Buffalo Waterfront

Route 5
Buffalo, NY

Submitted by: Project for Public Spaces

Cut off from the rest of the city, a large section of the Buffalo waterfront is isolated by industry and the threat of another section of elevated highway.

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Why It Doesn't Work

Buffalo, once one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the country, has suffered from departing industry and population. Uniquely situated on one of the Great Lakes and the Niagara River, Buffalo offers astounding potential in terms of public waterfront access and activity. However, industry and mid-century urban planning have isolated much of the city's precious lake access from the public. A General Mills factory (that gives off the delicious smell of toasting cereals) has all but barricaded itself between the public and the Inner Harbor. The Skyway, a controversial elevated highway built in the 1950s that is known for becoming extremely dangerous in freezing temperatures, was built to provide quick access to outer suburbs and creates a visual barrier to the waterfront. Thankfully, there are many signs of civic action to improve the waterfront and propose alternate plans for waterfront roadways. Currently, non-profit groups are advocating for the transformation of Route 5, about to revert back to another section of elevated highway, to a grand boulevard linking the west side of the city to the undeveloped waterfront there. However, the city has a long way to go to maximize its waterfront potential.

What Puts Buffalo Waterfront in the Hall of Shame?

After a barge knocked out an important connector bridge between the inner and outer harbor on Michigan Avenue years ago, General Mills -- who owns a large plant adjacent -- refused to rebuild it. As a result, pedestrians and cyclists must travel several miles out of their way to reach the water. An under-construction waterfront road, which could act as an attractive boulevard and gateway to new waterfront development, is being turned into an elevated highway, further blocking off downtown from a prime section of waterfront planned to house new condos. Waterfront visitors must drive to a newly-opened passive park, as pedestrian access is unsafe.

Cars whiz by along existing Route 5, and construction barricades make visibility limited. Across from the highway, the waterfront is hardly being used. On the other side of Route 5, a large brownfield sits barren, awaiting cleanup.

A few grassy areas offer picnic tables and newly-planted trees, but there are few active uses in this area. A new bike path snakes along the outer harbor, but offers no stop offs for rest, no food or drink vendors and no complimentary activities.

On a Friday afternoon, one lone visitors walks through the new park. Aside from this newly-created space, there are few places to sit with friends.

History & Background

A responsible redesign of Route 5 would free up 77 acres of waterfront property for public use and development, not to mention creating more attractive landscapes and safer conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

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