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Monday, December 11, 2023
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Revitalizing the East Side

Multiple plans being considered to re-work Kensington Expressway

Many long-time Buffalo residents will tell you that decision makers for the city made three enormous mistakes throughout the 20th century: They put Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, they put UB's new campus in Amherst, and they built the Kensington Expressway, more colloquially known as the "33."
It doesn't look like much can be done about those first two mistakes, but plans are in the works to do something about the third.
The Kensington Expressway conveniently allows drivers to get from the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, near Interstate 90 in Cheektowaga, to the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo in about 10 minutes or less on a day without a lot of traffic. There's no need for drivers to have to deal with the treacheries of the ever-deteriorating East Side.
The irony is that much of the deterioration has been caused by the expressway itself.
East Side businesses and neighborhoods have suffered greatly since the expressway's construction. Commuters have stopped driving through the city's old business strips, leaving local establishments unattended.
Perhaps even worse is the expressway's design. The high-speed road is in a deep trench far below the original street's gridline, tearing a hole in Humboldt Parkway, which was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – the man responsible for designing Delaware Park and New York City's Central Park.
The good news is that plans have been proposed to fix the once-thriving East Side parkway. Three plans currently exist for remodeling the system.
Two of these plans are both very similar and very expensive. In essence, they propose to convert a large portion of the Kensington Expressway into a tunnel. Humboldt would retain two lanes of traffic on each side, and a park would be built on top of the tunnel.
The third plan, while a lot more drastic, is a lot less expensive and holds the most promise. Mayor Byron Brown has proposed completely burying the expressway and converting Humboldt Parkway into a modern, eight-lane urban boulevard with a lower speed. The new road would both restore Olmsted's vision and bring commuters back to the East Side, which would hopefully revitalize an area in desperate need of some help.
If the city is going to pursue this project at all, it might as well go big – and cheap – and decide on the third option. While the first two would keep commuters happy in the short-term, the third would make the East Side both visually and economically appealing. If the expressway were simply converted into a tunnel, the big problem wouldn't be solved, as commuters would still bypass the area.
The fix is not so simple, however. Though urban boulevards like Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway – upon which Brown's proposal is modeled – have been extremely successful in other cities, things aren't going to improve overnight. If this project were undertaken, local planners and businesses would have to join in the efforts and invest in the area surrounding Humboldt Parkway. An improved public transportation system along the route would also quiet the potential complaints of commuters.
Other cities have proven that urban expressways do more to hurt local economies than they do to improve traffic congestion. Buffalo needs learn from such mistakes.
Better late than never.



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