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.

History

Built in 1953, this 1.4-mile long, 110-foot tall limited-access bridge known locally as “The Skyway” 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.

The Current Situation

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. Currently the DOT rates the Skyway bridge as “fracture critical” while the Federal Highway Administration classifies the bridge as “functionally obsolete.” 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. Furthermore, maintenance of the bridge is likely to cost more than $50 million over the next two decades.

Future Alternatives

Citizens and civic organizations, including the Buffalo Common Council, New York State Assemblyman Michael Kearns, and CNU continue to call for the Skyway to come down and the replacement of urban sections of Route 5 through Buffalo with a surface boulevard. In 2013, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation Joan McDonald directed her office to conduct a plausibility review of the route, though the results have yet to be published.

Citizens and civic organizations, including the Buffalo Common Council, New York State Assemblyman Michael Kearns, and CNU continue to call for the Skyway to come down and the replacement of urban sections of Route 5 through Buffalo with a surface boulevard. In 2013, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation Joan McDonald directed her office to conduct a plausibility review of the route, though the results have yet to be published.

Resources

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

NYSDOT Project Overview

Southtowns Connector/Buffalo Outer Harbor Project

Get Involve

Image credit: Don Nieman

 

Route 5/Buffalo Skyway today, image credit: 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).