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Humboldt Parkway, The Dream of a “Green Parkway”

Neighbors living around Humboldt Parkway are rallying together in hopes that one day they might see the revitalization of their neighborhood, with a transition from freeway to “Green Parkway”. A new University at Buffalo study/report* brings to light the huge economic impact that would be realized if the project was to come to fruition (exceeding $1 billion – property values, construction employment of hundreds of jobs, etc). The area that is most impacted by the transition stretches the length between the Fillmore Business District and the Jefferson Street Business District.

Already a number of different interests are speaking out about their enthusiasm for the drastic change that would take the parkway back to the way Olmsted first envisioned it. “We absolutely embrace the vision to re-create a viable, walkable, green environment on all sides of the Museum,” says Mark Mortenson of the Buffalo Museum of Science. “That is the environment that the Museum celebrated until it was tragically lost by the construction of the Kensington Expressway.”

Looking back to the way Humboldt once seamlessly connected the Olmsted park system, it’s crazy to think that we would have lost our way so drastically. This is truly an epic Moses vs. Olmsted [ideology] battle that is still not over yet. The majestic parkway that once connected Delaware Park and The Parade (now MLK Park) is not lost, just buried under a sea of freeway that also disconnects vital areas of the city. “Six rows of mature shade trees once provided a wonderful canopy not only to connect Olmsted’s Delaware and Parade Parks, but also to provide a valuable green space where everyone was welcome to enjoy nature, enhancing the visual character and quality of life for the whole community. Restoring this green anchor on the East Side of Buffalo is a major priority of the Conservancy,” stated Olmsted Parks Conservancy President Thomas Herrera-Mishler.

Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) chairperson Stephanie Geter stated, “We want to update the community on the progress toward reaching our goal to restore the Olmsted vision of a vibrant, green community space, to remediate the devastation caused by the construction of Route 33, and to create a beautiful gateway to Buffalo’s Medical Corridor. ROCC came together in 2007 to bring this issue to the attention of local and state leaders, focusing our coalition power on the New York State Department of Transportation. Much work has been going on behind the scenes, and we have a plan to make this vision a reality.”

Richard Cummings, President of the Black Chamber of Commerce, asserts that “while the Kensington Expressway construction led to community devastation, we are optimistic that some of the damage can be reversed. Even though the introduction of the expressway in the 60’s isolated the East Side from the rest of Buffalo, we are working with businesses, residents and city leaders to reverse that decline. We believe that our community can be restored.”

For years there has been a battle going on regarding just how to restore the freeway back to a boulevard. Infill? Decking? There are those who say that the freeway must continue to allow cars to get in and out of the city. They oppose infill. Then there are those who say that decking is too costly, and that the money would be hard to come by. Stanley Fleming, who serves as the Executive Director for ROCC, stated, “ I was elated to meet several leading planners and urbanism experts [at a Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) workshop in Buffalo this past June] who affirmed the human, economic and environmental benefits of sustainable planning projects such as our proposal to create a green deck over a portion of Route 33. Projects like this are going on around the country, and at even greater expense that the projected $560 million that a Green Humboldt Deck would cost, because the point is that this in an investment, which will reap returns. It is not just a transportation cost to correct an urban sprawl mistake. An investment to turn part of this highway into a green boulevard will reap dividends in terms of job creation and increased property values. An investment to restore a Green Humboldt Parkway will bring to our Buffalo Renaissance the beautiful gateway that our Downtown Revitalization deserves.”

The Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) will share highlights of the UB report with the general public on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 from 6:00 – 8:00 PM at the Buffalo Museum of Science Cummings Room.

*Study commissioned by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the UB School of Architecture and Planning in conjunction with its Regional Institute Urban Design Project, a team of experts led by principal investigator, Robert Shibley. Key study investigators Paul Ray of the UB Urban Design Project and Professor Hiro Hata, who led a team to develop potential implementation designs for a green parkway, will also be on hand at the meeting.

