Freeways Without Futures

If you take a look at the top twelve Tear Down Prospects on Congress for New Urbanism’s (CNU) website, you will notice that Route5/The Skyway is one of them. At one point I would have agreed. When CNU first took a hard look at Buffalo, it was around the time that the Waterfront Coalition was fighting the re-elevation of Route 5. That waterfront debacle was a prime candidate that did land on CNU’s radar. Unfortunately the opportunity to reclaim Route 5 as a boulevard was lost (for now), and The Skyway is still highlighted on the organization’s list of tear-downs. 

If The Skyway was torn down tomorrow, I would not lose much sleep over it. At the same time, over the past few years I have rethought my original views of the elevated Jetsonian roadway, and I now see that it is not as obstructive as I once believed. Not only that, I have been swayed to think that if The Skyway was dynamically lit up with LEDs, it could represent an iconic image of our waterfront. Instead of The Skyway being on CNU’s list of top twelve tear-downs, I would hope that the organization would reconsider and add the Kensington Expressway and the 190 along our waterfront to the list. Those are the real problematic roadways that we should be combatting as a city on the rise. Take a look at all of the other expressways on CNU’s List and ask yourself which of Buffalo’s roadways should be keeping company with the top tear-downs.

About the author  ⁄ buffalorising

34 comments
KangDangaLang
KangDangaLang

The only place a bridge makes sense is at the foot of main St. Imagine pumping 10's of thousands of cars twice a day down Main St, once car traffic is returned. It would be absolutely stupid to put it anyplace else.

KangDangaLang
KangDangaLang

Great comparison, lol. All we need now is 5 billion dollars like Madrid, or the populations/socioeconomic demographics of Chicago or Seattle. Ps when you compare the location of the Alaskian Way Viaduct in Seattle, with the location of Route 5 in Buffalo, it's night and day.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

I haven't been able to make all the Outer Harbor committee meetings, so that one may have gotten by me. I'll have to ask around and see if some kind of position has been taken regarding the bridges, and just what that would be. Thank you for the heads up.

townline
townline

Could not agree more. ECHDC has turned the corner in the past year for the far better. But they continue to seem to lack a total vision for the waterfront. There are a bunch of exciting projects they talk about, but how do they all fit into the puzzle? That what I really want to know and that is what they have yet to really effectively communicate.

nyc
nyc

forgot "reply", see below.

nyc
nyc

well i guess we are not that far apart on opinion...

and i had heard, and this is second hand at best (and i normally wouldn't post something i heard from a distance - but i feel pretty strongly about the outer harbor connection), that the outer harbor committee has weighed in on the bridge issue with a position that makes a bridge connection a lesser priority. I was dumbfounded by that, so please shed some light! (which you have to a degree, but feel free to elaborate) I feel that a multi purpose bridge - cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, should be one of, if not the highest priority for the waterfront. I know that the bridge is complex and difficult to integrate, but at the moment there is nothing (relative) on either side of the connection point at the Erie Street extension - even if the road has to rise, it can, designed with future buildings fronting this rise, and with a generous underpass for pedestrians at the waters edge with access to the bridge deck. I am sure there are plenty of successful precedents for this. My biggest concern with echdc is that everything is thought of as indepedent of each other, there is no over-arching vision that is to be fulfilled, rather discreet projects where in situations like this, critical peices can fall through the crack. Echdc's mandate should be focused on public infrastructure and since the 8 year bass pro fiasco, they seem to understand this, now they just need a vision to match that mandate. So far, haven't seen it. Lighter, quicker, cheaper is a model for the interim, not the future of the buffalo waterfront.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

Just so I understand: how does my view coincide "with some of the viewpoints associated with ECHDC"--? I'm genuinely interested in making sure I understand you on this, as although I'm on ECHDC's Outer Harbor committee (but not in any way speaking for them or the committee here) I'm not sure I know what ECHDC-associated viewpoints you mean.

We many not disagree as much as you think. I strongly agree about the value of better bike/ped links between the Inner and Outer Harbors. But rather than auto/truck lift bridges, I think that more lightly built bike/ped lift/swing/bascule bridges could accomplish that with much less land grab, embankments, and disruption to boat traffic (bridges could open and close much more quickly). And during warmer-weather months, when "casual" & impulse trips would be at their maximum, water taxis -- or even small car ferries -- can also contribute to moving people around.

I was in two public input sessions about the auto/truck lift bridges, and the consultants showed 3-D flyarounds which shocked me at how intrusive and disruptive were the associated landside infrastructure impacts. I don't think it's worth it -- and I think more people will agree once they understand the impacts and seek smarter bike/ped alternatives.

