Community weighs in on the future of Scajaquada Expressway

Panel evaluates possible urban highway removal in discussion at Buffalo State

highway-removal

From Rochester to Seattle, cities are witnessing successful campaigns to remove longstanding urban highways. A similar fate may soon take over Buffalo’s inner-city freeway system.

The Scajaquada Corridor Coalitionis a group of local organizers who seek the removal of the Scajaquada Expressway, the portion of NY Route 198 dividing Delaware Park. SCC hosted a panel discussion Friday night at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State as part of continued efforts to discuss the highway’s possible removal. The hour-long discussion touched on topics such as green-space restoration and urban gentrification, and featured representatives of Black Rock-Riverside Neighborhood Alliance and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. 

The coalition invited audience members to ask panelists questions after the discussion.

Barbara Rowe, president of Vision Niagara (an advocacy group partnered with the SCC) described the event as an “educational opportunity”and call for action to the community.

Panelists included Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and Rochester city planner Jason Haremza, both of whom participated in urban highway removal projects in their regions. 

SCC held its first public forum in 2015 after a 3-year-old boy was struck and killed by a vehicle that veered off the expressway. In response, the NY Department of Transportation, who manages the road, lowered the speed limit to 30 mph.

But that is not enough, SCC members said.

SCC is seeking removal or redevelopment of the roadway, which it calls a “1950s mistake.” Rowe said the Scajaquada Expressway was built in the early 1960s when Buffalo’s population was roughly twice the current figure.

Michael DeLuca, an SCC member, said community members fought the proposed highway before its installation.

“The community didn’t want it. If you look back in the papers back then, they fought it,” DeLuca said. “And what’s happened over the past 15 years here is that the community has finally risen up, it said ‘enough is enough.’”

DeLuca said previous New York Department of Transportation assessments of the expressway failed to “quantify the environmental, social and economic impacts” of the expressway. SSC is hopeful for a change following the successful removal of a portion of the Robert Moses State Parkway in Niagara Falls.

“It’s just a matter of thinking about it in a different way and taking advantage of what the possibilities are,” Rowe said.

SCC members said they hope their message reaches Buffalo’s academic community.  Panelist Mary Ann Kedron, president of the Black Rock-Riverside Alliance, saidUB’s architecture and engineering departments are sources of creative potential.

“We want young ideas, we want innovative ideas, we want to go far beyond where we are right now,”Kedronsaid.

Julia Roetzer, a ‘16 Daemen College alum, said the panel inspired her to become involved in restoration efforts. Roetzer agreed with panelists that “it’s time to stitch the community back together,” especially after hearing about the role Route 198 played inthe future of Buffalo’s Olmsted park system.

Thomas Brockrecently moved to the city to be closer to his workplace. He said he –– along with younger city-dwellers ––wants to see more “walkable”neighborhoods in Buffalo.

“Just being able to walk to a grocery store or a corner store is significantly better than living in a suburban sprawl,” Brock said. “I think that’s where most young people want to live now, just in a general sense, like in a walkable urban center. If Buffalo wants to stay competitive and attract talent, it’ll need to build neighborhoods like that.”

Patrick Suter and Togzhan Seilkhanova are contributing writers and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com or on Twitter @UBSpectrum.