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The Scajaquada Conversation is all Wrong

READING TIME: 5 MINS.

The governor recently announced that the remaining  Robert Mosses Parkway section, running along the Niagara Gorge, will be completely removed.  There is no talk of urban boulevards or downgraded multi-lane roadway in its stead.  People have come to their senses and realize now that there is no rational argument for high-capacity, high-speed on demand travel by car adjacent to one a world’s most renowned natural landmarks. Finally, sanity has prevailed. In this one small instance, we have put people and the health of the planet ahead of saving three minutes in your car trip.

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The story is a bit different a few miles up river.  In Buffalo, State Department of Transportation (DOT) officials were in town a few months ago reluctantly bearing, what I am sure they believe is an unjustified transportation gift.  After pretty much being forced into planning to “downgrade” the Scajaquada Expressway, by public opinion and the governor, the  DOT has come up with the idea of changing it from a high-speed limited access highway into a four lane, 30 mile per hour “boulevard”. As an extra special treat for Buffalo they hinted that the new boulevard was going to have a “park” theme!  Isn’t that special?  State officials and their benevolent civil engineers are going to give the city a “park themed” high-capacity road in Buffalo’s main park.  You Buffalo residents should be happy, right? What is wrong with a free road, you ask?  Buffalo will be getting a nice new park themed  boulevard paid for by the state!  Boulevards are good right?  Plus it will be park themed! And it will be a boulevard!

Boulevard, in its modern meaning, is a nice fancy French name for a wide street decorated with trees.  It sounds nicer than saying “wide road with four lanes moving at 30 or more miles per hour”. It comes from the French word meaning “rampart”.  Ramparts are ancient military wall structures designed to keep people out of a fort or town.  The park themed road that the State of New York is proposing to give Buffalo will still be quite fast and quite dense with traffic.  Such a design will very much resemble a rampart in function. As much as they would like it to be “park themed” the road they are proposing is not appropriate for a city park.

State officials have been floating this idea that a Boulevard through the park, with lowered speed and a few intersection changes will be a really, really good thing that you “should be so lucky to have in your park.”  They describe it with the fancy French word and people are eating it up.

It is a boulevard!  Its park themed!

The truth is that this park should not be used as a place for high capacity through traffic. Parks should not be thought of as empty space in which to pour traffic.  The plan for Delaware Park should include nothing less than removing the highway and implementing a design for a low speed, low capacity park road of the kind the park was meant to have.  Such a road would not need to be “parked themed” but would actually be an integral part of the park. DOT is not interested in park roads.  They are only interested in high-capacity traffic movement.  Calling a road “park themed” or “boulevard” does not make it good or appropriate.

DOT will never propose the type of road that should be in the Delaware Park.  It is not part of their mission and they don’t know how to do that.  That DOT came up with the silly phrase “park themed road” is proof that they are clueless about what a park is and what kind of road it should have. With this in mind, why is  no one is asking the question that should be asked”:

Why is the New York State Department of Transportation designing a new road in a Buffalo Park?

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Delaware Park should be returned to the city for its original purpose.  The park lake should be restored to its original shape and the once gorgeous landmark Elmwood avenue bridge should be reconstructed.  DOT is not interested in any of these kinds of concepts that would make Buffalo a better place for people. They just want to move traffic.  It is not logical to use a park for traffic.

Where is the mayor on this?  Why is he not demanding that the sate remove this high-capacity roadway from the park entirely? Why is he abdicating his responsibility to advocate for the people of Buffalo by allowing this road to be designed by an Albany controlled traffic movement agency, which has no interest in restoring this park to what it should be? Why is he not asking for removal of the entire highway from the rest of this part of the city, for that matter? Removal of the entire roadway should be explored.  Removal of the roadway opens up extraordinary  opportunities to make dramatic improvements to the city.  DOT is not the proper advocate for planning a path to extraordinary.

Removal of the highway is an opportunity for Buffalo to make something that truly is extraordinary.  Get rid of this highway completely starting at the Niagara River and continuing all the way to the Kensington. Replace it with a slow speed parkway, restore the creek, restore the lake.  Buffalo can choose the same old  boring 20th century car based solution that DOT will propose and continue dedicating a substantial  portion of its main park for traffic movement or it can choose the path that great cities choose by demanding  something truly extraordinary that will positively impact the city for many generations.

The Robert Moses Expressway will soon be history.  It is now time to make the terrible Scajaquada mistake part of history too.



repark

What if the land was returned to the people?  What if the park was extended to the river?  What if  at least a short segment of Humboldt Parkway up to the kensington was returned to its original design? What if Buffalo did something extraordinary?



park fixed

The park returned as closely as possible to its original form.  Give Buffalo State College a water edge, reconnect the city. Traffic does not need to flow through the park.  Why is it accepted fact that traffic has to flow through this park?



river

Why not get rid of the ugly tangle of highway ramps at the river and replace them with a people oriented park connection?  Imagine if Delaware Park was connected directly to the river.  Buffalo needs to start thinking big again.  A park themed boulevard is small thinking.



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historic images – Library of Congress

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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