What is Buffalo Rain Check? A Pictorial Introduction

Students in a summer program test out the porosity of the porous pavement installed in the bike lane as part of Buffalo Rain Check’s Kenmore Avenue Green Streets Project.

In addition to public works departments, many cities find a driving force for urban forestry is the water and sewer agencies who are responsible for managing stormwater. Buffalo Sewer is one such entity who is fighting for more tree canopy cover throughout the City of Buffalo through its Rain Check program. In partnership with residents, businesses, developers, and local institutions, Buffalo Sewer is finding myriad ways to capture and absorb water in the City and its spaces, with environmental justice and equity as a main priority.

Here’s a pictorial highlighting some of the projects. You can also take a virtual tour of eight ambitious green infrastructure projects in Buffalo through the Rain Check site.

Located at the foot of West Ferry Street on the scenic Niagara River, Broderick Park is steeped in history, most notably as a major terminus of the Underground Railroad between the United States and Canada. The park pays tribute to the people who crossed the water from that point to freedom in Canada and is listed as a designated Network to Freedom site by the U.S. National Parks Service, a national network of historic places and educational or interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad. Recent renovations to the park include new entrance features, a small performance amphitheater, a waterfront promenade, new shelters, and revised parking facilities—all with the intent to uplift the space as a public memorial to the incredible local history of the Underground Railroad. The City of Buffalo recently invested over $1 million in a range of renovations to the park, including updated parking facilities with green infrastructure elements. By using porous pavement in the parking areas, the pavement surface keeps over 124,000 gallons of stormwater from entering sewers in a typical rainfall event, protecting local water quality. The porous pavement looks just like regular asphalt but allows water to drain through the paved surface into a recharge bed and infiltrate into the soils below the pavement.

Launched in 2015 after a series of rain barrel projects in the Old First Ward, Hamlin Park, and Elmwood Village neighborhoods, the citywide program distributes and installs rain barrels for residents free of charge. Buffalo Sewer’s downspout disconnection and rain barrel program invites residents to host green infrastructure in their own backyards and private residences. The program not only informs residents of the stormwater challenge facing our community, but also provides an easy, no-cost way for them to participate in green infrastructure solutions. The program enables Buffalo Sewer staff to do community-based education and outreach around green infrastructure in diverse neighborhoods across Buffalo. While impervious surface is not reduced with downspout disconnection and rain barrels, stormwater runoff from impervious roof surfaces is effectively managed through this practice.
The Northland Corridor on Buffalo’s East Side is a large-scale brownfield redevelopment project that will create an urban business park focused upon advanced manufacturing, clean energy, innovation and workforce training. The large project is aimed at providing economic employment opportunities for area residents and supporting the growth of the region’s workforce and major industries. The Northland Corridor originally developed as a late 19th and early 20th century manufacturing center along the former New York Central “Belt Line” Railroad, and represented one of the most extensive industrial areas on Buffalo’s East Side. Today, the Northland Corridor is located in a walkable neighborhood featuring a mix of small businesses, public schools, churches and other community organizations. As part of this large-scale development project, Buffalo Sewer is developing community green spaces that promote walkability and manage stormwater. Design concepts for the project (below) include tree plantings, stormwater planters, and other installations that will enhance the development with attractive landscaping and reduce stormwater runoff into the sewer system.

Located southeast of the central business district on the edge of the industrial waterfront areas, Ohio Street was a key site in the city’s industrial development. Industries developed along the Buffalo River, transforming the city into a manufacturing center during the 19th century. Today, Ohio Street is one of the major connectors between the city’s inner and outer harbors, playing an important role in the revitalization of Buffalo’s waterfront. The Ohio Street corridor links major activity centers including Canalside, the Cobblestone District in the Inner Harbor, Gallagher Beach, Wilkeson Point, and Buffalo Harbor Park in the Outer Harbor. The recent conversion of Ohio Street into a waterfront parkway helps link local neighborhoods and residents to the transformation happening along the waterfront. The streetscape project transformed this underutilized, four-lane commercial roadway built for automobiles, into a complete street that makes travel safe and comfortable for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders. A central feature of the project was the reduction and re-allocation of travel lanes to provide space for a multi-use pathway and green infrastructure. A 12-foot-wide shared-use path and new parking lanes were installed with porous asphalt to reduce pressure on the sewer system during heavy rain or snowmelt events. Over 260 trees were also planted along the corridor to capture and store rain and snowmelt.
Buffalo’s large-scale, multi-year demolition program targets the most dangerous properties in neighborhoods across Buffalo for removal of all structures, including properties damaged by fire emergencies and those that have suffered from long-term vacancy and abandonment. Demolition of blighted structures improves public safety and contributes to neighborhood revitalization. There is also potential for demolition to contribute to stormwater management. Through consultation and collaboration with local and national partners, Buffalo Sewer sought to understand how landscaped treatments on City-funded demolition sites can improve the capacity of these spaces to capture and absorb water. The green post-demolition treatment to newly vacant lots in neighborhoods across Buffalo offers a number of benefits, including: reducing impressions of abandonment; reducing the need for site amendments for community gardening projects; and improving curb appeal for prospective buyers. Overall, green post-demolition treatments can enhance the ability of vacant lots to meet stormwater management goals and provide community benefits.

Some interesting facts provided by Kevin Meindl, Green Infrastructure Program Manager for the Buffalo Sewer Authority: 

–   Buffalo has large amounts of impervious surfaces (where water does not get absorbed) with over 56% of the city being identified as impervious, much higher than peer cities such as Syracuse (41%), Pittsburgh (34%), and Scranton, PA (23%). Large impervious areas contribute large amounts of stormwater runoff to a combined sewer system leading to potential CSO events of untreated pollution to local waterways, increase the urban heat island effect, and reduce the overall biodiversity and ecology of the area.

–  The large amount of impervious area in Buffalo is made worse by a lack of tree canopy cover. In 2018, Buffalo Sewer conducted a detailed analysis of existing tree canopy using LiDAR. Results of this work indicate Buffalo has only a 14.6% canopy cover rate, much lower than peer cities Scranton, PA (55%), Pittsburgh (42%), and Syracuse (28%).

–   One interesting finding of this analysis was that some areas of the city have significant canopy cover in the street right-of-way with street trees and front yard trees, however other parts of the city have tree canopy that is mostly found in backyards and away from the roadway. When trees are located directly adjacent to and above impervious surfaces such as roads, some of the benefits of trees are enhanced from the interception of rainfall on leaves and the cooling effects on otherwise hot pavements.

–   Other findings indicate some neighborhoods and block groups have significantly less tree canopy cover than other areas of the city bringing about concerns over environmental justice and equity.

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