Leaders of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy are not giving up on their effort to change the state's plan to transform the Scajaquada Expressway into a lower-speed boulevard.
Top state Department of Transportation officials on Tuesday rejected the conservancy's call to restrict the stone arch bridge over Delaware Avenue to pedestrians and bicyclists and to re-route traffic to an at-grade intersection north of the Delaware S-curves.
"We could all still come back to the table on this," said Stephanie Crockatt, the conservancy’s executive director. "I don't want to be Pollyanna, but I do want to think that we can come to a better solution for Buffalo, that we could restore Olmsted's vision and not perpetuate mistakes of the 1950s."
Crockatt's comments came Tuesday night before a public information session at SUNY Buffalo on the DOT's $104 million plan to downgrade 2.2 miles of Route 198 between Grant Street and Parkside Avenue.
The DOT's plan calls for a signalized intersection near Delaware Avenue on the newly configured boulevard, with a connection to another signal at Delaware. But conservancy leaders maintain their proposal for one major intersection away from the boulevard better connects the park meadow with Hoyt Lake and would not create traffic gridlock, as the DOT has claimed.
"I think the two major intersections they've proposed, instead of the one intersection we've proposed, is daunting, especially since the one major intersection is right next to the junior soccer fields at Delaware Park," Crockatt said.
Matt Lincoln, a member of the Delaware Soccer Club's board of directors, said his group has endorsed the conservancy's idea to take traffic off the stone arch bridge near the fields its teams play on.
"We're in a park and don't want a highway next to our soccer field," he said. "Who wants to be playing soccer next to a highway?"
Even with the Scajaquada speed limit at 30 mph now, road noise is still an issue during practice and games, Lincoln said. He's concerned about cars stopping and idling at the nearby intersection, and the pollution that comes with it.
"You're going to have tractor- trailers, delivery trucks, and now you've got all these kids trying to cross, people with strollers," he said. "It's not based on reality."
But DOT representatives said Tuesday they are moving forward with their plan.
"This is as far as we can go with this project," Frank Cirillo, the DOT's regional director, told the crowd.
After Cirillo's 20-minute presentation, Alan Bozer, a conservancy trustee, and Dennis Horrigan, the conservancy’s chairman, questioned whether the DOT's traffic models took into account that the conservancy's plan eliminates the need for four other planned pedestrian crossings in that area.
"Our design basically moves all the traffic to the S-curves and then you would go north or south on Delaware or continue up to the 198," Horrigan said. "I think it was somewhat misleading, the comparison they made between our design of traffic flow and their design, because I don't think they took into consideration the impact of the five pedestrian lights that would be located on the 198."
He and Bozer also said the DOT is still too focused on moving traffic quickly and less concerned with quality of life for park users, an opinion shared by Bradley Bethel Jr., research associate for the Restore our Community Coalition.
"It appears to be that they're inching in the right direction," Bethel said. "But they ultimately seem to be set in their old ways of putting the proverbial cart before the horse, in other words automobile traffic over the people and their communities."
Stakeholders, including the conservancy's Crockatt, were not impressed with the updated plan, which was first presented in January.
"The vision could be grander," Crockatt said. "I really think we can be innovative and come up with a solution that heals the park, restores the historical integrity and makes Buffalo shine as a best practice model for the rest of the nation."