Tag Archives: skyway

Highways and Byways

18 Feb

In the last week there has been some debate, none of it new, on the chicken and the egg, and the relative importance to each. In this case, the chickens are large highways, and the egg is the perpetually under-developed downtown Buffalo. Is Buffalo under-developed because large highways are in the way? Do the highways need to be removed for Buffalo to prosper? How important are the stupid highways in the grand scheme of things?

I love new shiny objects. Especially when they are over 10 stories and cost $100M or more. But let me make the layman’s common sense case for new shine being neither here nor there.

Which is more important: having great infrastructure, or how you use what you have? If you answered the second, why do we always seem to argue about the first? Alan comes down squarely in the “play the hand you’re dealt” camp. A comment discussion between myself and STEEL yielded the admission that highways may not be the most important thing, but they are not an asset.

Since Buffalo doesn’t have $5B or $10B to start over, I think how we use what we’ve got is more important than arguing about what we wish would happen, or would have happened. “But hold on,” the infrastructure first crowd chants. “We just trying to better use the money we do spend. Like not spending $50M on reinforcing Route 5 and the Skyway.” If only the Southtown Connector was the only project on the docket. Its hard to talk about one highway project without hearing a chorus of “Tear down the Skyway! Tear out the I-190! Pull up the 198!” If you’re not careful, that starts to turn into real money . . .

Even the most cursory review shows that both flourishing and floundering cities have all manner of infrastructure. For every Vancouver touted for explosive growth with no highways in the urban core (though plenty of gridlock), there is Chicago, Milwaukee, Toronto, Portland and Seattle that are riddled with expressways. Few would say highways are the main feature holding back Detroit. And does Pittsburgh‘s resurgence have more to do with renewed medical and education industries, or reclaiming a little parkland where three rivers come together? Portland has a Skyway interchange hanging over the Willammette river. Know what’s surrounding it? Filled to the brim bike paths. STEEL challenged me that I didn’t spend a lot of time under Portland’s highways. Actually, my favorite place in Portland is under a highway:

Which makes my point completely. What Buffalo is missing is attitude. Our highways, empty grain elevators, rusting factories, abandoned warehouses, urban prairie, and old housing stock – all seemingly negatives – can be assets with the right attitude. Warehouse to loft conversions, PUSH, Buffalo Reuse and the Wilson Street Farm are a couple examples of new attitude. That those four, and few others, sprung to mind so quickly perhaps shows how far we have to go.

I spent the last couple weeks in Yakima, Washington. Yakima is to Seattle as Jamestown is to Buffalo. Yakima has many shiny new buildings in one small strip of downtown.

Two blocks off downtown is another story.  

While many complain that poor Buffalo is surrounded by rich suburbs, much of small town America shows that rich suburbs are better than no suburbs. At least Buffalo, theoretically, has a financial cushion of the county to fall back on. What if poor Buffalo sat alone? Welcome to Yakima, and similar poor, hollowed out metros, lonely and isolated. Yakima’s alternative music school is closing, but it has shiny new infrastructure. How much do brick-accented sidewalks matter?

Form Follows Function. The bike and walking culture of Portland was not created because a forward looking city council created bike paths everywhere, and the average citizen one day decided “You know, there’s a bike path out my front door – maybe I should try it.” The culture came first, and demanded bike paths and pedestrian friendly light rail. The politicians followed, and built it.

Where does this meandering column lead? To this conclusion: The Buffalo we have is the Buffalo we deserve, because it is the Buffalo we chose. The union bound, small minded politicians we have accurately reflect and represent our interests. The infrastructure we have is the infrastructure we chose based upon our priorities: cars and industry. We replaced factories with call centers and back office paper shuffling. When there is a new initiative for the city, we spend more time planning for its failure than helping it succeed. We are not Portland because we do not wish to be. The problem is attitude.

If you are troubled by this, you have three choices: accept it, leave, or try to change it. While seemingly superficial advancements and events, like the giant ice maze, are greeted with jeers, I respect them. They attack the root problem: attitude. If Buffalo became a more creative, fun, progressive (for progress, not liberal) place, then perhaps our form would follow that function instead.

