Committee Choses Downtown Train Station Under Cloud of Scrutiny

The Train Station selection stakeholders voted 10-4 (one abstention) to build a new train station near canalside.

So who are these brilliant minds who decided against putting a train station back into an old historic train station even though the majority of public (81%) supported the Central Terminal site?

The Stakeholder Committee was comprised of the following “leaders”:

  • Mayor Byron Brown
  • Congressman Brian Higgins
  • Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz
  • Senator Tim Kennedy
  • Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes
  • Commissioner Matt Driscoll, NYS Department of Transportation
  • President and CEO Howard Zemsky, Empire State Development;
  • Transit Director Tom George, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
  • Commissioner Steve Stepniak, City of Buffalo Department of Public Works
  • Executive Director Brendan Mehaffy, City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning
  • Bill Hollister, Senior Manager of Govt. Affairs NE, Amtrak
  • Maurice O’Connell, Vice President of State Government and Community Affairs, CSX
  • Eugene Berardi, Jr., President and CEO of Trailways
  • Douglas Funke, President of Citizens for Regional Transit
  • Luis Rodriguez, Jr., Rodriguez Construction Group
  • Dr. Constance Moss, Retired Asst. Supt. Buffalo Public Schools

Police barricades surrounded the building and the public and Media were both turned away at the door:

Congressman Higgins:

“This process needed a little more imagination, a little more vision, and a lot more guts. We’ve lost a generational opportunity to restore the Central Terminal and extend Buffalo’s renaissance into its neighborhoods.
“We should be capitalizing on our unique architecture and investing in our historic but forgotten neighborhoods.  Instead this is a decision to invest millions of dollars in the status quo – another station almost exactly where Exchange Street sits now, just on the opposite side of the tracks under a highway overpass – not the forward-thinking, bold vision this community deserves. 
“This decision was not based on what train riders want, what Canalside visitors want or what the people of Western New York want, because they overwhelmingly support the Central Terminal.  In fact, 87.9% of public comments submitted to the train station selection committee favored the Central Terminal. This should have been a decision by Buffalo and for Buffalo.
“We don’t take up fights because they are easy, we fight for what’s right.  While I am disappointed by this missed opportunity I remain optimistic about the Central Terminal’s future, and will continue to fight for this historic treasure and the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.”

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz:

“Today I voted no in regard to the decision of where to place a train station in Buffalo because, after consulting with the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, I believe not all essential items were considered as part of the decision, and thus the rendering of a decision was premature.
I have always been worried about the arbitrary timeline chosen for making a decision and whether we answered all the appropriate questions before a decision was rendered. Throughout the process I have shared these concerns with the members of this committee at prior meetings.
For example, on January 20 I sent a letter to all members of the Train Station Committee noting my concerns and including a memorandum from the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning detailing the issues which needed to be resolved before a site for a new train station can be considered.

Those issues were broken out in four distinct issue areas:

Issue One: Physical Needs

  • What are the physical needs of a train station to handle current and projected growth?
  • What size and what attributes are needed and desired in a new train station?
  • What intermodal opportunities exist or could be developed with relation to the proposed site?
  • What is an appropriate size (square feet) of a new station, given current ridership and future ridership projections?

The above considerations can be benchmarked by looking at recent station constructions and rehabilitations in other New York State cities (Niagara Falls, Rochester, Utica, and Albany) and nationwide (Kansas City, MO and St. Paul, MN).

Issue Two: Locational Needs

  • What are the locational needs based on transportation requirements?
  • Connectivity with current / future light rail, and bus systems?
  • Connectivity with Amtrak system (i.e. Niagara Falls and Canada to New York, or Chicago to New York)?
  • How do Amtrak and other stakeholders envision growing ridership?
  • How would a new train station impact current traffic patterns in the vicinity of the proposed sites?
  • How will the new station provide connection to other forms of public transportation?
  • The GBNRTC and NFTA need to help address future transportation patterns and population projections in the vicinity of the proposed sites.
  • What is the long-term use, if any, of the Depew station?

Issue Three: Economic Development and Community Development Goals

  • What is the future of the NFTA Bus station?
  • Where do riders go upon arrival in Buffalo (hotels, local colleges, downtown businesses, arena/ stadiums, transfer to another train)?
  • Assess the costs of developing and maintaining infrastructure needs to cultivate each site into a modern multimodal train station hub.
  • Assess the potential economic and community benefits associated with locating the train station at each proposed site.
  • Are there any regional or national attractions, hotels, etc. that are within close proximity of other successful train stations?
  • What has been the economic impact on immediate surroundings at other successful train stations?

