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Forget crosswalk; remove parkway

Niagara Gazette, 17 August 2000


A recent Niagara Gazette article entitled “Path across parkway would connect parks” presented the idea of a “road-level crosswalk” between the DeVeaux Woods State Park to be and Whirlpool State Park.  This, the article stated, “may” include a reduced parkway speed limit or a stoplight.  Since the article did not include a comment from a Niagara Heritage Partnership spokesperson, we take this opportunity to make our views known.


Because the NHP has been advocating the removal of all four lanes of gorgetop parkway between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, the “road-level crosswalk” idea seems to us to be a patchwork solution, putting one mistake on top of another.  It is unfortunate that the so-called art of compromise is so intimately wed to public decision making.


Compromise is undeniably valuable in many spheres of conflict.  We see it working to good advantage almost everywhere we look, from interpersonal relationships to neighborhoods, to town halls, to the resolution of international differences.  In some situations people even pray that compromise can be achieved.  But it should not be so firmly entrenched in our process of problem resolution that it is our first and only choice of action.  Sometimes compromise is a dirty word.  Its embrace causes results that genuinely satisfy no one.  Everyone ends up unhappy.


Such is the case with the “road-level crosswalk” idea.  With a reduced speed limit or a stoplight, the possibility of rapid commuting is compromised.  Without a lowered speed or stoplight, a crosswalk would be extremely dangerous.  Life would be compromised, for both pedestrians and drivers.


For those of us who propose parkway removal and the restoration of a forested, long-grass wildflower meadow, the “crosswalk” implies that the parkway will remain.  The “pedestrian overpass” mentioned as a possibility in a later Gazette article is even more unacceptable.  People in the immediate area who support parkway removal will not be mollified by a bridge over it.  They want the parkway and the traffic it carries gone, not additional infrastructure detracting from the natural scene.  An overpass, moreover, would be another feeble justification for parkway retention: (“We just spent $280,000 on an overpass and you want to remove the parkway?”)


The idea of compromise comes up here in the first place because of self-interest and economic concerns.  Some people living north of Niagara Falls want the parkway retained because it is a convenient route to and from the city, without traffic lights, essentially a private freeway.  Some business owners in Lewiston and Youngstown entertain the fear that the patrons currently using the parkway to reach their restaurants and other establishments would be cut off if the parkway were removed.


In the first instance, using alternate routes to anywhere in Niagara Falls adds only minutes, under ten, to the commute.  It is less convenient, certainly, but in our view, what would be gained from a naturally restored gorgetop far outweighs this minor inconvenience.  Similarly, customers who seek out the ambiance and food of certain restaurants, or the good services of other businesses will not be deterred by having to travel a few extra minutes to reach them.  Thus, the NHP believes these reasons are insufficient to justify compromise.  If the four lanes of concrete degrade the gorgetop, retaining two lanes is a less than courageous “solution” that says we’re willing to settle for half the amount of gorgetop degrading.  Too often we’ve settled for less on the Niagara Frontier, compromising the heritage of our natural environment.  From the NHP perspective, the compromises related to our parkway removal proposal have already been made, over the last 40 years.


The Robert Moses Parkway, for one example, was slammed through our landscape from Grand Island along an artificially created bank of the upper river to the Falls, along the gorgetop, and on through farmland and wildlife habitat, to Youngstown, New York, altering our geography forever.  Of the fifteen parkway miles, the NHP restoration proposal involves about five miles, that portion along the gorge.  The potential environmental and economic gains for our region are presented in more detail at, and at libraries in Niagara Falls, Lewiston, Lockport, and North Tonawanda, entitled Niagara Gorge Parkway Removal and Restoration.


While we have no desire to further vilify Robert Moses, architect of the parkway and the father of the New York State Power Authority, we do wish to note that in addition to completing one of the great power generating projects on earth, he also did great damage to our area.  Now, nearly a half-century later, we all have more knowledge about the natural environment, and a greater awareness and sensitivity about its value.  We believe it might be especially fitting, therefore, if the New York State Power Authority would consider entering into discussion with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation with an end view in mind to redress some of this damage.  In an extraordinary gesture recognizing Niagara’s environmental significance, and in the spirit of reparation, the land over which the gorgetop parkway runs, owned by the Power Authority, might be deeded over to State Parks.  To make it legal, one dollar would have to change hands, and the transaction completed by the stipulation that the concrete parkway be removed and an Olmsted-natural landscape restored, forever a slice of wilderness extending from the gorge, where except for a hiking and bicycle trail, commercial development is forever prohibited.  The Niagara Heritage Partnership would be honored to provide the dollar.


Bob Baxter, Ransomville, New York


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