Skyway Reuse

21 Oct

Ran Webber on his alternative to tearing the Skyway down:

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Buffalo Harbor Bridge

21 Sep

When I got this press release, my reaction was, “whoa”.

Today at 11am, Congressman Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron Brown, and ECHDC representatives will announce an application for a grant to build a Buffalo Harbor Bridge.

Specifically, they will be applying for $90 million in federal transportation funds under the “TIGER” (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) fund to help construct a bridge connecting downtown Buffalo with the outer harbor.  The non-Skyway option.
TIGER is a $1.5 billion special category of stimulus funding for high-profile projects with a large, demonstrable, stimulative impact.

The press conference today will be at the foot of Main Street, in the NFTA Parking Lot, next to the DL&W site, behind HSBC Arena.  This is part of the overall Canal Side project, but also improving access to the outer harbor makes development easier and may be phase one in ultimate Skyway removal.

Thinking Outside the Box

28 Nov

From the Buffalo Ruse:

The New York State Department of Transportation has issued a dramatic proposal to eliminate the Buffalo Skyway by the year 2019. Instead of demolishing the structure, as a recent urban renewal commission has suggested, The DOT’s plan calls for raising the City of Buffalo itself to match the highest point of the 110-foot tall Skyway…

…State DOT Engineer Evan Brady says that according to the current architectural drawings, the top floor of virtually every tall structure in downtown Buffalo would serve as the first floor after the City is raised. “We would have a dramatic underground network of Grade A office space absolutely unique in the entire nation.” The major exceptions to this are City Hall and the HSBC towers, whose entry floors will be the 14th and the 21st floor respectively.

At a hastily convened press conference held under the aging span, Congressman Brian Higgins and former ambassador to Malta Anthony Gioia both sounded enthusiastic about the proposal. “We’re talking about an engineering feat that would bring tourists from around the world,” said Higgins. “What other city in the world will be able to claim that it eliminated a towering eyesore by raising itself to the same level of that very eyesore?”

Writing this from the comfort of a place that is not just a tourist mecca, but actually has seen other economic sectors thrive in recent years, it’s poignant the shit we’re worried about in Buffalo.

Hypothesis

21 Aug

A picture of traffic at 5pm sharp on a Friday in the summertime is proof positive that a four-lane at-grade boulevard coming off the Skyway onto the Outer Harbor is an A-OK idea.

Here’s what I wrote about the actual traffic situation coming off the Skyway during rush a month ago.

Not Halftime Yet

28 May

The Erie Canal Harbor Terminal park is now open for sightseeing. The transformation from gravel parking lot and 70s era museum facility to historical recreation/interpretation of what was once there is truly phenomenal. Not just because it looks nice, but because it is a major downtown waterfront project that engendered controversy yet somehow managed to get done.

So far.

There’s a boardwalk, informational signs, a waterfall, a park, and the naval museum. There’s a hot dog stand, too. These are all positive steps towards an improved, attractive inner harbor. Now comes another hard part.

The historical aspect of this area gets people there, but now it’s important to keep people there and getting them to spend their money. In order to do that, we need buildings and shops and bars and restaurants. Bass Pro or no Bass Pro, it’s important that Benderson and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation begin making palpable progress on the remainder of the Canal Side project. That means bringing the Aud down, bringing the Donovan down, and starting work on what will be on that block under the Skyway.

So, cheer this progress, and it is truly amazing that any of this got done at all in this town – a town that will take any mediocre non-event – like the removal of driftwood from an unswimmable beach, or the fact that the marina is open 12 months per year instead of 7, or where the mayor holds a press conference to announce pay & display parking meters. The inner harbor project is moving. There is something built there.

But realize that it’s only the 1st out of 4 quarters.

The Waterfront, Part 72

14 Dec

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I officially give up. I can no longer summon the will nor the passion to sensibly debate issues surrounding the waterfront, the inner harbor, the outer harbor, the Skyway, Route 5, boulevards, or highways along said waterfront.

