If there is one basic element that defines Niagara Falls – one quality that sets this city apart – it is water and, more specifically, its movement.
Yet a history of poor planning has made getting to the water extremely difficult for anyone who wants to experience the awesome Niagara River up close. The falls, themselves, aren’t too difficult to take in, but further upstream and, more disappointingly, the magnificent and turbulent lower rapids are difficult to access.
That may be about to change. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation last week unveiled plans to reclaim the riverfront in a way that expands opportunities for those who are up for an adventure.
While new designs for the northern section of the misbegotten Robert Moses Parkway are due to be released next month, the just-announced plans deal with access to the river above the falls, between the upper rapids and the junction of the parkway with John B. Daly Boulevard.
That stretch is due to become a two-lane road, accessed via a traffic circle and John B. Daly Boulevard. Nature trails, public access points and parking areas would help visitors experience a section of the river that, for all intents and purposes, has been off limits.
The access points – at Fourth Street, Riverside Drive and near the upper rapids – would allow those on foot to explore a web of trails that would stretch along the river. In addition, an embankment along that part of the river will be lowered, restoring a river view to many city homes along the way.
These changes have been a long time coming – since the construction of the Moses Parkway 50 years ago first cut the river off from Western New Yorkers and tourists, alike.
It was a mistake, as Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development, observed: “Robert Moses did some good things, but this was not one of them. It doesn’t say ‘Come to the waterfront’ by having an expressway there.”
The project won’t be cheap, but the state has 25 percent of the anticipated $20 million cost already set aside. Supporters hope the project will also benefit from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s $1 billion fund for reinvigorating the economy of the Buffalo area. Such a boost for tourism would be an appropriate use of that fund.
Plans for fixing the parkway problem have come and gone over the years, but Cuomo is acquiring a reputation for getting things done. Here’s hoping he sets this important proposal in motion.