Sunday, April 27, 2014

Niagara Street overhaul set for July start

By Jamie Hall, Kamesha Jones and Jazmina Rivera
Bengal News West Reprters
            The Niagara Street Gateway Project, which will rejuvenate Niagara from South Elmwood Avenue to Ontario Street, will begin in July. 
            The project is broken down into four phases and is estimated to cost a total of $12.7 million.  It will involve improvements to make it safer for vehicular traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. 

            The heavily traveled Niagara strip has been in much need for improvement as potholes riddle the street, especially closer to downtown. This is  why the project will be making the most changes in phase one, from South Elmwood Avenue to Virginia Street and phase two, from Virginia Street to Porter Avenue.  

Amy Weymouth, NFTA traffic engineer, on the Niagara Street transit improvements:

            The first two phases will be the most rigorous because this particular area serves as a main commuting route as well as a business district. 
There is a lot to expect from the first phase.  The improvements and renovations for this area includes: milling and asphalt covering and some widening of the streets, improvements for pedestrian and bicycle access, new street lighting, traffic signal replacements as well as an upgrade in landscape features and other amenities such as bicycle racks and new signage. 
            As the streets are repaved and widened, there will also be new lane configuration.  There will be one lane in each direction of traffic flow and a center turn lane.  In an effort to enhance pedestrian and bicycle movement, a bicycle lane will also be added and things such as benches, vegetation, and bump outs—areas that protrude from the sidewalk  at intersections to serve as a way to shorten the distance for pedestrian street crossing.
            The city has decided to use LED street lighting that come equipped with nodes that allow for them to be controlled by computer.  This feature will allow for the lights to be dimmed if necessary and will also send out an alert when it needs to be repaired or replaced, said Tom Duk, senior engineer heading the project.
John Bidell, an associate engineer for the project, said, “We have none of those type in the city right now so we’re going to see how it works to help maintenance down the line.”
            Once construction in phase one is well on its way, phase two will be expected to begin in the fall of this year and will get as much done as the weather permits.  This is the area that is considered the Hispanic Heritage Corridor.  Bidell said the city's strategic planning department teamed with Hispanics United and others to identify ways to connect the project to the Hispanic  community. 
            “We are trying to tailor that stretch, keeping all the same elements of phase one in phase two, but if there’s something that we can do to help set up the flavor or let everyone know that they’re in the Hispanic area, we’re working with them to try to do that,” said Bidell. 

            These two phases combined are estimated to cost $5.2 million and have been funded with 80 percent federal funds, 15 percent state funds and 5 percent from the city.
Simultaneous to the Niagara Street Gateway Project, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority  livability project will also be in construction to upgrade and enhance the current bus route along the Niagara strip from Niagara Square to Ontario Street. 
            Buses will run as scheduled and traffic will be allowed during each phase with minimal interruption. 
            Phase three includes the Niagara Street and West Ferry Avenue intersection.  This part of the project is still in its infancy stage of planning, but what is expected to be done are minor improvements to Broderick  Park and the lift bridge  with funds of $500,000  and may begin in late fall of this year.
            The last part of this plan is phase four that runs from Porter Avenue to Ontario Street.  More focus will be put on green infrastructure along this route and is said to cost an estimate of $7 million. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Candidate Rodriguez has big plans for city

By Michael Loffredo
Bengal News West Reporter        
          This year a young, Hispanic and driven man is trying to take the power of the city of Buffalo into his own hands. 

          Sergio Rodriguez, 33, is an adopted son to the city.  A native of the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez came here to attend college. Rodriguez received his associate's degree from Medaille College in 2007 and in 2009 he received his bachelor’s degree from D’Youville College. Now he has his sights set on becoming mayor and making Buffalo a better place. 

            “This is a dream come true,” said Rodriguez. “I came here with a mission, with a clear purpose.”

Born into poverty in the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez knew that he wanted to be a politician and an elected official since his early years.

            “My grandmother made me stand up on a chair at every family party and act out being the president of the Dominican Republic by giving a speech,” said Rodriguez. “My parents were very politically active in the Dominican Republic as well which also had an influence on my dream. Both these parts of my childhood helped plant a seed in my mind.”

            Rodriguez’s campaign revolves around four central issues: education, crime, unemployment, and poverty.

            Since 2005, Buffalo has only had one man in charge. Many think Byron Brown, current Mayor of the city of Buffalo, has done a lot of good. Canalside became a popular destination downtown, the waterfront has been booming as of late, and  President Barack Obama said in a recent trip to the Queen City “Buffalo is on the rise. Buffalo is making a comeback.”
           Rodriguez thinks the city is far from that point.

