By Stephanie Barber Geter and Karen Stanley Fleming
Progress can have very different meanings, depending on your perspective. If you live in the suburbs and you want a shorter commute, then progress can mean a new highway that gets you from your home to the office a few minutes faster. But for the people in neighborhoods that are destroyed to build that highway, progress means something else entirely.
Progress means covering the big ditch that ripped apart the Hamlin Park neighborhood, separating it from more prosperous communities across the Olmsted park system. Progress means having vibrant, clean, green places with freedom from close range auto exhaust that causes devastating illness. Progress means redesigning the Scajaquada Expressway to reconnect Delaware Park and to provide a safer park experience for pedestrians and cyclists. Progress means redesigning both ends of Humboldt Parkway, from the Delaware Park terminus to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park and points in between because it’s all one road.
Buffalo wasn’t the only city to fall for a false version of progress: the proliferation of highways at the expense of communities. Flush with federal transportation funding, cities across the country built massive highways that divided communities and destroyed neighborhoods.
In Syracuse, the elevated I-81 acts as a concrete wall dividing the city. In Rochester, there was a deep trench of a highway that the city’s current mayor referred to as a moat, and has since championed the highway’s removal. In many cities, high-speed roads exacerbated existing inequity, and in some instances literally created a right side and wrong side of the tracks.
In Buffalo, we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bridge these inequities. However, the Scajaquada plan that the state Department of Transportation released this past summer falls far short of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pledge for a transformational plan, as it eliminates another 14 acres of Delaware Park, and retains seven lanes of traffic.
Other cities are embracing more parks and less highway, recognizing the importance of open space to connect and revitalize communities. For example, Margaret T. Hance Park is a 30-acre park near downtown Phoenix, Ariz., which lies on top of a half-mile stretch of the 10-lane Papago Freeway, a portion of Interstate 10. This is a progressive way to improve surrounding neighborhoods that had been destroyed by freeway construction, and it is the model embraced by Governor Cuomo when he designated funding for an environmental assessment and detailed design plans for Humboldt Parkway near Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The governor also promised a transformational plan to remake the Scajaquada Corridor, but the DOT plan as proposed is hardly transformational.
As Buffalo residents who care deeply for restoring our community, we urge the governor to direct DOT to fix Humboldt Parkway at both ends of the one road.
Stephanie Barber Geter is chairwoman of the Restore Our Community Coalition. Karen Stanley Fleming is executive director of the coalition.