Transportation Report: Remove the Buffalo Skyway

Transportation Experts Conclude Skyway Removal Is Best Solution for Balancing Transportation, Economic Needs

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Buffalo, N.Y., Dec. 15—Two leading experts in urban redevelopment and transportation reform will be in Buffalo to present community leaders and elected officials with a review of potential transportation impacts of removing the elevated highway known as the Buffalo Skyway. John Norquist, President of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and former Mayor of Milwaukee, and Scott Bernstein, President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) will say that the best option for Buffalo’s waterfront is a surface street with at-grade connections to downtown.

CNU and CNT embarked a year ago on a national analysis of the economic and transportation impacts experienced in cities that have replaced elevated freeways with boulevards, with a focus on how to apply these lessons in cities with elevated freeways in their downtowns. Consulting with transportation engineers, Norman Marshall and Lucinda Gibson of Smart Mobility, Inc., CNU and CNT have released a report on the potential impacts of replacing the Skyway with a surface boulevard, Assessment of Transportation Needs for Buffalo's Waterfront Redevelopment.

Marshall and Gibson reviewed existing travel patterns along the Route 5 corridor and concluded that a surface boulevard option with an at-grade bridge will not only handle traffic volumes but also improve traffic circulation along Buffalo’s waterfront, creating enhanced opportunities for economic development in the key sections running from downtown to the Outer Harbor.

CNU President John Norquist believes that Buffalo and the State of New York would be better served by using existing funding for a surface boulevard with simplified at-grade intersections. "Resources should be re-allocated to build streets that help, not hinder, Buffalo's revitalization," argues Norquist. "Urban boulevards handle traffic more effectively and in a way that fosters development."

The study recognizes that freeways consume large amounts of valuable downtown land, creating large gaps in the urban fabric and reducing walkability. With growing interest in redeveloping Buffalo's waterfront, it is an ideal time to build streets that support this vision. "Poor access to the Outer Harbor is currently stifling waterfront redevelopment because the Skyway acts as a barrier and emphasizes through traffic at the expense of local circulation," write Gibson and Marshall.

“This isn’t about tearing down a bridge, it is about building up our future,” said Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27). “This community can’t afford not to remove the Skyway. By eliminating this obstacle to economic growth we can open up the opportunity for our waterfront and our city to reach their limitless potential.”

Norquist and Bernstein outlined the benefits experienced in San Francisco, Portland, Milwaukee, with the removal of limited-access freeways and their replacement with urban boulevards. In Milwaukee, the removal of the Park East freeway reclaimed valuable riverfront property. From 2001 to 2006, the values of the reclaimed acreage grew by 155%, while the city experienced an 18% growth rate in property values.

"I want to thank John Norquist, the Congress for New Urbanism and the Center for Neighborhood Technology in providing this valuable analysis of the Skyway and the negative impact it has had on the accessibility of the Buffalo waterfront to city residents and visitors," said City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. "As we continue progress in revitalizing the city's waterfront, this study will provide a compelling case for removing the Skyway, replacing it with an at-grade road system and move further in reconnecting Buffalo's waterfront to the city."

The industrial heritage of Buffalo has left more than 130 acres in the Outer Harbor lying vacant and ready for revitalization. Numerous proposals call for a compatible mixture of private and public spaces, from wildlife habitat to great waterfront neighborhoods.

"The waterfront is an amazing asset of downtown and should be accessible and integrated within the existing street network," commented Norquist. "Buffalo has a great opportunity to correct a mistake made in the post World War II era and add tremendous value to the downtown and the tax base."

The Congress for the New Urbanism and the Center for Neighborhood Technology develop interdisciplinary solutions to restoring urban centers, reconfiguring sprawling suburbs, and conserving environmental assets. Smart Mobility's experience includes transportation and planning analysis for the state departments of transportation in New York, Minnesota, Georgia, and New Hampshire among other clients.

Learn more about the Highways to Boulevards Initiative.