The Buffalo Skyway

Buffalo is a waterfront city with a deep history along the shores of Lake Erie. With more than half of the city's waterfront left vacant, the potential for revitalization is immense. Whole neighborhoods and commercial districts could be built with strong connections to downtown and the city's existing neighborhoods. To achieve this vision, Buffalo needs to lay down the proper foundation. Good development is tied to good infrastructure. The form of the streets can seal the fate of vast amounts of land.

The Current Situation

Built in 1953, this 1.4-mile long, 110-foot tall limited-access bridge begins at the Inner Harbor downtown, crosses the Buffalo River and touches down as Route 5 in the Outer Harbor. Route 5 continues for another 2.6 miles as a limited-access expressway built on an embankment of slag. The highway's oddly configured exit ramps lead to a confusing series of one-way streets that further hinder access to the waterfront. A total of 41,500 vehicles per day travel along this blighted corridor. There is no pedestrian access between downtown and the Outer Harbor.

Development Plans

Despite many resident pleas to remove the structure, the NYSDOT selected to retain the embanked Route 5 (and reinforce it with new ramps) instead of replacing it with a surface boulevard supporting an urban street-and-block network, even though a boulevard-only option was deemed viable in the project's Environmental Impact Statement.

NYSDOT's current plan leaves aside the fate of the Skyway Bridge, but its decision to retain the embanked Route 5 will necessitate that the Skyway Bridge be replaced by a similar, high-speed expressway facility. It also rebuilds and reconfigures an access road adjacent to the embanked freeway, resulting in a total of 8 lanes of roadway with a right-of-way width of 214 feet. The agency's designs, which leave waterfront access highly restricted and promote auto-dependent land uses, set the stage for limited reinvestment on the waterfront, in all likelihood, keeping the waterfront vacant for another 50 to 100 years.

The Boulevard Alternative

By simply choosing the boulevard alternative already developed by NYDOT, Buffalo could build a single urban thoroughfare that would accommodate traffic demands and become a valuable destination in its own right. Making design changes to the NYDOT's boulevard alternative - changes that would make the street more pedestrian and development-friendly - would significantly improve waterfront access and support the revitalization that Buffalonians have been fighting for. CNU asked Moule Polyzoides to take a look at how an improved grid plan on both Kelly Island and the Outer Harbor could allow for residential and commercial development. With grade-level bridges and an urban boulevard, overall accessibility would be improved and nearly 80 acres of waterfront land could be reclaimed from the embanked highway. This high profile development would not only improve Buffalo's urban tax base, but also excite Buffalonians about their long-maligned waterfront.

Media, Reports and Data

CNU's summary report - Revitalizing Buffalo's Waterfront (PDF 1.9MB)

NYSDOT Project Overview

Southtowns Connector/Buffalo Outer Harbor Project


Route 5/Buffalo Skyway today (Paul Buckley)

The Boulevard option would allow for greater connections to downtown and could be lined with development, creating a desirable place while still providing adequate traffic capacity; a multi-way boulevard (right) could also be considered, allowing through traffic to keep moving in the center lanes and local traffic to continue at its own pace, key for necessary for commercial development.

A network of blocks and streets would expand access and connectivity to the outer harbor (left); a well-connected boulevard could restore value and life to the waterfront. Rendering by Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists (right).