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Plaza Design: The Need for Interpretation, Discussion

Yesterday, new bridge designs came out in the media, while a pdf for the truck plaza proposed for the Columbus Park neighborhood has quietly made its way online.  

More than anything, residents of the neighborhood that would “host” the truck plaza, worry that plans to demolish more than 80 homes in their neighborhood will be overshadowed by the public’s zeal for a “Signature Bridge“.  

Get the masses excited about the bridge end of the project, and maybe they’ll fire up the bulldozers themselves, or at least label as obstructionists the people who want to stay in their homes versus hosting 40 acres of concrete truck plaza. 

In this configuration of the Peace Bridge truck plaza (below), Busti Stops at Vermont, the Wilkeson is gone, and the green areas are bumped back up to the Olmsted “vision,” with the exception of the fact that a ramp on the west side of the plaza will obscure the view of the water.  Niagara Street is the westernmost street beyond Vermont, as Columbus Parkway is truncated along with Busti. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Hampshire, going west, are ended at Niagara.  5 blocks, plus – gone.
new plaza.png

4 blocks.png

The Episcopal Church Home between Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Columbus and Busti (D to F, left), is gone.  As a side thought, the land, if not the building, would be quite a boon to the landlocked D’Youville College, along with surrounding homes that could house faculty, staff and off-campus students.  Imagine a campus with a waterfront view.
We’re told the duty free in the rendering has a small footprint, but is three stories deep, as opposed to the parking ramp, which is three stories tall.
There are questions about all of this and more, so we contacted Public Bridge Authority General Manager Ron Rienas, hoping for specific answers.  He declined to talk, specifically citing this article on Buffalo Rising.
But now there is a rendering that begs questions, rather than an opportunity to make statements that are unverifiable.  As Rienas would have it, we’re not listening to facts; as we see it, we can’t get anyone to back up a lot of what is presented, particularly where it involves the Columbus Park Neighborhood and the PBA owned houses there.

Along with an admonition, Rienas wrote:  I am not satisfied with the status quo of the
Peace Bridge plaza. I support getting bridge traffic out of Front Park,
increasing the amount of parkland, improving traffic flow and thereby air
quality, protecting and buffering the neighborhood from the plaza, facilitating
the flow of traffic for WNY businesses and promoting tourism, investing
millions in the neighborhood surrounding the Peace Bridge, extending and
improving the Riverwalk, improving Niagara St. and Porter Ave, etc, etc. 

In light of yesterday’s news and renewed chants of “Build the bridge,” Rienas may smell a victory, and going interpersonal and rhetorical is a good way to avoid answering questions, but I mailed the following off to him anyway:  
I just want
to know about the new plaza in regard to the ramp, the duty free’s below-ground
square footage, the Wilkeson’s disappearance (shouldn’t it be pending?), and of
course, the concessions that were made for Front Park.  I also want to
know how this will promote tourism, why those tourists need more plaza space,
and if the buffers will be view blockers.  Also, if you’re making more
parking (and room for idling trucks), how will you improve air quality?  Will
idling be regulated?

I also want
to know the breakdown of who pays for the bridge and how much, now that those
plans are floated out there.  Did I hear $750M US?

No answer.  Strategically, it makes more sense to satisfy an entity (Olmsted) with the restoration of parkland, rather than a small portion of the public such as the Columbus Park resident/truck plaza opponents.  Rienas always stresses the gains to Front Park as proof of the PBA goodwill.  But perhaps he doesn’t understand the irony of rebuilding a park that will be further separated from what’s left of the neighborhood by a truck plaza.

As for the plaza, there are questions about the functionality and the form.  Not that it’s open to public discussion, but left to interpret the rendering on our own, the footprint left on the city seems like overkill.  With functionality in mind, and the neighborhood as a host, maybe it’s time to shrink the tumor.

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