This is a public comment we submitted to the above referenced project on behalf of our family who live in Humboldt Pkwy, but within the section that is in Region Central. NYSDOT can and should do better than what they are proposing. By looking at our past and comparing it to the directions other regions took, we can help point them in a better direction.
As with past NYSDOT projects, the proposed improvements demonstrate a lack of understanding of their impacts on urban and suburban communities. It likewise fails to accommodate the increasingly varied types of transportation best suited to these communities, including their commuters. It also ignores the historical significance of the largest single parkway in the United States’ “first and oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways.” That was “added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and was named one of the best park systems in the world by The Guardian in 2015.”
Instead of capping a small section, NYSDOT should be apologizing for destroying the historic parkway and moving towards restoring it in its entirety. The parkway has a 200-foot wide right of way. It originally contained two lanes for motorized traffic in each direction, a lane for parking on both sides, and a wide treelined bridle path that was used by that era’s non-motorized types of transportation. For any urban space that NYSDOT did not build an expressway through, that is more than enough for urban mobility.
One of the ironies of past transportation mistakes is that they accidentally preserved the land from other forms of development so that we can use it to make better decisions today.
One of the ironies of past transportation mistakes is that they accidentally preserved the land from other forms of development so that we can use it to make better decisions today (without invoking eminent domain). That is to say, the land gobbled up by this urban expressway can be reimagined with today’s more comprehensive understanding of how transportation infrastructure integrates with the social, historic, economic, and health and well-being of the communities it serves. See, for example, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council’s recent work in the adjacent Region Central project area.
Humboldt Parkway should not only be restored but extended along the Length of NYS 33 to the airport.
So Humboldt Parkway should not only be restored but extended along the Length of NYS 33 to the airport. Though they may not all realize it, the communities along that section of this urban expressway are also suffering from the congestion, traffic pollution (and related illnesses), and barriers to multimodal connectivity this urban expressway imposes. There would be plenty of room within the current expressway’s right-of-way to include light rail and a scattering of park-and-ride lots. This would not only accommodate commuters, but out of town travelers and the communities impacted within the corridor.
While this may seem like a grandiose scheme, Buffalo has taken on similarly monumental projects in the past. Back in the 1980’s, for example, the city and state power brokers decided to construct a very expensive, largely underground, section of light rail along Main Street. The problem was that the construction took so long, and was so intensive, that many of the businesses along the corridor failed before it was completed. Because of this and other impacts to the corridor, the total ridership of the new light rail line was less than the bus line that preceded it.
We haven’t built another light rail line since. And that’s a real shame, because whether people are considering renting an apartment, buying a home, taking on a new job, or starting a business, they are more likely to do it next to entranced infrastructure like light rail than bus routes that can be modified or removed with the stroke of a pen.
At the same time we learned to fear light rail, Portland, Oregon took a different approach. They built an affordable, at-grade light rail line connecting its downtown to the suburbs of Hillsboro and Gresham. It was such a success that they have continued to build light rail ever since. It includes dedicated rail corridors as well as lines that are integrated with public roadways. Now they have a network of light rail that affordably and safely moves residents all around the metropolitan area.
The “last mile” in-between Portland’s light rail network is served by busses, taxis, ride share, bicycles, the increasing preponderance of personal electric vehicles (e.g., e-bikes, scooters, hoverboards, skateboards, one-wheels, etc.) and foot paths wherein anyone can navigate the entire metropolitan area affordably and without hurting the environment or the health and wellbeing of the communities they travel through. Study after study show how people using the latter modes of transportation contribute more to the local economy than people in cars. I’m pretty sure they have more fun too. It’s hard to imagine any other single factor that accounts for the distinctions between the two city’s economies, property values, etc.
So instead of enshrining past mistakes by capping a small section of this urban expressway, let’s use this opportunity to learn from what has worked elsewhere while providing tangible and long-term reparations to all the communities that have been impacted. And when NYSDOT complains about the cost, we can tell them to use the same money they use to regularly build monumental concrete spaghetti monster interchanges in our cities while literally leveling mountains and exalting valleys through the countryside. That is, our tax dollars; let’s spend them on us for a change.