Robert Moses might be the only person who wouldn’t have approved. The parkway bearing his name is going to be torn out, ripped up, cleared away between downtown Niagara Falls and its northern neighborhoods. In three to four years, residents will have easy access to the Niagara River gorge for the first time in more than 50 years.
It’s been a long time coming, but last week state officials agreed to remove what has proven to be a costly mistake: costly to build and costly to the City of Niagara Falls, which has been cut off from a natural resource that is nearly as spectacular, though less well known, as the falls, themselves.
As it stands, plans are to remove the parkway between the city’s downtown to Findlay Drive. Whirlpool Street will be transformed into a low-speed, two-lane parkway along the lines of the one hugging the river on the Ontario side. The land where the existing parkway now obstructs access to the gorge will be transformed with native plantings and a multi-use natural trail that would feature hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and more.
While design and construction work begin on that two-mile stretch of road, meanwhile, debate will continue about the future of the stretch of road from Findlay Drive to Center Street in Lewiston.
Plans are either to transform it into a two-lane park road with a nature trail or turn it into a completely natural setting with vehicles traveling on existing city streets. Environmentalists prefer the latter while advocates for the Village of Lewiston, including State Sen. George Maziarz, D-Newfane, want to preserve easy access to the village for people visiting Niagara Falls. Either would mark a huge improvement.
The stretch of the Moses bringing tourists from Interstate 190 to Niagara Falls State Park would remain, but would soon include a lower speed limit and pedestrian access points to the Niagara River.
The parkway was constructed in the 1960s by New York’s master builder, Robert Moses, who had a way of getting what he wanted, even when it damaged neighborhoods. The Niagara Falls parkway bearing his name didn’t bring Niagara Falls low on its own, but it was a blow, even if it was done to provide drivers with spectacular views of the gorge.
The car was everything to Moses. He built roads and bridges to accommodate them, accelerating sprawl and leading to the manufacture of more cars that increased congestion that demanded more roads. He thought little of the people who lived in the areas where he built his transportational monuments, even to the point of cleaving once cohesive communities in half.
That didn’t happen to Niagara Falls, but the community was cut off from its namesake river and a valuable source of recreation and commerce. We know better now, and while New York City may never be able to unburden itself of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Niagara Falls will soon enough be able to reclaim its waterfront.
It’s a long-hoped-for development that will make a difference in the lives of city residents and could also help to expand its tourist economy. Those are fine things.