Issue Four: General Issues and Concerns:

  • How many riders make it financially feasible to warrant this public investment?
  • Who are existing riders and why do they take the train over other forms of transportation?
  • Where is the most likely increase in riders to be (Downtown, Central Terminal, Depew)?
  • What type of ridership increased and/or benefitted the most at other successful train stations, (i.e. commuters, tourism, etc.)?
  • What proximity to the local Central Business District were other successful train stations?
  • Is local residential density needed to make a train station successful?
  • What are the advantages of locating a new train station near a stadium, convention center, etc.?
  • Where have other newer train stations failed? And why?
  • How do they grow ridership in other areas?
  • How do other cities handle postindustrial former train sites?
  • What are existing traffic counts on roads to Central Terminal?
  • What has been the effect on residential neighborhoods?
  • How is a new train station addressed within our regional planning documents?
  • What types of businesses are co-located with train stations?
  • What are the connecting routes between train station and destinations?
  • What cities or regions have recently built or repurposed new train stations? What drove the commitment for a new station? What were the goals? Was the relocation successful?
  • What cities have reopened or repurposed their historic train terminals?
  • What is average commute times for workers in the CDB?  How will the train station effect commuters?
  • Is the goal to increase commuter ridership or tourism ridership?

It is quite clear the many of the questions listed above were not answered, and others were not even considered as part of this process.

While I can understand why members of our community would support either location, as they both have their positive aspects, each location also has negative aspects and I wanted to see a reasoned decision made based on an examination of all the facts before I would publicly support any location. I believe you cannot have a discussion about the future of a new train station in Buffalo without first answering two basic questions: (1) what is the future of the Depew train station and (2) is the cost to build a new station anywhere justified by the limited number of riders that currently use the Depew and Exchange Street facilities. Neither of these two questions were considered, nevertheless answered as part of the deliberations.

Some in the public have questioned the integrity of the process and the consultants retained. Based on conversations members of our Department of Environment and Planning staff had with staff from the consultant WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, we have no reason to question the integrity of the firm. WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff is currently the consultant being used as part of Rochester’s construction of a new train station. It is using the most available data, especially as it pertains to the costs to construct a train station on a CSX rail line. This decision was made by not only our Department of Environment and Planning staff but also by another engineering consultant with advanced expertise in constructing train stations that our staff contacted to get their opinion of the situation.

While we have no reason to question the integrity of the consultant, and do not believe the consultant’s recommendations were rigged based on the scope of work it was asked to perform, we do believe there is a flaw in its analysis because it was not tasked to review all of the necessary issues it must to reach an unquestioned decision. It was tasked with identifying a site for a station. Unfortunately, its scope of work did not include an examination of many of the issues that needed to be resolved before a reasoned decision could be made, issues I note above. For example, and just one example, its scope of work did not even include looking at the long-term usage of the Depew Station and how that interplays with the decision to locate a new train station in Buffalo.

Thus, while I have no reason to believe in the integrity of the recommendations of WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, because the scope of work it was asked to perform was insufficient to render a complete decision, I cannot join in its recommendations today.

This is not to say I favor the Central Terminal over the downtown location. I see merits with both locations, merits which have been discussed by others. I just do not believe we have examined all the issues necessary to render this decision.

As a corollary to this discussion, currently our Department of Environment and Planning has issued a Request for Proposals for consultants to perform a study on whether our county needs a new convention center, examining other convention centers in comparable markets, and, if one is required, the appropriate size of the convention center and a suitable location. The location is in some ways the last decision to be made. Before we will decide the location of a new convention center we need to determine if we even need a new convention center – whether the cost to build one is outweighed by the potential benefit of it – and then if it is justified the size to be built and appropriate location.

If we were following the same process to determine the need for a new convention center as was followed in this train station study we would have decided the location of the convention center before we even decided whether we need it. There is no way the public would support such a decision based on an insufficient examination of all the facts, and I feel the same was done in this process.

I thank Mayor Byron Brown for convening the process, Dean Robert Shibley for acting as a facilitator, and my fellow members for their work on the committee, but because I did not believe we have adequately reviewed all the issues we should have before rendering a decision on such a matter, I voted against the resolution that was presented before the committee today.

Comments