Carpet design

Another Voice: Buffalo’s Radial Street Design Should Be Restored | Opinion

Did you know Buffalo’s park system was a first in the United States? Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1868, Olmsted was drawn to the project by his belief that Buffalo was “the best-planned city in the United States, if not the world.” Read “The Best Planned City in the World” by Francis Kowsky or watch the movie of the same name on YouTube.

Consider the view from the City Hall observation deck. Buffalo is a rough, long north-south side rectangle with City Hall and downtown at the southwest corner. What you see is only Washington, Paris and Buffalo, a radial street plan: from Niagara Street northwest; Delaware Road; Main Street turning into Millersport and Route 5; then Genesee, Sycamore, Broadway, William, Clinton, Seneca and South Park. Absent from this view, of course, is Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway.

In the mid-1950s, Washington paid 90% of the cost of building the interstate highways. Don’t be left out, urban politicians argued for four lanes (or more) through and not around urban centers. There was an ulterior motive: urban “renewal”. Growing up in Richard Daley’s Chicago, I was well aware that this meant staking highways through predominantly “immigrant” communities, whether populated by Greeks and Italians (Eisenhower Expressway), or blacks in below the Mason-Dixon line (the Dan Ryan).

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Buffalo has its Kensington, Rochester has its Inner Loop, Syracuse has I-81. As noted in The Washington Post (August 16, 2021), “racial injustice was part of the plan.” Read Steve Cichon’s story of “The Slow Death of Humboldt Parkway,” which led to the slow death of Buffalo’s East Side shortly thereafter.

David Zipper noted in Bloomberg (September 28, 2021) that more lanes never work; adding another lane just means more cars are stuck on the freeway. Reverse that. Remove a lane or two: people will find another, less crowded route. This is how it works. Build the Kensington and people will stop enjoying the radial design of the streets.

Suppose the millions spent on Route 33 and Route 198 were invested in bringing our “spokes” up to 21st century standards: larger, well-lit and marked traffic lights, timed cut-offs for buses. Plenty of lanes to move people to work downtown. They can also take Interstate 190 – after all, it’s free now.

To style the Kensington is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg, covering up a mistake much like a 6-year-old sweeping the remains of Gram’s Wedgewood soup bowl under the rug. Rochester is filling up their Inner Loop and we’re putting plastic wrap on ours? Isn’t that annoying?

The Delaware Park rescue of the Scajaquada Freeway appears to be on the right track, but only because the New York State Department of Transportation has been sidelined. Who’s going to do the same when it comes to the Kensington? Someone better or else we’ll find this broken china under our cover.

Want to revitalize the East Side? Start by resurrecting Humboldt Parkway, not replacing it with air vents and fans. Finish by making these “spokes” the places where people want to be. “The best planned city in the world”? For once, let’s honor this gift.

Daniel J. Kosman is SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Biochemistry, University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.