Buffalo's Top Scribe: "Wall-Like Road Makes No Sense"

norabeck's picture
Buffalo Skyway

Donn Esmonde weighs in on the waterfront debate again this week with his commentary in the Buffalo News, "Route 5 barricade heads to court."

At question is what to do with the embanked Route 5 which runs along the Lake Erie waterfront for three miles before connecting to the Skyway Bridge over the Buffalo River.

Community groups, ranging from the Partners for a Livable Western New York to the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, are suing to stop the State Department of Transportation's plan to retain the embanked Route 5 highway. In addition to keeping the embanked road, the state plan would build an access road immediately adjacent along with a couple of expanded diamond interchanges.

Esmonde captures a number of the key motivations for the lawsuit and the push to replace the embanked highway with a single boulevard that could attract redevelopment:

--"[The community groups] feel betrayed by a process of public hearings that seemingly supported a single-boulevard plan and ended up keeping the upraised Route 5. They are frustrated with a $55 million “solution” that does not erase the problem. They are afraid that the push in an economically desperate community to Just Do Something will prompt us to Do the Wrong Thing."

--"Ironically, it is the so-called obstructionists who want to remove the obstruction to development."

--"Trying to save us from ourselves is a nationally respected urban planning group. John Norquist of the Congress for New Urbanism called the state’s plan “weirdly out of date” and said that it “hinders development.”

--"This is not about a road. It is about turning our embarrassment of a waterfront into a place where people work, play, live and hang out. That has not happened, because roads and bridges that should bring us to the waterfront — from the Skyway to an upraised Route 5 to an abysmal Fuhrmann Boulevard — instead are barriers that keep us away."

--"Spending $55 million taxpayer dollars to prolong the life of a wall-like road makes no sense. That is why a lot of thoughtful people are angry — so angry that they went to court to stop it."

Read Esmonde's full article, "Route 5 barricade heads to court."

Read more about the Buffalo Skyway and CNU's Highways to Boulevards Initiative. And nominate an urban highway for CNU's list of top teardowns.


Esmonde is a true Buffalo civic resource

Donn Esmonde is no pushover -- when he first looked at this issue, he recognized the value of removing the Skyway and embanked sections of Route 5 but ultimately supported the current DOT plan that keeps the awful embanked highway and runs a landscaped boulevard next to it. He said essentially that Cong. Brian Higgins, a champion of the flawed DOT plan, had been a force for progress and if he was supporting the plan, it was essentially the best Buffalo could hope for.

But Esmonde hasn't been afraid to take a second and third look at the plans -- or a second or third listen to the many committed citizens who call for replacing the embanked freeway and frontage road with a single graceful urban boulevard, a prime future site for easily accessible lakefront neighborhoods full of parks and mixed-use development. This is the third column and it's his most persuasive yet.

It's Esmonde's skill as a phrase maker -- his line about the "so-called obstructionists wanting to remove the obstruction" is inspired -- that gets people to pick up his column, but it's his integrity that makes his opinion carry so much weight around Buffalo. Fine job.

norabeck's picture

Esmonde Is On Fire

Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde is on fire this week. He must have caught the freeway teardown bug! Check out his latest column in the Buffalo News "Higgins seems to have lost his way".

Esmonde reviews the record of Congressman Brian Higgins:

--"Higgins built a mountain of credibility in recent years by taking on guardians of the status quo. He blasted the NFTA, the illogical steward of our waterfront, for a half-century of inertia. He said the waterfront was a blighted embarrassment because roads and bridges cut us off from it, instead of leading us to it. He said the Skyway should come down."

--"Higgins backs a state plan to retain a three-mile stretch of raised Route 5, with a parallel boulevard, on the waterfront. A coalition of civic groups labels Route 5 a development-stifling wall and wants it replaced by a ground-level boulevard — an idea Higgins once favored."

--“We need an elected official like Higgins, who will take on [state] authorities,” civic activist Harvey Garrett said. “But when you stand behind all the wrong stuff, you’re not going to get support.” Land-use expert George Grasser said, “We can’t figure out why [Higgins] is taking these positions.”

And the kicker...

--"Higgins was so right for so long that perhaps he was bound to stumble. Indeed, his thrust from the start was to slash red tape and break inertia. In that sense, he always favored the shortest distance between two points. But in a lot of cases, quickest is not best.

“No project is perfect,” Higgins said. “There is a balance between getting things done and getting things done the right way.”

Maybe. But doing the wrong thing is as bad as doing nothing. Which leaves some folks wondering about the waterfront champion who, lately, champions the wrong causes."


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