Fiddle (verb): To play a violin, or, To occupy oneself in an aimless or desultory way. -- American Heritage College Dictionary.
There has been a consistent edge of arrogance to the Peace Bridge Authority's words and actions in recent years as the board has struggled to bring the bridge into the 21st century.
I first became aware of it when the authority unilaterally announced that bicyclists would be banned from the bridge for years while it was being repaired. Public outcry got that decision reversed, but it has never been clear that the authority learned the lessons they should have from that episode.
The authority has alienated neighbors with mysterious land dealings, has consistently downplayed neighbors' concerns about air and noise pollution, and has never made a serious effort to redress the damage that the bridge plaza and ramp spaghetti have done to Frederick Law Olmsted's Front Park.
In addition, I haven't heard the authority respond to the public suggestion that bridge traffic problems could be alleviated by simply opening more inspection booths during heavy traffic times.
More recently, critics of proposed plans for twinning the bridge have suggested that we step back and revisit what many consider to be an uninspired design that does little to maximize what could be a great regional asset. I happen to agree with them.
In response, Authority Vice Chairman Lawrence Meckler has been quoted as saying "We're at a point where there isn't much time to fiddle with the design we have." This statement, which uses the second sense of the verb "fiddle" cited above, is a demeaning and arrogant one. It implies that the community and business leaders who have stepped forward to propose alternatives are looking to waste everyone's time because the current design is what's going to be built anyway.
This, to me, is the classic mindset of an appointed governing body drunk with power and intent on "fiddling while Rome burns" around them.
I think the problem with the current bridge design is rooted in a faulty public-participation process. The system allows authority members to think they have fulfilled their obligation to involve the public while in reality almost no one in the community has consented to the authority's plans.
We need a process that honestly seeks public input as a way to improve a project instead of one that seeks to neutralize criticism and co-opt input in order to keep the project on schedule.
The groups that have stepped forward to provide a fresh round of public input can be accused of "fiddling" only in the sense that they are trying to create a work of art similar to a violin concerto that balances many fine and important elements into something that lifts the spirit and touches the heart.
We need a bridge that is beautiful enough to symbolize the unique and peaceful relationship between the United States and Canada.
We need a design that is so efficient that it draws business to this border crossing.
We need a restoration of Front Park as the site that provides a magnificent overlook of the gorgeous junction of Lake Erie and the Niagara River.
We need a link that draws people from the bridge to the attractions of the lower West Side and nearby downtown Buffalo.
We need a span that graciously connects the Riverwalk and the rest of Buffalo's planned Greenway system with the wonderful Niagara Parkway in Canada.
We need a project that maximizes the economic benefits to Buffalo's struggling economy.
We need a symbol that communicates all these elements in a harmonious way and leaves both visitors and natives satisfied and a little in awe of what can happen when people work in concert toward a shared vision.
As Common Council member representing the district that houses the Peace Bridge Plaza and part of the bridge, I welcome any input that helps us reach the ambitious goals I've outlined above. While the city has very little legal jurisdiction in this matter, I have tried to play a constructive role in getting all appropriate concerns to the Peace Bridge Authority's attention.
The current Peace Bridge is 75 years old, and any changes we make now may affect our entire region for the next century. I, for one, am humbled by the breadth and importance of this task and am looking forward to working with anyone who wants to help meet the challenge.
ROBERT QUINTANA represents Buffalo's Niagara District in the city Common Council.
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