BTW, whatever else is built, one place that would make sense for a lift bridge (or bascule) to the Outer Harbor would be the foot of Michigan Avenue, where there used to be one. So the approaches, etc. are already there. And given its location "upstream" a bit on the City Ship Canal, it would conflict less with boat traffic. Potentially, this could be specifically a bike/ped bridge.

DeanerPPX
DeanerPPX

Obviously, now is not the time to run a bulldozer over what we just spent $80M on. But this IS the time to start the discussion about what we're going to do 15-20 years from now when the next refurbishment is needed.

When the weather, traffic and time take their toll on this last project, are we going to get caught with our pants down and have no idea what to do except spend another $40M to resurface it as-is yet again? Or will we have a better vision and funding options secured to do it right the next time?

Switching gears to the Kensington, Scajaquada and 190 makes sense because all of those projects are closer at hand to needing a decision made about their futures. In 5-10 years, are we going to go through this all over again with them at the last minute, and spend another $80M+ to continue having those as problems? Or will we be able to say "Now is the time to implement those plans we've been working on since 2012. And we can do so confidently because we've been preparing ourselves for this."

Buffalo has spent the past half-century making plans for its past. That doesn't make it much better to instead plan for our present and continue to ignore the future.

nyc
nyc

RaChaCha -

I could not disagree with you more.

Fine, leave the skyway there, the state screwed us over, but the idea that somehow we don't even need an accessible bridge to the outer harbor is absolutely rediculous. Connecting the inner and outer harbor would create an incredibly dynamic waterfront - miles of open space and bikeways, a historic lighthouse, wetland walks on the outer harbor connected to a exciting commercial inner harbor with bridge that allows pedestrians, bikes, casual drivers to access between the two is the stuff of waterfront dreams.. This single investment (granted its expensive but worth it) would transform downtown. And seriously, have you been to the erie basin marina? It is a freaking sea of parking lots with a strip of public access along the water... a bridge leaving from a location that is an extension of Erie Street could be integrated very well into this context. It can work... don't give up hope. Buffalo has one of the least accessible waterfronts of any great lake city - seriouly compare them. A lift bridge connection between the inner and outer harbor immediate changes that.

Unfortunately your view is coninciding with some of the viewpoints associated with ECHDC and Buffalo may be about to miss a major opportunity. This is going to be tragic if they don't figure out how to get it done.

MEG
MEG

Pedestrians, bicyclists, visitors and sight-seers are also worthy of public investment in infrastructure, not just cars and drivers. There are options for The Buffalo Skyway if we have the creativity to do it.

A colleague and I submitted preliminary research about reuse options to the Preserving the Historic Road conference. We want to tell people about The Skyway, get expert advice and hear about how others grassroots initiatives are making this happen; NYC, Chicago, Madrid.

Read the submission here: http://thebuffaloskyway.tumblr.com/post/16941066558/the-buffalo-skyway-case-study-submitted-to-preserving.Once we get the word, we'll invite Buffalo to give their ideas.

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

If Rt. 5 had been converted to a boulevard, I think the Skyway would seem like the next logical target. In 2008 I was with Brother Queenseyes showing the Project for Public Spaces the Rt. 5 corridor when there was still hope the lawsuit might get the State DOT to opt for the boulevard, but that was not to be. With that disappointment, I think the anti-Skyway wave that had been building crested and broke.

And other Skyway-favorable things have happened since then. The advancement of the Canalside project, putting a great deal of activity near and even under the Skyway, and last year's work of the Project for Public spaces showing how vibrant community spaces can be developed even in the shadow of something like the Skyway, let much of the air out of the notion of the Skyway as barrier to waterfront progress.

And some public visioning sessions last year gave the public a look for the first time at various options for lift bridges that might replace the Skyway. My feeling is that those options are terrible. I was shocked to see how every option would require unacceptable footprints of waterfront public land leading to and from those bridges. And the embankments, causeways, etc. required to get automobiles up to the decks of the "low-level" bridges -- which, as it turns out, are elevated, even in the "down" position, higher above water level than I think most folks expected -- would be very disruptive to other waterfront land uses. Some of the options would even require waterfront bike paths to pass through concrete tunnels under the embankments. Shorter version: why spend on the order of $100M to disrupt and disfigure the waterfront, and create conflicts with boaters, simply to bypass/replace the Skyway--? Right now it only takes 3-4 minutes by car (as I've been told by more than one source) to travel from the Erie Basin Marina/Waterfront Village area to the Outer Harbor.

