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The Scajaquada, a Freeway without a Future

The Congress for the New Urbanism recently published their Freeways Without Futures 2017 report, listing ten highways throughout the country that are in urgent need of removal due to their negative impacts on the surrounding areas. Number one of the list? The Scajaquada Expressway.

The organization notes,

“These ten highways are opportunities for progress. Each one presents the chance to remove a blight from the physical, economic, and environmental health of urban communities. Their intended benefits have not justified the tragic consequences, but converting these highways into human-scaled streets offers a chance to begin repairing the damage. From Buffalo to San Francisco, these are the freeways without futures.”

For a full outline of the top ten highways in America that have no future, visit this article.

We 100% agree the removal of the Scajaquada Expressway is an opportunity for progress in our city. We also understand suburban commuters may have concerns about how the downgrading may affect their commute, addressed below.

Myth #1: Removing an Urban Freeway Will Make Your Commute Longer

Fact: Numerous examples show that this is not the case. In fact, freeways are inefficient mechanisms for handling traffic. In most cases, surface streets (the urban grid) can carry the same amount or more traffic than the highway because there are many chances to enter and exit, and thus many possible routes. Freeways are a magnet for traffic; rather than alleviating traffic congestion, freeways concentrate it, leading to massive traffic jams on and near them, and under-use of existing infrastructure elsewhere. Typically, arterial roads near freeways function well below capacity, which can in fact damage the prospects of businesses located along them. In no example of an American freeway removal have travel times increased significantly. In fact, because of more efficient use of the urban grid, some trips may get faster!

Myth #2: Removing a Freeway Will Damage the City and Regional Economy

Fact: The economic benefits of freeway removal are in fact vast and far outweigh any possible negatives. A strong center city is the best indicator of an economically healthy region. Freeway removal is a correction of a mid-century paradigm that saw cities as little more than convenient parking lots for commuters. Removing freeways restores the urban fabric, unlocking hundreds of millions of dollars of land value, and bringing significant additional tax revenue to city coffers. And that doesn’t even count the traffic safety and air pollution benefits that accrue when communities remove a freeway.

Myth #3: New Freeway Capacity Could Reduce Existing Congestion

Fact: New freeway capacity tends to fill up almost as soon as it is built. This is a well-established principle that is known as “triple convergence” (in time, location, and route choice) or “induced demand.” Building new freeway capacity will not reduce a city’s problems with congestion. We need a new approach that emphasizes multimodalism—walking, transit, biking, and giving people options besides driving alone—and that best utilizes existing infrastructure.

Myth #4: Freeways are Fiscally Efficient and the Alternatives are Not

Fact: Many freeways carry far fewer cars than they were designed for, and all freeways, especially those that are built on a viaduct or in a trench in an urban area, are massively expensive to maintain. No road in the United States pays for itself, and with the gas tax not being raised since 1993, there is no sign that they will any time soon. Many urban freeways were built in an era when engineers believed traffic would increase forever, a world which we now realize is both undesirable and not around the corner. Thus many freeways, in midsize cities especially, have massive unused capacity which would be wasteful even if the area experienced rapid growth.

Proposed Plan for Scajaquada Transformation Does Not Achieve Community’s Vision

 

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) has announced the next public hearing to solicit public feedback for their plan to transform the Scajaquada Expressway into a Boulevard on December 14, 2016, at the Fredrick Law Olmsted Public School 64 auditorium (874 Amherst Street) beginning at 5:30 pm. The project is currently scheduled to allow construction to begin in fall 2017.

Based on our initial review, the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition (SCC), which represents multiple stakeholders, including the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the Parkside Community Association, and GObike Buffalo, as well as community groups and thousands of individuals, opposes the current project design because it fails to meet the aspirational vision laid out by Governor Cuomo and supported by the community since this process began in 2001.

As we have seen in the City of Buffalo as well as cities across the state and country, communities desire Complete Streets. Through complete streets, we are developing multi-modal networks that provide safe access to jobs, education, health care and other essential services for all roadway users. This makes walking, biking and public transit viable transportation choices for everyone while contributing to the health, equity, economic vibrancy and quality of life in our city.

These objectives have not been met in NYSDOT’s current plan; instead, their proposed design continues to perpetuate the challenges of a limited access expressway with a 30MPH speed limit. The SCC vehemently opposes the current boulevard design due to:

  • The lack of a meaningful and engaging public input process while NYSDOT ignores multiple submissions by community organizations with constructive recommendations;
  • Prioritization of vehicle traffic over the safety of vulnerable users through:
    • Over-sized intersections that will make crossings unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists;
    • Medians throughout the corridor at the expense of park space and on-street bicycle facilities; and
    • Adverse impacts upon the Historic Olmsted Park and Parkway System as well as the surrounding cultural and educational institutions and business districts; and
  • The plan’s limited scope, including the absence of addressing impacted communities west of Grant Street and east of Parkside Avenue.

