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Build Buffalo Back Better: How green transport and restored parkways can help lift Buffalo from poverty

There is a growing number of people who are supporting keeping The Skyway intact in some manner and/or form. From those who envision it as a Cloudwalk, to those who feel that the funding (to demolish the structure) could be put to better use, it seems as if sentiments are shifting away from the removal of the once “Jetsonian” automobile overpass.

Not only has the Skyway Club been formed on Facebook, in support of the iconic transportation ribbon, a WNY NYS Assembly Delegation has now publicly voiced support for The Skyway – six assemblymembers have sent a letter (see below) to Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, stating that they feel that potential funding allocated to the removal of The Skyway would better serve “reconnecting disenfranchised communities” that have historically been torn apart by misguided expressway projects. 

“I am concerned about the cost of rerouting traffic including the Tifft Street Corridor which members of our NYS Assembly delegation think could be between $1-$2 billion,” said Outer Harbor ecological activist Jay Burney, who feels that we are merely shooting from the hip, and not looking at the broader longterm picture. “Then there’s the ecological impacts on places like Tifft Nature Preserve which is an Important Bird Area. I agree with the NYS Assembly WNY delegation that if we are going to spend this kind of money on transportation, then we may have other priorities including light rail, the Scajaquada corridor, and Humboldt Parkway.  People matter. Economic and social justice matter. I am also concerned that we have not had a very good public dialogue about our transportation priorities – the whole skyway contest was a sham.”

Proponents of keeping The Skyway note that a significant amount of funding has recently been infused into the bridge, to the tune of $40 million in local, state and federal funds. Therefore The Skyway still has plenty of life left, which is why future funding should be redirected towards creating a better transportation landscape, by introducing forward-thinking, connective and inclusive projects such as… electrified streetcars. 

Buffalo’s transportation infrastructure was once built upon the abundant utilization of the streetcar. These days, the transportation infrastructure is dependent upon the automobile, which cities all over the world have recognized is not the dominant transportation modality of the future, especially in the face of global warming.

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE Washington, DC 20590

Re: Build Buffalo Back Better: How green transport and restored parkways can help lift Buffalo from poverty

Dear Secretary Buttigieg:

Thank you for your advocacy and progressive vision in leading the Department of Transportation in the Biden Administration. As you formulate a program to improve and update our nation’s infrastructure, we write to urge you to allocate federal transportation resources so that Buffalo, and all of Western New York, can use its own unique assets, including abundant green energy and one of the world’s great urban designs, to address concentrated poverty, attract new residents and investors, and meet your policy priorities by reconnecting communities burdened by racially insensitive decisions of the past.

Here in Western New York, we have enough highways. What we lack is a network of frequent, affordable buses and streetcars that run on the inexpensive and available hydropower from our own nearby Robert Moses Niagara Power Project and other renewable sources unique to our region. We also lack federal assistance in mitigating the harm caused by one of the most ill-conceived Cold War-era expressways, the Kensington Expressway, which destroyed a Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parkway and the community on either side of it.

Some in Western New York have sought and advocated for $600 million to $2 billion in U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) funds in order to replace the Skyway, a bridge in downtown Buffalo, built in the 1950’s and 100 feet in height, which was just repaired with $40 million in local, state and federal funds.

We adamantly disagree that our priority should be the destruction of the Skyway. Alternatively, funding in the $600 million to $2 billion range could reconnect our fractured community, electrify and upgrade our public transit, clear our air of fumes from internal combustion engines, and restore Humboldt Parkway, the jewel in the crown of our world-renowned Olmsted- designed city.

Using the formula of the existing TIGER grant program and based on local research (see reports attached), we would rather see $600 million in USDOT funds create 20 miles of electrified streetcar lines on historic corridors that would transform mobility within our urbanized region. We would rather see USDOT funds put to work as Seattle and Boston used them — to fill in, cover over, or otherwise create human-centered land links across a gaping expressway wound down the center of our community.

We all recognize that cars must not continue to rule our lives. Buffalo grew to greatness as the world’s first electrified city. The region once had electrified streetcars, with 5-minute service for a city population of 550,000. Since losing its streetcars, Buffalo has shrunk by more than half while the regional population has not grown since 1970.

On the plus side, Buffalo has been identified as a “climate refuge” by a Harvard researcher. And Buffalo has great bones – access to fresh water on the world’s most peaceful border, affordable real estate, and a highly educated workforce. Buffalo is a great long-term bet for federal investment because the region

  • Has abundant renewable-energy resources, starting with the Niagara Power Project’s 2,600 megawatts, America’s first urban wind farm, and proposed offshore wind resources from Lake Erie platforms;
  • Has a compact footprint of 5-mile transit corridors which once had (and could have again) electric streetcars that connect the core to some of America’s oldest “streetcar suburbs” and to the airport;
  • Has a classic clustering of “magnet sites” — universities, courts, industrial districts, entertainment and parks destinations — at a major historic transport nexus (including the terminus of the Erie Canal) for the entire Great Lakes region; and, like everywhere else in the Great Lakes region,
  • Has suffered from sprawl without growth, with an urgent need to connect low-income houses to employment within the urbanized region via affordable, frequent public transit.

Covid-19 has hit our low-wage workers hard. They have suffered the greatest displacement, and already spend an unsustainably large share of low household income on personal transportation. If we thought that replacing the just-rebuilt Skyway bridge would lift up those workers, reconnect our fractured community, utilize our unique green-energy resources, and revitalize the historic human crossroads where the Underground Railroad and the Erie Canal brought seekers of freedom, we would get on board with that request.

However, our analysis leads us away from seeking highway help. We need to build Buffalo back better. We need to undo the damage of Cold War-era expressways. We need to leverage our comparative advantage in green energy with a fully-electrified transit system. We need the next dollar of infrastructure to reconnect us and revitalize us in a newly-networked urban core where homeowners can benefit from transit-oriented development, not suffer from more sprawl.

We would like to make the case to you and your team. Please review the attached materials. As elected officials representing rich and poor, urban and suburban, we seek a constructive dialogue with the Biden Administration that can help Buffalo and its surrounding communities break out of a decades-old pattern of infrastructure spending that weakens our core and burdens our region.


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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