The time has finally come, to either save Delaware Park, or turn our back on our Olmsted parks system. In coming weeks, the Federal Highway Administration will be looking at the DOT’s proposal, before giving a position of record. What was supposed to be a two year process, is now a two week process.
What is most stunning, is that the community is mostly in the dark when it comes to the impact of the DOT’s plan that is being presented. Did you know that if the plan comes to pass, the width of the roadway will be the same as Sheridan Drive? Did you know that the plan being pushed will mean that 415 trees will have to be removed? Yes, and 140 of those will be in the park proper! Adding insult to injury, 40 of those trees are hundreds of years old. Sound familiar? It should. Remember when the the expressway was initially rammed down the throat of the park system? Well, the City is now reviewing the plan, and there appears to be little resistance to the outcome. The City (our representatives) should be outraged at the lack of communication between the community and the DOT.
Why is there such little communication? Apparently, there is an interim DOT commissioner at the federal level. Great. At one point, the Olmsted Conservancy had an open dialogue with that department. That is no longer the case. The administrator that Olmsted once had an open relationship has simply disappeared. Region 5 (the local DOT) has a new figurehead in place who has been here for less than a year. Apparently, the channels of communication are getting better on the local level, but it’s a little too late for that, wouldn’t you say? Essentially, there is a sense of confusion and apathy on the DOT’s end, which is typically when things get dangerous. Ultimately, no one will officially be held responsible for what happens. At this point, the only matter driving the DOT agenda appears to be time. In typical DOT fashion, there is now a plan on the table, and shovels will be in the ground in Spring of 2018, unless Governor Cuomo steps in to save the day.
What is especially sad about this mess is that 2018 marks the 150th Anniversary of Olmsted in Buffalo – the birth of the park system. While park supporters are trying to figure out how to reverse the transportation wrongs that have occurred over the years, the DOT still has one mission – to get traffic flowing again. And that’s kind of funny. Why? Because the DOT is once again, designing the roadway so that 40,000 cars can travel its length for a total of two hours a day. That’s ten hours of traffic per week. The DOT doesn’t care about the rest of the hours in the week, when Buffalonians are going about their daily life routines, they only care about those ten hours. That’s how the Scajaquada plan will be based. On ten hours a week.
So what we have here is an inconsistent DOT that has an interim figurehead in Albany, and figurehead in Buffalo that has been around for less than a year. It’s a recipe for disaster, again. At this point, the DOT plan is to install seven pedestrian activated HAWK traffic beacons at Sheridan-sized intersections – these HAWK signals are garish and should not be installed on urban boulevards. Then there’s the medians which will be installed, which tend to speed up traffic flow because drivers typically feel safer. It’s still going to act and feel like a highway. If it quacks like a duck… Even if the speed limit is 35mph, which is what it probably will be, cars will then drive 45mph or 50mph. The roadway will probably be monitored at first, but eventually traffic officers will be diverted elsewhere, and the Scajaquada will be more of an expressway than a boulevard.
But in order to understand all of this for yourself, the DOT would have to have an open line of communication with the public, which it does not. Instead, a plan has been submitted, and we will all have to see it for the first time, once it is in place and ready to go. Instead of reconnecting communities, we are going backwards. In a time when healthy living is all the rage, and highway removals are being embraced all over the planet, we are going to get stuck with a ho-hum plan that will go in the record books as another missed opportunity to do something great.
If you want to see how we can make the Scajaquada Expressway inspirational, instead of a polished turd, then it would behoove people to attend this upcoming forum at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. The Olmsted Conservancy will also be filming the forum on Facebook live, so there’s no reason to miss it.
Lead image: The real deal – Scajaquada Corridor Perspective Rendering by the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy