We’ve perfected the art of getting nowhere very slowly.
People for decades have viewed the Scajaquada Expressway as a scar that marred Delaware Park and split the city’s grandest park in two.
We’ve asked ourselves: Who builds an expressway in the middle of a 350-acre historic park? We’ve come to accept the answer: The same region that cut off Buffalo from its waterfront and built a highway on the edge of Niagara Falls.
Like the Robert Moses Parkway in the Falls, the disfigurement left by the Scajaquada’s construction seems, at times, impossible to heal. Years of planning by the Department of Transportation have produced a proposal that has yet to satisfy residents.
There’s little to love about the 198, aside from the exclusive club you’re part of as a Western New Yorker who knows how to pronounce its name. It’s one of the first to clog in icy weather. The on and off ramps are a mess, and every merge seems one errant brake light away from disaster.
But a plan to downgrade the road to a 40-mph “boulevard” with a tree-lined median misses a chance to undo one of the city’s devastating blunders. Buffalo is on a path of righting past wrongs. Traffic is returning, block by block, to Main Street. The city is reconnecting with its waterfront.
The city’s progress has raised expectations. People no longer want to settle for simply better. They want what’s best, and they’ve seen that it can happen.
“The more the public sees the opportunity, they want an A-plus project,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan. “We know we’re stuck in this historical conundrum where, if today someone said, ‘Let’s build a highway through a park,’ it would never happen.”
You can gussy up a highway with as many trees and antique-style street lamps as you like, but unless people have a way to safely cross without pedestrian bridges, it will do little to reconnect the fractured Delaware Park.
The good news is the DOT is listening. Ryan last week helped bring together residents and engineers to again look at artist renderings and engineering proposals for the highway.
But engineers have ruled out what many residents think would be best – converting the highway back to a road with workable crosswalks, bike paths and a 30-mph speed limit.
“What they’re designing now is a car-only road,” said Ryan, who circulated a petition earlier this year asking the DOT to consider more ways to connect the road to its surroundings.
Engineers say it’s a problem of congestion. Slow down the Scajaquada even more, and the traffic will clog. But Ryan points out that, on a 3.3-mile stretch of road, the increased travel time boils down to just a few minutes. And much of the traffic on the highway serves the surrounding neighborhoods. Fewer than a quarter of the vehicles on the Scajaquada travel the entire stretch, according to the DOT.
There are some mistakes we’ll never get the chance to fix. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building is gone forever. We’re stuck, for the foreseeable future, with a thruway that cuts off large sections of the West Side and Riverside from the water. The Metro Rail may never travel more than 6.4 miles.
The Scajaquada could be one of the exceptions. If you have chance to right a wrong, why not do it right?