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Higgins & Ryan push for Scajaquada corridor project to include pedestrian-friendly features that 'embrace Olmsted vision'

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Mon, Jan 30th 2017 11:40 am

Leaders: Community has generational opportunity to get this right

With the deadline for public comments near, Congressman Brian Higgins and New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan are sharing their vision for the future of the Scajaquada corridor. The Western New York leaders are urging the Federal Highway Administration to work with the New York State Department of Transportation to allow for the implementation of community-driven project components that incorporate people-friendly design features.

Higgins and Ryan argued this is much more than a simple transportation project - it is a generational opportunity to redefine a community and reconnect a landmark park that plays a significant role in Buffalo's history and future.

"The super-highway transportation projects of yesterday disconnected neighborhoods, created barriers to our waterfront, and took away parks and parkways that helped to build stronger, connected communities," said Higgins, who also submitted written comments prior to last week's public meeting in support of Scajaquada corridor project components that enhance the pedestrian and park experience. "We are about to make a substantial investment in Buffalo's historic park and museum district. Do we move forward with a project that maintains the mistakes of years ago, or do we embrace the opportunity to bring neighborhoods, parks and people back together? This community deserves a plan that takes this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right and embrace connectivity."

Ryan said, "The current Scajaquada Expressway was a historic mistake. Generations from now, the people of Buffalo and Western New York will look back on the decisions we are making today. We need to get this right, and we need to deliver a project which abandons the highway mentality, and embraces pedestrian-friendly design features. The new Scajaquada Boulevard should be a slower, calmer and pedestrian-accessible roadway. Public input has helped to shape this project, and the design has been gradually improving, but we still have work to do. The community wants bike lanes, smaller medians and smaller intersections, and that is the best path forward to create a project the community can embrace. We are nearing the finish line, and I urge the community to speak up and submit comments before the deadline, so that this project can be improved."

Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, said, "Cutting an expressway through a historic urban park would be unfathomable today. It is critical that we consider that fact, and fully explore this gift we've been given to right-size a park-appropriate road. Olmsted designed his parks for all users, and that included nonpedestrian traffic. He designed roads to be nonintrusive, and he did this nearly two centuries ago. Just take a look at Central Park in New York City. Improvements that we are suggesting are happening all over the nation, so let's take the opportunity to make a best example out of Buffalo. Let's be proud of our decision today for generations tomorrow."

Michael DeLuca, chair of the Parkside Community Association traffic committee, said, "The Scajaquada Boulevard offers an opportunity to reunite a divided community and repair the damage done in the 1950s. The community has demanded a plan that embraces the park, our cultural institutions, and neighborhoods throughout the corridor over the last decade. The proposed plan falls short of this in many facets, including reconnecting our neighborhoods, providing pedestrian-scaled intersections, integrating bike lanes, and reducing the impact of the roadway on the park. Our city deserves a progressive design for the 21st century, not one that maintains the mistakes from the 1950s."

Justin Booth, executive director of GObike Buffalo and member of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition, said, "Buffalo's expressways have dismantled Olmsted's Delaware Park and Humboldt Parkway, as well as the existing urban grid and street system. They severed local commercial activity from customers, and many once-vibrant streets now stand with shuttered businesses and negligible street activity. Over the life of these expressways, it has become clear that, in addition to significant long-term maintenance costs, these roads contribute to environmental degradation and negative public health impacts, while occupying valuable real estate without contributing to the tax base. They have created barriers to movement within our city, institutionalized social inequities, and encouraged suburban sprawl. We want the NYS Department of Transportation to design the corridor in a way that places people first by providing safety improvements to support walking, bicycling and accessing public transit."

The nearly 150-year-old Delaware Park was designed by renowned architect Frederick Law Olmsted and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 350-acre park was bisected when the 198 Expressway was constructed in the 1950s.

Federal and state transportation planners are in the final stages of completing an environmental review and design for the Scajaquada corridor project, with additional public comments due by Feb. 8. Total cost is estimated at $101 million, with approximately 80 percent of the project federally funded, along with a 20 percent state match. Construction could begin by the end of this year.

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