arms and hanging basket fixtures which are spread throughout the project.
Keeping it Historically Accurate
The sidewalks are stamped concrete in the area between the main sidewalk and the curb. For the sidewalk itself, an exposed aggregate mixture was used, which is a historic sidewalk mixture utilizing a lot of bank run (streambed) gravel, which are little rounded particles.
After the concrete is placed, a retardant is sprayed on top and the surface layer of mortar is washed off. What is left is a little bit of mortar and a lot of stone, which is reminiscent of the sidewalk used in Buffalo for years. Over the years, the top layer has worn off leaving the pebbles, so this fits in perfectly. It is not new and shiny, but it is historically accurate.
“The re-design has won awards such as the 2006 Platinum Award for Design Excellence from the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC), the 2006 American Public Works Association’s (APWA) Western New York Award and the 2006 New York State Award for Transportation.”
Along the south side of the road, which is the frontage of the University of Buffalo Campus, there is a stand of very stately large diameter tree—probably maples—and it was critical to maintain them. The trees were fairly well set back so their roots were safe when putting in the street.
Along the south side of the road, which is the frontage of the University of Buffalo Campus, there is a stand of very stately large diameter trees and it was critical to maintain them. The trees were fairly well set back so their roots were safe when putting in the street. Snow storage strips were replaced with red tinted concrete using a block stone pattern and gray release, resulting in a very accurate representation of aged block.
An Award Winning Completion
The completion of the $15 million Phase One Construction Project is the culmination of almost seven years of design and planning, with the sole purpose of transforming Main Street into an integral part of this vibrant community. Through the completion of this project, four new buildings have been constructed along Main Street, and several new businesses have opened in vacant store fronts or new locations. Pedestrians and bicyclists have found safe havens in the new facilities, and the walkability, greenery and aesthetics of the community has been vastly increased. The transformation of Main Street will continue to act as a catalyst for growth and maintain this vibrant community.
Not only has it been a long and interesting project, the community, the city and the state are happy with the results. The re-design has won awards such as the 2006 Platinum Award for Design Excellence from the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC), the 2006 American Public Works Association’s (APWA) Western New York Award and the 2006 New York State Award for Transportation.
Erdman Anthony is a multi-disciplinary firm specializing in infrastructure engineering and support services along five primary business lines: Geospatial Services; Civil Engineering; Facilities Engineering and Design Services; Transportation Engineering; and Construction Services. Currently, the firm employs nearly 350 people, including over 100 professional engineers, landscape architects, and land surveyors distributed among seven offices and is one of very few engineering firms in the nation to have achieved ISO 9001:2000 quality process certification.