Less Is More: Highway Removal Could Make Buffalo a Better City

Harvard Economist Ed Glaeser wrote a controversial article a few years ago that highlighted the multiple, failed, federal government-backed interventions aimed at saving Buffalo from post-industrial decline.

The city tried a $9 million downtown urban renewal project, a $50 million waterfront redevelopment project and $500 million metro rail project with mixed results, leading Glaeser to argue for a complete reversal of federal policies toward the struggling city.

NY 198 bisects Buffalo's Delaware Park and mars some of the city's greatest landmarks. Andy Nash says it's time for the highway to come down. Photo Andy Nash Network#

Here’s an idea that Glaeser probably never considered: Maybe the solution to Buffalo’s woes isn’t adding something new, but taking something away. The Congress for New Urbanism has cited Buffalo’s Route 5 — which serves as a barrier to its waterfront — as one of ten freeways nationally which are ripe for demolition.

Route 5 isn’t the only Buffalo highway whose absence would make the city better, says Streetsblog Network member Andy Nash. There are a host of freeways in the City of Good Neighbors that scream for removal. Nash writes that a good place to start is NY 198 (right), which bisects Delaware Park and mars some of the city’s great landmarks:

Can there be a better illustration of the insanity of building freeways through parks? The huge bright green freeway signs in front of the only building remaining from Buffalo’s Pan-American World Exhibition (1901). Looking over Delaware Park’s Hoyt Lake from the Casino towards the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society building… and there they are, the huge green freeway signs. Of course the freeway also generates noise and pollution in addition to creating a wall that splits the park into pieces.

Previously I wrote about tearing down several Buffalo freeways; maybe that’s too much to start. How about this? Just close the freeway between the Elmwood exit and Parkside. Just this summer. Give people plenty of warning. Install some improvements (and directions) on alternative routes and give it a chance. Yeah, yeah, “What will happen to the traffic?” “Buffalo needs the freeways for economic development.”

Figuring out how to deal with the traffic would take some creative transportation planning, but maybe what Buffalo really needs is some bold thinking for the future.

Elsewhere on the Network today: New Jersey Future reports that the Garden State lost more of its farmland to sprawl — 27 percent — than any other state in the country over the last 25 years. Biking in L.A. reports that Orange County continues to be deadly for cyclists, claiming another victim just days after the county announced a crackdown on cyclists and drivers. And the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation outlines “power mapping,” a strategy for effective advocacy.