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Electric Scooters on Public Streets: Unsafe at Any Speed. Here's Why.

Electric scooters: A boost to urbanism or a danger? Governor Andrew Cuomo has just vetoed a bill that would have legalized electric bikes and scooters for use on public roadways and paths in New York State. The governor claims he vetoed the bill because there was no requirement that riders wear helmets, but there are other reasons for concern. The E.U. has a top speed of 20km/hr (12mph) for e-bikes, which is sound, while the U.S. federal limit is 20mph, which is too fast for most riders and conditions for safe operation. The New York bill did nothing to address e-bike speed danger. As for scooters, there is a whole list of concerns, centering on balance, control, and signaling of intent. These are basic to protecting riders, bystanders, and drivers.

Dedicated preservationists and urbanists are big supporters of mass mobility as a way to preserve and enhance pre-automobile neighborhoods and build vibrant new ones. Car-dependency can't do it. So, I was excited to follow the development of electric scooters and scooter-sharing systems. So excited, I shelled out $500 for my own scooter, made by the same company which supplies Bird. Big mistake. Find out why in the video.

Preservation Champions Robinson-Albers, Kauffman, and Sack honored


Beth Kauffman, center left, and Meg Robinson-Albers received the inaugural President's Award for service to Buffalo preservation from Campaign for Greater Buffalo President Paul McDonnell, right. Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman, left, joined them on the staircase of the Herbert Hewitt House at The Campaign's 2019 Solstice Party

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture recognized three board members for their long-time service to preservation and the City of Buffalo at its 2019 Solstice Party, held at the Herbert Hewitt house on Lafayette Avenue. The inaugural President's Award, was presented by Campaign President Paul McDonnell to Campaign board members emeritus Beth Kauffman and Meg Robinson Albers, who both recently ascended to emeritus status. Over 100 people attended, enjoying not only the food, drink, and preservationist plotting, but the magnificent house itself, and the hospitality of Joe and Ellen Letteri, owner-operators of InnBuffalo.

McDonnell cited Kauffman—a founding Campaign board member—for her decades of work on preservation activities ranging from attending Common Council hearings, to stuffing envelopes, writing letters, and dragooning friends to Campaign events, in addition to board work of almost two decades. Beyond preservation, Beth was a tireless contributor to her Allentown neighborhood, Shea's Performing Arts Center, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman called her the "type of citizen that is the foundation of any community, and that any organization needs."

Meg Robinson Albers at work in the fields of preservation, at The Campaign's Big Dig for Erie Canal artifacts in 2006 at a Tonawanda landfill, where they had been unceremoniously dumped after being scooped from the Commercial Slip

Robinson Albers—also a founding board member—was similarly cited for her decades of work on the barricades and boardroom (that sounds fancier than it is—the Campaign board meetings tend to be around dining room tables and living rooms). Meg also was a matchless event organizer: she cut her teeth in her kite business, where she organized dozens of international kite events, including one locally spanning the Lower Niagara River which the Times of London called one of its Top Ten international festivals. It takes a lot to carry off public events at sometimes challenging venues (no electric, no bathrooms, but great architecture!), and Meg was a charismatic leader.

In over 20 years in the preservation trenches, Beth and Meg never refused a request, no matter how small or how big. They inspired others to do the same. Much of the success of Buffalo' preservation movement, and The Campaign in particular, is due to them.

In a less formal vein, Campaign Vice President Dan Sack was recognized for his lifelong inability to be satisfied with  the status quo, the default way of doing things, rank incompetence, everyday villainy, and the local sport of end-running zoning, preservation, and planning. Dan, in November, won a significant lawsuit against the City of Buffalo, which was attempting bail out a development of Gates Circle by declaring the pavement of Delaware Avenue and the Circle, and a public parking ramp, part of a "blighted" Urban Development Action Area, to qualify the project for tax abatements.

Dan Sack, center, receives mass affirmation, led by Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman, holding sign. At left is Tim Herzog of Flying Bison, official beer suppliers to The Campaign, and Joe Letteri, owner of InnBuffalo, where event took place.

Dan is a regular attendee at Planing Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Preservation Board hearings, and puts up with the indignities and calumny often visited upon citizens wishing to speak at such meetings. Occasionally, board members elect to follow the letter and spirit of the law and proclaim to agree with what Dan has just elucidated for them. To illustrate the point, Tim Tielman asked Sack to participate in an ad hoc skit of a planning board meeting; Tielman played the chair of the Planning Board making the case for a drive-thru donut shop in a historic neighborhood. Sack interjected—as if scripted—causing the "board chair" to relent and state, "I agree with what Dan said." Tielman then whipped out a sign saying just that, as did, by pre-arrangement, 30 others in the crowd. 


Also getting a shout-out was attorney Fran Amendola, who 20 years ago in October filed the federal lawsuit that led to the reconstruction of the Commercial Slip, Central Wharf, and the early street network of the Canal District. Fran, there is a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck awaiting you.

Campaign for Greater Buffalo board member and attorney Richard Lippes also received a tip o' the hat for his victorious lawsuit, on behalf of The Campaign, that ended the receiving and filing of landmark applications by the Buffalo Common Council.

InnBuffalo also offered a free night at the inn for a lucky attendee. That lucky person was Dana Saylor, long-time preservationist, researcher, and artist.

