“Buffalo Is Missing Out”: When Good Bike Cities Improve, It Helps Everyone

Dearborn Street, Chicago. Photo: Steven E. Gross.
Dearborn Street, Chicago. Photo: Steven E. Gross.

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If you live in an important, underrated, but perhaps economically beleaguered U.S. city, you’ve probably seen a local news website like Buffalo Rising: upbeat, opinionated, and really, really into its hometown.

Last week, Buffalo Rising founder Newell Nussbaumer also provided the perfect example of why constant improvements in the “best bike cities” help improve the lives of Americans everywhere.

It’s funny. Just as I was thinking about posting a link to an article in TheAtlantic.com about the benefits of the protected bike lane, Pedal Tour operator Phil Szal sent me a note saying that he had been doing some traveling to other cities, and he was amazed at how the protected bike lane had become a standard convenience.

“It’s time for Buffalo to get DEDICATED bike lanes in the city,” wrote Phil. “It’s embarrassing that ALL cool progressive cities have them everywhere… except us.”

It’s true. Buffalo is just beginning to jump on this bandwagon. Yes, there is a Bicycle Master Plan in place, but it’s not happening quick enough. … Why the heck can’t we get Michigan Avenue as a cross-city bike corridor immediately? How long will we have to wait to get bike amenities on Delavan Avenue, from Main Street to Delaware Avenue?

This may or may not be heartening to Nussbaumer, Szal, and others fighting to improve Buffalo, but this is exactly the conversation that Portlanders were having (presumably by telephone) when they started agitating to widen the sidewalks across the Willamette River, triggering a bike boom in a decaying industrial city.

It’s exactly the way Minneapolitans started dreaming about converting an old railroad bed to the Midtown Greenway, and the way New Yorkers started pushing, years before Janette Sadik-Khan ran the transportation department, for protected bike lanes along Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

It’s even the way Amsterdammers gradually revitalized Jodenbreestraat, today one of that city’s most bustling shopping districts.

Transit writer Jarrett Walker once wrote that when they admire a pleasant street or other public space in a city they visit, tourists should also see it in bygone political context: as “a battlefield memorial, recording a triumph that involved major pain and suffering.”

Every time people in Austin, San Francisco, or Fort Collins win a struggle for better transportation, they’re not the only ones who benefit. Their victories empower, inspire and inform people in San Antonio, Sacramento, and Colorado Springs, whose own successes will inspire others.

This is how good ideas spread. This is why every local battle matters.

  • I’d really like to see statistics on car ownership before and after a massive bike lane project gets built. San Francisco keeps adding more and more dedicated bike lanes, yet the majority of housing projects going up support car ownership. We shouldn’t be talking about “Well, I bike a mile to work during the week and only use my car on the weekend.” We should be talking about eliminating the need to own a car…period.

  • Michael

    It’s really hard. Developing a car-free culture requires a lot more than being able to get to work and grab groceries. It’s a total phase shift, beginning with “can you even move into a new place without a car” – like are there traditional moving & storage companies at a reasonably competitive price point. Are there neighborhood hardware stores or do you need to drive to the burbs to go to home depot? Where can you buy furniture and will they deliver? In Manhattan, there’s a network of movers & deliveries & trades people & nannies/day cares. There are places to go outside the city without a car. There’s an enormous network that supports a car-free life that’s close to non-existent even in cities like Boston or DC.

    That’s not to say we should not be working towards it, but I think we need to realize that it’s only half transportation. A lot is driven by the available amenities.

  • Don’t forget to account for all the illegal cars that get pushed out but unaccounted for in your research.

  • Manhattan is an anomaly. In SF, commercial rents are so high that mom/pop businesses offering walkable amenities cannot afford to stay in business. You want to go to a decent grocery store, dry cleaners and hardware store? Good luck in most neighborhoods. Until recently, SF banned most big box retailers so most folks had to drive to a Lowe’s or HD or else pay through the nose for limited selection at a local Ace or Cole’s.
    Child care is one amenity that is extremely subjective regardless of proximity. People will schlep longer distances to get the child care service they want, even in a city as dense as Manhattan.

  • Michael

    I’m just saying reducing miles driven is valuable too. My definition of success would be that over 50% of americans feel confident in using a bike/bus for 2 weeks should their car be out of commission, plus commute to work most days using public or active transit the rest of the time.

    I think we can get there in 2 or 3 decades.

  • A lot of cities are pretty closed minded when it comes to changes and won’t reconfigure their roads for special People for Bikes “protected” bike “lanes”. Demand for such and the number of cyclists in most of these places is rare anyways.

    How does PfB live with all the blood on their hands from the crashes caused by the infrastructure they promote?

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