Sunday, March 13, 2005

What this town needs is a big concrete bridge!

Lynn Sislo found this aerial photography site, where I discovered in the New York State section this aerial image of downtown Buffalo, which starkly lays out the big problem the city has to overcome in terms of changing its infrastructure to minimize past errors and develop things the way we now know they should have done all along.

At the photo's center is downtown Buffalo proper, with One HSBC Center, the city's tallest building, towering over our minor-league baseball stadium. That oval-shaped building near the bottom, with the silver roof, is HSBC Arena, which was built eight or nine years ago with the promise that a new arena would spur all kinds of development on that end of Buffalo. Well, look at the photo. There's no development happening there.

Off the left is the city's waterfront, where the Buffalo River flows into the extreme end of Lake Erie (which just beyond empties into the Niagara River). That's the "Inner Waterfront", actually, and there's nothing doing down there. That bit of land over on the extreme left shows where the "Outer Waterfront" is -- it's the part of Buffalo's waterfront that sits right on Lake Erie, as opposed to the Buffalo River -- and there's very little happening down there, too. (Although there are some bizarrely huge plans in place.)

But notice one big thing about the city of Buffalo: downtown is very close to the waterfront, but on all sides facing the water, downtown Buffalo is hemmed in by elevated freeways. For reasons passing understanding, at some point years ago the powers-that-be in Buffalo decided that cutting downtown off from the water by erecting giant virtual barriers of concrete was a good idea, and now the city is brainstorming ways to fix this colossal error.

See that white-roofed building, just to the north of HSBC Arena? That's the old Memorial Auditorium (former home of the Sabres and other events), which is now slated to be gutted and turned into a Bass Pro Outdoor World store. The building is literally a stone's throw from not one but two elevated freeways, on two of its four sides. The higher of the two freeways, the one that runs southward past the HSBC Arena, is the Buffalo Skyway, which is one of the oddest roadways I've ever encountered. I actually love the drive up and over the Skyway; there's a wonderful moment on that road when you come around the Aud and all of Buffalo is right in front of you and for a split second it feels like you're flying (if you're driving fast enough). But a moment like that is high price to pay for such a giant concrete eyesore cutting off downtown from the waterfront, as well as casting under concrete shadow what should be the city's finest district.

We've got a lot of challenges here. Let's hope we're up to them.

1 comment:

Rick said...

When the elevated portion of the NY State Thruway extension (I-190) was built it used land formerly occupied by the Erie Canal, which had fallen to disuse as no longer viable. The land was available then and did not require taking much property, and accomodated the switch to high speed auto traffic that was then seen as a desireable way to keep the burgeoning suburbs involved and accessible to the older and declining city core. The elevated section permitted city streets to continue connecting to the river and harbor, which seemed (seems) a better alternative than completely cutting off access as happened further north in Black Rock.
The Skyway is placed high enough that it does not actually obstruct the view of the harbor or lake, as its supporting piers are simple as compared to steel bridge structures you can find elsewhere (Grand Island's spring to mind).
I've yet to see anyone specifically explain how exactly the Skyway obstructs access to the waterfront; only making the claim in general terms as if its patently obvious.

As a 25+ year commuter using the Skyway daily I can assure you it is the fastest way to the outer harbor from most of downtown Buffalo, and while too narrow is not itself the cause of winter traffic woes, but rather the ground-level approach where snow whipped by wind across the lake causes whiteouts and drivers stop too quickly, causing chain-reaction pileups.