Lead image: The C&S Companies | Historic Humboldt Parkway Reconstruction Concept Study


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is ‘queenseyes’ – Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world’s largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • jvgriffis

    So, let me preface it by saying the Parkway would be priceless – look at Chapin, et al now. Just amazing in the summertime.
    And let me say the decking would be sweet – salve the hurt of the highway drivers like me.
    But, a little skepticism is in order. In large public projects like this, economic benefits are always overstated and costs are always understated, usually by a factor of 2+. True costs would (should) scare the crap out of taxpayers, so those with vested interests in the outcomes shade ’em to make ’em look more palatable.
    So, a simple swap in cost/benefit would seem to be in order here to get a more honest picture of what it’ll take: $500 mil in benefits vs $1 billion price tag.
    And that said, given the shit this state blows money on anyway… I’d still do it.

  • needIes

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but if the parkway was restored, I’d immediately be interested in buying along Humboldt Pkwy. As it stands now, there’s no way I want to sit on one of those once-beautiful porches and see/hear/smell that colossal mistake.

  • costrander08

    I remember when TBN ran a story on this they quoted the price for filling in the 33 being far higher than that of the price to deck over the expressway.

    As much damage the 33 has done it certainly does serve a purpose as a people mover and it it were up to me I’d see them deck over the 33 to not only return the tree-lined parkway back to it’s original grandeur but to also keep a vital artery into and out of the city.

  • elmdog

    They should do decking like the picture in a few or a couple specific spots in the beginning…It would be so cool to see some results and then make judgements on the rest

  • LouisTully

    jvgriffis I agree, good comment.  I think anything with the 33 other than what it is now is a pipe dream.  It would be fantastic if someone could lead the charge to do something about it, I’d be on board.  But the costs with decking or filling are colossal.  
    Re: costs.  A funny (in a pathetically sad way) example your talk of costs reminds me of, besides the obvious cost explosion of the Big Dig.  With the (thankfully) failed Westway project in NYC the planners touted the cost per user and how there would be soooo many users that the costs would be very minimal.  Until the topic of pollution those sooooo many users would produce, then there suddenly weren’t that many users.

  • LouisTully

    needIes Even if it was decked where would the noise and pollution go?  There’d still be a highway, it would just be even more out of sight.  Can you imagine “relaxing” on the parkway with cars zooming at 65 below you?

  • LouisTully

    elmdog Wouldn’t be a bad idea, trial run.  See how it looks and impacts the area.  Take a small quarter mile stretch?

  • JSmith11

    That’s not what I recall. My memory is that the mayor sent a letter to the state DOT in support of studying the feasibility of filling in the expressway and converting it to an at-grade boulevard, which was said to be the least expensive option compared to decking it over.
    I think it should be turned into a European style at-grade boulevard. Four lanes of express traffic, plus a separated lane on either side for local traffic (like the existing Humboldt Parkway lanes).

  • JSmith11

    LouisTully needIes 
    That’s why decking is not the best option. I think it would be a rather unpleasant “green space”, what with ventilation stacks releasing exhaust fumes, etc.

  • costrander08

    JSmith11 I truly don’t remember the specifics of the article. I just remember filling it or decking it as the two options presented. It struck me as odd that filling it in would be more expensive than decking it, but I’m certainly rusty on my recollection of that particular story.

  • needIes

    LouisTully needIes I suppose the noise and pollution goes to the same place it goes in the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels near me in NYC. Somewhere else!
    Honestly, I have no idea, I’d think an engineer could come up with something to manage the ventilation. Also, a tree-lined parkway would deal much better with CO2 and noise suppression than the current gutter full of highway. And I’d think that if it’s decked over with enough soil to support re-planting the trees, I’m sure the traffic in the “tube” below will be nearly silent.

  • David Steele

    Fill it in and return the parkway to the way it was. Cities far bigger than Buffalo do fine with a fraction of Buffalo ‘s highway capacity. If you enjoy driving everywhere for everything then an extra ten minutes should not be a bother. Buffalo’s radial streets are empty at rush hour. The over capacity of raids in WNY is an embarrassment .

  • Captain Picard


  • Captain Picard

    Beautiful rendering, unrealistic idea. “A” for effort, though.

  • No_Illusions

    What about turning this into a cheapish Metrorail tunnel?
    The ground is already dug up, we should take advantage of that.

  • North Park

    Where can one find a copy of the full report?

  • jibreelk

    No_Illusions East Side high speed rail… too radical in 2014

  • hockeyhips83

    No_Illusions actually a good idea. could even set up an inbound/outbound line in the west tunnel, and an inbound/outbound line in the east tunnel which could follow the 33 out to the airport…

  • LouisTully

    I’m not sure how recent this is, but there was a program on PBS about transportation in this country.  There was mention of LA restoring old street car lines.  They had video about the vast street cars that used to be in LA and showed video of their huge inventory being destroyed.  I recall reading about how a national auto manufacturer (GM, I believe) bought up street car companies across the country with the intention to destroy them and boost car sales.

