Regional Institute Releases Policy Brief on Mobility in the Bi-County Region

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: December 6, 2007 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The region's population is driving more and using public transit less compared to 2001, trends facilitated by relatively low congestion on roadways, the continued growth of a suburban-based service economy and changing household dynamics, according to the University at Buffalo Regional Institute's latest Policy Brief, "Getting There."

And for those who may not have, or choose not to use, a car, including tourists, elders, cyclists and inner-city residents who work in the suburbs, alternatives such as public transit are cumbersome and may inhibit access to services and employment.

"Though this region is not unique in its dependency on the automobile, the lack of convenient alternatives in many instances presents significant obstacles for mobility-challenged populations, which ultimately affects quality of life," said Kathryn A. Foster, institute director.

Vehicle miles traveled in Erie and Niagara Counties, which have increased steadily over past decades, jumped 9 percent from 2001 levels while public transit ridership fell 9 percent. More than four-fifths of the region's commuters drive alone, taking advantage of a relatively low average commute time of 21 minutes. Just 4 percent take transit and 9 percent carpool.

The institute also has taken a closer look at four hypothetical mobility scenarios, which together portray an inconvenient, unreliable and, in some cases, unsafe system for those without an automobile.

For instance, it would take a tourist nearly three hours over two bus lines to travel from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport to Niagara Falls. A shuttle to Niagara Falls is speedier at 32 minutes, but far costlier ($30 compared to $2.80 for bus fare).

A resident of Buffalo's East Side would face several obstacles commuting to work at a supermarket on Transit Road in Depew due to scarce transit service beyond city lines. Service may not even exist for weekend shifts, making suburban employment locations essentially inaccessible to city residents without cars.

The elderly Amherst resident trying to get to Sunday Mass must allow for a 40-minute bus ride to travel four miles down Main Street (including time spent walking to and waiting at the bus stop). The most direct route for a cyclist commuting from Elmwood Village to downtown requires riding dangerously close to cars or illegally using the sidewalk. The safer, bike-friendly route increases the commute by 50 percent.

Long-term regional development and transportation plans call for denser land-use patterns that increase mobility options, as well as expanded mass-transit service for high-traffic corridors, including links to Amherst and Tonawanda and Buffalo-to-Niagara Falls. In the meantime, mobility challenges are being addressed with less-costly remedies such as an online carpool network (Greater Buffalo-Niagara Transportation Council), incentive programs for bus use (Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority) and efforts to better coordinate health and human-services transportation (Center for Transportation Excellence).

"Complementing large-scale, long-term investments with less-costly, flexible initiatives in the short term is likely to be the most effective approach to bridging mobility gaps in the region," said Peter A. Lombardi, a policy analyst at the institute and author of the series.

"Getting There" is the institute's 11th policy brief since it launched the series in August 2006 to inform regional issues with timely, reliable data and analysis. All policy briefs are available online at

A major research and public policy center of the University at Buffalo, the Regional Institute plays a vital role in addressing key policy and governance issues for regions, with focused analysis of the Buffalo-Niagara region. A unit of the UB Law School, the institute leverages the resources of the university and binational community to pursue a wide range of scholarship, projects and initiatives that frame issues, inform decisions and guide change.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.