Friday, December 21, 2012

Back on the table: Buffalo LRT expansion

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Buffalo, N.Y., has tapped Los Angeles-based AECOM to evaluate transportation expansion alternatives on behalf of Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, with Light Rail Transit, streetcars, and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) all under consideration.

The move comes as the city – the only city in New York State with an operating modern LRT system—receives $1.6 million in federal funding to enable potential expansion. Niagara Frontier Transportation Agency began operating its 6.4-mile Metro LRT in 1985, relatively early among U.S. LRT startups.

But expansion plans have been deferred or rejected in the 28 years since. And even with the current evaluation taking place, officials caution that any additional rail or BRT service is still at least seven years away.

Still, "There's so much congestion out there ... that the idea is about getting cars off the road," NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel told local media, "and that's a benefit to the community."

Often categorized as a prima facie example of a "failed" U.S. LRT project by anti-rail partisans, Metro averages 26,000 rider trips per day, up from roughly 23,000 in fiscal year 2008, which NFTA says is the fourth-highest passenger density per mile of any U.S. system. Rail advocates say the system would do even better had growth not been stunted over nearly three decades, pointing to other systems in North America that continue to expand.

Original plans for expansion envisioned service linking University of Buffalo's Amherst campus and Buffalo Niagara International Airport, among other locations. Subsequent studies failed to find justification for such growth.