Caution. Congestion Ahead.

20 Nov

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Imagine an at-grade 6-lane boulevard with median & shoulder ferrying approximately 40,000 cars per day. Close your eyes and picture it. Then realize it’s Niagara Falls Boulevard between Maple and the I-290.

The DOT has elected, after several periods of public comment, environmental review, and scoping, to improve access to the waterfront by, in turn, improving access to and the design of Fuhrmann Boulevard.

The problem with transportation on the Outer Harbor has always been access; you can’t get there from here. It was never about Route 5 “cutting off” anything from anything. The plan moving forward will improve that access. The folks in favor of the Boulevard alternative don’t want a limited-access Route 5. They want a 6-lane boulevard with median. They claim that the boulevard is scaled better for an urban environment, that an “elevated” highway isn’t what vibrant cities build on their waterfronts, citing Toronto, San Francisco, and Chicago.

That’s fine. God Bless America that people can speak up and advocate for something they want.

As with Bass Pro and other projects, my problem has to do with lies and hyperbole to make one’s point.

Buffalo Rising continues to be the online organ of the Waterfront Coalition, a collection of nonprofits who are pushing for the Boulevard Alternative for the Southtowns Connector. Take for instance this recording of a radio broadcast that Buffalo Rising helped to host on WBFO, featuring Buffalo Common Council member Mickey Kearns. I listened – with amazement that increased by the minute – to that broadcast, and gleaned the following information from it:

  • Buffalo is the 3rd poorest city in the country, so we’ll build a new city on our waterfront.
  • This is like the 33 and the Scajaquada. Taking down an elevated highway will lead to growth.
  • The DOT Commissioner is someone we shouldn’t listen to because she used to live in Massachusetts and worked for a Republican governor. But we should listen to “experts” like Wisconsin’s John Norquist, and Vermont’s SmartMobility.
  • You could barely hear Norquist because of the truck traffic on Route 5. So, we should bring the trucks onto a 6-lane boulevard because it’ll be better for pedestrians and less noisy.
  • Milwaukee and Chicago are developing because they took down their elevated highways.
  • If you live in the suburbs, Buffalo’s your city, says Newell. Therefore, they ought to force traffic onto surface roads in the city of Buffalo. If they won’t voluntarily use city amenities, we’ll change the roads to make them do so.
  • Wow, I’m sold. I have seldom seen a weaker set of arguments, and a longer set of obnoxious misstatements and untruths to promote a roadway alternative. The Southtowns Connector will not be the 33, the I-190, and Hitler all wrapped up in asphalt.

    Then, I saw this post by Buffalo Geek. Congressman Brian Higgins, who backs the current plan, is opposed to the Boulevard Alternative because it would be tantamount to plopping Niagara Falls Boulevard on the waterfront. Not so! claim the supporters. They point to the traffic numbers – about 40,000 cars per day – and have even argued that two-lane Elmwood handles just over half that!

    Well, the traffic figures bear out Higgins’ argument:

    Based on traffic data collection (March 2006), the average number of vehicles traveling the area defined by the current Southtowns Connector/Route 5 argument is 42,900 per day.

    Based on traffic data collection (March 2006), the average number of vehicles traveling the area hated by urban planners everywhere, Niagara Falls Boulevard between Maple Road and the I-290 is 38,000 per day.

    Now, plop in Kearns’ “new city” on the lake, and you’ve got a traffic nightmare every rush hour.

    One of the oft-repeated arguments for the Boulevard Alternative is that the 6-lane boulevard will free up more waterfront area land for development. O RLY? Looking at the Smart Mobility presentation commissioned by the Congress for New Urbanism, that isn’t really borne out.

    smartmobility.jpg

    The groups who oppose this plan, and the people who signed the petition, are well-intentioned but they’re arguing against the creation of the I-190 on the waterfront. Apples and oranges. This simply isn’t the unmitigated disaster that they say it is.

    The impediments to outer harbor development have been:

    1. NFTA control;
    2. Lack of political will; and
    3. Lack of demand.

    Not necessarily in that order. Route 5 is not the impediment to development, nor will it cut the waterfront off from anything. What it accomplishes is getting people to the waterfront – and downtown – on a 4-lane limited access highway that accommodates its traffic without shunting cars, trucks, and buses onto surface roads.

    I just wish the proponents of the Boulevard Alternative would stick to facts and leave emotion and nonsense out of it.

    20 Responses to “Caution. Congestion Ahead.”

    1. Stephen Nazwisko November 20, 2007 at 9:33 am #

      Close, The barriers have been:

      1) NFTA Control (people were yelling about this in the 1960s!)
      2) Lawsuits
      3) Threats of lawsuits
      4) Threats of threats of lawsuits
      5) An apathetic business establishment
      6) Financial reality
      7) Threats of threats of threats of lawsuits

      In that order.

    2. wcp November 20, 2007 at 9:51 am #

      Throw in a sprinkling of environmental contamination into the impediment mix too.

    3. James November 20, 2007 at 10:13 am #

      Elevated roads are not efficient. Hence why cities have knocked them down. If this new connector plan does not perpetuate the life of the Skyway then I would like to see a plan that details its removal.

      Boulevards suck.

      We need access to the waterfront. The Skyway needs to come down. I have some knowledge but very little ability as to how to do either.

      More than less I am a fan of John Norquist. Outside perspective is good. He has been there. Buffalo and New York State politicians have not gotten the job done. Higgins is newer which is good, but I fear this is more of the same.

      I understand that this comment offers no solution. I hate that.

    4. hank November 20, 2007 at 11:14 am #

      James, I can understand you hate it that you don’t have the solution, but at least you give a damn. Which is more than can be said for probably 750K of the 1.2 million people who actually LIVE there.

      When people don’t get involved and STAY involved, things don’t get done. If in doubt, look around.

    5. James November 20, 2007 at 11:33 am #

      I would find it difficult to call myself involved. I read local newspapers and blogs. I have gone to see Smart Growth speakers and attend the ocassional Citizens for Regional Transit Corporation meeting (which I hate are at noon on a weekday). And I complain about Buffalo. Finding solutions is difficult, however, quite possible.

      However, yoy’re right. I do give a damn. I’m just not sure what to do about it.

    6. Andy November 20, 2007 at 11:45 am #

      BP-
      I couldn’t agree more with what you said above. NF Blvd is an absolute mess. Want me to avoid the Waterfront? Build a congested Transit Road/NF Blvd replica down there.

      Instead of the morass, let’s build what the DOT designed, an efficient, intellegent, highway with good on/off access. It’s not a park, it’s a road, let’s design it as such, and get traffic to the waterfont already!

    7. Jim Sampson November 20, 2007 at 11:53 am #

      Having lived in Milwaukee for 30 years, their elevated highway that was taken down and the current Buffalo discussion are not comparable. Milwaukee’s lakefront has never been cutoff by elevated highways. The highway that was razed took place long after downtown development took off and razing it connected downtown to a gentfiying neighborhood to the north. The highway was a spur going no where and had limited traffic. It was easily replaced by a blvd that had been destroyed decades earlier when the elevated highway was built.

    8. Andrew Kulyk November 20, 2007 at 11:54 am #

      In case you missed it, there was another article in Buf rising the other day, lamenting the “scar” that is the Scajaquada Expwy and advocating a return to… you guessed it. A six lane boulevard with center medians and bike paths and traffic lights. The most bizarre suggestion was converting the Delaware Ave overpass (you know that one with the beautiful stone arches) into a bike trail, so that car traffic could be brought down to grade with Delaware and a traffic light to boot.

      Accompanying the article were a series of photos – the bucolic look of the road in the days when we road horses, the still bucolic look when we road model T’s. Then *horrors*!!! Trees being cut down, and then….. NO TREES, just ugly bridges and construction and cranes. Those baaaaaadddddd suburbanites!!!

      I could see a subtle remaking of that highway to bring it more in tune with the park and cemetery. Better drainage and access ramps, restoring Agassiz Circle, lower speed limits etc.

      Not good enough, the Buf Rising merry commenters will reply… they would like to see Rt 5 demoe’d and changed to a boulevard, the 33 closed off and the street grid restored, 198 changed to a boulevard, the 190 demoe’d and replaced by a boulevard. Heck while we’re at it why not the 290? Imagine how UB and Audubon could grow and expand into south Amherst if that pesky expressway didn’t “choke off” growth! And FOR THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS!!!

      And the next part of the convoluted dream will come “first floor retail”, wine bars and espresso shops and sushi bars with outdoor patios, lining all those boulevards. And of course… IKEA!!!!!!!

      I really used to love Buffalo Rising. I mean it I did. But as a suburbanite living in Cheektowaga, I can say I need roads and access into the city. Close off those roads and make it harder for me and my neighbors to come in, and fewer of us will bother to make the effort. Is that what you want fewer people coming into the city? Why don’t you BRO people get that?

    9. Jeff Brennan November 20, 2007 at 12:54 pm #

      Pundit,

      I don’t have the time right now to give the reasons why you are way off on this entire post. Apples to anvils as you would say. The short reason though is that you are using raw vehicle count numbers in a completely uninformed and inappropriate way to make your point. I will show you later in excruciating detail why it is completely inaccurate and out of context to do so. If you read the DOT’s own EIS, I believe you will see that the boulevard would easily handle the traffic. Us advocates have been using the DOT’s own document in which they say a boulevard would do the job also. There are several versions of boulevard that would work, I advocate for a multi-way but that is just my opinion. My qualifications for my informed opinion: former DOT employee and went to college for it. Look forward to the discussion later.