As the New Buffalo continues to re-invent itself becoming a great city once again, NYSDOT is stuck in the Robert Moses-era of planning mistakes by focusing singularly on moving vehicles through our community. At no additional cost, the community’s Scajaquada Boulevard vision could cement our city’s renaissance if vehicle traffic is not the sole consideration of its design; instead, people are.

NYSDOT to Solicit Community Comments on Short-Term 198 Plans

The SCC is encouraged by the change in position by the NYSDOT regarding their approach on the short term measures for the former Scajaquada expressway. Our members have been concerned over the location of their proposed crosswalks and approach to the short term improvements. We continue to support the short term measures defined in the 2005 Expanded Project Proposal created by the NYSDOT and City of Buffalo. These plans where community vetted, and supported providing the essential ground work for the path moving forward. (See our 9/30 letter to NYSDOT)

It is with these plans in place that we call on the NYSDOT to immediately hold community meetings to further refine these approaches. We strongly request that no additional time be wasted so a meaningful and productive discussion can be had prior to implementation in early spring, if not sooner. This is an opportunity to transcend the  Scajaquada corridor into a community asset that benefits the neighborhoods, park, cultural institutions and schools that align it.

Short-term Additions to 198 are Vital

On behalf of more than 100 organizations and 3,000 citizens, the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition submitted comments to NYSDOT today regarding the community’s vision for future of the 198.

Right-sizing the Scajaquada has been the desire of the community for more than 15 years. Although the speed reduction to 30 mph on the expressway began the transition, there are still many improvements to be made, all of which lie in NYSDOT’s hands.

The SCC finds NYSDOT’s proposal to not implement any short-term measures for the next four to six years to be unacceptable. Without short-term physical measures in place to clue motorists to the 30 mph posted speed, the Scajaquada remains a mismatched route designed with a highway feel but with a 30 mph speed limit. In addition to being both dangerous and confusing for motorists, the plan continues to neglect the repeatedly expressed concerns of the surrounding community.

The SCC has requested the following changes to be implemented as soon as possible:

  • Traffic calming measures, including speed transitions from I-190 and Route 33 such as strategically placed rumble strips, overhead signs, streetscapes, streetlights, and intersections;
  • Lane width reduction from 12′ to 11′;
  • Shoulder with rumble strips to reinforce narrower lanes;
  • Removal of the median barrier;
  • A bicycle and pedestrian plan including sidewalks, bike lanes, and raised crosswalks; and
  • Focused landscaping developments at transitions.

To read the letter in its entirety, please click here.

DOT Lame Duck in 198 Planning, Says Citizen

A recent opinion article by Alan Bozer published in the Buffalo News expressed disappointment in NYSDOT’s Scajaquada public meeting on September 16. As noted by Bozer, the meeting simply regurgitated previous statements on the Scajaquada, adding only a traffic study conducted which found that decreasing traffic on the Scajaquada would cause an increase in traffic elsewhere.

“Naturally, taking traffic off the former expressway will increase traffic elsewhere, but it was difficult to understand how and why, and whether the assumption built in the fact that in similar instances in other cities where urban freeways have been removed, traffic simply reroutes itself. Besides, this should be more about urban planning than simply how to get vehicles from point A to point B,” writes Bozer.

“Times have changed. The public counts. The DOT needs to be more accountable to the public, and to get things done.”

Click here for the entire article.

A Disappointing NYSDOT Meeting

Last night, NYSDOT hosted a presentation on future plans for the Scajaquada Expressway. The presentation provided the history of the project, an overview of project alternatives currently under consideration, and a panel discussion with NYSDOT leaders,  Bergmann Associates, a consultant hired to analyze impacts from alternatives, and Greater Buffalo Niagara Region Transportation Council representatives. Questions from the audience were accepted via comment cards.

The SCC is both disappointed and concerned with the dialogue of last night’s meeting.

Our concerns specifically include the following:

  • Why was there not a more detailed discussion on the short-term traffic calming measures that, according to the timeline provided, could be the only alterations made for the next 4 to 6 years? We believe the proposed short-term measures on display last night do not go far enough with creating a road condition conducive to the 30 mph speed limit. We want NYSDOT to immediately install all of the community supported short-term measures in the 2005 EPP that was previously shared.
  • Why is the main purpose of the long-term project focused on developing a “prudent transportation facility” instead of addressing revitalization of the city, economic development, improved health and safety, reduction in carbon emissions, or building quality of life?
  • The presentation format seemed to ignore the community’s concerns and felt contrary to the urgency, energy, and focused attention we had expected to follow Governor Cuomo’s call to action.
  • The presenters showed no interest or willingness to address the complete Scajaquada Corridor. Specifically, when asked about Main Street, attendees were told that it was too difficult and expensive to implement, and would not be considered despite this interchange being included in the initial 2007 NYSDOT study of the corridor, as demonstrated below.

image-0001 (2)

We believe that this project is essential towards the future revitalization of our city and we strongly urge NYSDOT to include the community’s requests and vision in the planning of the Scajaquada.

