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Diplomacy and the NYSDOT

By December 14, 2017No Comments


We’re hitting the ceiling of the technological debate… this may now be up to political will.

I want to thank Buffalo Rising for being the only publication in Buffalo to cover the 198 Scajaquada expressway issue. Their writers and submissions have been provocative and informative. I have read passionate articles of differing opinion and strings of curious dialogue. There are, as always, a few facts which need clarification.

As we close in on December 18th, the final point of public comment on this proposed project, I feel it’s time for a “letter to the editor” so to speak. I also hope that this is posted coinciding our 198 Public Forum on December 13th at Burchfield Penney.

Nearly sixty years ago (1959), an expressway was cut through Delaware Park, which had been a symbol of Olmsted’s vision for connectivity and community pride for roughly 90 years (since 1868). There has always been a road of sorts here, it served carriages, horses, pedestrians, bikes, and it provided safe access from the lake to the meadow – or rather from the Albright Knox to the Zoo, if you want to consider those physical places.

For the last 20 years (one-third of the life of this expressway), the community and NYSDOT have been discussing what to do to fix it. An on-again, off-again dialogue with plans, studies, designs, and numerous meetings has rendered transportation infrastructure alternatives to a massive and real-time urban planning challenge. Today, the public is not only tired of the topic, they are frustrated, confused, outraged, and fatigued. Fingers are pointed, complaints are logged, petitions signed – and we need a better solution.

I have read and heard the differing opinions, and I have only the following thoughts to share, purely from the view of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

First, the Conservancy has been involved in this dialogue since the start, long before the speed was reduced to 30 mph – in fact we were told by NYSDOT the speed could never be lowered due to traffic modeling. Yet Governor Cuomo called for that reduction, and he called for the roadway to be redesigned with historic integrity and world-class innovation. He asked DOT for 18 years of debate to be funneled into a 2-year fix.

Those who are obsessed with the speed limit need to realize that it isn’t going to change. You are agreeably driving on a frustrating track of concrete designed for 55 mph yet required to go much slower. Without doubt it doesn’t feel right or look right, and in that vein it seems ludicrous. But this roadway IS going remain 30 mph, and it can either be redesigned properly to achieve our urban needs, or it can continue to be a frustrating corridor of visual signals and unsafe congestion.

People ask “what is SaveDelawarePark? The park isn’t in danger.” But it is. 60 years ago the park was lacerated by this expressway, and today there are those who want to perpetuate the atrocity, as if that’s ok just to save on a 3-minute commute.

The Olmsted Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit. We aren’t a government agency, we don’t own the park, we don’t maintain the 198 (state route), but we do have a mission to preserve, promote, restore, enhance and maintain the Olmsted legacy. These historic and award-winning parks have no voice, so we are their voice. They have existed for 150 years and will be celebrated in 2018 with national attention. For years the parks sat in disarray, but we came to their aid and for the last 14 years have actively cleaned, maintained, and raised funding to improve them. We are invested, and so are you.

In 2008 the Conservancy published, to national acclaim, a master plan which identified over 350 major projects for the park system, citing over $428 million in cost. It has been our directive to proactively engage and fulfill those projects – projects which were vetted by the pubic for nearly a decade – in order to make Buffalo beautiful and proud again.

One of those main projects has been to reconnect Delaware Park, and remedy the divide. To say we are being selfish or narrow minded or taking advantage of a situation, is outrageous. We have been following our mission to remedy this historic tragedy longer than many who voice their opinions on social media have even lived in or near Buffalo.

So let me ask you, do you want Niagara Falls Blvd and Sheridan Drive sized intersections at Parkside, Elmwood, and along the junior soccer fields at Delaware Park? Seriously, do you want a 7-lane intersection of toxic exhaust 40 yards from where 4-year olds play soccer? Do you want to experience seven pedestrian-activated, raised pavement, stop and start “hawk lights”? These are the ones that look like railroad crossing signals along Kenmore Avenue.

Do you want wide concrete medians and high curbs which discourage bikes and increase speed, while becoming a maintenance eyesore? The Conservancy won’t be maintaining the road – it never has. Do you want Hoyt Lake and Scajaquada Creek to be polluted more than they are? Do you want to lose 415 trees – 145 of them in the park of substantial age – to look again like the destruction of Humboldt Parkway? Is that what you want in order to satisfy 10 hours of traffic a week? Have we learned nothing?

The Conservancy has a duty to its mission to fight for a better roadway – a better connection for all residents, commuters, our community and cultural institutions. We cannot accept a road which does not repair the fracture of historic and social inequity. We cannot accept a road that only serves cars and not the people. We cannot accept a road that pollutes our environment and isolates our park neighborhoods.

There is going to be a roadway. It is going to be 30 mph. Nowhere else in this City do we have such a massive and illogical intrusion as the one NYSDOT is imposing here, so why should we accept this mistake? Why shouldn’t we save Delaware Park from this doom? Why shouldn’t we rise to the task of telling the NYSDOT that this is our tax dollars, our time, our toil, and our lives they are impacting with their ridiculous and apathetic designs? Why shouldn’t the commuters want better? Why shouldn’t the neighbors deserve better? Why shouldn’t our City demand better? This is a new Buffalo for goodness sake!

Frustration and road rage aside – we’re talking about a historic park road, a school zone of sorts through one of our nation’s first urban parks. The solution is out there if we could just calm down, listen to one another, and make the best of a critical opportunity to right a wrong. We’ve already been debating 20 years, and we won’t have this chance again for another 60 – isn’t it time to come together now with unified strength to benefit everyone? Why is that so hard these days? We have the technology – so let us find the will.

Lead image: The real deal – Scajaquada Corridor Perspective Rendering by the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy