Dear Waterfront Coalition:

12 Dec


You have staked out a position in direct opposition to that of Rep. Brian Higgins. I think it’s safe to say that few politicians have done more to advance the cause of the waterfront – especially Buffalo’s outer harbor – than he.

You use rhetoric that is either hyperbolic or patently false. Route 5 is a road – not a wall. I have been told that the reason why it was bermed in that location has to do with continuous wintertime snowdrifts due to the unimpeded wind off the lake. The at-grade section further south has the former Bethlehem Steel plant land as a buffer. Did you know that?

You constantly bring up the Skyway even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with this particular project. The Southtowns Connector project has one aim and one aim only – to reconfigure Fuhrmann Boulevard to a 4-lane boulevard, and to improve access to and from it off of Route 5. As you well know from your press conference this morning, it is extraordinarily difficult to navigate around the outer harbor. All you’re doing, whether you know it or not (and whether you care or not), is hindering and delaying the improvement of that access.

Right now, it takes a four-mile circuitous route to get from Buffalo’s inner harbor to her outer harbor. I know you’re all atwitter about the Boulevard Alternative petition that BRO has been linking to, but how many of you have signed Brian Higgins’ online petition calling for the Skyway to be removed? Why, frankly, isn’t the so-called “Waterfront Coalition” working hand-in-hand with Brian Higgins to help him in his efforts?

The removal of the Skyway isn’t just something that isn’t on the table right now – it hasn’t even entered the house. It is not under consideration by the state DOT, and even if that entity decided today to look into it, we’re talking years before we’d see anything actually done. And even then, after all the vetting and public comment, we’ll probably have some kooks calling for it to be retained in whole or in part.

So, let me get right down to it:

Do you really think that the man who wrote this letter would support – even for a minute – a project that would in any way hinder or delay the removal of the Skyway?

Back during the whole imbroglio over Larry Quinn’s idea to site Bass Pro on the site of the Central Wharf, just about every one of you – BN Riverkeeper, New Millennium Group, Campaign for Greater Buffalo, etc – argued that the 2004 Master Plan must be adhered to because it had undergone a considerable period of public comment and vetting, and this is what the “community consensus” called for – green space on the site of the Central Wharf.

Yet now, you would completely supplant the consensus reached through the DOT’s public comment and vetting period with your own vision. You are not being consistent. No rules are perfect, but we set things up as best we can and we play by them. Everyone succumbed to your insistence that the Bass Pro proposal ran counter to what the public wanted. Perhaps that victory is what emboldened you to now completely jettison the principles that helped you with the inner harbor. Oh, and incidentally – Brian Higgins, whom you now oppose, helped kill that Bass Pro plan.

Here is what Fuhrmann at Michigan (outer harbor, right under the Skyway) looks like today:
Here is what it would look like under the DOT plan:

Yes, the Skyway is still there. Guess what? Under the Boulevard Alternative, it would look exactly the same, except there would be one more travel lane in each direction on the new road. The Skyway will still be there, because as of right now there are no plans whatsoever to remove it. That is a whole other issue, and a whole other battle.

I corresponded today with Rep. Higgins’ office. It is his intent to push forward with Skyway removal, and he believes that the current DOT is a better catalyst for that outcome. If commuter and truck traffic can be re-routed via the Tifft Street Arterial, then the DOT can give serious consideration to removing the Skyway, which would then ultimately be eliminated from that second rendering – in which case we would have a 4-lane Fuhrmann Boulevard, rather than the 6-lane roadway advocated for by the Waterfront Coalition.

The Embarcadero, the Gardiner, and other elevated highways that immediately abut downtown cores are not comparable to this Route 5. Embarcadero : San Francisco as I-190 : Buffalo. Instead, San Francisco and Toronto show that, contrary to the claims, elevated highways are not some massive impediment to a city’s development. Poor access is an impediment, and that’s half of what the battle has been with respect to the outer harbor. The other half – inactive NFTA management – has already been solved.

Let’s not impede further a plan for improving access to the outer harbor. Keep it up with the overwrought, false rhetoric; delay improvements to waterfront access so much as one day, and I’ll oppose you vehemently. Let’s instead move forward with the current, approved & contracted-for plan, and then redouble our efforts to re-route Route 5 via Tifft Street, and getting rid of the Skyway for good. It will be win-win. And I would join you.

Love, BP

17 Responses to “Dear Waterfront Coalition:”

  1. Paul Francis December 12, 2007 at 11:09 pm #

    Buffalo Pundit, here’s an idea. Instead of only calling Brian Higgins local office, why not also call some of the folks at the Waterfront Coalition? If you did, to hear a response to your take on the issue, you may change your mind on a few things. You are irresponsible to hear one side and report of all of its misinformation.

    Pick up the phone!

  2. Buffalopundit December 13, 2007 at 5:38 am #

    What makes you think WNYMedia hasn’t been in touch with them?

    We know about the pending lawsuit, and we also know what each one of the member organizations think, because a member of each one spoke at yesterday’s press conference. I read their two-page press release.


    If there’s something from their message that I’m missing, maybe they’re getting their message out in a ridiculously poor way that they should be ashamed of.

    So, why don’t you bother to find out the facts before calling something “irresponsible”. Or else, if there’s anything factually inaccurate in my post, why not say so? Probably because there isn’t.

    Also, this post features something called “comments”. You can contact your friends at the Waterfront Coalition and ask them to use that feature.

  3. Amazed yet not Surprised December 13, 2007 at 8:55 am #

    You hit the nail on the head, BP. I’ve been following the “Southtowns Connector” process on the DOT website since at least 2005. There have been a number of public comment opportunities since then. At least some of them were mentioned in the Buffalo News at the time. Now, all of a sudden, we have all of the Louis Renaults of Buffalo running around, “I’m shocked, shocked to find out…” A planning process was in place and the process followed, a decision made. I used to be sympathetic to a lot of the “activists” organizations, even if I sometimes disagreed with their positions and philosophies. No more. The tactics they employ (I recognize I’m painting with a broad brush, but, nonetheless) are beginning to disgust me.

  4. hank December 13, 2007 at 10:15 am #

    Thanks for this post Alan. As an expat it’s difficult to keep track of all the players without a scorecard.

    Now unless your writing talent for propaganda exceed that of Dr Goebbels,(which I find highly unlikely) I’ve seen a whole side of Rep.Higgins that I’ve never seen before. If you read the FNY Blog as I have for several years, you would get the impression that Brian Higgins is Satan’s chief acolyte, and every move he makes is designed to ruin WNY and destroy the republic from within.

    If what you’ve reported on is Rep Higgins’ position, I’m on the same wavelength.

  5. lefty December 13, 2007 at 12:10 pm #


    I posted a different take on Saint Higgins on SpeakUp.

    Take a look..

  6. Laumas December 13, 2007 at 1:05 pm #


    I guess you haven’t been around after you “left”. BrianHiggins has been the only politician to do anything on the waterfront.

    There are things happening there already, abeit small, but he has to contend with the status quo wanting to maintain control.

  7. Laumas December 13, 2007 at 1:06 pm #


    I guess you haven’t been around after you “left”. BrianHiggins has been the only politician to do anything on the waterfront.

    There are things happening there already, abeit small, but he has to contend with the status quo wanting to maintain control.

  8. lefty December 13, 2007 at 1:54 pm #


    Doing ANYTHING is different from doing the RIGHT THING and Higgins is only about getting SOMETHING done.

    What are the small things that are “happening” out there? Besides the plan from the DOT, there has been no public interest in the NFTA land since 2004. There was an announcement on the Freezer Queen site but that is nothing more then a flip.

    Here is the way I see it…

    Both BP and I agree that doing a a street grid and proper zoning is the best way to go.

    Quoting BP from BRO “First of all, I don’t really want a developer selected to develop the outer harbor. I’d much prefer to have government provide a street grid and utility service to that area, and then zone it to ensure it ends up looking like what people want it to look like. Then, let people do the work whenever the need/demand is there. We need to stop with the massive, one-developer mega-projects featuring elevators to the moon, and instead provide the infrastructure for organic development.”

    I agree 100% with this. What I pointed out was this was the original plan from Schumer and Higgins back in 2004. This is what worked in Battery Park.

    The wrong turn was taken by the NFTA. Instead of doing what was right, they went after what was “WOW” instead. Showing a picture of a smart street grid has much less pop then a picture of a mega development. It has less BUZZ if you will.

    Now when the NFTA went this direction, the obstructionists had only 1 plan to take down. They had a handful of developers to attack. It is my belief that the NFTA mega plan was just too big to be realistic.

    Since the developers were spooked and have not voiced a peep since 2004, there is no more “sizzle” for politicians to sell. WNY loves it’s sizzle even though it rarely gets the steak.

    All Higgins is doing now is looking for a cut of steak, even though it is nothing more then stewing meat, so he can say he brought home the dinner in the next election.

    Fast forward 2 years with me… Say the DOT plans happen. Well to get an ROI, some type of street grid will be laid out there. But with BOTH the skyway and the Boulevard combo, lots of land will be used that could go to development. Additional to this, the best land, which is on the lake side will face the buildup to the skyway. Not the most ideal circumstances for development. But lets play along and say it does get developed.

    Fast forward 10 years with me…. Say by the grace of God the skyway comes down. Now you have development on one side and a parkway on the other. Once the skyway is removed, what value does that very think strip of land have? The grid has already been laid to accommodate the skyway so when it is removed you are looking at tearing up BOTH the Boulevard created by Higgins AND the skyway to make it viable. Does anyone thing the DOT or the Feds are going to fund that mistake only 8 years after it was made? I doubt it.

    Why has the DOT and Higgins not released what the grid on the outer harbor will look like with their plan? Why are all of the images they show lacking the “Big Picture View” as others have? The only reason is I feel they do not want people to look at the big picture.

    Sweet comment on my not living in Buffalo. Never mind that I own two homes in South Buffalo, where is a lot more then some of the bloggers on WNYmedia. You sound like a Buffalo Rising poster. Yes that was an insult.

    Maybe you should ask why there are people who live IN the region and do not give a damn instead of critiquing people who care but have no choice but to live elsewhere.

  9. Harvey Garrett December 13, 2007 at 2:57 pm #

    Buffalo Pundit,

    I’m surprised at the tone of this post. I Actually wish you would have called on some of the Waterfront Coalition folks before assuming you understand our position. I would say from this post that you don’t.

    We all like Brian. We all agree that the proposed plan is better than what is there currently. We all agree that we want this project to go forward as quickly as possible. We even like the idea of a parkway – we just don’t want an embanked expressway running along side of it. None of us believe that either option prevents taking down the Skyway – although we do believe the current option rebuilds the infrastructure supporting it and an at-grade solution begins removing that infrastructure.

    We also agree that a public process has already been followed – and we have more appreciation for that than you are giving us credit for. We just think it was driven by a development project that no longer exists – and this has been admitted to by DOT officials.

    We also believe that spending $55 million dollars to rebuild an expressway along the waterfront is a little crazy – but we are open to understanding why some people think it’s necessary. Which is why I’ve personally reached out to you and Buffalo Geek to find out what your concerns might be. Both of you indicated that you were fairly ambivalent about the issue – although it doesn’t sound like it from this post.

    I was part of the Waterfront Coalition meetings with Brian Higgins – we covered everything he was looking for over a two hour meeting and there wasn’t anything he wanted that couldn’t be provided by an at-grade solution – except for cranes in the air in the next 12 months. Nothing. The DOT has vetted the boulevard option as feasible – it handles all the traffic concerns – without rebuilding highways along the waterfront.

    You are right about this debate having too much hyperbole. Describing an embanked highway as a wall (although it is 21 feet higher in some places in the new plan than it currently is according to the DOT) is as unfortunate as referring to the current plan as “Olmstedian” and comparing the proposed boulevard to Niagara Falls Boulevard.

    I read my horoscope today and it said I was too often naive (pause while I silently agree). It’s times like this that I do feel naive because I’m disappointed with discussion of important issues like this when they become more about sensationalism than the real facts.

    The Waterfront Coalition is as guilty as anyone else in this – it just becomes so difficult to get your message out there when the media is more interested in showing that there is an interesting debate – than why the debate is important. WNY Media is better than some – but not innocent here.

    If you really wanted to understand the debate you would have called one of us – I’ve reached out to you a couple of times to discuss this and you basically told me that you were ambivalent to the issue. If that’s true then your post reads more like you are trying to create a story than communicating the issues. I apologize for that accusation – but I would feel better about your challenges to the waterfront coalition if you had actually reached out to us to ask for some background on the quotes in our press release. I asked Buffalo geek just two days ago what his specific concerns were – same thing ambivalence.

    I’m in a coffee shop in michigan running out of battery so I”ll come back to comment more on this post later – but I”d really like this discussion to become more about the issues.


  10. Buffalopundit December 13, 2007 at 3:33 pm #

    Oh, but I am ambivalent about it. If you guys want to hold this up for another half a decade or so, God bless. Because that’s where you’re at now. Let me boil it down:

    I. want. improved. access. to. the. Outer. Harbor.

    I don’t want it tomorrow or the next day, or a decade from now. I want it as soon as humanly possible. You said, as to Higgins:

    everything he was looking for over a two hour meeting and there wasn’t anything he wanted that couldn’t be provided by an at-grade solution – except for cranes in the air in the next 12 months.

    And that’s the most important thing. Starting work on this.

    Any use of the adjective “Olmstedian” is silly.

    Harvey – I shouldn’t have to ask for background to further elucidate what’s contained in a 40 minute press conference or in a 2-page press release. Hell, if the Waterfront Coalition had a website, it could get all of its positions out there without a problem. But it doesn’t.

    How many of the member organizations of the Waterfront Coalition depend on handouts from government or philanthropic entities, yet I’m to believe this is about money? The reason it’s necessary is:

    Keep truck and commuter traffic off of Fuhrmann Boulevard.

    When the Skyway is ultimately taken down, after Tifft Arterial is built and commuter/trucks are using that, then we will have a 4-lane boulevard, not a 6-lane boulevard.

    So, tell me – why are 6 lanes better than 4?

    The boulevard alternative has been rejected by the State DOT after a lengthy and excruciatingly detailed legal process. You say that it’s feasible. So is doing nothing. And if you guys press on with this, that’s what’s going to happen.

    You guys never even tried to educate or convince people. You went right for confrontation. Well, what you get from that is pushback. Don’t be surprised by the tone of this post when the tone was set by the Waterfront Coalition itself many weeks ago.

  11. Denizen December 13, 2007 at 4:44 pm #

    To all you “coalitionists”…..We’re a city where so many people think a souped-up waterfront will help bring back a city where a majority of neighborhoods could use some serious fixing. It’s like spending hours arguing over what type of spinning rims and custom paint to use on the car with an engine that barely works. The smoking head gasket should come first.

    Fix the basics first and then we might see some of the rewards that economically healthier cities get. The next time one of you “coalitionists” wants to bitch and moan about what type of road runs along a desolate chunk of waterfront land, stop and instead do something useful like pressure your local councilman to fix the disgusting mess of a real estate department found in city hall.

  12. BuffaloRox December 13, 2007 at 5:18 pm #

    Now that he’s honed his skills on Reinas, maybe Bill Zimmermann can interview the NYDOT engineer on behalf of the Waterfront Coalition. . .

  13. thestip December 13, 2007 at 11:08 pm #

    Here’s the problem with your argument. The DOT is going to refurbish the elevated section of Route 5 from the Skyway to Ohio Street. From Ohio Street south, they are going to remove the elevated section and build the 6 lane boulevard. Now why in god’s name would the DOT leave a 1 mile stretch of elevated expressway on the waterfront that they are going to sink millions of dollars in, build a new interchange (which ended up in the plan only because of the NFTA/Opus/Uniland plan which is NOT happening now) and then tear that down in 5 years when they tear down the Skyway. Simple. The Skyway will NOT come down as long as the elevated section of expressway is kept up. Otherwise you have an orphan section of expressway 1 mile long. To believe otherwise is foolish. There is NO plan to take down the Skyway. Only a plan to leave an 4 lane expressway with a 4 lane “parkway” right next to it in a section of the city that has limited to no local traffic. Can we say way too much capacity and land being wasted on useless transportation infrastructure. There will NOT be just a four lane roadway left. There will be a four lane roadway with a stupid elevated four lane expressway connected to an expressway bridge built in the 1950’s that has outlived its usefulness. Just building something for the sake of building something has NEVER worked out right for Buffalo in its history, why do you think it would now? I was at the DOT meetings on Route 5 and the public consensus at the meetings was for the boulevard alternative. The ‘hybrid’ alternative presented was the work of then Mayor Masiello, the NFTA/Unliand/Opus so that there would be only one entry point into the outer harbor land to mesh with the Uniland/Opus plan. The public was clamoring for a boulevard, the developers won as usual. Go figure, it’s Buffalo.

  14. Harvey Garrett December 14, 2007 at 12:39 am #


    I guess I disagree that waiting 12 months to get rid of an expressway on our waterfront is too long – and, with all due respect, I don’t believe you’ve made a case for why we shouldn’t wait – you barely mention the embanked highway in your description of the current proposal.

    Why is it OK to have expressways on our waterfront?. I agree that we need to get this project going – I just also want to see it done right and we obviously disagree on what “right” means.

    We’ve been asking whether waiting would put the finances in jeopardy, or delay the project more than 12-16 months because this would be a valid concern, and we are not being told it would. You are jumping to the conclusion that it would and reporting it as a sure thing. Suggesting that it could delay the project by a decade is hyperbole – unless you have some concrete information on this that no one else does (someone willing to go on the record would be nice).

    In answer to why 6 lanes are better than 4 [and the embanked expressway everyone keeps forgetting to mention] we would probably ask why an embanked expressway along our waterfront is better than a 6 lane boulivard. This is the crux of the issue – and a much more reasonable debate.

    This is what the discussion should be about – and I don’t believe that this is what is happening here. Every time the current plan is promoted it is heralded as an “olmstedian” parkway without mentioning that there is a highway running right along side of it (again – 21 feet higher in some places). Even with your representation of the issue as a choice between 4 and 6 lanes you don’t address the rebuilding of the expressway. This is our biggest concern and it isn’t being addressed here.

    I can’t speak for all the other coalition members BP – but you know that I don’t get any funding – public or private. I’m just looking for what’s best for Buffalo – and I’m open to learning why I’m wrong. But I would have to say that these groups do take on a pretty good risk to their own funding when they stand up against the City and a popular Congressman on issues like this – yet they do it anyhow and that should be respected.

    And based on your assumptions on the Waterfront Coalition’s position – I don’t think you have it down. Certainly we need to take some responsibility for this – but come on now Pundit, you could have just picked up the phone and asked. I certainly offered. You really don’t appear to be all that ambivalent here.

    As I’ve stated before I have tremendous respect for you personally and professionally, I also respect your position if I understand it correctly as just wanting this project to go forward as quickly as possible – even if it means rebuilding an expressway on the waterfront. And that you are concerned that a boulevard couldn’t handle the traffic (or maybe it’s more of a concern that even if it could it wouldn’t work well). That’s fair – but then let’s just discuss these concerns rather than belittling non-profits, suggesting that reconsidering an at-grade alternative already vetted by the DOT will result in nothing happening, suggesting that we are jettisoning our principles, or any of the other false issues here.

    And BP – we didn’t start out with confrontation – we’ve been trying to discuss this issue with Higgins and the DOT for months (some members since last January)- Higgins didn’t want to have the discussion he wanted to communicate through the media. We finally got our meeting with him after Donn Esmond got a better look at the boulevard option and strongly suggested that he speak with us (in print). You are right about our need for a web site – we are almost entirely made up of volunteers and we are all overtaxed – but yes we need to improve here.

    Final correction – the boulevard option wasn’t rejected by the DOT – it was approved (so let’s be careful about accusations of rhetoric). It just wasn’t the preferred alternative, once again this was driven by a development project that is no longer happening.

    To us this issue is about whether it’s worth losing 12 months or so to take a closer look at an option that does everything the current proposal does but without an expressway running along our waterfront and parkway.

    You are ambivalent, yet in your own words you “oppose us vehemently”. You are not ambivalent about this Pundit – and I wish you would have taken some time to learn a little more about the other side of the issue before attacking “so vehemently” – I know, I know, it’s hard not to be snarky. I’m certainly interested in learning more about your concerns (which is why I contacted you before if you think back) and anyone else’s.

    I think we do still need to sit down and discuss this further (with you and anyone else). I’ll call you when I get back in town. Until then I hope you and your family are enjoying the holidays,


  15. Christopher Smith December 14, 2007 at 12:52 pm #

    The Skyway will NOT come down as long as the elevated section of expressway is kept up.

    stip, you are engaging in what economists call “uncertain predictions”, those which we can not specify a reliable distribution of probabilities. Yours is an opinion, not a fact.

    Also, what this really boils down to, at its very essence, is a group of people who don’t deem this particular type of progress to be good progress. Really, it’s all quite subjective.

    You deem it to be inadequate progress whereas I deem it to be completely satisfactory. Why is that? Because no one can state clearly how the current DOT plan disincents progress, development, or removal of the skyway with any reasoned logic, facts, or probability. The coalition believes that the current plan is “bad”. There is no objective reality in that assessment, you just think its bad. Just as Higgins thinks it’s not.

    Before we debate any further, it would be educational to determine what it is one wants to accomplish on the waterfront. Do you want access? Pedestrian friendly? Development? What else?

    What in the current plan or the NYDOT boulevard alternative plan either incents or disincents any of those goals from happening. If the current plan does not disincent those critical factors from being accomplished, we have a discussion. If not, we have a subjective argument over what you like versus what I like, which is pointless.

  16. Concerned Citizen August 21, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    This issue is not only about the waterfront being developed or access to the water being improved. It is also about the water. People in Buffalo do not seem to realize that we sit on the edge of some the most valuable water in the world, and it is horribly polluted. If the waterfront and its access are improved as quickly as possible, instead of as correctly as possible, all we are doing is allowing tons of Buffalo citizens to get to the polluted water quickly and easily. Here they can eat polluted fish and swim in sewer overflow and industrial toxins. We do need improved access to the water, but we also need improved, cleaner water.

    Part of the Boulevard Plan is to reduce the pollution near the water. If we add 4 lanes onto 4 more lanes, we are adding pollution to the area we are trying to gain access to. Also, the current plan would bring the boulevard closer to the water’s edge, cutting down on park and accessible space. The Boulevard plan wants to use the space now taken up by the skyway and thruway for the boulevard. This allows more open area near the water for the public to use.

    I agree that water access should be improved. However, is destroying natural habitat and cutting into park land with another roadway really the answer? Can we please think about the safety of the water? Some of these organizations you are accusing of depending “on handouts from government or philanthropic entities” are really trying to dig into industrial pockets to make them clean up after themselves. And, by holding on to the Boulevard plan, they are trying to ensure that money spent on the water and it’s waterfront is money truly being spent on the city. There are too many projects that cost us millions of dollars and have barely anything to show for it. Where is all the money going? It is tax payer money and the tax payers never reap the benefits. Our state and city keep bouncing in and out of debt, our civil servants have been without contracts for years because the city does not have the money, but we can spend millions of dollars on a project the will have to be redone eventually. This makes no sense.

    Let this waterfront revision be for the people of Buffalo and its surrounding municipalities. Not for the contractors, developers or any other individual profit or gain. And let’s work to make our waterfront and our water clean and usable for generations to come. We need to support the tax payers, not the speed of the project!


  1. Buffalo’s Outer Harbor: From Brownfield to Question Mark | BuffaloPundit - November 13, 2014

    […] against these improvements to access, claiming silly things, e.g., a bermed Route 5 off the Skyway represented a “wall” between Buffalo’s downtown and her waterfront – never mind the river and the grain […]

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