Few tourist attractions have as much international notoriety as Niagara Falls. So why hide it?
That question has haunted many right-minded folks, some who worked diligently for decades trying to put things right and uncover the stunning vista along the Niagara Gorge.
The ill-conceived Robert Moses Parkway robbed tourists and residents of the chance to get a better glimpse and greater access. The governor’s announcement that the state would spend more than $40 million to restore that access was not unexpected, but breathtaking still.
It is the culmination of years of citizen advocacy by people like Lisa Vitello, quoted in a recent News story. She is chairwoman of the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board and noted that since 1990, the Niagara Heritage Partnership, followed by the Niagara Waterfront Revitalization Task Force, have fought to remove what can only be described as a destructive barrier.
In 2014, the state began an $18 million project to remove the south part of the parkway to connect residents to the Niagara River.
In making his latest announcement, the governor presented the project as the largest expansion of green space since the Niagara Reservation was designed in 1885, turning the Niagara River Gorge and the Falls into a single destination.
The plan is to remove 2 miles of the northern portion of the parkway and transform the four-lane highway, between Findlay Drive and Main Street, back into a park. Traffic will be redirected onto an improved Whirlpool Street while the parkway is replaced by restored landscaping and a new system of trails.
The highway extends around the city, diverting traffic around downtown and cutting off access to the gorge and the Niagara River. Even though there has been an almost universal acknowledgment that this “urban design” was a mistake, it took this long to get anything done.
And it is appropriate, as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said, that the New York Power Authority that did the “breaking” pay for it, funding the $42 million project that “takes down the parkway and builds up this city.”
The authority owns about 71 percent of the land where the parkway will be removed. As part of the construction of the nearby Niagara Power Project in the 1950s, the authority built the Robert Moses Parkway. As part of the total project package, the authority has contributed $2 million for engineering and redesign work, which will open up 130 to 140 feet of park space between Whirlpool Street and the gorge.
As Higgins once said, the poorly utilized roadway “represents more than a physical barrier; it is an economic barrier to the renaissance of Niagara Falls,” cutting off residents and visitors from a critical resource.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, another longtime opponent of the parkway, noted that it was “illogical that something so great could be choked off by lanes of concrete that is scarcely used.”
Dyster is working to improve the financial fortunes of a city that should be awash in tourism cash. Now those efforts stand a much better chance.