Buffalo Game Changers: Justin Booth
Justin Booth is one of Buffalo Spree's 2012 Game Changer
Growing up in Brooklyn, Justin Booth often accompanied his grandfather on Sunday morning walks to pick up bagels and cream cheese. That early experience of the city as an exciting place to explore and enjoy without riding in a car is one that may have inspired his work as a leading advocate of bicycle transportation and the founder of GO Bike Buffalo and the Buffalo Complete Streets Coalition. With a background in public health, Justin worked with the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo before leaving that post to concentrate on more specific initiatives that combined public health with social and environmental issues. In addition to its Bicycle Recycle and Bike Sharing programs, GO Bike collaborates with the city to install—free of charge—signature blue bike racks (made in Buffalo) in front of any business. There are currently nearly 400 bike racks installed in Buffalo and the inner suburbs.
“Buffalo was the first city in New York State to pass the Complete Streets policy,” says Booth, “and it’s now a national movement. We were able to spearhead its adoption in Buffalo [in 2008] and in August 2011 the governor signed the law for statewide acceptance.” The policy provides a friendly environment for everyone—bicyclists, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, and drivers—on city roadways and alters the nature of the neighborhood’s relationship to the street. “We’ve been able to work with the city toward making streets more friendly and created fourteen miles of bikes lanes in the past year,” notes Booth.
Trees are a vital component of healthy, complete streets and neighborhoods and, as a board member of Re-Tree WNY, Booth has taken an active role in the effort to replant and replace 30,000 of the trees lost in the October storm of 2006. “We’ve replanted 24,000 trees [countywide] and in the city of Buffalo, we have surpassed the number of trees that were lost.” Booth is also on the boards of the WNY Environmental Alliance, Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, and other organizations dedicated to enhancing the livability of the area.
As a game changer, Booth envisions a fast, efficient public transit system that would seamlessly connect the city with suburbs like Hamburg, Tonawanda, Grand Island, and Niagara Falls. “In some other cities, you can land at the airport and immediately hop on a bus and, for a $1.50, ride directly downtown,” says Booth. “But here in Buffalo you get off the airplane, you spend a $1.50, and wait two hours for that bus to come. We really have to let go of our cars and embrace a public transit system that’s all interconnected. And since most of the rail lines are still in place throughout the city, wouldn’t it be cool to reestablish the trolley? I would also get rid of our expressways, like the Scajaquada cutting through the middle of the park. We can create parkways instead.”
As for living somewhere else, it’s not really an option. “I can’t think of another place I’d rather be,” says Booth. “There are so many opportunities in Buffalo to pick up a shovel and get your hands dirty. Here, you can kind of look at what other cities are doing, pick up ideas, and bring them back to Buffalo. Ultimately, I’d love to work myself out of a job and go on to something else. I really enjoy fixing old houses.”
And of course, old cities.