For the fourth consecutive time, Freeways Without Futures recommends their removal as a path to community revitalization and economic development.
Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), an international expert dedicated to creating vibrant, accessible cities, released their biennial report that encourages redesigning or replacing Buffalo’s Kensington (Rt. 33) and Scajaquada (Rt. 198) Expressways.
This year’s Freeways Without Futures report, urges the transformation of 15 of America’s worst city highways to reconnect communities disrupted by decades old highway construction to generate new opportunities for cities. The highways featured in this report have served as a barrier between neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods of color, negatively impacting access to multimodal transportation and polluting surrounding waterways and ecosystems. Now, with these highways reaching the end of their designed lifespan, it is time to repair this significant damage and create a transformational vision for these spaces.
Freeways Without Futures aligns with the work of Buffalo’s Scajaquada Corridor Coalition (SCC), a local advocacy effort seeking to create a community-driven approach to transform the Scajaquada Corridor, resulting in a revitalized Scajaquada Creek, a connected Delaware Park, and a restored Humboldt Parkway. Most recently, the SCC released a visionary plan that revitalizes and restores the dignity of Buffalo’s neighborhoods by promoting connectivity, improving accessibility to our parks and waterways, and developing a catalyst of economic development.
The report—the seventh in the series since 2008—comes at a time when more American communities are considering or undertaking highway removal. The Biden administration is
pursuing a federal highway removal program as part of the American Jobs Act that, if passed, considers for the first time the social and economic ramifications of highway infrastructure and both acknowledges and repairs the damage that federal infrastructure projects have caused.
“Inclusion of the Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways in CNU’s Freeways Without Futures confirms the time is right for our community to create a new vision for the Scajaquada Corridor,” said Stephanie Crockatt, Executive Director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. “It is time to undo the divide, and to consider the quality of life and economic development opportunities needed to thrive. We look forward to working with the SCC, GBNRTC, consultants, state and local authorities, and all local stakeholders to ensure that the vision and plan for this transformation is positive, effective and sustainable.”
“For more than 60 years, the Scajaquada Expressway has severed connections between neighborhoods, polluted Scajaquada Creek, and destroyed Fredrick Law Olmsted’s masterpiece vision for Delaware Park,” said Justin Booth, Vice-chair of the SCC and Executive Director for GObike. “Our coalition is working to create a community-driven vision for highway removal that supports Buffalo’s ongoing economic resurgence while addressing environmental and economic justice concerns. CNU’s recognition of the Scajaquada Expressway as a ‘Freeway Without A Future’ underscores the negative impact that this roadway has had on the City of Buffalo and shines a light on the massive opportunities that exist to protect our urban legacy and invest in our city’s future. The SCC encourages all Buffalo residents to get involved in the new planning process for the Scajaquada Corridor (Region Central), kicking off with a public meeting on June 17th at 6 pm. This is our opportunity to envision a new future for our community.”
“Defining moments don’t come around very often – but here we are. The infrastructure decisions for WNY this year provide the last, best chance in a generation to reclaim our creek and community,” said Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. “We can either seize the opportunity to correct a decades-long mistake now or get left behind. From Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s view, the removal of the 198 opens the opportunity for finally restoring the health of Scajaquada Creek, integrating with sewer improvement projects that will significantly reduce the volume of raw sewage that ends up in the Creek, incorporating green infrastructure projects that filter stormwater runoff to better protect the Creek, restoring segments of the historical path of the waterway, reclaiming the floodplain, and enhancing the ecological health and function for fish and wildlife. And last but not least, the 198 redesign effort can finally restore connections to the Creek with communities that have been cut off from this waterway for generations.”
Simultaneously on the east side of the city, the Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) has focused their efforts since 2007 on the Kensington Expressway, in hopes of restoring Olmsted’s vision for Humboldt Parkway and remediating the damage caused by the construction of Route 33 in the community.
“We are grateful that CNU has recognized our movement to Restore Humboldt Parkway to a re-creation of the beautiful and inspiring vision of Frederick Law Olmsted,” said Stephanie Geter, Chair of ROCC and President of Hamlin Park Community Taxpayers Association. “It is
unconscionable that the Kensington Expressway not only destroys that internationally acclaimed design, but also caused untold health hazards of lung disease and cancer to the residents and taxpayers of the neighborhood that was cut into two very unequal pieces. It is our hope that placing our plight on a scale of national visibility will bring the attention of federal funders and even international philanthropists, so that we can ‘Put the PARK back in Humboldt Parkway!’”
