By Justin Booth
“It is so easy to get around without a car.” This was a common phrase from my children on a family vacation to Spain and France this summer. And it was so true. Walkable cities with great bike access, convenient public transit and high-speed rail conveniently moved people.
During our last week in Paris we learned that the city had approved a plan, after a 15-year debate, to officially remove the Pompidou Expressway, which opened in 1967 along the banks of the Seine. A city with a population of 2.2 million people at roughly the same size as Buffalo (41 square miles) is removing the last vestiges of its 1960s infrastructure that focused solely on moving traffic and is turning it into an urban park.
Of course, the story here in Buffalo is much different. With little notice, the New York State Department of Transportation held its last public meeting on the Scajaquada Expressway and orchestrated a masterful public relations campaign to tout its final plan with a “take it or leave it” attitude.
The DOT has spent over $5 million on consultants to callously disregard the community’s legitimate concerns and deliver a plan to maintain the Scajaquada as a 30-mph limited-access expressway, preserving its role as the protector of Robert Moses’ legacy.
In Paris, the metro carries 5.2 million people daily; in Buffalo, our Metro Rail carries the same number annually. This is a result of priorities: Since 1990 our region has built 525 miles of new roads that cost us $26 million annually to maintain and perpetuate sprawl.
If Buffalo continues to rebound economically, we cannot expect to build more expressways and parking garages while maintaining our moniker of the 20-minute commute – we must determine how to move “people” sustainably.
To do so, a new model is needed to create a sustainable transportation system that provides local, regional and inter-regional accessibility at an affordable cost to families and businesses, while serving community needs for social and economic exchange.
It would not only minimize environmental harm but also help to mitigate it, while protecting and improving our communities. It would enhance our ability to lead healthy, active lifestyles, while distributing transportation services equitably among people of all ages, income levels and abilities. A sustainable transportation system can be the foundation of our economy while supporting a better quality of life for everyone.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has continued to show his support, nurturing Buffalo’s rebirth with investments along our waterfront and new job growth. Meanwhile, the DOT’s outdated bureaucracy is hampering his unprecedented commitment to our city’s revitalization.
Despite numerous meetings and forums, the community has yet to see a plan that listened to its concerns. Cuomo should end Moses’ legacy in our state by reversing the DOT’s decision to move forward with its plan and instead restore Frederick Law Olmsted’s legacy by planning a sustainable transportation system for people – not just traffic.
Justin Booth is executive director of GObike Buffalo.