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Editorial: New plan to reroute Scajaquada deserves consideration

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has floated a proposal for simultaneously reconfiguring the Scajaquada Expressway and reducing the division between the north and south portions of Delaware Park. The approach raises some important questions, but deserves serious consideration among the alternatives.

The idea is to capitalize on the state’s plan to downgrade the Scajaquada. That’s long been a goal of activists who decried the damage it did to Delaware Park, designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The DOT’s plan certainly moves in that direction, but the conservancy’s approach would do more to reconnect the divided park, even restoring four acres of land that had been lost to the highway.

To accomplish it, the conservancy plan would reroute the thoroughfare south of the existing Delaware Avenue ramps, where it would create a new at-grade intersection. The current path of the road, including the stone arch bridge over Delaware Avenue, would be converted to a pedestrian and bicycle route that would link with Hoyt Lake via a new pedestrian land bridge. The area now taken up by the two cloverleafs south of the expressway would be restored to the park.

Among the questions that need to be answered is the cost of the conservancy’s proposal. The DOT says its project, which as envisioned would retain the existing controlled access to Delaware Avenue, would cost $101 million. The conservancy says its approach would cost about the same.

Also important, and as yet without a good answer, is how each plan would affect traffic flow across Buffalo. The Scajaquada is the only fast east-west route through the city and, with the parkway speed limit reduced to 30 mph – needlessly, we believe – there is bound to be an impact on traffic patterns, safety and other issues. What are they?

It is certainly true, as the conservancy says, that Buffalonians should be happy with the idea of restoring Delaware Park, but as an answer to the question of how the plan affects the entire city, it’s insufficient. Some traffic has moved to other east-west streets, including Hertel Avenue, the conservancy says, but what has to be documented is how it is affecting safety, congestion, drive times and more.

Delaware Park was mangled by the expressway with little regard to its historic and social significance. But the fact is, changing that won’t happen in a vacuum. There will be ripple effects of that decision – or any other, regarding the Scajaquada – and they need to be thoughtfully explored.

Think of the highway as an urban aorta. It facilitates traffic flow, which is critical to the region’s economy. If this primary thoroughfare becomes less efficient at moving traffic, without other arteries ready to safely pick up the slack, there will be consequences.

One way to keep traffic moving on the Scajaquada would be to raise the speed limit. It was lowered to 30 mph from 50 mph two years ago after a tragic fatal accident that, it turned out, had nothing to do with speed. An out-of-control car went off the Scajaquada and struck two children, killing one of them and leaving the other critically injured, along a stretch of the road that lacked guardrails.

Perhaps, as advocates of the slower speed say, it will seem a more plausible limit once the road is reconfigured and calming mechanisms such as traffic lights are installed.

Even still, 30 mph is generally uncalled for except on residential streets or congested commercial districts. A higher limit doesn’t seen unreasonable and could help make the case that the road will continue to function well enough as the city’s primary east-west corridor.

The work of reconfiguring this roadway has been going on so long that it won’t hurt for the state Department of Transportation to take a little more time to examine this idea.

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