Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's Matter of Life and Breathe: Important Meeting tonight 7PM

Tonight, Wednesday October 24th, the Buffalo West Side Environmental Defense Fund will be hosting a meeting on the health effects associated with truck traffic crossing the Peace Bridge

The meeting, titled, It's a Matter of Life and Breathe, while aimed toward Elmwood Residents, is open to anyone interested in hearing more about this issue. Located at the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, the  BWSEDF is hoping to spread their message to all parts of Buffalo West of Main Street. It will run from 7PM until 9PM.

"You are breathing the same air as your neighbors on the West Side." This simple message is underlaid by the heavy health toll exacted on West Side residents, as roughly 45% of households reported at least one case of chronic respiratory illness or asthma. This total is nearly four times the national average.

Considering that nearly five thousand diesel trucks cross the Peace Bridge daily, and that diesel fuel emissions were connected in a 2011 report to a variety of bronchial and lung illnesses and cancers, the expansion of the Peace Bridge is a concern not only for West Side residents, but for people in the surrounding neighborhoods as well. As noted in that study, the natural wind patterns off of Lake Erie spread the effects of diesel emissions beyond than the area surrounding the bridge, assisted further by the southwest by northeast design of the Lower Westside streets.

The meeting will also hopefully highlight some of the misinformation concerning the benefits of expansion. One misconception is that the Peace Bridge is plagued by delays, but in fact, it tends to only suffer intense backup during peak travel times and holidays, according to another 2011 study.  That study also debunked the idea that delays at the Peace Bridge have hurt tourism and shopping business from customers on the Canadian side, as only 4% of Canadians reported "delays" as a reason they don't utilize the crossing site. Even more telling, the report details that the most important factor to non-commercial Canadian crossing was to utilize better exchange rates, which accounted for the 70% increase in shopping-related crosses between 2000 and 2007.

Though trucking is hurt far more adversely by delays along the bridge than non-commercial interests, it still raises the question of how much that business is worth to the City of Buffalo. According to a 2008 study titled "Looking for Trickle Down Under the Peace Bridge," only 18% of truck traffic off the Peace Bridge actually ended up in Buffalo. Additionally, the report noted that increasing truck capacity would be an inefficient use of resources, as nearly all of the growth in ground transportation was reached by the year 2000, and has not necessitated major additions since.

And what about those other 82% of trucks crossing the bridge? Because they are unable to make the turn at the end of the Plaza, many take a circuitous route around the city, creating incredible amount of wear on Buffalo's roads. Unfortunately, as the Peace Bridge retains all of the profits from their tolls, all the repairs to those roads will come out of the Buffalo tax payer's pockets. Since they do not stop in Buffalo, the City sees no benefit whatsoever from their crossing.

It is clear that the Peace Bridge is very important to Buffalo, not only as a symbol, but as a piece of transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the negative impact on the city is also just as clear: the health effects on the West Side, which stretch well beyond that neighborhood's borders: the damage to the roads, and with the expansion, to a neighborhood's historic identity: the lessening of property values throughout the West Side because of both the health effects reported as well as the uncertainty tied to the project, all of which offsets all of the area's recent progress.

Considering all of these facts, it is clear that an expansion of the bridge will not benefit the residents of the West Side, and will only cause more harm. More importantly, however, it raises the question of whether these negative impacts make an expansion, and the Public Bridge Authority as a whole, good for the city of Buffalo at all.

For information on the Peace Bridge as well as how to get involved, visit www.movetheplaza.com.
Here is Wednesday's Event Page on Facebook

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