NIAGARA FALLS – New plans for the Robert Moses Parkway call for the state to rip out two of the four lanes guiding motorists to and from Niagara Falls State Park.
But it’s not that road change that is getting officials excited about the proposal; it’s the thought of connecting the state park to the city after decades of separation.
To many, the idea is common sense: Residents and tourists should be able to move easily between the park and the city.
But for far too long, that hasn’t been the case.
While the park boasts a main entrance at the city’s edge, the parkway makes many other areas harder to pass.
Take the recent exchange between Mayor Paul A. Dyster and a young tourist family visiting the falls:
As he was leaving a meeting where leaders unveiled the new parkway plans, the family asked Dyster how to get to the water. The mayor turned around and pointed in the direction of a pathway that snaked toward the river. The trail was blocked by a closed gate. Looking around, he eventually directed them on a roundabout journey through the park.
If the new plans stand – they are in the public review stage and will be finalized next year – residents and tourists will have more public access points to get to the Niagara River.
That’s why officials are calling the new design of the southern section a “Riverway.”
“We should give them the best experience we have to offer, and not have them find something by accident,” Dyster said.
The Buffalo News surveyed those access points to give residents a better idea of what the changes will mean. The proposed access areas include:
• New paths and crosswalks in the upper rapids area, near the Red Coach Inn.
Some consider this area to be one of the falls’ most breathtaking viewing spots, with benches for travelers to experience the thundering rapids up close.
Getting to the viewing area from city streets, though, means you currently have to walk down a steep hill and cross illegally over four lanes of the Robert Moses.
• Sidewalks and crosswalks at Fourth Street, near the former Fallside Hotel.
This area often gives residents the sense that they are “almost” at the water.
From here, though, it’s just as difficult to penetrate the Moses’ concrete barrier.
Sidewalks exist on only one side of the street, and residents would need to dodge cars on the expressway to get to a hiking trail.
• A lowered embankment and nature areas along Riverside Drive.
The row of old city homes greeting incoming motorists hardly looks like real estate located just seconds from a natural wonder.
That’s because an embankment built to support the expressway robbed the street of its riverfront view.
State officials plan to lower the berm and create a walking path that will snake from the park.
A small pond – designed with the principles of park architect Frederick Law Olmsted in mind – could become a gathering place for nature tourists and residents alike.
These changes could also spur development of a planned bed-and-breakfast historic district on Buffalo Avenue, leaders say, as well as the reuse of vacant structures such as the Fallside.
• A new path to the water from Buffalo Avenue near the First Street bridge to Goat Island.
The new trail and crosswalk will again give visitors a safer way to cross the parkway and get to the water, officials say.
• A more extensive trail system along the water’s edge that would be accessible to motorists and pedestrians.
Nearly all of the new access points would connect with trails along the water – one which exists now and others set to be added.
The additional trails would stretch from the falls area to east of the John B. Daly Boulevard interchange.
Most of the access points are geared toward pedestrians, but motorists will see improvements, too.
Those driving west on the parkway from Buffalo into the state park now must enter the main park area to reach the riverfront.
That would change with the addition of parking pull-off points like those that exist at the water intakes.
Pull-off points would be built along the trail system at the water’s edge so that motorists could park and reach the water more easily.
“We’re looking at areas in the park we can get people to go to other than the falls,” said Mark W. Thomas, regional state parks director.
“What this does is it opens up a whole new area of the park that felt foreboding and forbidding to the public.”
The new parkway plans can be viewed until Jan. 31 in Niagara Falls City Hall, the Niagara Falls Public Library and visited online at nysparks.com/inside our-agency/public-documents .aspx.
Written comments on the design can be sent to David Szuba, P.O. Box 1132, Niagara Falls, NY 14303, or by email to David.Szuba@parks.ny.gov.
After public comments, a final design will be approved next year, and state officials must find roughly $15 million to fund the project.
Construction on the final design would begin in 2014, officials said. The latest design on the northern section of the Robert Moses – between Niagara Falls and Lewiston – will be unveiled next month.