All posts by AlanBozer

Olmsted’s NYC Prospect Park Goes Car-Free Forever on January 2

Prospect Park in New York City, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late nineteenth century, will see cars banned at the end of the year.

As of January 2, no part of Prospect Park will ever be a traffic shortcut again, NYC Mayor de Blasio announced this past weekend.  The mayor’s announcement is the culmination of decades of steady advocacy and incremental progress

Sustained activism for a car-free Prospect Park had already prompted the city to cut the hours when through traffic is allowed down to weekdays from 7 to 9 a.m., and only on the park’s east side. With today’s announcement, the entire park will be free of private cars at all times.

Mayor de Blasio speaking at Grand Army Plaza this morning. Photo: David Meyer

“The park was not built with cars in mind. They didn’t exist. The park was built for people,” the mayor said at the Grand Army Plaza entrance. “This is getting back to the original idea of this park, restoring it to its original purpose.”

The west side of the Prospect Park loop has been off-limits to motor vehicle through traffic since 2015. Over the summer, DOT and the Parks Department conducted an eight-week car-free pilot to evaluate the impact on traffic on surrounding streets.

Traffic impacts were “minimal,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and after the car-free trial, fewer drivers used the park loop. Even before the trial, pedestrians and cyclists outnumbered motorists on the loop by more than 1,000 to 300 per hour, according to DOT.

Photo: David Meyer
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Borough President Eric Adams lead the celebratory bike ride through the soon-to-be permanently car-free Prospect Park. Photo: David Meyer

A big proponent of making the park completely car-free has been Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, in stark contrast with his predecessor. “I use this park all the time in the morning to bike,” Adams said today. “This is a significant moment for us all.”

It’s been 50 years since the first victory in the campaign to get cars out of Prospect Park. For much of the 20th century, with the city ceding more and more space to automobiles, traffic was essentially allowed on the park loop all day, every day. Then in 1967 the city made Prospect Park car-free on weekends. Not much changed for the next 25 years.

In the 1990s, Transportation Alternatives revived the campaign for a car-free park, gathering tens of thousands of signed postcards calling on Borough President Howard Golden to remove traffic during the summer. Over the course of many years and several thousand volunteer hours — including massive petition drives in 2002 and 2008 — advocates were able to get DOT to gradually whittle down the times and places where cars were allowed in the park. Car-free hours were expanded, motor vehicle entrances to the park were cut off, and traffic lanes were reduced.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of all those campaigns, right up to the ride for a car-free park during the morning rush hour two weeks ago.

Calista DeJesus, a resident of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and member of Brooklyn Community Board 9’s transportation committee, said she looks forward to commuting through the park without having to worry about car traffic.

“Especially riding and walking in the park, and having to commute during rush hour when cars are driving pass, it wasn’t always easy being cramped up along with the joggers,” she said. “It’s really exciting to know [there’s] a safe way to commute in the park.”

N.Y. Times – Why did you build a park next to that freeway?

BUFFALO — The Scajaquada Corridor is a city dweller’s dreamland, a culture-vulture Valhalla. Within two miles there is a restored Frank Lloyd Wright house you can visit, an art museum with Picassos and Gauguins, three college campuses, a zoo and a history museum in a majestic Greek Revival building from the 1901 Pan Am Exposition listed on the National Historic Register. All of it borders a 356-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

There is just one problem: An expressway runs through it.

The Scajaquada Expressway, or Route 198, is a 3.2-mile tear in the urban fabric. Built in the early 1960s, it slices Delaware Park in half, isolates north Buffalo from destinations south, makes walking or bicycling in the area a death-courting activity and creates the strange optical illusions common to freewayscapes. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum are less than half a mile apart, on opposite sides of the Scajaquada. Looking across the expanse of pavement and speeding traffic, however, the distance seems insurmountable.

“People don’t cross the Scajaquada,” said Alison Merner, the communications coordinator for GObike Buffalo, who grew up in a neighborhood that borders the expressway. “If I were going to go for a run or a short bike ride, I would always stay on my side. You were kind of on an island.”

The Scajaquada is not just a local barrier but also a poster road for a growing movement being championed by progressives in the urban-planning community. They want to tear down some highways in cities and replace all that elevated-and-barricaded pavement with lower-speed streets that favor pedestrians and bicyclists and foster greater connectivity among neighborhoods and residents.

It’s the kind of argument you can imagine the journalist and activist Jane Jacobs making, and indeed she led a successful campaign against Robert Moses in the 1960s to block a planned expressway through Lower Manhattan before it could be built. The highway would have resulted in the demolition of wide swaths of Greenwich Village and SoHo.

Continue reading the main story
Photo

The road runs through it. In several cities, activists are agitating to level highways and bring back sidewalks.CreditShane Lavalette for The New York Times

One of the groups leading the new charge is Congress for the New Urbanism. Since 2008, it has published a biennial list called “Freeways Without Futures,” which names highways whose elimination would, according to its website, “remove a blight” from their cities. The 2017 edition includes Route 710 in Pasadena, Calif., Interstate 70 in Denver, Interstate 375 in Detroit and, paved enemy No. 1, the Scajaquada Expressway.

Lynn Richards, the president and chief executive officer of C.N.U., said that removing a highway is “a somewhat radical idea.” “There’s a lot of analysis that needs to go into it about where the traffic is going to go,” she said.

But already, several cities have removed or decommissioned existing highways, including Paris; Seoul, South Korea; Boston; and Portland, Ore. Last year, Rochester buried a portion of a downtown expressway known as the Inner Loop, a stretch of sunken highway the city’s mayor likened to a “moat.” It is being replaced with a boulevard on the same grade as the rest of the streetscape.

And because of a confluence of factors, including the embrace of ride-hailing services like Uber and the rebirth of cities as places to live, work, raise families and retire to, advocates like Ms. Richards see an “incredible opportunity” to remove even more pavement. “When we put out a call last summer for freeways without a future, we got almost 75 recommendations,” she said. “This can kick-start a conversation about the best way to spend infrastructure dollars.”

Many in-city highways were built during the post-World War II boom years with easy money from the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act. They hail from an age when the automobile was ascendant and were built to quickly move commuters in and out of urban centers; many of these highways were used by white suburbanites and built in low-income minority neighborhoods (“white men’s roads through black men’s homes,” went a saying in Washington).

Perhaps the greatest argument that removal advocates have is that so much of this infrastructure is nearing the end of its life span. In this era of tight budgets and political gridlock, it may be cheaper for local and state governments to remove a freeway rather than repair or build a new one.

Photo

San Francisco’s double-decker Embarcadero Freeway, right, in 1957 and, left, in 2008 after it was demolished instead of rebuilt after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. CreditFrom left: Lisa Baertlein/Reuters, Associated Press.

If it sounds counterintuitive, if not crazy, to tear down a highway that still carries thousands of cars and trucks each day, there are a number of case studies to point to. One of the earliest and, to advocates, most successful, was San Francisco’s double-decker Embarcadero Freeway. It skirted the city’s waterfront and was demolished instead of rebuilt after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

“The Embarcadero came out of the waterfront, and now the waterfront real estate is seeing tremendous value,” said Peter Park, a city planner in favor of removing highways in cities where neighborhoods have been “significantly disconnected.”

Not only in San Francisco but also in every case where a highway has been removed, Mr. Park argues, “the city has improved.”

Mr. Park was the planning director for Milwaukee when the city decommissioned the Park East Freeway spur in 2002. Less than a mile long, the highway hosted traffic snarls each day, but it had its supporters, especially among suburban commuters and truck drivers, and there was concern about what would happen if it was removed.

“The basic argument for it was, people will never get to the city without it,” said John Norquist, Milwaukee’s mayor at the time, who spearheaded the removal campaign. “Well, how do they get to Paris? The arguments were left over from this glorious age of motoring after World War II.”

The bill to demolish the Park East and restore the street grid was around $30 million, significantly less than the $80 to $100 million estimated cost to rebuild the 40-year-old freeway, Mr. Norquist said. He pointed to the rising land values and the slow-but-steady development along the 26-acre corridor in the years since — and the lack of a traffic apocalypse — as signs of success.

Mr. Norquist, who went on to run Congress for the New Urbanism for a decade and is now a semiretired consultant, said removing a highway is not just about addressing local residents’ concerns. “We had to make the big argument, the Jane Jacobs argument, that the freeway was harmful to the whole city,” he said.

Photo

The Scajaquada Expressway during light traffic.CreditShane Lavalette for The New York Times

Since the mid-1980s, civic groups in Buffalo have been arguing for the decommission of the Scajaquada Expressway. After more than a decade of environmental impact studies, and after a car traveling the expressway struck and killed a child in 2015, the state is now responding. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has earmarked nearly $100 million for a project that will convert a 2.2-mile portion into a lower-speed boulevard; organizers hope to start construction in 2018.

“What we envision going to would be more of an urban boulevard that allows all modes of transportation — pedestrians, bicyclists and cars — to use that facility,” said Angelo Trichilo, deputy chief engineer for the New York State Transportation Department.

Still, some argue that the department’s current plan, which eliminates features like merged lanes and uses seven new traffic lights and a raised median with curbs to slow cars, doesn’t go far enough to reduce the expressway’s impact or image and fails to look at the redesign in an innovative way.

“It’s like lipstick on a pig,” said Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. “They have a lot of pretty drawings, but they’re not fixing anything. The road will be just as wide. There will still be a slab of pavement. We’re still not seeing the connectivity and sensitivity.”

In the conservancy’s office cottage inside Delaware Park, Ms. Crockatt and her colleagues showed a color rendering of their own “vision for the new Buffalo.” Most notably, their plan calls for an Olmsted-designed stone arch bridge, presently used by cars and as retained in the state’s proposal, to be returned to its pedestrians and bicyclist origin — in essence, to replace pavement with grass and knit back together the park’s two halves in a way that visually reduces car traffic. They also want to remove the median and scale back the footprint of eight-lane intersections.

Photo

Many feel the trees would be nicer to see without the artificial improvements in the way.CreditShane Lavalette for The New York Times

In response, Mr. Trichilo said the agency has held “over 50 meetings” with stakeholders and the public “to build consensus that we can all agree to” — though opinions diverge widely from keeping the expressway to downsizing to a two-lane road. The Transportation Department considered the conservancy’s plan to eliminate traffic on the stone bridge. But based on its study, a new intersection would be required, and that intersection “just could not handle the traffic,” Mr. Trichilo said, adding that the Federal Highway Administration has concurred.

For supporters of the conservancy’s plan, including Justin Booth, the executive director of GObike Buffalo, the makeover of the Scajaquada offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “restore Olmsted’s original vision,” as Mr. Booth put it. He was referring to the network of graceful boulevards the landscape architect designed to connect Buffalo’s parks, many of which have since been converted to freeways.

Buffalo could become a leader in forward-thinking urban design and a cultural tourist destination, advocates say. And the Scajaquada Corridor redesign could serve as a model for how to approach other highway tear-downs, including the plan to demolish the Robert Moses-built Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx.

“That’s why it’s so important to get it right now, and not finance a mistake into perpetuity,” Mr. Booth said.

But even at a time when cities are embracing bike-sharing programs and mass transit; even when the end of the car(or the human driver anyway) is speculated; even when waterfronts and industrial and low-income areas where in-city highways were built are being reclaimed through gentrification — it’s not easy to tear down a hunk of concrete in place for generations.

