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Buffalo's Big Picture, Kensington, Scajacquada plans could gain in "Reconnecting Communities Act"

Canal west from Pearl
Rebuilding the Erie Canal between Pearl and Erie Streets and the rest of Big Picture Plan could be realized under federal highway remediation bill


Big Picture cover
The full folio of Big Picture images can be had here Click to view and download Big Picture folio

For those who have worked for decades to remove barriers to the Buffalo waterfront, downgrade the Scajaquada Expressway, and mitigate the Kensignton Expressway, help is on the way. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo's Big Picture Plan, released last week (it includes the Cloudwalk, released seperately in February) is in the wheelhouse of a proposed "reconnecting Communities Act," which targets "infrastructural barriers that create to mobility or economic development, or expose the community to air pollution or other health and safety risks.” The Big Picture seeks to do all of those things, in addition to building new workforce housing, parks, and canals to support downtown retail and public transportation, as well historic preservation.

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The Washington Post reports "Key Democratic senators are introducing legislation to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by the Interstate Highway System.  The “Reconnecting Communities Act” is aimed redressing some of the historic inequities and racial disparities in the federal government's transportation investments.

"The legislation mirrors the $20 billion fund to take down highways outlined in President Biden's infrastructure proposal: it calls for the same levels of funding to be distributed through a grant program that would live in the Department of Transportation, according to an advance copy of the bill.

"The undertaking is also intended to alleviate traffic-related pollution — a continuation of the Biden administration's push to address environmental justice."

Cloudwalk and Skyway: Where would drivers go?

Ground-level Route 5 sheet 39
A lot of people are wondering what the 37,000 vehicles a day using Route 5 between Woodlawn and downtown Buffalo would do if the Skyway were closed to vehicles and reprogrammed as the Cloudwalk for walkers, bikers, picnicking and the like. Route 5 in Woodlawn and Lackawanna is at-grade, with cross streets, traffic lights, a 40mph posted speed limit, and six moving lanes (three in each direction).

The short answer is to merely insure that there are six lanes crossing the Buffalo River along the waterfront. You don't have to build a new $550,000,000-inland-expressway-and-Thruway-widening to do that. Just return Ohio and Louisiana streets to four lanes (as they were until 2009) and add a two-lane bridge and a Ganson Street extension on the west bank of the City Ship Canal. A few other details here and there, and you save a lot of time, money and angst, and you get a much nicer transportation network for people and neighborhoods. The DOT hasn't yet considered such a solution.

Considering DOT itself estimates that 12,000 vehicles will use the Thruway instead, the local street network (which could use a re-paving, new sidewalks, and flanking bike paths anyway) has enough reserve capacity to handle the remainder. All that, plus the Cloudwalk? Yes, please! Here is a sheet from the Big Picture folio that explains it. You can access the full folio of images here: Download Big Picture folio 40pp

The Big Picture: A Plan for Buffalo

Big Picture cover mailbox
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is calling on the NY State Department of Transportation, with other state agencies, to restore reclaimed land from Skyway removal to conditions established by founder Joseph Ellicott in 1800 and Erie Canal builder DeWitt Clinton in 1825. The aim is to reclaim Buffalo's heritage, economic advancement, and a measure of social equity.

That includes restoration of Buffalo's first public park—The Terrace— as well as the run of the original Erie Canal between Pearl Street and Erie Street and the parallel famed Canal Street, and the Prime Slip, another historic canal which is possibly an archaeological motherlode.The Campaign is urging DOT to embrace the Big Picture—and to fund it with money from the Skyway project—to repair the damage caused to Buffalo's historic core by highway construction. Indeed, The Campaign is calling its proposal just that: The Big Picture Download Big Picture folio 1

The DOT is currently working on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Skyway removal.

The Big Picture incorporates a number of opportunities that could change the prospects of the city. Canyon Research Southwest, a real estate analytics firm, estimates that development on the reclaimed land as proposed (mostly 3-4 story residential) in the Big Picture would yield over $82,630,000 in real estate and sales taxes over a 20-year period. Spin-off benefits beyond the Skyway reclamation area were not calculated. This suggests the enormous lost opportunity cost since the Skyway opened in 1955, and the ongoing lost revenues if the Skyway is not removed.

Among the infrastructure and rehabilitation works proposed:
• The long-overdue reconstruction of the Union Block, site of Dug's Dive, the documented stop on the Underground Railroad once operated by William "Uncle Dug" Douglass. The Union Block in its last days was also an Italian tenement (so called on maps of the day).
• The systematic archaeological excavation, preservation, and rewatering of the main section of the Prime Slip, a private canal filled in by the Civil War and in which sits a pier of the Skyway.
• The restoration of the Canal District streets to their exact historic locations, with historically accurate paving.
• The restoration of Canal Street and the Erie Canal between Pearl and Erie Streets.
• The retention and adaptation of all of the Skyway from the north bank of the Buffalo River to Tifft Street as the Cloudwalk (detailed in an earlier proposal of February)
• The restoration of the DL&W train shed and a multi-use viaduct to connect it with the Cloudwalk ,Central Wharf, and the Cobblestone Historic District (also detailed in February)
• The reconstruction of Terrace Park, including Terrace Station.
• Construction of a local bus hub on The Terrace and under the Thruway viaduct between Pearl and Washington streets
• Re-platting all state lands into much smaller lots than typically planned in Urban Renewal projects and closer in spirit to those of Joseph Ellicott’s survey of 1803-4, with a goal of individual ownership.

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The scope of the Big Picture may seem vast, but it is small compared to what Buffalo lost in the 1950s and 1960s," says Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign.

“The Big Picture plan would reclaim 12 acres of the 292 acres that were totally destroyed in combined highway and urban renewal projects along the waterfront. Buffalo has been in an induced coma since. We now have the knowledge, means, and motivation to correct this massive historic, social, and economic injustice. We cannot defer justice any longer. The times call upon us to act.”

Richard Berger, a Campaign boardmember and lead attorney in the federal case which resulted in the 2000 lawsuit that reversed an earlier state project and a later attempt to put a Bass Pro megastore, says “We must restore our heritage sites to restore our economy and social equity. That begins with insuring that the Environmental Impact Statement is thorough and unbiased.”