           “We're not on the rise,” said the Republican and Progressive party candidate.  “The last thing we want to do is continue on the current path that the institution has placed for Buffalo. That path means more population decline in this city, as about 20,000 people will leave this city for more prosperous suburbs and we will just keep getting poorer.”

            Another hot topic among city residents the abandoned houses that line the city streets. Numerous homes are decrepit, empty, and overall hurting Buffalo’s landscape and population.

           Rodriguez discusses his plans to get rid of abandoned homes:

            When voters hit the polls on Nov. 5, some city residents will look at Rodriguez’s name in the voting booth and not  know who he is due to the fact that this is his first time running for public office. Registered voter Matt Braun  believes in Rodriguez and thinks he will do a lot of good for the city.

            “I think it is a question of integrity. Brown lost all of that by putting stuff under the rug and hiring a buddy to take care of it,” Braun said.  “Sergio is honest and actually cares about Buffalo. He understands the city and its issues while Brown is just another part of the bureaucracy. We need an honest man in charge, and that honest man is Rodriguez.”

              Rodriguez said that  Brown declined his invite to debate. He believes he is “worried about all the work and campaigning in the community that my campaign has done.” 
             Rodriguez  went on a “Jeep Tour” during October campaigning through city neighborhoods, handing out flyers and meeting with sidewalk goers, as he stood out of the top of a Jeep Wrangler.

            “Whether it’s in a McDonalds drive-thru or at an event, I hand someone my flyer and tell them to vote for me,” he said. 

With Election Day looming, Rodriguez has one thing to say: “Vote for the person, don’t vote for the party. Vote for solutions. I am presenting Buffalo with a choice that this city hasn’t had in nearly a decade. Lets get this thing done.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

City, county redistricting may impact West Side

By Craig Learn and Taylor Steinberg
Bengal News Reporters
 With the 2010 census out, the West Side is in jeopardy of being split-up and not being properly represented. If the district lines for Erie County are changed, the city of Buffalo’s West Side could be divided into three separate districts.
County legislative district boundaries today
 The legislature will not draw its own lines. The County Charter requires a 15-member advisory committee to aid in the process. However, the legislature does not have to follow the committee’s advice and can vote against any proposal. Republican County Executive Chris Collins can also veto any vote passed by the legislature.
 The West Side is represented on the Erie County Legislature by Democrat Maria Whyte. Jeremy Toth, Whyte’s designee to the advisory committee and West Side resident, said Whyte represents about 63,000 people. According to Toth, after the downsizing she will represent approximately 20,000 more people. This will happen with no raise in salary or increase in staff.
 “It’s not easy to see how this will impact the West Side directly since each district will be similarly expanded,” Toth said. “However, I think it’s safe to assume that wealthy suburban districts have less need of their county legislator than do poor urban districts; particularly since so much of what the county does is administered state and federal programs for the poor. So it is quite likely that West Side constituencies will feel this negatively while different groups say Clarence residents won’t even notice.”
Current city district lines
 Toth said it does not stop there for West Side residents.
 “The other issue West Siders need to pay attention to is the new lines of the districts,” he said.
 Toth said republicans control the redistricting process and may cut the West Side up into many different districts. West Side voters would then be divided so that they could not have an impact on any district. This is the greatest threat to the West Side right now.
 For the city of Buffalo, the impact to West Side residents might be small according to Kirk Laubenstein, Legislative Assistant to Niagara District Common Council Member David Rivera, who represents most of the West Side.

 Kirk Laubenstein addresses redistricting and the city:

 Another concern for West Side residents is the election in November. If voters elect Whyte she may not represent them after the lines are officially drawn. Toth said he encourages voters to pay attention to the redistricting process.
Edited by Erica Lindo and Amanda Steffan

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Buffalo impound lot in need of makeover

