Today at 3PM, Councilman and mayoral hopeful Mickey Kearns held a press conference to announce that the Buffalo Common Council has voted unanimously to apply for USDOT Tiger Grant funds to take down the Skyway. The grant for supplemental discretionary funds, which the City would have to file, is due in on September 15th of this year, and according to Kearns, the money would be available until September 30th of 2011.
At 3:18PM, John Norquist, President of the Congress for New Urbanism posted an article on his CNU blog that addresses our skyway, with the headline Buffalo: Dead or Alive? In it he names all of the cities that have benefitted from skyway removal and concludes that “Buffalo needs to make up its mind” if it wants returned wealth and status as the “crown jewel of the Great Lakes.”
Kearns thought it might be an ironic twist of fate that Norquist turned his attention this way today, as he’s been a fan of the former mayor of Milwaukee since his very first days as a councilman. After asking staff however, it became clear that Norquist was CC’d on Kearns’ press release about the skyway press conference, which makes perfect sense. Norquist has been on a campaign to have skyways removed from several American cities, as he did in his own Milwaukee, because he sees them as great barriers between people and waterfronts, people and commerce, people and development.
Kearns called to mind a cost benefit study done by the DOT in which the recommendation was to take the skyway down, a skyway that Kearns reminds “will cost $42 million in the next 20 years in maintenance alone. This is an opportunity to take down a barrier to the waterfront,” Kearns says. “To those who say we can’t afford to take it down, I say we can’t afford not to. We need to realize our vision for tomorrow today.”
Addressing the controversial Route 5 elevation upgrade leading to the skyway, Kearns said that one of the major problems is that projects are segmented instead of looking at the big picture. “We should have been looking at Route 5 in conjunction with the skyway’s future. It’s the same with the Peace Bridge and the truck plaza,” Kearns said in reference to opposition from the adjacent neighborhood to those projects.
“No one is against a new bridge,” he said, “but no one wants to see a neighborhood taken out and replaced by a truck plaza. And it’s the same thing with the Pitts hotel on the waterfront. Did it take into account the Aud, Bass Pro, the Inner Harbor? When you don’t have synergy, you lose, and you only get one shot every 50 years or so.”
Going one step further, in reference to both Route 5 and the truck plaza, Kearn’s said, “No authority should be making decisions about our future. Authorities should not make decisions for people. Pardon me for saying this, but the DOT has played [mayor] Byron Brown like a fiddle.”
Kearns says that the most striking thing about the Memorial Auditorium being down is the skyway, looming above Buffalo and impeding development. He also says that the removal of the skyway and replacement with a boulevard can still work with the ongoing elevation of Route 5. “We have to tell the DOT we’re taking the skyway down, regardless of Route 5. I respect [Congressman] Brian Higgins, but there is a hybrid plan we can employ on Route 5 that has some deviations. It would be more expensive, but we can make it work.”
Kearns says we can’t afford not to do it. “It’s like going to the doctor; you can afford it because the alternative is more costly. We’ll all be gone some day, but everyone else is stuck with bad decisions that politicians make,” Kearns says, separating himself from the pack.
But he ends with, “When I’m mayor, that skyway is coming down.”
Image: File photo of Kearns with John Norquist.