Tony Rials at Bourbon and Butter. Photo by Joe Cascio.
Tony Rials at Bourbon and Butter. Photo by Joe Cascio.

Letter: Earlier Bar Closing Times a Step in Wrong Direction

by / Oct. 23, 2015 9am EST

One of Buffalo’s distinguishing qualities, known among its proud citizens and its increasingly impressed visitors, is its vibrant and diverse nightlife. The push for an earlier closing time for bars and restaurants is arbitrary, not backed by data, and would be a regrettable step backwards for our city.

The proponents of an earlier closing time offer vague statistics such as, “fatal crashes are four times higher at night” or “the largest proportion of these fatal crashes…were in the 21 to 29 age group.” As scary as these statistics are, they say nothing about what effect an earlier closing time would have. 

In fact, studies have shown that an earlier closing time does not reduce alcohol-related fatalities. In 2005, researchers published a comprehensive study of the effects of the province of Ontario’s extension of drinking hours on alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents over multiple years. The conclusion? The extended hours had no discernible impact on the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. 

Proponents of an earlier closing time tell us it is time to mirror “nearly every other county in New York State.” But according to federal data from 2009 to 2013, Erie County was 48th out of 62 counties in alcohol-related road fatalities per capita. In other words, despite our 4am closing time, our roads are safer than 75 percent of those in other New York counties. What’s more, every single county with a 4am closing time is in the safest third of the entire state in terms of alcohol-related road fatalities. The data does not support these increased restrictions. 

Beyond the data, as Buffalo experiences an unprecedented resurgence in economic activity, arts, and culture, should we really be trying to emulate Steuben County in crafting policy? Or should we be looking to other great cities around the country that are attracting millennials and exploding in economic activity? In the past few years, the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, and Detroit have all undertaken pushes to extend the closing times of bars and restaurants beyond 2am, putting an emphasis on the importance of a diverse nightlife and the freedom of bar and restaurant owners. A move to close our bars earlier is a move directly against the trend of great cities that lead the country in job growth, culture, and quality of life.

Finally, if our elected officials truly want to reduce drunken driving related incidents, perhaps they should consider improving Buffalo’s mass transit, or, simpler than that, allowing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Numerous studies have definitively proven that access to alternate modes of transportation leads to a marked reduction in alcohol-related traffic incidents. The same cannot be said for earlier closing times.

Buffalo is on the rise once again, due in large part to organic growth spurred by entrepreneurial restaurateurs, bar owners, brewers, and distillers. Our lawmakers should encourage the freedom and creativity of these entrepreneurs. Restricting the closing time of bars and restaurants has zero quantifiable benefit and is a marked departure from the progressive governance seen in other resurgent cities across the country.