By Heidi Friend and Kristine Starkey
Bengal News Reporters
 At 166 Dart St., the City Impound lot is unassuming. In fact, if you don’t live in the neighborhood and have never had your car towed, you would never know it was even there.
City of Buffalo Auto Impound lot located at 166 Dart St.
 Travelling west on Letchworth Street from Buffalo State College, the lot immediately comes into view. Its pale, cold exterior is generically unidentifiable beyond the small sign near its entrance.  Driving along the Scajaquada Expressway it becomes clearer what the lot itself is, and for many in the community, that is precisely the problem.
 In March, Buffalo Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer announced plans to change the appearance of the lot because there have been complaints from drivers that from the expressway it looks like a junkyard.
    “We want to rearrange the space so that the most damaged cars are moved to the interior lots, where they are less visible to the surrounding areas,” he said.
    Helfer also says there are plans to use steel vertical panels in the interior of the parking centers to block the view.
He said that the cost of this project would be minimal.
    These changes may not even matter in the long run however, according to Councilman Joseph Golombek Jr., whose district includes the impound lot.
    “For quite some time they’ve been talking about getting rid of the impound lot and moving it to [another] site,” Golombek said.
    This move, he believes, will be good for the neighborhood. Right now, it looks “terrible” and is not very secure. Because of its size and lack of adequate security measures, it is often broken into and vandalized.

 North District Councilmember Joseph Golombek Jr. talks about Buffalo State College purchasing land where the Buffalo City Auto Impound lot is located:

    A major reason for moving the lot, Golombek said, is Buffalo State College.  He said Buffalo State is very interested in the current property, which they have suggested they could use to build a stadium.  However, with the state’s budget crisis, he believes it will be at least two or three years before the college can seriously consider this move.
    “It all boils down to money,” Golombek said. “The school can’t be spending that kind of money and raising tuition at the same time.”
    This is exactly the sentiment that the college itself is expressing.  Stan Medinac, associate vice president of facilities planning for the school, confirmed that at this point in time the school has no plans to acquire or renovate the Dart Street property.
    The city is open to cooperating with whatever plans the college has and will entertain offers at any time, said Helfer.
 In the early 1900s, the site was home to the Buffalo Structural Steel Company.  According to “A History of Buffalo: Delineating the Evolution of the City” by J. N. Larned, the plant had a capacity to produce 8,000 tons of structural steel per year and supplied for most of the large commercial properties in the city at that time.
    After the property was foreclosed on in more recent history, the city took it over and turned it into the impound lot that stands now. 
Plans are still up in the air, however Helfer says, “The city is remaining hopeful.”
Edited by Jessica Chetney and Allyson Trolley

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rivera takes lead on hydro-fracking legislation

By Paul Kasprzak and Chris Koss
Bengal News Reporters
 Imagine turning on your water faucet and then holding a lit match under the running water; naturally the small flame would be extinguished. However, in areas where natural gas is abundant underground, and gas companies are using hydro-fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to mine it, people could have a very different reaction to this experiment: their water could start on fire, if a YouTube video is to be believed.
 Fortunately, the West Side doesn’t have to be concerned with this extreme scenario, which affects people with well water. However, the danger of pollution in the lakes and rivers surrounding the area is very real.
 According to, hydro-fracturing  is a process where water, sand and chemicals are injected into the earth at high pressure. The aim of hydro-fracturing is to fracture rock formations deep underground in the hopes of liberating natural gas that would be otherwise inaccessible, and to bring it to the surface.
 “The Environmental Protection Agency is largely powerless to do anything about pollution caused by fracking. A provision of the 2005 energy bill, inserted at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, stripped the EPA of authority to regulate the process,” according to
  The energy bill passed in 2005 does not require gas companies reveal what chemicals they use in the process of hyrdo-fracturing, according to
Frack Action Buffalo, led by Rita Yelda, Niagara District Buffalo Common Councilmember David Rivera and North District Councilmember Joseph Golombek worked this past fall to pass Buffalo’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance. This bans hydro-fracturing in the city of Buffalo, as well as the use of wastewater from the process.
 The ordinance passed by Buffalo does not allow the the Buffalo water authority to except any fracking water in the future. According to the Erie County Water Authority it is almost impossible to know what to test for when treating wastewater from fracking.
 Kirk Laubenstein,  legislative assistant to Rivera asked, “Once you screw up your water, how do you unscrew it up?”
 Laubenstein said that the council passed the ordinance knowing that gas companies weren’t particularly interested in the West Side, but because it was the right thing to do. Laubenstein said by passing the ordinance in Buffalo it gave smaller towns and communities more leverage to also ban it. The traditional form of vertical fracking has long been used in New York and now horizontal fracking, which is more controversial because of the amount of water, sand and chemicals needed, is being developed and implemented, according to
 “Vertical fracking has already been happening in the Collins area, just 40 minutes outside of Buffalo. There is also an investigation into the acceptance of fracking waste in the city, where it is ending up in local waterways,” Yelda said. “When public health and the environment are on the line, that outweighs any of the supposed economic benefits.”
 Laubenstein said he felt the same way, comparing fracking to the tobacco industry in the way that it may create jobs for people while at the same time it creates a huge health risk for the public.
 “Along with protecting its residents by passing this law, Buffalo is also sending a message to Albany that New York does not want hydro-fracking,” Yelda said. “We will stand up for our communities if New York State will not.”
 Yelda is referring to the moratorium that is currently banning horizontal hydro-fracturing in New York State. That moratorium is set to expire this summer, and if no laws are created banning the practice, statewide gas companies will be free to continue to drill vertically as well as start drilling horizontally. This will allow gas companies to challenge Buffalo’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance, and possibly over turn it, which would allow them to drill for natural gas under the city as well as send wastewater to water treatment plants in the area.
 Since gas companies by federal law are not required to list the chemicals that could be in the water, it becomes a guessing game for the water treatment facilities.
 “National Resources Defense Council said they would work with us to fight the case if we need to,” said Laubenstein.
 Frack Action Buffalo is going to continue to back legislation to prohibit hydro-fracking on local and statewide levels. The organization does community outreach and education, and every second and fourth Sunday at noon they  hold open meetings at Lafayette Presbyterian Church in Buffalo.
            Edited by Paul Giazzon and Jennifer Waters

