Momentum for tearing down the I-190 along the waterfront continues to gather, but its proponents are ignoring the economic importance of the highway to the entire Western New York region.
We also visited the Riverfront neighborhood [in Milwaukee] near the former Park East Freeway, an elevated highway much like the Buffalo Skyway, which was removed and replaced with a surface boulevard. Since its removal, property values have climbed and mixed-use projects are common. Current Mayor Tom Barrett met with us and assigned two of the city’s economic development specialists to showcase the development of neighborhoods, housing initiatives and business strips.
Look, I think the 190 is a monstrosity, too, and I've little doubt that its removal would be a boon to the neighborhoods it passes through. But we can't simply place a lovely boulevard there and expect it to handle the traffic currently coming into and leaving downtown. Milwaukee had the luxury of an interstate highway very close to the one torn down, I-94/I-43. We don't.
50,000 people work downtown and presumably we'd like to see that number grow, but I've yet to hear any solid plans to provide an alternate route into downtown from the south once Route 5 is converted into a parkway and the Skyway Bridge has been torn down. And now, the new urbanists are proposing another monumental bottleneck for traffic coming from the north as well. Do they expect everyone to take the Kensington?
The most vocal advocates for tearing down expressways don't really care about the problems of suburban commuters. They want to imagine that they'll either move into the city, take public transport or simply put up with a leisurely one-hour morning commute into the city on a stop-and-go boulevard. They're wrong on all counts.
At a time when it appears that downtown Buffalo is beginning to redevelop, it seems foolish to cut off easy access to it. This isn't very "regional" thinking.
Let's not also forget that the Peace Bridge is one of the most important border-crossing points in North America. And ironically enough, its primary access is via the 190 -- the very stretch that would be replaced by the lovely boulevard. Trade with Canada is still one of our great future economic development hopes here.
For years now, the advocates for a new Peace Bridge (who are by and large the same people who want to tear down the 190) have been justifying it for just that economic development potential. Well, force a few tens of thousands of trucks each year to travel through choked city streets for an extra hour to get to New York or Pittsburgh and see what happens. Or better yet, make them head north to the 290, east to the 90 and then back south for 10 miles and we won't even need the old Peace Bridge.
Maybe we could steer them onto the 198? Oh, that's right -- we're going to make that into a parkway, too.
Industry will simply cease using Buffalo as a border-crossing point. Milwaukee and Chicago (as well as Toronto) aren't border cities. Their waterfronts can be entirely devoted to recreation and clever urban streetscapes. At least part of ours will still have to work for a living. This idea has not been thought through.