I am officially ceding all future development to people with access to Google Sketchup and a dream.

Frankly, I no longer care if anything ever gets built on the outer harbor nor do I carry much concern for the development of the inner harbor either. Why? Because all we discuss/debate/argue are pie in the sky, silver bullet plans with little likelihood of ever being built. If a plan is ever selected, it will then be debated/argued/litigated until we move on to the next compromise plan.

You want a mockup of a wet dream inner harbor featuring randomly placed canals and streets put together 10 minutes before a press conference? It’s all yours! You want a six lane boulevard on the outer harbor? You got it. You want a mule path instead of the I-190? Do whatever you want.  Would you like to pretend that we have similar economic development possibilities as Toronto, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, and Boston?  Super, help yourself!
Clearly, I do not belong in the debate as my sensible questions and pragmatic point of view are but an inconvenience.  The fundamental disconnect between the reality of life in Buffalo and Western New York and many vocal denizens of Buffalo FARL (Forest to Allen, Linwood to Richmond) is shocking and illogical to engage.

I’ll instead focus on issues that, ya know, actually matter.  The root causes of our urban shrinkage and decline…not the symptoms or the effects.  Like the moribound local economy, exceedingly high tax burden, ineffective and intransigent government, urban blight, house flipping, shrinking city, suburban sprawl, crumbling (non-waterfront) infrastructure, failing school system, political corruption, unionistas, crime, and all the other reasons that make these waterfront discussions utterly pointless.  I’ll continue discussing these issues, promoting solutions, and looking to effectuate change in the political and economic arenas as I have always done.

I just can’t fathom ever getting involved in another lengthy discussion regarding the waterfront. So, I join the 99% of people in Western New York who have completely given up on ever seeing progress on the waterfront.

Ya know what? It feels good.

Dear Waterfront Coalition:

12 Dec

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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:
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Here is what it would look like under the DOT plan:
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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

Irony & Godwin’s Law on the Waterfront

12 Dec

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In 1987, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in the shadow of the Berlin Wall and the Brandenburg Gate, imploring the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to “tear down this wall”. Two years later, it came down as a democratic revolution swept over the Warsaw Pact countries within the course of about 5 months.

The Berlin Wall wasn’t just a physical barrier. It was symbolic – it was the very embodiment of the East’s lack of freedom. It prevented its prisoners from visiting the West, where they would certainly come quickly to realize the inferiority of the brutal totalitarian state in which they lived. It was also one of the most brutally fortified de facto international frontiers in existence.

During the Berlin Wall’s 1963 – 1989 history, there were 5,000 escape attempts and 239 people perished trying to escape a communist totalitarian dictatorship and make a better, freer life in the West.

In 2007, a group of non-profits and community activists calling itself the “Waterfront Coalition” drenched itself in offensiveness and irony.

In order to protest one “wall” – the bermed Route 5 – the Waterfront Coalition purchased space on an actual wall. A billboard.

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The billboard asks Governor Spitzer to “tear down this wall”. Evidently, it’s referring to Route 5, and not the billboard itself.

In making its point, the Waterfront Coalition invokes Reagan’s 1987 speech.

I will withhold, for now, comment on the substance of the Waterfront Coalition’s 40-minute long press conference where a representative from every. single. member. group. felt compelled to speak. WNYMedia will have video of that up later today.

But to equate Route 5 with the Berlin Wall is one thing and one thing only: an outrage.

Has Route 5 murdered or purged tens of millions of innocent people? Is Route 5 peppered with guardposts from which snipers target hapless pedestrians trying to cross from swamp to weeds? Is the grassy area between Route 5 and the incomprehensible maze that passes for Fuhrmann Boulevard laden with tank traps and mines to prevent progress or murder pedestrians?

To equate a bermed Route 5 – or even the Skyway, for that matter – with the Berlin Wall is absolute and utter bullshit, and those people who thought it would be pithy and on-point should be f*cking ashamed of themselves.