CNU's listing of Rt. 5/Skyway is out of date, and should be replaced with either the 190, the Kensington, or the Scajaquada -- or even the whole trifecta!

brownteeth
brownteeth

Are you sponsored by a light rail lobbyist to mention light rail in every single comment thread on BRO?

DeanerPPX
DeanerPPX

There is one large problem with reclaiming the 190 for waterfront access: for the entire stretch between Hamburg St and the 198, it runs above or alongside railroad tracks.

If those tracks remain in place, they still represent a formidable barrier to the waterfront, as well as require traffic overpasses to connect to South Buffalo.

Perhaps they could be buried or tunneled. If Amtrak is the only service that uses them, perhaps the line could terminate at Central Terminal and an alternate route (or public transit line) could be found to connect Amtrak to its Niagara Falls and Toronto spur.

As much as I dislike the 190, the truth is that it was probably the least destructive of our expressways when built, because it simply replaced barriers that already existed with the canal and rail lines. If we are going to remove or replace it, we need to reconsider our entire transportation network (which CAN be done and may provide some surprising benefits, but it's not an easy fix).

Buffalo All Star
Buffalo All Star

I think the reason everyone against it backed off is because one was tied to the other..if you removed the skyway then how would you get to the 190 or 90. Multiple ramps would be useless..if rt.5 isn't elevated..then why elevated sections of the 190/90.. The removal of the skyway would have called the level of functionality for all elevated highways in the downtown core into question.

I would still like to see it go..I think this conversation will come up again if theres ever a bridge to the outer harbor. Leave it as a pause for now until we have a link from downtown to the waterfront.

townline
townline

What do you want people to do? They just spent $80 million rebuilding the Rte. 5 highway. The skyway isn't ideal, but those with brains are able to understand that its not realistic anymore for it to be removed.

And yes - those with brains also realize that there are other major problems that highways are causing in the City of Buffalo. What do you want?

longgone
longgone

Wait..[the skyway] is really bad. What? Your going to spend millions in upgrading it? Ok...[we will back down and let it happen]

2 years later...

So...how about [the Kensington Expressway] instead? It is not the [Skyway] but since that was just rebuilt we really can't say anything about [the skyway] now...so we should focus on [the Kensington Expressway] now.

paulsobo
paulsobo

I am more in favor of demolishing the skyyway and combining Route5 & Furhmann Boulevard.

They already have the Route5 connector in place.

There is no reason to consume prime downtown waterfront with skyway access ramps and an expressway.

I would close the skyway access ramps and the Erie Street access ramps and the Swan Street Access Ramps and move them to the next further access ramp away from the city.

I would als close the Tupper and Goodell access ramps and begin the Kensington Expressway at Best Street where they are proposing to cover.

These are big infrastructure projects just like the extension of the Light Rail but if planned properly it would re-invigorate downtown, the devastated eastside, ignored South Buffalo and abandoned waterfront.

saltecks
saltecks

Skyway isn't going any where so get use to it. It's not a bad looking bridge. Light it up and you will see. Too many pie in the sky, high cost recommendations which will never see the light of day. The article should be about taking a negative and changing it into a positive at the lowest possible cost.

nyc
nyc

Yeah when the skyway is that big arcing structure in the sky it could actually be appealing visually, lit up or whatever. But the reality is that the skyway creates a huge mess of ramps when it lands downtown and pushes downtown further from the waterfront. If not for the skyway, the 190 is the only highway threading thru downtown which isn't so bad.

And, it is entirely possible to handle the skyway traffic on surface streets with an outer harbor bridge.

The skyway also creates very awkward development parcels at Canalside.. as if we needed another reason to make waterfront development difficult.

It's a shame that there was no leadership on this issue when it could have mattered.. now of course the state has rebuilt the highway on the outer harbor. A Shame.

longgone
longgone

This is too funny.

Wait...this one is really bad. What? Your going to spend millions in upgrading it? Ok...

So...how about this one instead? It is not the first one but since that one was just rebuilt we really can't say anything about that one now...so we should focus on this second one.

RumRunner
RumRunner

Keep the skyway, light it up real nice and maybe slap a pedestrian walkway on it at the expense of two lanes of traffic.