  • AllentownChris

    Just fill it. Bring back the elms.

    A 30-mph traffic lane can carry a lot more traffic than a 55-mph lane because the cars travel closer together. All they need to do is coordinate the traffic signals and the radials will do a better job of moving traffic than the expressways. Ellicott knew what he was doing.

  • LouisTully

    AllentownChris ” Ellicott knew what he was doing.”
    Of course it’s a fantastic design.  It is worth mentioning, however, that Ellicott laid out Buffalo in 1804 when it was a village of about 1,000.

  • LouisTully

    Captain Picard For discussion, can you elaborate what is incorrect?

  • jvgriffis Another citizen group convinced NYSDOT to include the Boulevard Option in any future Kensington remediation study. This is the option that includes filling in and restoring this portion of the Kensington to grade. This option has the advantage of restoring neighborhood traffic to the existing street grid. 
    Cities all over the planet are removing highways that destroyed and divided neighborhoods.  Buffalo should join them.
    Follow this link for a multiple part series about this issue that impacts the entire city.

  • RaChaCha

    I had the opportunity to do some consulting on this study, and am excited by the results.  I began as a skeptic about the decking proposal, but came to see it — as the thoughtful and engaged ROCC members do — as not only the best option for this section of the Kensington, but also an exciting community development opportunity.

  • AllentownChris

    LouisTully AllentownChris Right, but he didn’t lay it out for a village of 1000, he laid it out for a city like Paris or Washington DC.

  • RaChaCha

    Seeing that this presentation got scheduled at the same time as the next One Region Forward community congress — an extremely important WNY planning event — is yet another reminder that we need at Buffalo/WNY planning calendar.  Such a tool would help folks who are putting on planning sessions and related presentations avoid scheduling them at the same time.  I may recommend that to One Region Forward.

  • LouisTully

    AllentownChris LouisTully But Ellicott helped L’Enfant lay out DC prior to 1800 when the population was below 10,000.  I only searched briefly but saw Paris’ population was quite large in 1800, so that lends to your point.

  • DylanBurns

    Decking or filling in the Kensington (whichever might be determined to be a better solution) would be a far better investment for than building a new stadium.  It would bring new life back to a part of the city that was once as thriving as the parkway neighborhoods that we know and love today.  I love the Bills and don’t want to see them leave, but if a new stadium would be payed for solely by the taxpayers, it would be much better spent investing in out neighborhoods with a project like this.

  • North Park I’d like to see this. Where’s the link/pdf?

  • I would like to know what the traffic conditions in the area were in the 1950’s, when Buffalo had over 500,000 people and tens of thousands worked at Bethlehem Steel. They must have really really bad, otherwise, how could you have justified this monstrosity.

  • JSmith11 costrander08 Here’s a copy of Mayor Brown’s 8/2009 letter supporting the Boulevard Option.
    Now, NYSDOT must include this option in any future feasibility study.

  • jvgriffis Here’s Mayor Brown’s letter (8/2009) supporting the Boulevard Option:

  • RaChaCha Why is this better than the Boulevard/Restore to grade option? (An option that NYSDOT must now consider, btw.) Cities all over the world are removing highways. Compounding the legacy – by creating a monstrously expensive tunnel system that enables suburban commuters to continue to by pass the city – of Robert Moses is no longer a rational choice.

  • RaChaCha

    This proposal would deck over one section of an expressway — something many cities are doing, as well.  Sounds like you’ll have some good questions to ask at the presentation.

  • greenca

    Pipe dream.  We’ve been through this many times before with rail extension to the airport.  Not nearly enough ridership to justify the hundreds of million dollars of expense.

  • Buffaboy

    Wow I would have never thought about this. The 33 divides the East Side’s communities and may be a reason for some of the issues. A tunnel looks great but hopefully it wouldn’t drive everyone out of that area as if it’s a shield.

  • Buffaboy

    This being the tunnel. I’ve known about the division created.

