This could be Downtown and West Utica, with the expressway being the E-W and N-S Arterials. Downtown and W Utica were each divided in two, with scores of businesses eliminated along Oriskany St. E & W, traffic removed from Whitesboro Street (which was chopped into separate pieces) and Lincoln Avenue, and residents in W Utica being brought air and noise pollution.
The $45 million Kensington Expressway tore up Frederick Law Olmsted’s tree-lined Humboldt Parkway, claimed hundreds of homes in previously stable neighborhoods, ripped a trench in the ground that emphasized the city’s racial division, and diverted automobile traffic from the East Side’s once-thriving business strips to a limited-access expressway that shuttles commuters from downtown Buffalo to the northern suburbs in about 10 minutes on a clear day.
In other words: Making the city a backyard to its suburbs. Depressing property values. Starving small businesses on Jefferson and Fillmore of customers and abetting the evisceration of those business districts. Subjecting two generations of residents surrounding the expressway to air and noise pollution.
In Buffalo, the state is now considering options of capping the expressway (i.e., running it underground) and restoring an approximation of the old parkway on top . . . Local officials, however have something else in mind . . . something much cheaper, but, perhaps better for the City of Buffalo.
Last August, Mayor Byron Brown introduced a new design option that has attracted considerable interest among local transit activists: burying the entire thing, from Oak Street to Delavan, and replacing the high-speed, limited-access expressway with a low-speed, at-grade boulevard, fully integrating the traffic it carries with the urban street grid. Coupled with the long-debated plan to slow down the Scajaquada Expressway and convert it to a walkable, bikable boulevard, Brown’s recommendation presents the city an opportunity to restore vital elements of the city’s Olmsted patronage, and to join the 21st century in regard to urban transit planning.
The best future for Utica could be a perfected version of its past.