Don’t settle for an Amtrak station — demand a fulsome transit system

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

The region is badly in need of a massive buildout of the light rapid rail system.

Rather than being distracted with the prospect of a new Amtrak station — which will have a nominal economic impact on the city — the region’s energies would be better spent lobbying the state for $5 billion of transit enhancements that liberate Western New Yorkers from automobile dependence.

Infrastructure investment at that scale would spark a decade long public construction boom, simultaneous to a catalytic three decade period of private real estate investment that would enhance the region’s spatial development patterns. Transit infrastructure will determinatively reverse the city’s population decline while improving its quality of life.

The debate over the location of an Amtrak station is of relatively little consequence — 108 passengers a day by some estimates.  The larger debate — the more pressing debate — is about the form, function, and design of our metropolitan transit system.

That design process should be a profoundly participatory one — and Governor Andrew Cuomo deserves enormous credit for the progressive planning process that he architected to select the site of the new Amtrak station. This publication firmly believes that the more participatory our governance, the moral our government.

It is understandable that Governor Cuomo might be hesitant to invest in public transit in a part of the state that is thought to lack the density and population growth to support the ongoing operating subsidies that would be necessary to support a better transit system. But that view does’t recognize the billions in economic impacts.

The construction industry would boom for three decades in its execution of a $5 billion light rail build out. The infrastructure itself will have a deeply democratizing and economically empowering impact.  It will make jobs and economic opportunities more easy to access.

A strong transit system will allow individuals to live less costly lives, free of car payments, gasoline, regulatory, and maintenance costs. Much of that household savings on personal transportation will be spent to secure newer, higher quality housing closer to downtown.  That will reshape the local residential real estate market, creating new demand for residential units in transit corridors.  A more walkable city and a more pedestrian culture will emerge, which will liven quiet storefronts and desolate streetscapes.

The real estate industry will go gangbusters, hurriedly building as many housing units as can be squeezed within walking distance of a station.  The boom would elevate the quality and density of commercial development in Cheektowaga, Amherst, and Tonawanda, while ushering in dynamic new energy in urban neighborhoods that have been largely ignored by developers.

A more dense, more lively, more dynamic, more livable city will emerge.

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