A raised center median with trees and antique-style street lamps. Narrower traffic lanes. A 40-mph speed limit. Elimination of 15 entrance and exit ramps. More than a dozen bicycle and pedestrian crossings. A pedestrian bridge linking SUNY Buffalo State and Amherst Street.
That’s how 3.3 miles of the Scajaquada Expressway (Route 198) from Grant Street through Delaware Park to Parkside Avenue would be transformed in preliminary plans presented Wednesday evening by the state Department of Transportation.
“We’ve been at this for several years, and we think we’ve got a terrific opportunity to do something great for the City of Buffalo and the entire region,” said Darnell Kaminski, the DOT’s Western New York regional director, as he introduced “A Boulevard in a Park: The Greening of the Scajaquada Corridor.”
But for many of the 100 people at a public meeting on the project hosted by the DOT and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, in Bulger Communication Center at Buffalo State, the plan doesn’t go far enough.
“We’re going through a park,” said attendee Paul Gorski. “We don’t want it to be the same. We want it to be grossly different.”
“It’s still parkland and it should be treated as such,” Mark Kubiniec said to applause. “Take (the speed limit) down to 30 mph. Give us a parkway in our park.”
Gary Mucci, a member of the Olmsted Park Conservancy board of directors, echoed his sentiments.
“As we see this plan develop, it still looks like a highway through a very important park,” he said.
“I think the engineers were given a problem with parameters set by politicians years ago,” said Chuck Banas. “Everybody says it was a mistake. We wouldn’t think of building an expressway through park areas today, so why don’t we restore it to the way it was before?”
“Do we really need this road?,” another speaker asked, “and do we need to conduct 65,000 vehicles a day through this park?”
“Nobody ever likes this answer,” said Mark McAnany of Bergmann Associates, which is helping the DOT with studies and design on the project. “We did traffic modeling and tested ideas of two-lane roadways and got to where the traffic didn’t divert. It sits there and congests because there aren’t convenient alternative routes.”
“We should be thinking about moving people,” said another speaker, who suggested a trolley system along the Scajaquada. “There are a lot of people generators along this corridor. I’m glad to hear the NFTA is part of this team, but I’m disappointed that they aren’t here.”
“You haven’t told us if we remove the highway, what the results are,” said Eddie Egriu, who is challenging Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. “Also I’d like to see about removing the 33 (Kensington Expressway).”
“So many depend on it that the community hasn’t had a desire to remove it,” Kaminski said. “But transformation, there’s broad support for that. The Kensington, that carries 80,000 cars a day. It’s very difficult to replace that.”
Also offering a contrasting view was Joe Treanor.
“Buffalo is the envy of a lot of places because you can get anywhere in a short period of time,” he said. “And 35,000 to 60,000 cars aren’t going to disappear. I don’t think you can cut traffic from the Scajaquada without gridlocking the city streets.
“When they say we need to return this to the way [Fredrick Law] Olmsted envisioned the park, I ask you to consider ... Olmsted was a man of the 19th century. He designed grand boulevards with multiple pathways and bridle paths.
“I’m confident that if Olmsted was living today, he would be figuring ways to incorporate modern transportation needs into his designs. He wouldn’t have denied the existence of automobiles.”
Assemblyman Ryan closed the session by reminding speakers that while their comments were taken seriously, written opinions will carry more weight as the project is refined further.
Comments can be submitted at www.dot.ny.gov/Scajaquadacorridor. Another meeting will be held in early May at a location yet to be determined.