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Peace Breaks Out at Linwood Bike Track Meeting

Last week, word started spreading about a revolutionary traffic plan for the recently resurfaced Linwood Avenue. Bicycle enthusiasts were encouraged to learn that Linwood would become the first street in Buffalo to feature a two-way bicycle track situated along the curb at the west side of the street, insulated from auto traffic by a line of parked cars in what’s known as a “floating” parking lane running parallel to the track, 10 feet away from the curb. Automobile traffic would be reduced to one lane running north, and parking on the east side of the street would remain unchanged.

The idea is difficult to describe to people here, because we have no local examples of such bicycle infrastructure. Although similar paths are common in countries like Denmark and Holland—where year-round bike commuting is normal and the population is healthier—protected bike tracks are only recently being tried in some American cities like Washington, DC, New York, Minneapolis, and Portland.

So in Buffalo, where everyone is an armchair urban-planner, this idea caught on with progressives who saw it as the first step in becoming the Copenhagen of the Western Hemisphere. But within one week of the announcement of the plan on Buffalo Rising, it has already been scaled back to something most of us can visualize: Linwood Avenue will be like Richmond Avenue, with car parking at either curb, and north and south bike lanes running next to the parked cars on either side of the street. The difference will be that Linwood will now be just one lane of vehicular traffic, running north from North Street to West Delavan.

The swift re-design was hashed out Tuesday night at a meeting of the Linwood Preservation District, between residents of the upscale street and representatives of the city’s Department of Public Works. Roughly 50 neighbors turned out to express their dissatisfaction at having been excluded from the planning process. Even before the plan was unveiled, some neighbors had noticed traffic signals being installed to regulate the flow of southbound cyclists.

Emails began flying. Residents called city hall to question and complain. As recently as yesterday, Ellicot District Councilman Darius Pridgen said that he was unaware of the new plan, even though his office had been contacted numerous times concerning it, according to one neighbor. There was a growing sense that this new plan was being fast-tracked against the will of the street’s residents. Judging by the turnout Tuesday night, they are not a group to be trifled with. Had the public works representatives not struck a conciliatory tone, a lawyer had already been contacted to press the issue in court.

Public works commissioner Steve Stepniak apologized for the lack of communication and explained that the resurfacing of Linwood had taken place ahead of schedule. Since the street had been repaved, “complete streets” legislation made it imperative that the city consider and adopt a plan that would promote a better and safer facility for all users, including pedestrians and cyclists. Part of the urgency, he explained, is the fact that cold weather is right around the corner. That street has to be painted soon.

Residents objected to the bike track plan for a variety of reasons. One of the most persuasive was the number of driveways on the west side of Linwood. Cars making a left into the drive would need to cross the bike lane, and the parked vehicles that were intended to provide a protective buffer for cyclists might instead obscure visibility.

The neighbors referenced guidelines defined by the National Association of City Transportation Officials—the same ones the city used to arrive at the bike track plan—to effectively poke holes in the idea. It quickly became obvious that there was no support for the plan among the residents. Before things turned ugly, a second plan was sketched out on a whiteboard. It too accomplished the traffic-calming effect so many residents desired by limiting Linwood to a single lane of northbound traffic. Cars would park as they always have, and cyclists—while not physically shielded from traffic—would at least have a bit of a space cushion. Southbound riders will still benefit from the already installed traffic signals.

There were still those who seemed somewhat unhappy. One driver bemoaned how he would now have to look both ways before backing out, since southbound cyclists might be moving down the west side of the street, against the traditional flow of traffic. His concern gained little traction.

In the end, the neighbors voted resoundingly in favor of the second plan. Only two voted against, with one abstaining. Residents and city officials, who just hours before appeared to be poised for battle, left the meeting smiling and shaking hands.

While it may not be exactly what the most progressive bicycle advocates were dreaming of, it appears that a real improvement will be in place before the snow flies. The only folks who will be really bummed will be all the speeding drivers who have been using Linwood as a free-wheeling drag strip every evening rush hour since 1949, when it became a two-lane, one-way exit path from downtown toward the northern suburbs.

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