CNU team exposes misguided plan in Buffalo
As of early this summer, Buffalo looked like a promising site for CNU’s Highways to Boulevards initiative. Elected leaders such as Congressman Brian Higgins, a speaker at CNU’s 2006 Congress in Providence, were calling for the removal of the towering Skyway freeway bridge from the downtown waterfront. Three members of Buffalo’s Common Council followed suit after joining CNU President and CEO John Norquist this June for a tour of waterfront development in Milwaukee, where the Park East Freeway was replaced with a boulevard and lift bridge.
Optimism too revolved around a project announced by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, a key area of potential redevelopment just south of downtown where the Skyway bridge touches down and feeds into an embanked highway. Aiming to go to bids this fall with a new surface boulevard with sidewalks, bike lanes and traffic-calming features, NYSDOT was using all the right language.
But a closer look by CNU and an evaluation by new urbanist transportation planning and engineering consultants, Smart Mobility, revealed major problems with the plan. Although NYSDOT had evaluated three alternatives for the project’s environmental impact statement — including one that would replace the embanked freeway with a true urban boulevard — the state agency selected an option that would maintain the embanked freeway and build what amounted to an enlarged frontage road next to it. Contrary to claims by the DOT, Smart Mobility concluded that the NYSDOT plan didn’t significantly expand waterfront access, that the design of its “boulevard” was incompatible with neighborhood-based development, and that traffic demand in the corridor could be easily met by a single boulevard.
Armed with maps and renderings prepared by Stefanos Polyzoides and a volunteer team from Moule & Polyzoides showing how replacing the freeway with an urban boulevard could lead to a waterfront renaissance, Norquist and Smart Mobility principal Norm Marshall traveled to Buffalo to speak both at a waterfront press conference and before the Waterfront Development Committee of the Buffalo Common Council.
Coverage of the CNU press conference made the front page of Metro section of the Buffalo News and an editorial in the News a few days later said, “John Norquist makes a persuasive case that the state should reconsider its plan for the Southtowns Connector. It’s a good idea…The city needs a vibrant new section, easily accessible and integrated into the rest of the city, not cut off from it. It will pay to take a little time to see if a grand boulevard, without the parallel route, makes more sense.”
CNU’s message touched a nerve in Buffalo – posts on the topic at Buffalorising.com generated nearly 100 comments and Council members Michael Kearns, David Franczyk, and Richard Fontana delivered eloquent calls for NYSDOT shift to its boulevard-only plan. But the outcome now depends on how hard leaders such as Congressman Higgins, US Senator Charles Schumer and Governor Eliot Spitzer (whose senior staff members have been in touch with CNU following the visit) push the DOT for a change.