Shame, shame, shame. There is enough to go around in Buffalo.
Just over two years ago, Maksym Sugorovskiy was killed in a tragic accident in Delaware Park in Buffalo. His mother and sister were also injured. The story broke my heart, and each and every day when I run through Delaware Park, I say a silent prayer for little Maksym and his family.
The tragedy led to immediate—and unprecedented—political action by Governor Andrew Cuomo who downgraded the 198 expressway to a parkway and overnight changed the speed limit from 50 to 30. Neighbourhood proponents still stunned by the tragedy were pleased with the action. Later that summer, the newly qualified “parkway” was re-stripped, and crash barricades were installed along the park-side of the corridor. The New York State Department of Transportation promised to review the parkway and has since put forth a number of lacklustre plans that have been met with public disgust.
The problem is complex and it’s growing.
The first round of shame goes to Gov. Cuomo who scored political points for the immediate downgrade of the 198 and then never made another peep about it.
The second round of shame goes to the grossly disinterested, disrespectful, and disengaged DOT.
The third round of shame goes to the City and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Governor Cuomo mistakenly handed off the redesign of the 198 to the state DOT, which is both woefully under qualified and grossly negligent in its street design ability. Their significant failures litter the Western New York landscape and—frankly—make the streets of Western New York less and less safe. NYS DOT seems unable to plan, in any comprehensive manner. They approach planning as a street-by-street approach, which has compounded the problems surrounding the park. I could name a thousand examples across the region (and specifically around Delaware Park) but the dangerous concrete medians installed along neighbouring Main Street in the Parkside district are one example. These medians were installed with the intent of slowing traffic on Main Street. Instead, they have slowed traffic and provided an unsafe obstacle for motorists on icy and poorly lit roads to hit time and time again. The result is that rather than tool along Main Street at 30mph in stop-and-go traffic, frustrated motorists hemorrhage from Main Street to residential side streets to zoom by (and through stop signs) at 50mph in search of a “short cut” to their destination.
This problem was compounded when much needed traffic calming measures were implemented to Parkside Avenue, adjacent to Delaware Park. Yes, the bump-outs and narrowed lanes have slowed traffic. Parkside (for a two block stretch) is undoubtedly safer as a result. The problem is that the parallel streets have become high-speed thoroughfares for speed-demon drivers in the neighbourhood. Likewise, since the traffic calming measures have been implemented on Parkside, the 198, and Main Street, speedy motorists have taken to using the Delaware Park ring road itself as a high speed shortcut from Agassiz Circle to Colvin through Delaware Park. Perhaps most disturbing is that this shortcut seems to be favoured by Olmsted Conservancy, Police and Fire vehicles zooming through the park to avoid traffic as well as private speeders alike. So, while we seemingly have endless press about ridiculous proposals to build a golf course in Delaware Park, the real issues of pedestrian and park patron safety goes completely unaddressed and unmentioned.
The re-design of the 198 has been mired in controversy and has been more than adequately covered in other fora, but I will add my disgust, disappointment, and disdain to the ever-growing chorus of Buffalonians when I say that the most recent public hearing for the 198 redesign hosted at the Olmsted School by the DOT was disgusting. The event was poorly planned, with three DOT officials sitting at a long table on stage while the regional director talked at the audience. The three adjunct DOT officials said nothing, as they played games and laughed at funny social media posts on their smart phones. Safety is no laughing matter and their behaviour was grossly disrespectful to local residents and to the memory Maksym who lost his young life due in part to their inaction and inattentiveness. If Governor Cuomo truly cares about Western New York, beyond a quick political score following an unspeakable tragedy, these three men would (and should) immediately find themselves unemployed in light of their callous and brazen breech of public trust.
Like so many building, design, zoning, and planning issues in New York State, the problem is a decentralized decision making structure which aims for granular approval but misses the big picture. Why not take a neighbourhood approach to traffic calming and safety planning? More likely than not because the streets in question are a combination of State, City, and Park streets. (County streets it seems, in Erie County are, for the most part and in sharp constraint, impeccably serviced, always striped, resurfaced regularly, and are in decent repair.) When the State DOT implemented traffic calming measures on the Parkside stretch of Main Street, the 198, and Parkside, the City should have stepped in and added traffic calming—speed bumps, bump-outs, enhanced striping, rumble strips, or some combination—to the neighbouring residential side streets. They didn’t. The City and the Olmsted Conservancy should have taken the time and money to add basic safety measures such as speed bumps and stripes the ring road in Delaware Park. They didn’t.
It seems that most every other city in the world has recognized that painting stripes is a cheap and easy way at calming traffic as well as enhancing safety for bicyclists and other motorists. Despite this basic tenet of road design, the City of Buffalo remains asleep at the switch with more road surface than not suffering from faded lines, poorly discernible striping, and worse—roads with no stripping at all. I mean, seriously, how much can a can of paint and some time cost? I remember observing a work crew in St. Louis—prison work release folks—repainting stripes and arrows on the roadways. Why can’t New York State enact a similar measure? Are the citizens of New York not worthy of safe roads?
At the very least, the Olmsted Conservancy should be unabashedly ashamed of their lack of action. Despite several grants to improve road and path conditions in the park, absolutely no improvements have been made over the past two years. Again, seriously, how much could it take to stripe the 2.5km ring road around Delaware Park? Unlike sister Olmsted Conservancies like Central Park in New York City, or the Emerald Neckless in Boston, the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy has opted for the path of least resistance and inaction.
The resultant negligence opens the city and the conservancy to significant liability when the next eminently preventible tragedy happens and is patently inexcusable.
Call upon your elected officials—state, city, and local—to make your voice heard on this important issue. You wouldn’t settle for a uncooked pizza if it were delivered to your house… why would you settle for unsafe roads in your neighbourhood?