Please send your comments in support of a right-sized Scajaquada directly to NYSDOT via their comment form.  Comments are due by September 30, 2015.

Additional Resources:

NYSDOT September 16 Presentation

NYSDOT Scajaquada Corridor Webpage

WBFO Article: Change Expected to Arrive Slowly Along the Scajaquada Expressway

NYSDOT Provides an Update on Scajaquada Expressway

NYSDOT has provided a response to two letters submitted by the SCC regarding the future of the Scajaquada Expressway. The letter provided information on the comprehensive environmental review currently underway by NYSDOT, which includes:

  • Examining full complement of alternatives with speed limits set at 40 and 30 mph;
  • 4 lane and 2 lane options within Delaware park; and
  • Analysis of full removal of the roadway between Parkside Avenue and Elmwood Avenue.

Evaluations are expected to be complete and presented at the public information session on September 16.

NYSDOT also confirmed that they have initiated the process of changing the classification of the road from a principal urban arterial-expressway.

The community has been fighting for a 30 mph speed limit on the Scajaquada Expressway for more than a decade. Governor Cuomo has also supported a 30 mph speed limit, so we are eager to hear NYSDOT’s reasoning for an analysis of 40 mph. Please join us at the Frederick Law Olmsted Public School 64 on Wednesday, September 16, at 5:00 pm to show your support for the calming of the Scajaquada.

Click here to read the entire letter from NYSDOT.

NYSDOT to Host Public Information Meeting on the Scajaquada Expressway on September 16

NYSDOT will host a public information meeting on Wednesday, September 16, at 5 to 8:30 pm to discuss proposed project alternatives to transform the Scajaquada Expressway from an urban expressway to an urban boulevard that is in harmony with the surrounding community. The meeting will be held in the auditorium of Frederick Law Olmsted Public School 64, located at 874 Amherst Street at Lincoln Parkway in the City of Buffalo.

The meeting will include an informal open house with displays about the proposed project. A formal presentation and panel discussion about project objectives and the alternatives being studied is scheduled for 7 p.m. NYSDOT representatives will be available to receive public comments and answer questions. 

We greatly encourage all supporters of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition to attend the event. We also encourage all supporters to review the 2005 short-term and long-term plans developed with extensive community input, which the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition continues to support.

The Scajaquada Corridor Coalition is particularly concerned with NYSDOT addressing the following points:

  • All proven traffic calming techniques should be applied to the project area to establish a 30mph design speed and create a safe and more accessible urban boulevard.
  • Additional opportunities for public access crossing the Scajaquada via bicycle and pedestrian are needed.
  • Adequate crosswalks with the appropriate safe crossing treatments.
  • The Parkside and Scajaquada intersection should be greatly improved to provide a safer pedestrian crossing for the neighborhood and students from Medaille College that use it, current alternatives do not adequately address this issue.
  • Roadway design and landscape restoration should be employed to minimize the intrusion of vehicle travel through the historic landscape of Delaware Park to the greatest extent possible.
  • The Main Street intersection at the Scajaquada needs to be improved for pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles.  Improved access to and exit from the Route 198 corridor at Main Street is a critical part of improvements within the entire corridor.  All pedestrian crossings do not meet the state standard for safety.
  • Create a complete street that accommodates all roadway users; this includes vehicles, commuting bicyclists, recreational bicyclists, recreational joggers and walkers.
  • On-street bike lanes and pedestrian walkways are desired connecting to the citywide network.
  • Gateways should be established within each end of the corridor honoring the historical significance of this area by creating a welcoming and inspiring user experience.
  • Storm water runoff should be treated naturally throughout the entire Scajaquada corridor.
  • Improved ingress/egress from Delaware Park and other facilities is necessary.
  • Establish a long-term maintenance plan with all stakeholders and agencies.
  • Coordination with NFTA to leverage additional investment as a way to encourage alternative modes of transportation and integrate the corridor into the existing metro system.
  • Identify opportunities for additional street connections.

We also greatly encourage those with questions on traffic studies, traffic redirection, and corridor impact to attend the event in order to understand their ongoing analysis.

 For more information on the press conference and NYSDOT’s current reconfiguration efforts, see NYSDOT’s press release.