Long Story Short: Not so fast

12/11/17



illustration by JP Thimot

 

Speedy drivers, speedy solutions

Raise your hand if you regularly travel the 198 and catch yourself robotically driving well above the 30 miles per hour speed limit. Now raise your hand if you routinely ignore the limit. Not surprising, since an expressway is a highway especially planned for high-speed traffic. That’s what the Scajaquada Expressway was meant to be when it was built in the late 1950s, and it’s how it’s been used by drivers until two years ago, when a tragic accident took the life of a child in the park. Construction of the 198 has long been viewed by many as a major planning blunder. Now changes are coming, but are we headed for another blunder?

 

The details:

When the 198 was built, it split Delaware Park in two, cutting off easy access to opposite ends of the park. It destroyed Humboldt Pkwy, bisecting the street and its neighborhood, and limited access to Main Street. The result was a decline in development, along with plummeting property values across a wide swatch of the city. On the plus side, people could drive to the suburbs faster after work; the destruction of the urban fabric was collateral damage.

 

After fifteen years of studying the situation, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) has finally announced plans to redesign the expressway into a parkway, with added traffic signal intersections, a narrowed median, and bike lanes. However, the proposed design consumes even more park land, and while it addresses some existing traffic problems, it falls short of what’s needed to undo the damage of the last six decades.

 

Various groups and individuals are speaking up, including the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition (SCC), the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy (BOPC), and Right to Bike advocate, David Saunders. Even the Buffalo Common Council has passed a resolution calling on the DOT to halt their plan and listen to community concerns. 

 

The BOPC has launched a letter writing campaign and released a position statement.  The  SCC has been holding rallies. David Saunders isn’t waiting for the change. The Buffalo native, who relies primarily on his bicycle for transportation, is taking his case to the courts. Saunders has filed suit in New York State Supreme Court (Erie County) to ask the court to rule on his right to ride a bicycle through the Scajaquada Expressway in Delaware Park. “I have done my research, and this is our road,” says Saunders, “The 198 is not the type of road on which the state or city can ban bikes.” The suit asserts that the 198 in Delaware Park is neither a state expressway, interstate highway, nor the type of controlled access highway that can bar bikes. “VTL Section 316 states that no authority can bar bikes from the highways.”  says Saunders. Saunders attorney, Stephanie Adams, adds, “The history and evolution of the 198 shows a gradual erosion of Buffalo’s awareness of our rights to the road.” Saunders will petition the court for an injunction barring the issuance of tickets for riding on the 30 MPH road, pending final resolution of the case.

 

The BOPC is pushing for a roadway that’s more sensitive to Frederick Law Olmsted’s original design. Among their many recommendations is a call for more access for walkers, runners, and bikers. They want medians removed, the road recessed where possible, and the arch bridge over Delaware Avenue restored exclusively for pedestrians and bikes. They propose an at-grade intersection where Delaware Avenue meets the 198, which would also slow down Delaware traffic, where drivers regularly race past the speed limit.

 

The takeaway:    

There’s an urgent tone to these protests and lawsuits, since the DOT seems to be headed toward a final decision on their “parkway” project by the end of the year. Whatever the outcome, we are likely to live with it for many decades to come.

 

 

Taxes, artists, and banks, oh my

It’s a cliché that’s true; artists struggle. Most either take a second job to support their art practice, or they find ways to eke out an existence with their art skills. Nonetheless, the work of artists contributes significantly to the economy, including here in Buffalo. We’ve been hearing how the tax reform bill that was recently passed by the Senate will hurt people living in high tax states like New York, and how the front-loaded middle-class benefits will disappear after the next presidential election, while they continue indefinitely for industry and the wealthy. Now, an amendment added by a Kansas Senator will hurt artists and the investors who benefit from helping them. 

