Buffalo.Kleinhans 1

My 15-Minute City: Biking in Buffalo

Long before the pandemic, I fell in love with bicycling in Buffalo. Each spring, as soon as the cold abided and the snow melted, I’d spend as much time on my bike as possible. Most of my rides are for fitness, and over time I’d developed fairly habitual 15- and 22-mile routes. As the pandemic began to grip my city last March, I spent my time like most everyone: inside, working from home, waiting to learn more about the virus. It wasn’t until the weather warmed and we began to learn more about how wearing masks and being outdoors could slow the spread that I began to bike again. And while the first few rides were those same habitual loops, I soon realized the pandemic offered an opportunity for me to alter my routes in unique ways.

With the shut down in full effect, there were essentially no cars in downtown Buffalo. Suddenly, all of the roads and routes I’d never ridden along due to traffic and safety concerns were open for exploration. One of my first discoveries came when I realized I could now bike up and down empty parking garages at will. I started riding to the top of each one, calling them my urban hills. Each ramp provided a unique view of the city that I’d never appreciated before. It was incredible to take them all in, sun shining, then speed back down and continue exploring.

The rides were still about exercise, but I began to meander more intentionally. Some days I spent hours exploring my city from new vantage points, essentially unavailable to bikers when cities and their traffic patterns are fully alive. Buffalo has an amazing history that remains very much present in its neighborhoods, something pedaling through those streets helped me appreciate. The experience reminded me of when I lived in Japan for six months and did most of my travel on bike. In both cases, I realized how much more I learned about a city on a bike. Every trip to a destination becomes about the journey, the experience of the little things: an unnoticed corner of a public park, a new coffee shop, a random alley that makes you stop and snap a quick photo. I spent a great deal of the past year trying to notice those things as I biked through Buffalo. Here are some of my discoveries.

The parking garage rides helped me find new views of Buffalo’s landmark buildings and city streets. This is City Hall (1932), designed by Dietal, Wade and Jones. The HBO show Avenue 5 used this Art Deco building as the “White House.”

I loved the challenge of finding new public art on each ride. There are signature pieces for sure, but new murals went up over the summer, and I found small pieces in nooks and crannies of the city I never knew existed. Here’s a sculpture at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor waterfront looking out over Lake Erie.

Riding almost every day, I witnessed landmark buildings change before my eyes. One Seneca Tower, originally designed by SOM, was recently revitalized. It’s part of Buffalo’s incredible rejuvenation in recent years. Prior to the pandemic, the city had transformed its waterfront, bolstered the medical corridor, and developed a dynamic hub for entrepreneurship.

I spent as much time as I could biking around, by, through, and near my favorite architecture. Kleinhans Music Hall, designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, was completed in 1940.

Kleinhans is known for its graceful structural beauty and extraordinary acoustics. Its form resembles the body of a string instrument, as does the main auditorium.

The M&T Center’s gold dome branch, designed by architects E.B. Green and William Sydney Wicks, was originally built for the Buffalo Savings Bank. The 1901 granite building is done in the neoclassical Beaux-Arts style. 

Biking can reveal fun facts about your city. This is Buffalo’s oldest tree, located in Allentown on Franklin Street. There’s a plaque honoring it—as perhaps there should be.

Some days I’d challenge myself to find as many unique paths, places and views as I could within a mile or two of my house.

Taken from the roof of another parking garage, here’s the Liberty Building, a 23-story Neoclassical office tower, designed by Alfred C. Bossom and completed in 1925. There are Statue of Liberty replicas on the roofs of the twin towers; one faces west, the other east, symbolizing Buffalo’s strategic location on the Great Lakes.

It’s so easy to miss sunsets over Lake Erie in the hustle and bustle of our past routines, but they were deserving of a look each day during the summer.

All photos by the author. This is part of an occasional series of photo essays on how people have rediscovered their cities in a time of pandemic. We invite you to share images of your neighborhood. Contact Martin C. Pedersen at martincpedersen@gmail.com


Get smart and engaging news and commentary from architecture and design’s leading minds.

Donate to CommonEdge.org, a Not-For-Profit website dedicated to reconnecting architecture and design to the public.