Vision Plan Executive Summary

Bringing Nature Downtown:
A New Life for an Old Rail Corridor

On the edge of downtown Buffalo, wildlife is reclaiming an unused rail corridor. This former rail line runs on an elevated berm though the center of Buffalo’s industrial past, connecting the city’s history with the future of the communities along its length.

The corridor begins downtown near the mouth of the Buffalo River at Canalside and the DL&W terminal, and travels one and a half miles east to reconnect with the meandering river near South Park Avenue.

The Western New York Land Conservancy began meeting with neighbors and community leaders — including the corridor’s current owners, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) — in the summer of 2017 to start a conversation about what this rail corridor could become.

After nearly a year of listening and learning, a vision has emerged — through countless conversations, meetings, surveys, and insights — that points the way to an iconic, innovative, and inspiring multi-use trail and linear park that connects people to each other and to nature, including the Buffalo River, right in the heart of the city.

The Vision Statement

The new trail and linear park will be an inspiring community gathering place alive with the history and voice of the surrounding neighborhoods.

More than just a trail, the reimagined rail corridor will be a vibrant, safe, and welcoming space for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to connect with each other, with nature, and with the waterfront, throughout the year.

The trail and linear park will be the focal point of a revitalized community and a restored ecosystem.

 

In this unique slice of Buffalo’s heritage, this community vision plan imagines a place where families will be able to take a relaxing stroll or ride their bikes surrounded by trees and wildflowers. Neighbors and visitors will be able watch as seasons change, from the fall migration of songbirds and monarch butterflies, to winter’s chilly serenity and summer’s warm embrace, marveling at the diversity of nature, our industrial and railroad heritage, and the magic of a sunset on the Buffalo River. Here, with the right investments and connectivity, vitality will return to local commercial districts and streets will become safer and more inviting for everyone. Thoughtful stewardship will breathe new life and new possibilities into this long dormant space — not just for today but for generations to come.

Guiding Principles

  1. Respect the character and history of local communities and increase quality of life for residents
  2. Embrace and enhance nature that thrives along the corridor
  3. Provide different kinds of recreational uses and programming year round
  4. Create connections to existing assets while planning for future projects, needs and growth
  5. Design with long-term use, maintenance and safety in mind
  6. Serve as a catalyst for additional investment and opportunity

The development of the trail and linear park will be informed by precedents in New York State, across the country and around the world. From Detroit to Chicago, and Philadelphia to Toronto, cities within a few hours drive of Buffalo have shown how these kinds of projects can revitalize neglected spaces and inspire neighborhoods — even whole regions.

These projects have also demonstrated how local character and residents’ voices can transform liabilities into assets unique to each community.

By remaining true to Buffalo’s history and heritage — and the blossoming natural regeneration of this special place — as a community, we have the opportunity to create an incredible new chapter with and within the storied Old First Ward, Perry, and Valley neighborhoods.

The connections that this new trail and linear park can provide will transform a barrier into a unifying feature and create a centerpiece these neighborhoods can be proud of. This will provide an open call to visitors from across Buffalo Niagara and beyond to explore, experience, and engage with nature in the middle of the city.

Based on the principles and strategies highlighted in this vision plan, and with continual engagement of neighbors and stakeholders from throughout the region, the Land Conservancy will lead a design competition to generate ideas and concepts for the corridor.

The designs and concepts that arise through this process will help shape the next chapter for this former rail line and the future of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Vision Plan was prepared by the Western New York Land Conservancy; Anthony Armstrong, Make Communities; Hiro Hata, UB School of Architecture and Planning.

The planning process was funded by The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and donations from Land Conservancy members.