Tear down I-190's mid-city barricade. All its doing is providing a very literal wall between the city, its residents and the waterfront.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Agree, the footprint of the 190 presently dominates some of the best riverfront land in the city. Open that land up and developement will follow. That developement would greatly increase the tax base, the 190 has actually devalued the neighborhood and in turn decreased the tax base.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Highways within Buffalo shave only a few minutes off commutes. I travel for my job and often take the streets instead of the 190 or 33. The options heading north include Niagara, Elmwood, Delaware, and Main. Heading east Genesee, Sycamore, Broadway, William, and Clinton are all viable options. To go south is a little more difficult but Seneca, Abbott, and South Park are decent routes. Removal of highways would certainly increase traffic on these routes but with our smaller population the city street grid could handle the volume. Traffic on those old streets could stimulate business and bring a certain degree of safety as the presence of more people tends to do.

The price we pay for these highways is hard to quanify but city residents are the most negatively impacted. Highways were rammed through stable old neighborhoods greatly reducing quality of life and in turn greatly reducing property values. Here in Black Rock the neighborhoods historic connection to the Niagara River was severed by the 190. Our prime waterfront property is unavailable for developement and the parcels that are left are compromised by a noisy, dirty, polluted highway. We need to capitalize on our advantages and demand our assets be utilized for the benefit of the city and our neighborhood residents. We gain nothing by hosting highways that serve mainly to benefit commuters at the expense of our quality of life and our property values.

townline
townline

QE - definitely right. The route 5 opportunity is passed. Higgins and our leaders failed us on that one. the only priority left there is to remove the ramp next to pearl street and open that site up for gateway development into canalside.

A real effort needs to begin towards removing the 190 on the waterfront. The public was clamoring for it just last night at the tonawanda BOA meeting. That rail corridor presents an opportunity to help fix some of our transportation I infrastructure problems.

townline
townline

What would go in place of the 190 on the waterfront? How about a waterfront with direct water access for tens of thousands of residents within a few blocks and a Niagara river returned for the entire region.

Can you imagine the potential of a mixed use Niagara street, one block from a 5-mile waterfront stretch!? That would become buffalo's "it" neighborhoods in pretty quick order.

Hannonjd
Hannonjd

Skyway=Buffalo's Highline

grad94
grad94

the views from the skyway are stunning. so don't tear down all of it. leave a section or two as an elevated pedestrian park, like a mini-high line. provide elevators and stairs and solid protection against wind and suicide, and you'd have a unique and fascinating attraction.

The Kettle
The Kettle

Rebuilding rt 5 seemed like an odd prioritization of taxpayer money given the duplicating rt along 90 and the out of control deficit of gas tax revenues. A big waste that surprisingly was off the radar of a many of those who call for lower taxes.

Now that the deed is done, we'd be better off making the best of it. If anything, it can help the growing number of "working waterfront" uses between the Buffalo River and Hamburg. Replacing-downgrading the 198-33 ought to be the roadway removal efforts are directed towards.

DeanerPPX
DeanerPPX

The Skyway in itself isn't bad. Sure it could use some serious aesthetic treatment, but let's face it... there just aren't any other reasonably priced options for handling high-volume traffic over the river. Hang some lights on it and it may actually be cool.

The problem is with Fuhrman Blvd (and the 190). Both are ugly land hogs that do more to inhibit access than provide any convenience to the outer harbor.

I think CNU's assessment of route 5 is perfectly accurate, but the Skyway bridge structure just had the misfortune of getting lumped in with the miles of mess attached to it.

I don't know if all or any of these projects were the brainchild of Robert Moses, but what we really need is a 21st century version of that man to see the bigger picture. We can't JUST tear down the Skyway or the Scajaquada or the Kensington or the 190. They ALL need major replacement, but they are so intertwined that removing even one piece of the puzzle without an overall strategy is pointless.

The individual replacement projects can certainly be carried out in sections as funding allows, but we should really have an overall plan before that first bulldozer gets fired up.

EB_Blue
EB_Blue

Replace the Skyway with the Kensington on this list.

pampiniform
pampiniform

I don't know, I happen to like the current setup. I like that there is a variety of ways to get places quickly throughout the region with the current layout. And there is redundancy. The highways in the area anastomose with each other like the venous circulation of the pelvis.

All in all, there are faults with the 190 along the river, but what else should go there in its place? The Kensington may have produced some cosmetic problems and helped along the sociodemographic shift on the east side, but it is also frequently a useful way to get around that part of the city and to the eastern suburbs. The Skyway leads quickly from south Buffalo and the the southtowns to downtown. I think if you lit it up, it could be a neat addition to the canalside area. Just this man's opinion.

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