New York’s New Economic Strategy for Buffalo: More Light Rail

It would be the first expansion of Buffalo's light rail line since 1983. Photo:  Buffalo Rising
It would be the first expansion of Buffalo's light rail line since 1983. Photo: Buffalo Rising

Over the past few years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been pouring money into Buffalo, mostly in the form of tax breaks for corporations and developers. But the job creation benefits have been underwhelming, and the subsidies are now the focal point of a federal corruption probe.

Now Cuomo is changing course. In a speech yesterday, he announced a new round of funding, and instead of tax incentives and big-ticket development projects, the focus has shifted to transit infrastructure, small-scale development, and workforce training.

Under the plan, New York would contribute funding for an extension of the city’s six-mile light rail line to the University of Buffalo at Amherst. Details are still scarce, but the folks at Buffalo Rising share this description from Cuomo’s office:

Develop a new commuter rail and multi-modal station in downtown Buffalo and completing Buffalo’s light rail extension to University at Buffalo’s North Campus will provide 20,000+ students access to downtown Buffalo and the waterfront, as well as connect urban job seekers with suburban employment centers, helping Buffalo to deliver economic inclusion for all the region’s workers. Additionally, a new train station will replace Buffalo’s outdated Exchange Street station which has been in need of repair for some time.

Cuomo also promised targeted interventions to bolster streets and neighborhoods:

Invest in targeted place-making improvements on key east side corridors — Fillmore, Jefferson, Michigan and Bailey Avenues — which will help leverage additional investment in key, historic assets such as the Central Terminal, MLK Park, and the Broadway Market. Building on the Buffalo Billion’s original $45 million investment in the Northland Corridor, Phase II proposes an additional investment for further site acquisition, brownfield remediation and place-making to further secure Northland Corridor’s future as a light manufacturing neighborhood.

Buffalo Billion Phase II proposes a transformative investment along 10 miles of Buffalo’s central spine, Main Street, from the Outer Harbor, Inner Harbor and medical campus to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus. Priority investments include: place-making and access at the outer harbor, as well as attracting a private developer to reimagine the long-vacant DL&W terminal.

It’s early, and there are some glaring omissions (where is the support for Buffalo’s bus network?), but this is an encouraging shift in strategy from the governor’s office. Big corporate tax breaks are out, investments in transit and walkability are in. It will be interesting to see how the new approach plays out.

What we’re also reading today: Green Lake Blue City compares the downtown populations of the largest U.S. cities. The Wash Cycle shares a report showing the presence of bike-share led to increases in available parking in Pittsburgh. And Georgia Bikes reports the state saw an alarming 9 percent increase in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities last year.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I recommend this book about Buffalo.

    https://www.amazon.com/Power-Failure-Politics-Patronage-Economic/dp/1591024005

    Read what powerful special interests and parochial hack pols can do to a city. They didn’t really want light rail and SUNY Buffalo because they didn’t want all those “hipsters.” So now, as they die off, they are replaced by nobody.

    Basically, the only reason NYC is any better off is that we’ve had some non-hack Mayors and the private sector throws off enough money to pay off the hackocrisy. But the financial distress wolf is always at the door here.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Doesn’t Buffalo have a small network of no-longer-used underground rail tunnels and stations? I wonder whether this new light-rail initiative could upgrade and bring some of that infrastructure back into regular use.

  • JacobEPeters

    I thought that was Rochester http://rocwiki.org/Abandoned_Subway

  • Alex Brideau III

    You’re probably right. Maybe I was just getting the two cities confused.

  • bolwerk

    Setting non-entity Dinkins aside, I can’t remember our last non-hack mayor. Even Koch was kind of a blowhard.

    I seriously doubt governance has anything to do with creating most of these northeastern/midwestern economic problems. Buffalo did poorly because it had nothing to fall back on after deindustrialization, and if you can blame government for anything it’s that they didn’t really try to come up with new strategies.

    NYC, on the other hand, already had a developed service economy. So it had real estate, media, finance, and other industries. It could never have turned into Buffalo.

  • bolwerk

    An oft-overlooked detail in the mythos of urban decline is the war on transit. Smaller cities like Buffalo once had streetcar and interurban networks of their own, linking them to their regions.

  • Buffalo’s reason to exist ended when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened.

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