Yesterday a group of city and state officials, along with a Waterfront Parkway Landscape Design Panel, presented landscape and urban design recommendations for the new 3.3-mile outer harbor parkway. The renderings featured look to incorporate many of the design elements that would make the Outer Harbor a pleasant place for people to visit. From two-tiered boardwalks to landscaped bike trails, there is no doubt that the parkway vision is a great one as far as the relationship to the water is concerned. Of course, the flip side of the coin is the elevated expressway that has some people wondering why high-speed traffic will be allowed to remain in this grand plan.
I spoke with Julie O’Neill, a member of the Waterfront Coalition and Riverkeeper, who has been working to promote a single parkway alternative that would eliminate the entire freeway scenario from the plan. “The whole Southtown Connector Project has four components,” she told me. “Three of which are not that controversial, but are on the backburner due to an effort to push the current Fuhrmann Boulevard/elevated Route 5 plan forward. The first component is improvement to Ohio Street that totally supports revitalization for the Cobblestone District, Valley Riverfest Park, Paladino’s Ohio Street Development and the entire Shamrock Run Route. The second component is the Tifft Street arterial (explained below) that should be a high priority… it’s being de-prioritized. The third component is Route 5 from Lackawanna to the Skyway. That is the one roadway system that the Lackawanna community originally asked for.
“If you look at the traffic arguments, then you must take into consideration that the traffic data did not consider that traffic has decreased due to the removal of the tollbooths. But take the old traffic levels if you want… experts have said that the one boulevard alternative could easily handle those traffic levels… even with a four lane parkway. The issue is that from Ridge Road all the way to the Skyway there will be a dual roadway system. Why is that needed? Transportation engineers don’t believe that we need the major roadway – it will be expensive to maintain, will take up a lot of land, and will still create a barrier to the waterfront.
“The City of Buffalo is going through a major Brownfield Opportunity Area Planning Process for nearby areas. Then there is another planning process going on North of the Buffalo River. The Tifft Street access would be the key connector between these brownfield projects and the 190. That means that trucks would not have to go over the Skyway at all… and they wouldn’t be traveling along the waterfront – an area where trucks don’t belong. The only piece of land that will have any major development in the foreseeable future is the Freezer Queen site. The Boulevard option and improvements to Ohio Street would be the best alternative for the Freezer Queen project.
“We have heard that if and when the Skyway comes down, then they will have to remove the elevated Route 5 in the process in lieu of a single parkway due to land gradients. If that’s true, then we have a problem. The boulevard-only option could be implemented tomorrow. We have to stop applying the band-aids… we need to solve this issue. The lawsuit is still alive and well and we expect to be filing for summary judgment sometime in the near future. I don’t know if Mr. Higgins’ timeframe reflects the realities of litigation.”