Front Park has not had an easy existence since it was imagined by Frederick Law Olmsted three years after the end of the Civil War.
Designed to provide commanding views of Lake Erie and the Niagara River, the park – originally called “The Front” – suffered at the hands of progress or, if not progress, then change. It has been hacked and mangled so that it is now a shadow of what it once was.
Things are about to improve. A road that was rammed through the park 60 years ago to connect the city to the Peace Bridge is scheduled to be removed by 2015 in favor of a new entrance south and west of the park. Not only will the change help to restore a historic park overlooking two historic bodies of water, but it will also move along the process of improving the inspection plaza at the Peace Bridge.
The Olmsted Parks Conservancy is thrilled at the announcement as, indeed, the whole community should be. Along with Buffalo architecture, the city’s park system is one of its most potent resources and, even 145 years later, it bears protection and restoration.
The project will restore three acres of parkland and allow the conservancy to try to re-establish Olmsted’s original design, said its president, Thomas Herrera-Mishler. That work potentially includes the park’s original entrance at the corner of Busti and Porter avenues and the original landscaping design around the park’s perimeter.
Among the changes will be installation of a roundabout or traffic signal at a new entry ramp for the bridge off Porter Avenue.
In addition, traffic leaving the bridge will flow to a single point away from the plaza, with vehicles going onto the existing ramp to the southbound Niagara Thruway, a new ramp to the northbound Niagara Thruway or onto Niagara Street instead of Porter Avenue. This is expected to eliminate crisscrossing patterns and other impediments to traffic.
The work, pushed hard by the Cuomo administration, also demonstrates that Buffalo is leaving behind its reputation for public-sector paralysis. More than any other factor, even the waterfront, Buffalo’s inability to register progress on the Peace Bridge project has become emblematic of the city’s inability to accomplish anything.
While work on the plaza and bridge remains pending, other long-standing issues have been resolved, including the demolition of vacant homes on Busti Avenue and now, plans to restore Front Park and smooth the flow of traffic, which should help ease neighborhood health problems caused by exhaust fumes. Add to that the projects now transforming the waterfront, the fast-developing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and restorations in and around the Larkin District, and it is clear that Buffalo is adopting a new way of doing business.
All these are important projects, but the restoration of Front Park is especially satisfying. It has become a kind of stepchild in Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks system, so badly used that many despaired of its salvation.
This won’t give back the park that Buffalo had 100 years ago, but it will make a good run at it. That’s worth celebrating.