Long Story Short: Major accumulation
Like a rolling snowball
Several often-discussed ideas for altering local roadways—some call them reversing mistakes of the past—have recently gained momentum. But in Buffalo, when plans for change start snowballing, watch for a sudden thaw.
The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) took fifteen years to investigate eight possible plans to revamp the Scajaquada Expressway. A fatal 2015 accident, in which a car careened into the surrounding park, killing a child and injuring others, finally prompted action. In 2017, the DOT announced that they had a plan to convert the expressway into a true parkway, reflecting “what people want, which is an urban boulevard at reduced speed in a park-like setting.”
They were wrong.
Park and city advocacy groups have long fought for a true scenic parkway, but others insist the road should be restored to a 55mph expressway, as it was before the accident led to a speed limit reduction to 30mph. None of these groups were satisfied with the 2017 plan.
In September, Governor Cuomo took a new approach, turning planning responsibilities over to the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC). The GBNRTC says they “look forward to working with the community on a transformational vision, identifying the multimodal transportation access and mobility solutions that can best support it now and into the future." Assemblyman Sean Ryan told the Buffalo News, "I give the administration tremendous credit for hitting the reset button."
The snowball begins to slowly roll again.
Over the summer, the region was abuzz with news that Cuomo had gotten behind the removal or radical reuse of the Skyway, an idea that has been kicking around town for years. It seemed like the concept was gaining momentum, with the governor’s “What Should We Do with the Skyway?” brainstorm competition, followed by the announcement of a winning design in September. This was in turn followed by the inevitable disparaging public response. Then … nothing.
No news might be good news for those who favor retaining the Skyway as it is, but the silence is eerie. It’s possible that things are moving along behind the scenes. Traffic studies might be occurring as you read this. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The lesson of the Peace Bridge
“With this hurdle behind us, we can now move forward with a project that will not only construct a bridge but build our economic future. With a new Peace Bridge, we add the predictability and capacity necessary to allow for the flow of traffic that can support and boost our manufacturing, retail, cultural, educational, and medical industries.” That’s what Congressman Brian Higgins said almost exactly a decade ago, when the idea to build a signature bridge to Canada was snowballing into its final stages. Governor David Paterson announced five design options, about which Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority Executive Director, Ron Rienas, said, “We believe the public will be pleased to see how closely we paid attention to their concerns and how hard we have been working to maximize the benefits of this project not only to Buffalo and the rest of the region, but also to the area that will host the project.”
He was wrong. Advocacy groups and individuals attacked the designs, and the concept itself.
Regardless of whether such a bridge would have a., secured Buffalo’s dominance as a Canadian/US trade route, while providing the city with an iconic landmark and source of civic pride, or b., exacerbated West Side traffic and pollution problems while killing birds, is beside the point. Once again, ambition gained momentum, then melted.
Last week the State Department of Transportation presented several options for restoring part of Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway. The idea is to bandage over the big gash in the city that was created by the recessed portion of the Kensington Expressway, reuniting a once-thriving neighborhood that was split in two when the highway was built.
The proposal would enable much-needed repairs to the expressway wall while adding a roof over the top, which from the surface would look something like the old parkway, albeit without trees. The plan would cost around $300 million and is favored by Restore Our Community Coalition. A more elaborate second proposal would deepen the highway, and create a thicker roof, allowing for trees. This would be much more expensive and necessitate the addition of a ventilation building with a seventy-foot chimney to divert fumes. Since much of the expressway is at-grade, neither plan would completely restore Humboldt Parkway.
Unsurprisingly, both ideas met with mixed reviews when they were presented. On social media, opinions split between those who think the price tag is too high, without a “return on investment,” and those who favor filling the hole rather than covering it, with a goal of eliminating the Kensington completely and restoring the full parkway.
As this new snowball begins to roll, we’ll wait to see if it gains momentum or melts in a heatwave of dissent.
Speaking of snow
Occasionally, Buffalo lives up to its reputation as the snow capital of the universe. One of those times was last week, but we also lived up to our lesser-celebrated reputation as a city that handles snow without fuss.
The region was walloped with 8.7 inches of the white stuff, to shatter a seventy-seven-year November 11 record by more than three inches. By the next morning, the total had grown to slightly over eleven inches, all within a twenty-four-hour period.
Over the same time, the real New York snow champion, Syracuse, was dusted with a mere three inches, though forecasters had predicted ten. The storm had deviated by twenty miles from its anticipated path, which put Syracuse just outside the cutoff, and Buffalo smack in the center.
Our region handled the snowfall as we always do. The only schools closed in Erie County were East Aurora and Orchard Park. Roads were largely plowed when commuters woke up, and Buffalo and other area municipalities reported no significant problems. For the most part, the storm barely interrupted people’s day. It certainly helped that temperatures hovered around a relative balmy 32 degrees, making shoveling more brisk exercise than frigid chore.
Speaking of snowflakes
Last Friday, Republican provocateur and self-described dirty trickster, Roger Stone, was found guilty of all five felony counts for lying in Mueller’s 2016 Russia election interference investigation, obstructing a congressional probe, and witness tampering. The trial was short, and jury deliberation quick, because the evidence was overwhelming, most of it the product of Stone’s big mouth.
A friend in deed
After jurors delivered the verdict, courtroom attendants were instructed to stand. Republican political strategist, media consultant, and man who admits to being Roger Stone’s best friend, Michael Caputo, remained seated in a quiet snit. A US marshal instructed him to stand, so he did, turning his back on the jury as it exited the courtroom. The marshal ordered Caputo out of the courtroom, handing the former campaign manager for Carl Paladino’s failed gubernatorial race over to another federal agent, who hastily escorted him from the room. “All the way out,” the officer was heard saying.
Outside the court, the East Aurora resident took the opportunity to chastise the federal marshal. According to Caputo’s own tweet, he told the man, “I don’t know how you work here.” The marshal politely responded, “It’s a job, sir.” To which Caputo insultingly replied, “I’d rather die.”
A good comeback
Let’s stop for just a moment and consider the situation. Caputo had shown contempt for a federal court and was kicked out for disrespecting jurors who performed their civic duty by arriving at a verdict. It was a verdict that seemed obvious to anyone familiar with the case, but Caputo didn’t like it. Then the man who left the Trump campaign after Corey Lewandowski departed, tweeting “the witch is dead,” starts in on an officer who was just carrying out his duties. The marshal had a retort to Caputo’s comment.
Caputo: “I’d rather die.”
Marshal: “That can be arranged.”
Of course, Caputo took this as a death threat. The political consultant has previously maintained he’s been the victim of fifty-nine such threats for his participation in the Mueller probe, using that claim to raise over $350,000 for his legal defense. He even went on something of a national media blitz, whining about all the death threats he’s endured and the cost of defending himself (in a probe that describes him as a “bit player”). With this latest “death threat” he reaches an even sixty.
The WNYmedia Network did a deep dive into Caputo’s death threat claims, finding them to be “greatly exaggerated.” For the record, Caputo is behaving like what some right-wingers refer to as a snowflake: overly sensitive, emotionally fragile, believing he is entitled to special treatment.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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