    10. Jeff Brennan November 20, 2007 at 1:00 pm #

      If you want a preview of the honest and true reasons you are wrong (as opposed to the emotional ones your have been mocking), try reading all my comments on your previous posts as well as Buffalo Geeks.

    11. Paul Francis November 20, 2007 at 1:37 pm #

      Pundit, you’re not worth arguing with.

    12. dave in Rocha November 20, 2007 at 2:06 pm #

      “Want me to avoid the Waterfront? Build a congested Transit Road/NF Blvd replica down there.”

      I couldn’t agree more.

    13. Eric P. November 20, 2007 at 2:08 pm #

      Chunnel.

    14. Buffalopundit November 20, 2007 at 2:21 pm #

      @Jeff Brennan: I think the plan is threefold:

      1. Use Route 5 as a limited access road to keep commercial traffic off the waterfront;

      2. Use Fuhrmann Boulevard as a picturesque and aesthetically pleasing roadway that enhances the area and improves waterfront access; and

      3. Improve access to Fuhrmann, which is now a joke.

      It makes perfect sense to me to keep the commercial traffic going to and from the remediated brownfields off of Fuhrmann and away from the water. Build the Tifft arterial and connect Route 5 to the I-190 so the trucks (and some commuters) can use that instead.

      The surface traffic can then exit onto Fuhrmann and continue on to the Outer Harbor, and to at-grade crossings at Michigan or Main Streets (or elsewhere). Without the commercial traffic, that makes much more sense to me, and would hasten the decision to rid Buffalo of the Skyway because you will have solved all access problems.

      A 6-lane boulevard that accommodates the truck traffic doesn’t make a lick of sense – to have 18 wheelers rumbling close by the water at 40 MPH, and stopping for red lights seems to me to be counterintuitive if we’re trying to develop an Outer Harbor for a human – not industrial – scale.

      @Paul Francis: Anyone who posts a comment stating that it’s not worth commenting is being a nitwit.

    15. nyc November 20, 2007 at 2:25 pm #

      this whole “it will be like a congested transit road” is all speculation to make people fear the blvd alternative. It is not rooted in any sensible understanding of transportation and land use planning.

      This whole post is nonsense.

    16. Buffalopundit November 20, 2007 at 2:48 pm #

      Well, at least we’ve debunked the “elevated superhighway” and “takes up more land” nonsense.

      So, what about transportation and land use planning are we missing?

    17. Buffalopundit November 20, 2007 at 3:30 pm #

      By the way, Paul Francis, you wrote this in a previous post:

      Pundit, you forget that the people of Hamburg elected a body to speak for them, the Hamburg Town Council, which unanimously voted in favor of supporting the Boulevard Alternative and removing Route 5.

      It wasn’t the Hamburg Town Council. It was the Hamburg Village Board.

      Just thought you’d like to know.

      Love, BP

    18. nyc November 20, 2007 at 4:51 pm #

      Pundit,
      are you not perpetuating the same rumors/ misinformation?

      “Now, plop in Kearns’ “new city” on the lake, and you’ve got a traffic nightmare every rush hour.”
      that sounds like emotion and speculation.

      I think you intentions are good but misguided. Both sides of this issue are not arguing on pure fact and analysis.

      and I would love to write about land use and transportation planning. I am sorry i can not summarize at the moment because it would be an long essay. I will when i get a chance.

    19. BobbyCat November 23, 2007 at 9:24 am #

      I’ve come late to this party, with a few questions/comments.

      I was leaning toward the Boulevard concept….but how could we isolate commercial traffic, especially the big- rig trucks?

      On the other hand, building the Niagara Thruway and blockading Buffalo residents from access to their Niagara River was a historic blunder by Robert Moses. Are we repeating that blunder?

      Hamburg Village Board is entitles to it’s opinion but no more so than any of the other southtowns in Erie County or Chautauqua County, for that matter. Remember that United States Route 5 runs from California thru New York.

      I know that delay after delay is crippling but so is a rush to judgement.

      Instead of settling for the classic Buffalo mediocrity – this time aim for greatness, whatever it takes.

    20. TheRover November 24, 2007 at 10:02 am #

      Route 5 is a state highway, not US. Also, let’s not bash big trucks, they are the lifeblood of commerce. All those overpriced trinkets sold on Elmwood Ave are delivered by what, Elmwood fairies? No, trucks. Same with wine for the wine bars, sushi for the sushi bars, etc. There is a need for inbound and outbound transportation corridors throughout the city. Making it harder for truck traffic to get around only runs up the cost of goods delivered. In case anybody hasn’t noticed, this ain’t 1890 anymore and despite the illusions of some, horse drawn wagons just won’t cut it.

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