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pridgen sees need to coalesce city leaders

By Jeffrey Heras and Kevin Hoffman
Bengal News reporters
 The Rev. Darius Pridgen of the True Bethel Baptist Church is no stranger to the political scene in Buffalo as he recently has been elected to a seat in the Buffalo Common Council taking leadership of the Ellicott District. As a former member of the Buffalo Board of Education he is aware of what it will take to bring positive renovation to an area that is craving change.
New councilmember coming to City Hall
 “I wish I could just talk about the Ellicott District, but I see my role as being so far beyond Ellicott,” Pridgen said. “The issues that are facing Ellicott are the same issues facing everybody and because we don’t have the at large position in the council most people are concerned only about their district, but that hasn’t done us well,” he said.
 Pridgen also stated that issues such as employment, enforcement of the laws, crime and the education system are important to Buffalo’s development for the future. He added that Buffalo is losing people who graduate from the area’s colleges and universities due to the low employment opportunities available.
 “If we don’t give them opportunities to stay by really connecting city and the colleges together we’re done, and we’re going to continue to see people use Buffalo as a pipeline to their future and never it being the future.”
 He said that the city of Buffalo should reach out to higher education institutions in the area to help with identifying the issues that are facing Buffalo. Together they should try to articulate these issues to the residents of Buffalo in order to get everyone engaged in helping to fix them.
 Pridgen has proposed a G4P summit, Government for the People Summit, in which the elected officials that represent buffalo, whether on the state level, federal level or county level get together and have to decide together on what the priorities are and begin to partner resources and energy in order to accomplish these priorities.
 “Right now we have government going into all types of directions, everybody stays in their own little office, their own little district and now people are suffering. When voters see somebody trying to bring people together you almost have to embarrass those that won’t participate,” he said.
Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera

 Pridgen, along with his colleague David Rivera, a councilman for the Niagara district, face similar problems when it comes to their constituency, such as poverty and poor housing, as well as other economic pitfalls. Rivera states that he would like to collaborate with Pridgen on a number of projects, seeing as both districts share a common border, it would be beneficial for them to work with one another in order to help cultivate the lower West Side that extends into the Ellicott District.

Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera speaks on working with Pridgen:

