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Rod Watson: No matter what's next for Scajaquada, drivers will lose

It serves them right – both of them.

I’m talking about the community coalition and the Cuomo administration, who conspired to collectively destroy the Scajaquada Expressway.

The erstwhile allies now find themselves at odds over what to do next after using the death of a toddler in a traffic accident to turn a functional cross-town freeway into a useless piece of striped asphalt. Motorists might as well drive through surrounding neighborhoods, where they probably stand less chance of getting a speeding ticket than on the now-misnamed "expressway" with its 30 mph limit.

But the same activists who honked their bicycle horns in support of the lower speed limit turned on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Transportation, claiming its plan to complete the transition destroys too many trees and doesn’t go far enough to reconnect Delaware Park.

They gathered 5,500 petition signatures (compared to the 50,000 vehicles that traveled the Scajaquada each day) to stop the plan and flooded the DOT with so many negative comments that the department brought its efforts to a screeching halt.

The department said that, out 1,147 comments received, only 274 were about the speed limit and that, of those, 56 percent backed a ridiculous – my word, not theirs –  limit of 30 mph or less.

And since letting motorists drive at the speed the road was designed for wasn’t even part of the plan, it’s clear that killing the Scajaquada as an efficient means of getting across town is a done deal no matter what other changes might come.

That mutes any joy we might feel at seeing the DOT get the grief it deserves for its obsequiousness.

On the other hand, now that the tree-hugggers, bicyclists and other activists have stopped the current DOT plan, it’s clear that they might actually get all that they want. That means at least somebody will be happy.

And they deserve it. The Omsted Parks Conservancy, GObike Buffalo, Restore Our Community Coalition and other groups pushing for this step back in time were organized, vocal and determined. Motorists who just want a quick commute were not, and passion beats efficiency every time.

And what is it those groups want?

It’s the vision outlined last month at the Burchfield Penney Art Center by Orlando-based urban transportation expert Ian Lockwood, who says you control the discussion by controlling the language. He calls the effects of slowing down traffic not a "delay" but a "correction," and a return from modernist to "traditional" values.

Lockwood showed before and after photos of various cities he said have revived key areas by narrowing streets and expanding sidewalks to create foot traffic and bring buildings back to life.

And for Buffalo?

"This is not a stumper. What kind of road do you build in a park? You build a parkway," he said, adding that he’d remove not just the Scajaquada from Delaware Park, but the Kensington Expressway and the Niagara Thruway, as well, to help build a "place" rather than just move cars.

That, apparently, is Buffalo’s future, as it mimics some of the other car-crippled cities Lockwood lauds.

But as the DOT hits the "reset button," the default mode remains the new, lower speed limit. Meanwhile, assuming the agency is sincere, it still could take years – if not decades – to fully achieve this new vision of Buffalo at half speed.

That makes it the worst of both worlds:

We’ll all be dead before it happens.

But on the way to Forest Lawn, we can go only 30 mph.


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