By Alan J. Bozer
The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy recently coordinated a presentation before a standing room-only crowd concerning the original vision for thoroughfares in Delaware Park, how the Scajaquada Expressway was pushed through it in the 1950s as a means to link the East and West Sides of Buffalo, and the plans for what to do with it.
In putting a freeway through the park, Mark Goldman noted in his book, “High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo,” local planners dismissively referred to the parkland as “vacant,” ready to be put to practical use. A highway was thrust through the middle of Delaware Park and ripped it in two.
Urban renewal thoughts at the time, molded by the likes of Robert Moses, emphasized carving highways through urban areas to create greater metropolitan areas. Many of us recall the “Virginia Street corridor,” but don’t forget the “Delaware Park Shortway” that would have taken more parkland for the purpose of moving traffic. Planners viewed Delaware Park and its “vacant land” as a barrier, somehow to be overcome for the sake of traffic efficiency.
Today, commercial vehicles rumble within yards of children playing tennis and soccer in the park’s meadow. The high-speed traffic bars any who wish to bike or walk from there to Hoyt Lake within the park. Other parts of the park are virtually inaccessible because of the 60-year-old “urban renewal” barriers.
Traffic volume is high, but it’s nothing compared to the volume on Manhattan’s West Side Expressway before it collapsed in 1973. Nor does Scajaquada traffic approach the level handled by the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco before an earthquake closed it in 1989. Rather than rebuilding these lacerations left over from the age of suburban sprawl, those great cities removed them. And, as described in a recent University of Connecticut study, traffic easily found its way elsewhere, as it has in other areas where urban freeways were removed. In this age of GPS, drivers handily find routes to avoid while heading home from work. Buffalo’s comprehensive “truck route” system has handled truck traffic for generations.
Under the care of the conservancy, Delaware and other city parks are resurgent. Recently, Delaware Park was named one of the “Great Places in America.” We have an opportunity now to restore some of its lost grandeur.
At a meeting last April, the DOT presented studies on how to “improve” the Scajaquada Corridor. The DOT has excellent engineers. Given the task of routing traffic from Point A to Point B, their results are top rate. We need the DOT’s expertise in improving city traffic patterns to the extent necessary to mitigate the diversion of traffic out of Delaware Park and to restore the bucolic beauty of a unified park.
Alan J. Bozer, a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP, is a co-chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.