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Editorial: New parkway is a must to reconnect Falls neighborhoods to riverfront

It’s not just the right thing, it’s the only thing. When Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, called for creating a “real parkway” along the upper Niagara River, he was in effect saying that work already planned for another section of the Niagara Scenic Parkway needs to be understood as only the start of the job.

Thinking of the project already scheduled north of the city, Higgins this week called for reconfiguring the parkway between the Grand Island bridges and Niagara Falls State Park. Of course that needs to be done.

The New York Power Authority, which built the road decades ago, is working with the state to reconfigure the parkway from the north part of the city to Findlay Drive. That $42 million project will include reconstruction of Whirlpool Street, narrowing it from the current 45 feet wide to 38 feet wide in some areas and 28 feet in others.

After that work is complete – in early 2019, if all goes as planned – the parkway will be torn out, reconnecting the community to one of the most dramatic waterfronts in the country. Instead of roadway, the stretch will feature a network of multiuse trails along the rim of the Niagara River Gorge, with spurs proving new vantage points. The main trail and some of the spurs will be paved, while other spurs would be covered with grass or stone dust.

In a separate project – part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion, Part II – the state is planning to remove invasive species that have crowded the gorge, replacing them with native plants.

Altogether, it’s a bid to restore the relationship between the city and its namesake river by removing a mistaken parkway, built at a time when the automobile was king. It’s a critical project that should, under no circumstances, be restricted to this section of the parkway.

The neighborhood from Findlay Drive north to the power plant also needs to be reconnected to the waterfront and, to Higgins’ point this week, the section along the upper river needs to be reconfigured into the beautiful landscaped parkway that befits its dramatic setting.

His call is for “a real parkway” that provides points of access to the riverfront at Hyde Park Boulevard, Portage Road and other places where the existing parkway makes the water inaccessible.

One such plan already exists. A Niagara Falls Opportunity Area draft, released earlier this year, seeks to eliminate the road’s eastbound lanes, while converting the westbound lanes to two-way traffic.

Higgins expressed no preference for any particular plan and, in fact, said the public should have a role in the planning. That’s appropriate. He also said the Power Authority should pay for the work. That’s appropriate, too.

It’s not just the precedent of the Authority’s agreement to pay the $42 million cost of the work north of the city to Findlay Drive, although that is certainly persuasive. The larger point is that the Authority, flush with revenue churned up by this power plant, built the roads in the first place, backed by Robert Moses, who named the resulting parkway for himself.

Because of the Power Authority’s action in building the parkway that cut the city off from the river, Higgins said, it is also “responsible morally, legally and financially for the fix.” He’s right.

This is a hopeful time around Western New York, including Niagara Falls. Ensuring that the transformation of this misbegotten parkway is completed is a necessary part of extending this moment.

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