 

The details:

For many years Low Income Housing Tax Credits, enabled investors in many cities, including Buffalo, to develop affordable housing for artists whose incomes fall below median levels. This tax incentive has been used to spur development in economically struggling neighborhoods, and to some extent prevent gentrification. In cities like New York, where the arts are a major economic driver, it has proven invaluable in preserving the cultural community. As Buffalo continues to develop, and rents increase, this tax credit could be even more essential in supporting our arts economy.

 

Republican Senator Pat Roberts submitted an amendment to the Senate tax bill that swaps out a tax exception for people “involved in artistic or literary activities,” for one that benefits “veterans of the Armed Forces.” This is the Senate version of the bill that both houses are trying to push through before the holidays.

 

If this amendment becomes part of the law, it will prevent developers from using housing credits to build affordable housing with a preference for artists. If that isn’t enough, the law will retroactively eliminate existing artists’ housing tax credits, potentially causing banks and other investors to have their legally-obtained housing credit investments “challenged, canceled, or even recouped by the Internal Revenue Service,” according to an article on the CITYLAB website. Of course, the economic burden would inevitably land on the backs of artists. That’s trickle-down economics.

 

The takeaway:

This is a complicated topic, but here are two key points: 1, affordable housing for artists does not compete with that of veterans (they are different in nature), and 2, housing credits for artists often benefit disinvested communities and the overall economy. The hope, of course, is that this provision will be remedied before the final vote. But there is so much to fix in this partisan plan, which was cobbled together in record time. Whether this will be one of the things that is addressed in the rush to push the bill through before the holidays is anyone’s guess.

 

 

Two cities, two ships, one heap of hoopla

On Monday, the newest ship in the United States Navy sailed up the Buffalo River, escorted by the fireboat Cotter, and docked at Canalside to much fanfare. It will soon be commissioned, in what is sure to be a festive (and cold) winter celebration. That’s just part of the revelries taking place through December 16. Mayor Brown has described this unique event as a “tremendous honor” for Buffalo.

 

What’s this all about?

First of all, the ship is properly called the “future USS Little Rock LCS 9" until it is commissioned on December 16, because ships don’t officially have names until they go on active duty. What makes this particular commissioning special is that it’s the first in the Navy’s 242-year history to take place next to its namesake, this being the decommissioned USS Little Rock (which apparently gets to keep its name). The older ship has been part of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park since 1977.

 

The original USS Little Rock was the first to be named after Little Rock, Arkansas, which isn’t much of a Navy town, but it was the custom around WWII to name ships after American cities and towns. In case you’re wondering, there have been five ships called USS Buffalo, though the first one was named after the large horned mammal, and the fourth was canceled during construction, with the hull scrapped. So, really, three.

 

The future USS Little Rock LCS 9 is a “smart ship,” which means that it’s operated by a small crew of young tech-savvy sailors, schooled in video-gaming, while the captain is most likely just figuring out the settings on his smart phone. Unlike smart cars, it did not parallel-park itself next to the older ship; that took two tug boats and lots of maneuvering, so computerized navigation charts and multiple sensors aside, it’s no Ford Focus. The future Little Rock LCS 9 is sleek and sporty at 389 feet long, while the old retired ship is 610 feet, tall, and bulky—like Bruno Mars next to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Limited tours of the ship are already spoken for. If you want to stare at it from the shore, you’ll have to pass through an airport-style security checkpoint. At $440 million dollars it’s considered a bargain, but the Navy isn’t taking any chances.

 

The takeaway:

For many, this is a very special occasion, evoking a sense of nostalgia, coupled with optimism for the future. The Buffalo News covered the ship’s arrival. Tickets for the Commissioning ceremony and related events for that day sold out fast, but many other activities are planned. Several websites have the details: the ship has its very own webpage  loaded with interesting facts, and a schedule of events. The USS Little Rock LCS9 Commissioning Committee has a website with a countdown meter ticking away the seconds until the as-yet-unnamed ship is officially put into active duty. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park has information about this event, and about the permanent ships in the park.

 

 

Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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