Williamsville’s Main Street, with its string of shops and restaurants, looks a lot like Buffalo’s Elmwood Village – except for one big difference.
Three times the numbers of vehicles – 36,000 – rumble down Main Street each day, turning what would otherwise be a pleasant walk into a real-life game of Frogger.
“You basically have to run for it,” pedestrian Shaday Hicks said of crossing Main. “With kids, it’s really scary.”
An ambitious new plan, though, aims to make the village not only more walkable, but more likable.
Submitted Friday to state leaders, the plan calls for $7 million in upgrades to the village core in an effort to “take back” the street from automobile traffic while planning for future growth.
And it would all be done “Williamsville-style.” That means electric car charging stations, a new smartphone app and even valet parking throughout the village.
“I have been kidded by people, ‘Don’t you already have a reputation of being kind of snooty?’ ” Mayor Brian J. Kulpa said.
But in Kulpa’s words and those of the residents who helped formulate the plan, “If you already have the reputation, you might as well own it.”
Jokes aside, there is a need for such measures, Kulpa and others say.
Two large hotel projects are expected to add to Main Street’s density in the coming years.
And plans to develop the village’s historic water mill could create a new retail district of its own.
Add in the need for older Amherst residents to get around without cars, and the village could become even more congested.
“All the building out, that’s all feasting on a healthy village core,” Kulpa said. “We can’t solve the volume issue – the volume’s there.”
But they can chip away at the effect the volume has on pedestrians, he said.
If funding is approved by state leaders later this summer, new upgrades would include:
• “Bulb outs” to extend sidewalks at each intersection, preventing drivers from cutting off pedestrians and shortening the distance to cross the street.
• A new type of traffic signal – the first in the state – that would be activated solely by pedestrians who cross in the middle of a block.
• Pedestrian “refuge islands” in Main Street’s middle turning lane for pedestrians to cross traffic one direction at a time.
• A speed limit that would be lowered to 30 mph from 40 mph in some places.
Driving the changes are seven lanes of traffic – five driving lanes and two parking lanes – that combine to make crossing Main Street a treacherous experience.
“It’s pretty bad,” said Bill McGee, who scurried across Main Street on Thursday. “You wonder about your safety getting across the street.”
What galls village residents is the fact that many of those cars are just passing through.
Main Street, which is a state highway, is a major east-west arterial for traffic exiting Interstate 290. And roughly 10 percent of the drivers are simply avoiding the nearby Thruway toll barrier.
“Getting from A to B, that’s all it’s for,” said Maria MacPeek, manager at the Irishman restaurant on Main. “It’s shameful. That’s what a Thruway is for.”
MacPeek, president of the Williamsville Business Association, said the organization holds its meetings in the Eagle House restaurant, which sits less than 200 feet across from the Irishman.
“There’s been times where I start off 20 minutes early, and yet I’m late because I have to cross the street,” she said.
All the traffic has hurt business, she said, while detracting from the quality of life for those who call it home.
Village leaders for years have called for the state – which controls Main Street – to do something about the traffic.
Frustrated by a lack of progress in the past, they decided to take matters into their own hands last year.
Kulpa, an architect with a background in urban planning, led an effort to mobilize hundreds of residents to come up with new ideas for the street.
The result is a flashy new plan that includes nearly 50 pages of studies, drawings and cost estimates. It now awaits state approval.
“We took state officials by surprise when we took on this project by ourselves,” Village Trustee Christopher J. Duquin said. “It’s not top-down; it’s what the community wanted to ask for on Main Street.”
Dubbed “Picture Main Street,” the plan is more than just traffic management. It also seeks to create more interesting spaces for people to walk to, including pocket parks, gardens and new shopping districts.
And the village’s rediscovered narrative will take center stage in a community not often associated with historic buildings.
The Williamsville Water Mill, which is being restored and redeveloped into a mixed-use project, is expected to anchor a second retail district on Spring Street off the main drag and to become a permanent home for a farmers’ market.
“That becomes the centerpiece we can build around,” Duquin said. “It’s a place we can get off of Main Street with all the traffic and celebrate whatever events we’re celebrating.”
Visitors to Williamsville would eventually be greeted by valet parking service at the mill and, potentially, at other points throughout the village.
New entryways, banners and signage would also create a sense of place at the village’s outer edges.
The smartphone app would give walkers a virtual map of the village’s newest offerings, from boutique shops to restaurants to streams and parks.
If the state grants the $7 million for the project, construction could begin as early as next year.
A lot has changed in two years, leaders say, when there was talk of dissolving the village altogether.
“There’s been this huge community swell that said, 'We have a really great place, we’ve been crowded out by Amherst, we’ve been crowded in by traffic.’ You have this amazing village that had growth all around it, and we want to maintain that but also grow and celebrate it.”
To view the full report and see videos, visit Picturemainst.com.