The only thing Route 5 is a barrier to is people’s views of the grain elevators and the Clean Water Act violation that runs around them.

Oh, and incidentally, the Riverkeeper once released this rendering of a “Citizen’s [sic] Vision for the Lakefront”:

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Yes, that’s the Skyway and a bermed Route 5 in there.

Tielman on the Waterfront

10 Dec

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With respect to the elevated I-190 that runs like a gash through downtown Buffalo, we are hardly alone. Back in the 50s and 60s, many other older cities actually wanted to separate their thriving downtowns from their smelly, industrial waterfronts. An elevated highway to make it easy to pass through or commute to downtown was a welcome addition. In Buffalo, the I-190 snakes its way not too far from the shore of the Niagara River, and is at-grade pretty much all the way down until it reaches the Niagara Street exit.

It was placed in that location for one reason – it follows exactly the path of the Erie Canal as it existed during the first half of the last century. The canal terminus (recent legislation notwithstanding) was subsequently relocated to North Tonawanda.

So, when I think I-190, I think of that section that physically (and to some degree psychically) continues the division of Buffalo from her waterfront. A Big Dig project is probably out of the question, since the money won’t ever be there, the Big Dig itself has become somewhat of a liability, and because Buffalo’s I-190 seldom sees the frequency or volume of traffic-tie ups that Boston’s old Central Artery had.

WBFO featured an interview with Tim Tielman recently, who talked about two ideas that he has. One of them involves the Peace Bridge and the 190, but doesn’t address what I had always thought was the biggest problem – downtown.

Instead, Tielman argues that there should be no second span at the Peace Bridge location due to the negative affect that would have on the surrounding community. He advocates for a second crossing should be at the location of the International Railway Bridge. On the New York Side of that crossing are, according to him, loads of unused track and rights-of-way that could be used to connect that bridge to the Scajaquada and a new “boulevard” that would funnel traffic up to the I-290.

In that case, a portion of the I-190 in Riverside could be dismantled.

Glancing at Google Earth, that would affect just over two miles’ worth of roadway. Presumably the expressway that leads to the Sheridan exit, servicing DuPont, the power station, GM Powertrain, and Dunlop would remain intact. Tielman is quite blunt that he doesn’t want to move the 190, he wants to eliminate it. He also doesn’t want a crossing from Canada to be high enough to accommodate ships in the navigable waterway – he wants it to be a liftbridge.

The only entity that has proposed using that location for a new crossing has been the Ambassador Bridge, and they want it to be for truck traffic only. There is no way whatsoever that any entity – public, private, or hybrid – is going to build an international crossing that utilizes a lift bridge or isn’t connected to a limited-access interstate highway of some kind. Period.

Setting aside whether “Boulevard” has become some sort of strange shorthand for “good planning” among some, Tielman all but promises that a “boulevard” along the rail right-of-way would “eliminate noise” and get tractor trailers “off residential streets”. Somehow, this would make us a “really progressive city”.

Tielman explains that Buffalo is “only major city in the Northeast” where you can watch the sun set over the water. Obviously, along the eastern seabord, the sun rises over the water, and Tielman points out that Chicago gets a sunset over “some suburban prairie”. He adds that one of the best places to watch the sunset over the water is Riverside.

A quick scan of your memory or this map will remind you that Riverside is – well, on the banks of a river. If you’re in Riverside, the sun actually sets over “some suburban prairie” in Ontario, Canada.

He also wants to preserve a part of the Skyway south of the Buffalo River, and turn it into an elevated open-air park. It would have to be ADA-compliant. Yes, the views from the Skyway are pretty. No, the Skyway is not “Jetsonian” or in any way futuristic. No, we don’t need teacup rides at the bottom of the Skyway. Yes, the liability of having people traipsing around 100 feet above is mind-boggling.

As it stands now, people could certainly make a utilitarian point about its functionality. But if you remove vehicular traffic from it, it becomes nothing more than an eyesore. If you want a nice view, build a tall building on the outer harbor.