Expanded Buffalo Metro Rail should align with intelligent regional priorities

Proposed downtown Metro expansion is exciting, but city should also look beyond the waterfront

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It’s hard to argue against the expansion of public transportation – especially in Buffalo, where the need for improved infrastructure and alternative forms of transit is clearly established.

So although there’s much to consider and question about the proposed downtown extension of Buffalo’s Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Metro Rail, there’s no doubt that it’s an exciting prospect that aligns with the city’s needs.

Two proposals remain as potential expansions for the rail system, which currently stops short of the waterfront.

The rail could end up continuing to a remodeled Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Terminal, which would feature shops, restaurants and a skyway to the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres.

Alternatively, the extension could run along South Park Avenue – one block closer to the Sabres’ arena – but without the remodeled terminal.

Both proposals make it clear that the burgeoning downtown region continues to draw attention not just from the public but from city officials as well.

With new facilities like HarborCenter and Buffalo RiverWorks and tried-and-true attractions like First Niagara Center and the waterfront, the area in question is undoubtedly a draw to tourists and residents alike, boosting the energy and the economic impact of the city’s downtown.

An expanded rail service could help bolster this area further.

The current Erie Canal Harbor Station doesn’t provide immediate access to the waterfront area downtown – though the Special Events stop, open on selected dates, does extend closer to Canalside.

An expanded rail would contribute to the increasingly modernized feel of the downtown area.

And on an incredibly optimistic note, the proposed rail lines would reach far enough to provide easy access to two proposed sites of a new downtown football stadium. Currently, the lack of convenient public transportation is one factor mitigating support for a potential waterfront location for the Buffalo Bills’ stadium.

But there are other areas of Buffalo that also merit consideration for Metro Rail access.

While this extension would make accessing venues like the First Niagara Center exceedingly convenient, the area is already accessible by public transit. In contrast, other regions of Buffalo remain completely neglected by the Metro Rail. Areas like the Larkin District – which is quickly growing – or the communities in the Southtowns could be dramatically transformed by an expansion.

Although these extensions would be larger-scale, they would also do much more to increase ridership and reach new populations within Buffalo.

If the city is going to spend millions of dollars on a railway expansion, it would be wise to consider putting those funds toward more than a two-block extension.

Though the current proposal certainly has merits and would benefit the downtown area, that region of Buffalo already has plenty of factors helping boost its allure. Locations beyond the downtown hub deserve some of the spotlight – and the funding.

The editorial board can be reached at editorial@ubspectrum.com