Generally speaking, there is a lot to like about the State Department of Transportation’s preliminary plan to improve – and downsize – the Scajaquada Expressway, which cuts across North Buffalo through Delaware Park.
Generally speaking, there’s also a lot to like about the reaction of some residents who want to see the thoroughfare scaled back even further.
In either case, though, there are questions to ask.
Like a number of other 20th century projects that ended up hurting the city, the Scajaquada Expressway was a mistake.
It drove a stake through the heart of historic Delaware Park and obliterated a huge chunk of Hoyt Lake. If Delaware Park isn’t to Buffalo exactly what Central Park is to Manhattan, it has this much in common: It is an essential green lung in the middle of the city and, like Central Park, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. It deserved to be protected.
But just as the Kensington Expressway destroyed Humboldt Parkway, the Scajaquada molested Buffalo’s premier park. These are difficult actions to undo, but with the DOT’s plans for the Scajaquada, a long-discussed project may be coming closer to reality.
The plan, as described at a public meeting last week, would remake 3.3 miles of the expressway by eliminating 15 exit and entrance ramps, lowering the speed limit to 40 mph and narrowing the traffic lanes while building a raised center median with trees and antique-style street lamps. It would create more than a dozen bicycle and pedestrian crossings as well as a pedestrian bridge linking SUNY Buffalo State and Amherst Street.
It’s a good start on the work that should be done, though some in the audience want to see the speed limit lowered to 30 mph and the road more drastically downsized. It’s a fine idea – as long as the consequences are well considered.
For example: Much of the shopping in Buffalo is concentrated near the Scajaquada’s intersections with Delaware and Elmwood avenues. For many city residents, the Scajaquada is the easiest route. If the expressway is downsized – or downsized too dramatically – what will those people do? Will they abandon Buffalo to shop in the suburbs? How much of a loss would that be to the city and its merchants?
There is real value in restoring, as much as possible, the integrity of Delaware Park, and that requires doing something about the Scajaquada. The more the road can be made to complement rather than pierce the park, the better the city will be, as long as the likely consequences are generally seen as worth bearing for the gift of reclaiming the emerald in our midst.