 When discussing the economy of Buffalo and its future Pridgen said there needs to be a higher concentration on local and small businesses in order to make Buffalo a thriving and vibrant city. He added that he would like to see an Ellicott district that is growing to the point that there is a downtown like that of Toronto.
 “I have dreams about getting small businesses not just on Elmwood, not just on Allentown but the center of our city," he said.
 “I believe in listening to what people have to say and what they feel. If I don’t pay attention to the smallest business to the largest business the tax base is not there, the business community is so important and the I think they now that I really believe in the growth of small and large,” he said.
 Even with the optimism and go-getter attitude the 46-year-old reverend brings to office, he says that people have to work together in order to accomplish goals. He believes that one of the biggest things is that many have not collaborated in an effort to expose issues facing Buffalo and bringing people together.
 Though Pridgen was elected to the Buffalo Common Council on November 2010 he will quickly run for re-election in November 2011 and said that he doesn’t want to pretend that he can turn the world upside down in eleven months. In the next eleven months he wants to create community leadership groups within Ellicott, which will be made up of specific groups like block clubs, businesses, law enforcement specialists and those who can assist in educational and quality of life issues. He wants to put these committees together to turn around the paradigm of government as it is seen now.
 “I am a new kid on the block and this is largely a city that likes to operate by seniority and power and if you haven’t been around it is very difficult to break in, but this is one of the strengths that I bring to the table, I don’t care about losing. I am not a career politician, so I am not about to make choices based on, will I be re-elected, but based on what the people need and want,” Pridgen said.
 Pridgen foresees being able to motivate people to be more active and prideful of their community.
 “I expect for them to be as excited as I am and I am going to bring the excitement to the table. I expect them to keep up their neighborhoods and not to allow their neighborhoods to go down," Pridgen said. "I expect for them to make sure their children are educated and I expected them to be a part of this process of government.”
Edited by Kristine Starkey

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anticipated state award to improve Grant Street

By Mike Gambini and Ken Obstarczyk
Bengal News reporters
 The Grant Street business district has had its ups and downs over the years with storefronts closing and businesses moving to areas of better opportunity.
 Now, Grant Street has been given a powerful tool to bring those businesses back with improved facades and more attractive interior design of buildings for potential merchants.
 In late August, the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal announced a $500,000 Main Street grant to be used toward the revitalization of Grant Street.
 The grant was awarded to People United for Sustainable Housing, a West Side non-profit group aiming to create strong neighborhoods through affordable housing, local employment expansion and economic justice.
 “PUSH is proud to be partnering with the resurgent Grant Street business community to advance the revitalization efforts already underway,” said Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo, in a statement after the award was announced.“Grant Street’s diverse character is its greatest strength and we expect these funds will assist businesses that have stuck with Grant Street for decades, through the thick and thin, as well as those who have jumpstarted the renaissance by starting businesses in the past few years.”
 The grant comes from the New York Main Street Program that provides financial resources and technical assistance to communities to strengthen business districts and surrounding neighborhoods.
 PUSH plans to use the award to help grow and develop small businesses, restore old storefronts, make streetscape improvements and give community organizations a financial boost to aid in the renewal.
 Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, on PUSH Buffalo:

 The organization has designated a portion of Grant Street between West Delavan and Auburn avenues to be the targeted area for upgrades. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said even though the three-block portion is a short stretch, it is in line with PUSH’s typical agenda: start small and grow from the inside out.
 One potential business hoping to benefit from the grant is April Flowers, located at 214 Grant St. near the corner of Lafayette Avenue.
 April Whalen, owner of the flower shop, said she talked with PUSH about improving the façade and planting trees on the sidewalk.
 “We also talked about updates to the building to make it more efficient,” Whalen said. “I’m still learning about all the options and the possibilities, but it’s exciting.”
 Hoyt was instrumental in helping PUSH get the grant and said he has complete faith in PUSH’s ability to make it a success.
 “I have been involved with PUSH many times over the years and I told them I’d do everything I could to help them get it funded,” Hoyt said.“I spend a lot of time trying to improve the economy and the quality of life on the West Side. There’s a good foundation going on over there with Sweetness_7, Guercio’s and so on. I thought the application would do great things for the neighborhood, so I supported it.”
 Though the grant was awarded in August, PUSH has not received any funds from the state to date. Hoyt expects PUSH to receive the money sometime around the first quarter of 2011.
 In the meantime, PUSH is teaming up with businesses like Whalen’s and community-related organizations to determine how to allocate the resources.
 A meeting was held on Nov. 9 to discuss the many issues related to the Main Street grant and according to Gary Welborn, vice president of Grant-Ferry Association, good progress was made and expectations were exceeded.
 The meeting was designed to bring together representatives for public and private interest of the district being served.
 Welborn said because of the positive developments that took place, representatives will be meeting on a regular basis.
 The three major issues discussed were design guidelines, allocation criteria and developing a contractor’s list. Welborn said they broke down how they want to spend the money, who may be eligible to receive assistance and who is going to do the work on these projects.
 Besides getting the money, Welborn said the next step is to get the community involved and excited about the possibilities a financial award of this magnitude could bring.
 “There is momentum going on, on Grant Street,” he said. “This grant only continues that momentum. Grant Street is the gateway to the West Side and improving Grant Street will help the entire community and surrounding neighborhoods.”
Edited by Kevin Freiheit and Taylor Steinberg