BOPC Position Statement on Route 198 Scajaquada Expressway
Last Updated: July 2017
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History: In the 1950’s, the City of Buffalo Planning Commission executed an initiative to channel traffic onto a limited access expressway through Olmsted’s Delaware Park in the area known as the Scajaquada Corridor. The Commission determined that the “Scajaquada Creek Arterial Highway” could be created with minimal impact, as the right of way was predominantly City owned “vacant land” in the Park. This ‘vacant land’ included the Humboldt Parkway, Delaware Park, Scajaquada Parkway and the shoreline of Scajaquada Creek. As a result, a policy decision was made to funnel a huge volume of traffic into and through Delaware Park to link the Kensington Expressway (Rt. 33) with the NYS Thruway (I-190).
There was no organization to advocate for the Olmsted Parks at the time. The “Friends of Olmsted Parks” was not created until the end of the 1970s, and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy (BOPC) did not begin maintaining and working to preserve and restore the Olmsted Parks until the new millennium. The absence of an organized advocacy group allowed the project to go forward.
The Scajaquada Expressway was built in the late-1950s. The development divided and destroyed acres of parkland in Delaware Park, cut off residential sectors from the park and waterfront, obliterated Humboldt Pkwy, bisected established neighborhoods, created barriers, and limited access to Main St. This gash in the urban fabric resulted in economic deterioration and a negative impact on quality of life. Development in the area from Black Rock to the Hamlin Park neighborhood receded. Residential housing values declined.
Actions: The BOPC has had a sustained advocacy effort calling for the elimination of high speed expressway traffic from Delaware Park for decades. A 30 mph recommended design alternative from the 2005 Expanded Project Proposal (EPP) was incorporated into the BOPC’s Plan for the 21st Century in 2008. In 2014, after years of advocacy, and out of concern that an acceptable compromise solution would not be reached through the pending Environmental Impact Study (EIS) process, the BOPC Board of Trustees resolved to call for the complete removal of the expressway through Delaware Park and the restoration of Humboldt Pkwy from Agassiz Circle to Main St.
Position: It is the position of the BOPC that the high speed vehicle traffic cutting through Delaware Park on Route 198 is an intrusion into the landscape and compromises the historic integrity of Frederick Law Olmsted’s design for the Park. Olmsted intended the park experience to be that of immersion into the natural environment leaving behind all the distractions and stress of urban life, not to be subjected to the sights and sounds of expressway traffic. The construction of Route 198 through the park in the late 1950s destroyed that pastoral and picturesque experience in a way that cannot be mitigated through barriers, walls or shrubbery.
Short Term. To be sure, the BOPC is pleased with the immediate short term measures being taken by the State and DOT to ensure the safety of Delaware Park users. We believe our advocacy role is that of education and persistence, and we will remain focused on the long term transformation of this former expressway into a park appropriate corridor in complete harmony with the surrounding Olmsted designed landscape. With that goal in mind, the BOPC, together with its partners in the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition (SCC), continues to engage the larger community in discussions on additional short term actions in preparation for a renewed long term design process.
Long Term. It is the BOPC’s stated position that the former expressway should never have been imposed on Delaware Park, and it should be removed. BOPC believes the design philosophy for a new boulevard first and foremost should be in harmony with the surrounding historic landscape. Within Delaware Park, “harmony” is to be defined as the least possible intrusion for the park user experience.
As such, we support an Olmsted Delaware Park-appropriate corridor, which can be defined as:
- Constructing any roadway through the Park in a manner faithful to Olmsted design.
- Restoring unimpeded access from the Meadow to Hoyt Lake, relocate vehicular traffic and provide restoration of the Stone Arch Bridge over Delaware Ave to park activities and the uses for which it was designed.
- Improving park access for multi-modal use from surrounding neighborhoods and provides connectivity between landscape features of Delaware Park, through improved at-grade intersections at Agassiz Circle, Delaware Ave, Lincoln Pkwy, Elmwood Ave and Grant St and improved grade-separated routes between intersections.
- Providing traffic-calming measures along the entire corridor with a 30 mph or less roadway design, including the use of gateway features and diverting commercial traffic from the Park.
- Removing median features for the roadway corridor between intersections in order to narrow the overall roadway intrusion to the greatest extent possible, and to maximize valuable historic landscape restoration and increase natural landscape buffers.
- Recessing or lowering elevations of the roadway corridor through the Park to the greatest extent possible and minimizing the visual and auditory intrusion to the park user experience.
The NYSDOT distributed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in November 2016 and held a Public Hearing in January 2017. It was clear from statements at the hearing and through written comments provided, that the NYSDOT has not proposed a build alternative for the Scajaquada Corridor that meets the community’s goals for this roadway.
BOPC remains focused on – and will maintain – advocated concern about the entire length of this corridor, including the Scajaquada Creek watershed out to the Niagara River, and the Humboldt Parkway destroyed through the construction of Rt. 33 and Rt. 198. The Governor and New York State have made significant investment in the cultural institutions along this corridor over the last decade, including a significant investment protecting/restoring the future of the Scajaquada Creek Corridor through a variety of funding sources including the State’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
It is the BOPC’s position that the strategic investments being made by the Governor and the philanthropic and environmental communities deserve a comprehensive planning effort in coordination with this roadway in order to maximize their potential mutual benefit. The BOPC strongly advocates that this is a once in a generation chance to design the right road for this corridor and community, and that such an opportunity should be met as a challenge for best practices.
Equally so, at the east end of the corridor, the Governor has made significant commitments to improve the future of the east side of Buffalo. In partnership with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Mayor Byron Brown, the NYSDOT will study the reestablishment of Humboldt Parkway along with adjoining community investments, thus there is a real need for comprehensive planning with this roadway project to maximize the critical revitalization of this community.
At the heart of the corridor, is the section through Delaware Park where restoration and reunification of the park is urgently needed. This is a key strategic opportunity to invest for a tangibly visible, safe, multi-modal, park-appropriate road solution to reconnect Delaware Park and return this historic place to Olmsted’s intended vision.
BOPC urges the NYSDOT to reengage the stakeholder community in the further consideration of this EIS process and the comments of the public. BOPC urges the NYSDOT to consider the strategic investment in a build alternative the entire local stakeholder community can support, prior to the preparation of a Final Environmental Impact Statement, and/or related design documents.
Last Updated: July 2017
Please click on the following links for additional resources on this topic:
- Official Press Release, July 24, 2017
- BOPC Position Statement
- Route 198 FAQs
- Letter to Commissioner Driscoll
- 198 System – Cultural and Neighborhood Assets
- 198 Corridor Strategic Investment Plan
- Delaware Avenue Perspective Rendering – July 2017
- Stone Arch Bridge Perspective Rendering (Artist Impression Only) – August 2017
- Scajaquada Corridor Perspective Rendering – August 2017
- 198 Historic graphics
BOPC is still reviewing issues related to commercial traffic, multimodal routes and intersection with city street network, and how they affect our core mission to preserve and restore the Olmsted Parks. This position statement is fluid and ongoing in meeting the mission and resolve of the BOPC.