THE SKYWAY CORRIDOR REDESIGN COMPETITION WAS A SUCCESS.
Regardless of designs selected or prizes allocated, the real win for Buffalo is this participatory process and its myriad of concepts that unified public interest with creativity. It brought together distinguished professionals, dreamers and problem-solvers.
It’s a participatory model for innovation that should be replicated with similar zeal for the Scajaquada and Kensington expressways.
Buffalo has history in championing such vision. Its leadership brought an acclaimed designer here in 1868 to contemplate Buffalo’s landscape, and ultimately created our nation’s first connective urban park system. Buffalo is proud of this rare and coveted greenspace achievement, for it is replicated in only a handful of cities. Evidenced in several Skyway proposals, Olmsted’s concepts for legacy planning were vividly incorporated with reverence for his genius of placemaking.
As with the 1950s Skyway introduction, a different legacy — the Robert Moses era — made a mark on Buffalo. Whether the intent was proactive or reactive, the result saw tons of concrete and asphalt thrust upon our city’s landscape as a transportation fix to a relatively non-existent problem. Later generations would come to lament those decisions, as illustrated by this very competition.
The languishing situation with today’s 198 and 33 offers an even greater challenge, as this corridor was once a lush, green historic asset. On Buffalo’s East Side, Olmsted designed Humboldt Parkway as a valuable artery for quality of life. Greater than Bidwell, Lincoln or Chapin, this vibrantly treed corridor from Best to Parkside was desecrated by the 33; neighborhoods were severed and sickened. Adding insult to injury, the 198 was inserted where the 33 left off, warping a functional park road into an expressway. This mistake carved through an active park community laden with schools and cultural institutions.
To quote Howard Zemsky: “It’s not just take [the Skyway] down or not, but let’s reimagine the whole corridor. The most important question is: What’s best for Western New York for the next 65 to 70 years? That’s what’s on the governor’s mind.” That sentiment, coupled with the governor’s recent announcement to engage the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council in leading the reset on the 198 project, is music to ears of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and many concerned coalitions and citizens who have demanded better designs for the 198/33.
We have a tremendous opportunity to comprehensively re-envision a corridor to reconnect neighborhoods, improve economics and environmental health, and ensure safe and equitable access to our city’s distinguished amenities. Most importantly, if engaged, a 198/33 competition could tackle the traffic arithmetic problem no one else can seem to solve.
Empire State Development and Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a different road in demonstrating that positive inclusion fosters innovative thought. Despite speed limits, let’s boost this momentum and continue to champion a legacy of creative planning and greater visioning for Buffalo.
By Elizabeth McPhail
Elizabeth McPhail is board chair of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.