At a Transportation Department public presentation meeting last year, Ms. Crockatt learned that for some, the 19th-century Delaware Park is the problem, not the ’60s-era expressway.

She recalled that one attendee stood up and asked, incredulously: “Why in the world did you build this park next to this highway?”

Petition to Save Our Park

Sign the Petition:    https://www.change.org/p/new-york-state-department-of-transportation-save-delaware-park-restore-olmsted-s-legacy

Facebook Post

Buffalo’s beautiful park system was designed 150 years ago by America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. In the 1950’s, construction of the Scajaquada Expressway divided and destroyed acres of parkland the jewel of Olmsted’s system, Delaware Park. Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reverse this mistake and restore Olmsted’s legacy – but only if we can convince the Governor to help us #SaveDelawarePark.

Please make your voice heard by signing our petition. Tell the NYS DOT to rethink its current short-sighted plan and join with the community on a comprehensive approach that would reunite the park and reconnect the community, improve accessibility through safe complete streets, and enhance the economic vitality of this corridor for our City. We won’t have this chance again for another 75 years.

Posting by: “Streets For People!”

The SCC is NOT sponsoring this event – it is posted for informational purposes.

The event is labeled a call “TO SAVE US FROM NYS DOT!”

You may wish to join this group on bicycle, foot, skateboard or
rollerblades to protest the New York State
Department of Transportation’s plan to
ignore the public’s call to rightsize
the Scajaquada and restore Olmsted’s
original vision for our park!

Dangerous Ends (“Termini”)

Recent accident at Rt. 198 merger with I-190.

Transportation projects must have “logical termini,” which is to say that the scope and extent of the project must make sense. When Albany started on its plans to reconstruct Rt. 198, the project extended from the Kensington Expressway (Rt. 33) to the Niagara Thruway (I-190). Albany has regularly referred to the “crucial link” between these two “logical termini” (even though less that 20% of traffic goes from one terminus to the other).  The recognition of the start and end points of Rt. 198 for the project was logical, everyone accepted that.  At last the idea of funneling a huge volume of vehicle traffic into Delaware Park could be addressed.

Then,  a few years ago and without any explanation, Albany decided it would only deal with Rt. 198 from Parkside Avenue to Grant Street.  It cut the start and end points out of the project.  thus sparing itself the need to figure out how to address the problems at both ends.

The eastern, Main Street terminus involves the fundamental flaw of a massive underpass that diverts a huge amount of traffic to Agassiz Circle and Parkside Avenue instead of (logically) to Buffalo’s “Main” Street. (Anyone who attempts to exit from Rt. 33 to Main Street knows of the impossible configuration created by the DOT decision to have one lane end in a stop sign at Kensington.)

It is at the western end, however, that the DOT’s abandonment of the logical terminus leaves in place a dangerous condition. The exit from Rt. 198 to northbound I-190, and to southbound I-190 as well, has a dangerously short merge area.  An incident on Aug. 24 caused by the short merge resulted in a huge traffic snarl when a dump truck hit a car (see photo above from Buffalo News).  Locals call the DOT’s configuration the “spaghetti” approach because of the interweaving fly-overs and difficult merges, and there have been many accidents.

The problematic eastern and western ends of Rt. 198 desperately need to be addressed, but DOT cannot figure out how.  So they left the problems in place.  We deserve better planning.

Letter to Editor: Plans for Delaware Park will create new problems

Printed in Buffalo News  By Staff  Published August 29, 2017

 Plans for Delaware Park will create new problems

The public is waking up to Albany’s plans for a limited-access highway through Delaware Park. Where there is now some traffic flow, Albany plans to construct two new Sheridan Drive-type intersections. Those multilane intersections, with their unsightly traffic signals, combined with new pedestrian crossings, with more traffic signals, will convert the drive through Delaware Park into a Sheridan Drive experience, and then some. It will be a disaster!

The Department of Transportation says accidents are down 25 percent since the speed limit was lowered to 30 miles per hour in the park. Introducing new intersections will increase the rate of accidents if traffic studies are correct. Moreover, the park user’s experience will be harshly affected by what Albany intends with this new construction. This includes the experience of the hundreds of soccer kids who will be playing just a few yards from one of the massive new intersections.

It is not right for Albany to impose these kinds of problems. Imagine how New York City would react if Albany decided to put new signalized intersections inside Central Park. Our parks should be enhanced, not destroyed.

The City of Buffalo has officially asked the DOT to go back to the drawing board and to give us something the community will accept. Buffalo deserves better.

Alan J. Bozer

Buffalo

City of Buffalo Tells DOT to return to the Design Table

The City of Buffalo “is calling for a third party to restart the dialogue with a fresh perspective that is focused on building consensus around an alternative that is acceptable to all parties.”  The City also objects to the State taking historic Delaware Park land.

The following is the full text of a letter to NYSDOT from Byron W. Brown, Mayor of the City of Buffalo

RE: · City of Buffalo Comments- Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)

Rt. 198 Scajaquada Corridor Improvement Project

Dear Mr. Cirillo,

The City of Buffalo (City) has been engaged in the Rt. 198 Scajaquada Corridor Improvement Project since it sponsored an Enhanced Project Proposal (EPP) for the corridor in 2005. The project analysis has evolved significantly since that time, most recently following the State’s decision to reduce the speed limit to 30 miles per hour (mph). The City appreciates the NYSDOT’s commitment to the co rridor and to continuing the conversation on what the future holds for it. The most recent effort to advance plans for a $100M investment in the corridor has left many community residents feeling dissatisfied with the current preferred alternative. Those residents, some in favor of additional measures to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety directly on Rt. 198 potentially at the expense of vehicle mobility and others in favor of returning to more of an expressway with varying degrees of speed limit increase, have approached my office advocating for their various viewpoints. The City’s belief at this time is that the lack of community consensus for the future of the Scajaquada Corridor requires that additional evaluation, public outreach and public education be undertaken. The City appreciates the process that the DOT has undertaken to date, however, the process has moved so quickly since the State changed the speed limit that there has not been adequate time to fully develop consensus around the future of the corridor. It is for this reason that the City is calling for a third party to restart the dialogue with a fresh perspective that is focused on building consensus around an alternative that is acceptable to all parties.

The City would also like to see the formulation of a Design Advisory Committee that guides the technical analysis on the future of the corridor. A similar committee was developed for the Fuhrmann Boulevard project and the City sees the function of the committee as being able to bring a combination of technical and local expertise to the table that will help to guide this project toward a meaningful outcome. I would recommend that the committee size be kept to a smaller number of members so that conversations can be efficient and productive. The City would also very much like the opportunity to appoint several members to the committee.

I have also enclosed a number of technical comments on the project and the DEIS that have been developed by staff of the Department of Public Works, Parks and Streets and the Mayor’s Office for Strategic Planning.

The City appreciates the Governor’s and NYSDOT’s commitment to this project and the City of Buffalo.  This letter should not be interpreted to take away from any of the efforts or actions that have been completed to date. The City is committed to playing its part in guiding this project toward broad community consensus so that it is a shining jewel for years to come.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at 851-4841.

Sincerely,

/s Byron W. Brown

Mayor

Chapter 5 – Draft Section 4(F) Evaluation and Right of Way takings:

The City objects to the taking of the property that Rt. 198 occupies through the historic Delaware Park.  A transfer of property was not executed at the time of the original construction and the City believes that it is fair to assume that it did not occur because of the sensitive nature of the land through Delaware Park.