“Ever since the announcements that the Kensington Expressway was to be built, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, our community has sounded the alarm that this highway was destroying our neighborhoods, ruining our health and slashing our property values,” said Richard Cummings, President of the Black Chamber of Commerce and Board Member Emeritus of BOPC. “Sometimes people listened; most of the time they didn’t. But we keep raising our voices to insist that the federal and state departments of transportation do the right thing to correct this travesty.”
Across the US, 18 cities have committed to replacing or mitigating major freeways since the late 1980s, including cities like San Francisco, Milwaukee, and New York, which fully removed highways successfully with no adverse impact on traffic. The 15 highways in this report represent the next generation of these projects:
- Interstate 35, Austin, TX
- Interstate 81, Syracuse, NY
- Interstate 10, (Claiborne Expressway), New Orleans, LA
- Interstate 5, Seattle, WA
- Inner Loop North, Rochester, NY
- Interstate 345, Dallas, TX
- Interstate 35, Duluth, MN
- Interstate 35 North Loop, Kansas City, MO
- Scajaquada Expressway (NY Route 198), Buffalo, NY
- Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (Interstate 278)
- Interstate 980, Oakland CA
- Interstate 244, Tulsa, OK
- Kensington Expressway (NY Route 33), Buffalo, NY
- 20 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
- Interstate 275, Tampa FL
A jury of nationally recognized transportation experts chose this year’s list from 32 nominated in-city freeways. The panel reviewed each submission based on a number of criteria: the age and state of the highway, the quality of alternative boulevard or street design, the feasibility of removal, community support for removal, existing political momentum, redevelopment opportunities, potential cost savings, and potential to improve access to opportunity for underserved communities.
Freeways Without Futures portrays the increasing awareness that last century’s transportation infrastructure was built at the expense of communities of color and an increasing commitment to right these historical wrongs. Now, in more places from coast to coast, the question is no longer whether to replace, but when and how to remove, transform, and repair.
Local elected officials provided the following statements in response to the release of this report:
Congressman Brian Higgins: “There is great national momentum to remove highways that have divided communities. The Congress for New Urbanism Freeways Without Futures report highlights several of the most urgent and problematic highways that need to be addressed, including the Kensington and Scajaquada right here in Western New York. Correcting Buffalo’s transportation errors of the past hold great opportunity to restore parks and public places, reconnect neighborhoods and revitalize the region.”
Senator Tim Kennedy, Chair of the New York State Senate Transportation Committee: “This report only underscores what we’ve known for years: these misguided infrastructure designs have only fractured our communities and destroyed the connectivity that these neighborhoods deserve. Significant investment must be dedicated in order to restore the original vision and quality of life in these neighborhoods. We’re eager to see the American Jobs Act take a significant step towards rectifying these injustices and rebuilding a pathway towards opportunity and accessibility once and for all.”
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes: “With a new federal transportation and infrastructure bill on the horizon, this is our moment to think and act boldly to make change for a better tomorrow: by replacing or redesigning the Rt. 33 Kensington and Rt. 198 Scajaquada Expressways. These expressways have long severed and disrupted our communities and recreational spaces, particularly Humboldt Parkway, which connected MLK Jr. Park with Delaware Park, which is the nexus and crown jewel of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks system. We have reached a tipping point, where eliminating these barriers would be a significant step towards reunifying neighborhoods in our city and healing decades-old wounds.”
New York Senator Sean Ryan: “The inclusion of both the Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways on CNU’s list of 15 highways across the entire nation affirms what we already know: Splitting our communities was a mistake, and it’s a mistake that we have a rare chance to correct. Removing these highways will help us reclaim our city’s history by restoring Delaware Park and reconnecting neighborhoods that should never have been torn apart in the first place. With a presidential administration that has pledged to focus on a holistic concept for transportation, we must take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make these bold changes – and reshape Buffalo’s future for generations to come.”
Assemblymember Jonathan Rivera: “With unprecedented levels of federal funding available for transformative infrastructure investment, the City of Buffalo has never been better positioned to undo past mistakes that have unequivocally altered the trajectory of some of its most historic neighborhoods. The recently released Freeways Without Futures report confirms the tangible damage caused by the NY-198 and the NY-33 highways. With a community-driven vision, the time is now to facilitate Frederick Law Olmsted’s original design for Delaware Park, and to restore the previously remarkable Humboldt Parkway that was once lined with trees rather than concrete.”
Copies of Freeways Without Futures can be downloaded here.