Campaign wins suit in fight to protect Frank Lloyd Wright houses

Buffalo Common Council refused three times to act on landmark designation of Frank Lloyd Wright's William Heath House on Soldiers Circle. A judge has ordered it to act in accordance with the city's Preservation Ordinance, a victory for The Campaign for Greater Buffalo

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture has won a significant court decision to protect two houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The William Heath House, on Soldiers' Circle, and the Walter Davidson House, on Tillinghast Place, must be voted on for local landmark designation by the Buffalo Common Council, rather than thrown in a legislative waste bin—received and filed—and never to be heard from again.

State Supreme Court Judge Paul Wojtaszek handed down the decision and order voiding the Council's action to receive and file the applications on October 11, and them to the council to approve or deny, based on the provisions of the city's Historic Preservation Ordinance. The deadline for filing a notice of appeal expired just before Thanksgiving. 

The court agreed with The Campaign that the Council had failed to comply with the ordinance. The provisions for designation center on whether a building or place meets any one of nine criteria of architectural or historical significance. The Preservation Board argued in its latest applications that both houses achieved a rare distinction: where meeting only one of the criteria would be necessary to become an official landmark, all nine criteria had been met. 

"This is a huge victory for preservation in Buffalo," said Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman. "The public deserves timely decisions to protect its cultural heritage. The Council was doing the public a disservice by not acting on these. They were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, for Pete's sake. If they are not worthy of landmarking, what is?"

Richard Lippes, a Campaign board member, filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Campaign in January. "We're glad the court removed this impediment to landmarking and governance. It was the proper thing to do, and addresses a longstanding problem in the application of the landmarking law."

Preservationists were becoming increasingly concerned about the fate of the two houses, which, for unknown reasons, were not designated as landmarks decades ago, along with the surviving houses of the D.D. Martin compound in Parkside. 

The Davidson House has lost its banded slate roof and has been twice "colorized" contrary to Wright's specifications under the current owner, while the Heath House has similarly had unsympathetic roof and masonry work that effects Wright's rigorous and character-defining horizontality. These erosions of character are particularly felt due to the northern orientation of both houses, which requires architectural detailing to overcome shadowing and silhouetting effects against a brighter sky. 

The ball is back in the Common Council's court. The Preservation Board did its due diligence (three times over, in fact). The Campaign for Greater Buffalo has done its part, filing suit to protect the code that protects the public interest, and arguing it to a successful conclusion.

FrankLloyd Wright's Walter Davidson House is almost camouflaged by "developer greige" color scheme (gray-beige) and light-diffusing shingling, damaging Wright's intended effects. Common Council has three times blocked the landmarking of the structure, which would have protected it. Campaign for Greater Buffalo recently won lawsuit to compel Council to vote on landmarking.

Lansing & Beierl gem is site of Campaign's 2019 Solstice Party on Dec. 21

Hewitt House
Buffalo architectural masters Williams Lansing and Max Beierl designed 619 Lafayette Avenue for rubber and brass baron Herbert Hewitt, who moved in in 1898. It will host the 2019 Solstice Party of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo on December 21. The Campaign is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the launching of the legal battle to save the Canal District and its 2019 campaigns and victories.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo and Executive Director Tim Tielman are hosting their annual holiday party for preservationists and friends on Saturday, December 21, 2019 from 4:44pm—sundown on the shortest day of the year—to 7:44pm at a magnificent pile of the Queen Anne style, the Herbert Hewitt House. Donations, new memberships, and renewals will be gratefully accepted. Gift certificates for The Campaign's inimitable tours on its very own Open-Air Autobus will be available. Those wishing to attend can call or text 716-854-3749 for more information or to RSVP.

The house, a preservation work-in-progress, is now owned and operated by Joe and Ellen Letteri as Inn Buffalo, a bed & breakfast. Herbert Hewitt was one of those titans who seemed to have a finger in every pie. He founded the Hewitt Rubber Company and a brass foundry, and, before he even came to Buffalo, he had invented the railroad car coupler that became standard. He decided to build a house on Lafayette Avenue, he picked a firm that was at its creative peak.

Lansing & Beierl had designed the Lafayette Presbyterian Church across the street, and the mammoth 74th Regimental (Connecticut Street) Armory, both in the robust Richardsonian Romanesque style. Lansing & Beierl were keen followers of Richardson, and had just completed a copy of one of Richardson's great houses for William Coatsworth on Soldiers' Circle.

The Hewitt house harkens further back, to Richardson's Watts Sherman House of Newport, RI, of 1874: massive chimney stacks, sweeping roofs with flared eaves, enveloping porte-cochere, Tudor detailing. Added is a an arched piazza similar to that of First Presbyterian church (both Lansing and Beierl worked for Green & Wicks at the time the latter firm designed First Presbyterian), but rendered in wood. The interiors— heavy oak, coved ceilings, custom tile, beaten iron strapping and fixturing—are a match for the exterior. The basement billiards room is a gentlemen's lair nonpareil and alone worth a visit to the house, with custom Flemish tiles, a rustic spring with hot and cold running water, and a massive leather-pocketed billiards table.

The Hewitt House billiards room is in the Flemish Revival style, and features tile mosaics of seven different Dutch villages. Courtesy InnBuffalo
The Hewitt House is organized around a large central hall, which gives onto the parlor (near left) and dining room. Courtesy InnBuffalo