Mayor Anthony M. Masiello wants to turn the Scajaquada Expressway into a scenic parkway where it passes through Delaware Park.
His administration suggests possibly lowering the speed limit to 35 mph from 50, planting trees along the roadway and installing traffic signals at the entrance to the city's Parks Department garage and a crossing at Lincoln Parkway.
The mayor says he envisions a tree-lined median, pedestrian crosswalks and a lower speed limit between Parkside Avenue and Grant Street.
"I just think a parkway would enhance the aesthetics and improve the safety," Masiello said.
Groups such as the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy support such a change.
Though it's not a new idea, the mayor's vision for a parkway will get more attention than given similar proposals from past years.
Earlier this month the city asked the state Department of Transportation to study the idea. A top official said it seems likely the agency will agree.
"At this point, the department is committed to doing the study," said Eugene J. Nowicki, regional planning and program manager for the transportation department.
About $240,000 in federal aid has been set aside for a study of the Scajaquada Expressway. It's unclear who will pay the $60,000 local contribution that's needed to augment the federal grant.
The legislation that set aside the aid offers only a vague description of how the money should be sent, but it did mention lowering the speed limit and adding the landscaping.
The study is needed to show how a change could affect motorists who rely on the expressway and how it might affect surrounding neighborhoods, Nowicki said.
"The bottom line is, if we were to downgrade the Scajaquada to provide for additional signalized intersections, removal of interchanges and traffic moving at a slower speed, it may not be able to handle as many vehicles as it does today," Nowicki said. "Motorists may take parallel routes instead of the Scajaquada and go onto city streets. That's something the study will have to look at."
The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy views the study as a first step toward reversing the expressway's impact on Delaware Park.
Critics have long complained the expressway cuts the park in half, ruins its tranquility and hampers access between the two sections.
"We're not saying tunnel it or close it," said Deborah Ann Trimble, the park conservancy's executive director. "We're saying there's a way to make everyone happy. This solution would keep the east-west crossing. It'd just take a few more minutes for motorists."
What's more, creating a parkway would better link Delaware Park with nearby cultural attractions and draw tourists, she said.
"It would allow people to walk and get from the Darwin Martin House to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery without having to drive and risking their lives," she said.
The road, originally part of Delaware Park, was converted into an expressway in 1962. An average of 42,800 vehicles traveled the Scajaquada Expressway between Elmwood and Delaware avenues each day in 1997, making it one of the busier stretches in Buffalo, according to the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council.
In 1990, the Delaware Park Steering Committee suggested turning the stretch of expressway into a tree-lined parkway.
At the time, Robert J. Russell, then the Western New York regional director of the state Department of Transportation, warned that downgrading the expressway into a parkway would be costly and have little chance of state funding.
Russell recently left the post and was replaced by Brian O. Rowback.
Nowicki said it's unlikely the personnel change would change the department's view.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the regional director and a lot to do with the impact of the change," Nowicki said.