Vision Niagara Supports SCC Plan for At-Grade Crossing of Delaware Avenue

August 22, 2017

Mr. Craig Mozrall, PE
New York State Department of Transportation Region 5
100 Seneca Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

RE: COMMENTS ON ROUTE 198 PROJECT

Dear Mr. Mozrall,

I write on behalf of Vision Niagara, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to the revitalization of
Buffalo’s Niagara Street Corridor. Because this corridor is home to the western terminus of Route 198 and
Scajaquada Creek, we are interested stakeholders in the future of Route 198 and the Scajaquada Corridor.

We are extremely disappointed with State Department of Transportation’s current plan for Route 198, and we
ask DOT to reconsider the plan put forth by the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. It is a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to reconnect our city’s signature Olmsted park. Moreover, our community deserves a parkappropriate
roadway that provides safe access for park users, bolsters the economy through tourism and cultural
connection, and moves our city closer to Olmsted’s original intent.

The DOT’s plan also fails to address Route 198 west of Grant Street, where it adversely impacts Niagara Street and Scajaquada Creek. A park-appropriate roadway that continues along the natural waterway of Scajaquada Creek would reunite neighborhoods, promote public health, and serve as an economic catalyst, opening up new waterfront real estate for development. One needs only to look at the renaissance of the Buffalo River to appreciate the potential benefits of a downgraded roadway along Scajaquada Creek.

In sum, the DOT’s current plan simply prioritizes rote vehicular service over the cultural, tourism, environmental, public health, and economic benefits that a park-appropriate roadway would bring.
On behalf of Vision Niagara, I sincerely ask that you reconsider the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s vision for the Scajaquada Boulevard and that you prioritize our community.

Sincerely,
Barbara Rowe, Board President

Vision Niagara, PO Box 281, Buffalo, NY 14213, info@visionniagara.org

National Association of Olmsted Parks Supports SCC Design Plan

National Association For Olmsted Parks

August 22, 2017

Mr. Craig Mozrall, PE
NYSDOT Region 5
100 Seneca Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

Dear Mr. Mozrall:

The National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP) is writing in support of Mayor Brown, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, and all Buffalo citizens who are seeking a redesign and new planning approach for the NYS Route 198 Corridor Project (Scajaquada Expressway) as currently promoted by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). Since its construction in the 1960s, at the height of the national urban highway boom that destroyed the livability of so many of our American cities, the Scajaquada Expressway has detracted from, and adversely impacted, a nationally significant historic designed landscape resource: The 150-year-old park and boulevard system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Buffalo was the first city in the nation where Olmsted and Vaux were able to achieve much of their intended park-parkway designs as armature to shape responsible city growth. Over the past decades, Buffalo leaders have made great improvements to protect, rehabilitate and enhance this timeless vision and to thread the experience of landscape and nature throughout the city as an amenity to the urban environment.

Without consideration of Buffalo’s built heritage, the Scajaquada Expressway as originally located, deleteriously severed the scenic integrity of the 19th century Delaware park and its larger setting, robbing citizens of the intended restorative recreational values. Now is the time to thoughtfully step back from a failing infrastructure project to a corridor project that considers the natural and cultural assets that Buffalo’s earlier city leaders envisioned as beneficial and accessible to all in this corridor. A corridor improvement plan that does not critically evaluate the impact of the redesigned road in the context of the city’s investments in, and enjoyment of, its cultural and recreational institutions will result in more than a missed opportunity. Millions of capital dollars will be spent on corridor improvements that will fail to provide residents, park users, and motorists alike an experience of nature and design that city leaders over the past centuries have promoted. Such spending will also fail to support the urban revival around which Buffalo is currently rebounding.

Thank you for considering these concerns.

Lucy Lawliss, FASLA

Arleyn Levee, Hon. ASLA
Co-Chairs

cc: Matthew J. Driscoll, Commissioner NYDOT;
Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Governor;
Byron Brown, City of Buffalo Mayor;
Stephanie Crockatt, Executive Director BOPC

www.olmsted.org
1200 18th Street NW Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20036
PHONE: 202-223-9113 INFO@NAOP.ORG