  • foreverbflo

    Captain Picard
    Capt. AGREED. Unrealistic and likely FAR more $ required to get this done than is anticipated. There will be sooo many environmenmtal issues and reviews – neighbors – protests – funding…. We need to focus such energies and resources on areas we are making great progress in now. The 33 will be there in 10 years. Save the $.

  • Massguy

    rubagreta People just didn’t think that way back then – there really wasn’t  much of a conservation movement.  The idea that the parkway system was quaint, (um, for your Victorian era dad’s Buffalo) but an ultra modern “express roadway” was definitely the trend and Buffalo should be among the first to jump on!!! … was an easy sell. There was some tension that Buffalo’s earlier ambitions were not playing out as expected and that it had fallen far behind it’s contemporaries… Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago (let alone Paris). And even though it was near its population peak at the time the Kensington went in, there was also a (very well-founded and prophetic) fear that the St Lawrence Seaway’s pending opening would require Buffalo to deeply reinvent itself or face ruin.

  • solonggone

    Can’t put much value into any economic impact statement these days.  The reason is as soon as you start to see the opportunity for values to go up…people like the Rev. want to lock in price control.
    Only way this provides the benefits as suggested is gentrification.

  • TheNextMayor

    Fill it.
    It’s WAY cheaper and accomplishes the same goal of revitalizing the neighborhood.
    The east-west radials are woefully underutilized and frankly need some traffic to spur development.

  • OldFirstWard

    It is a great concept but it has kind of phony feel to it.  It is also highly doubtful that many would use it due to the neighborhoods it would traverse.  Especially in the later hours.  
    I would like to see a test section completed for analysis and observation before any consideration would ever be given for a more lengthy conversion.

  • LouisTully

    OldFirstWard “It is also highly doubtful that many would use it due to the neighborhoods it would traverse”
    But that’s what restoring the parkway would hopefully impact.  Removing the fissure and restoring neighborhoods would hopefully improve those neighborhoods.  I agree doing this with a small, maybe quarter mile stretch would be a good idea.
    How much is below grade?  Like 3 miles?

  • OldFirstWard

    “How much is below grade?  Like 3 miles?”
    Which is an eternity if you are running for your life.

  • runner68

    OldFirstWard LouisTully Again, more proof that you’re a grumpy old asshole.

  • OldFirstWard

    Go F*ck yourself sobo

  • No_Illusions

    rubagreta  They were also preparing for massive growth. In 1940 it was expected Buffalo would have a metropolitan population of 5 million by 2000.

    It shoudl be noted that the metropolitan population did not begin to decline until 1970. A lot of that decline came from Niagara Falls which lost half of its population from 1970 until today (100,000-49,000)

  • No_Illusions

    David Steele 
    Those cities also have much better public transportation options.

  • No_Illusions

    greenca No_Illusions 
    What about future ridership?
    That corridor will be hot with development as space is already becoming scarce along Mainstreet.

  • OldFirstWard

    Kind of like having the Italian Festival, Canal Fest, and Grease Pole Festival, all major events, on the same weekend.

  • OldFirstWard

    David, was that you I saw on the Louisiana St. bridge at about 10:30 pm taking photos last week?

  • greenca

    Seriously? Even in my wildest dreams I don’t see an east side corridor ever being hot enough to merit the expense of light rail transit.
    Space is nowhere near scarce along Main St. The CBD has plenty of opportunity – a nearly empty 38 story building, and plenty of surface lots that could be developed, and the entire stretch between the medical campus and W Delevan appears to be half empty.

  • David Steele

    So fix public transit instead of ruining the city to satisfy suburbanites. That said Buffalo has miles of wide streets that are completely empty at rush hour and its highways are no where near the capacity of other cities. It is time to rethink transportation policy and stop making fast travel by car more important than anything else.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    560 million….god damn!

  • 4Buffalo

    Our schools are failing and these idiots want to spend how much money????

  • LouisTully

    grad94 North Park Interesting read.

  • Captain Picard

    Screw the Bills. They’re a bunch of f*cking losers who suck up tax dollars and disappoint EVERYBODY.

  • Captain Picard

    Everything about STEEL is incorrect.

  • Buffalo_Resurrection

    Massive project which would create numerous, unskilled, labor positions for several years…work for Buffalo’s high school drop-outs who may actually want to learn a skill…or just work.

  • If you are going to build all that, at least part should be protected from the weather, for walkers and for bikes.