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Niagara Without the Robert Moses Parkway

by Robert Borgatti

Whenever you mention removal of the Robert Moses Parkway, inevitably, someone asserts "We’ve already torn down too much of this city; we don’t need to tear down any more." Another argument that has been raised is that the Parkway "showcases the beauty of Niagara for both visitors and residents." While both these statements are true, neither justifies the continued existence of this ill-conceived roadway.

Like any road that slices through a magical, awe-inspiring vista like the falls, rapids, and gorge, the Parkway, of course, offers a splendid view. But isn’t there more to experiencing the beauty of nature than merely looking at it from the window of your car?

If our only concern is to provide a pleasant drive-by experience for motorists seeking to avoid the City of Niagara Falls, then the Parkway serves us well. Some of us, however, envision much more. How about a world-class attraction where visitors and locals can experience nature close up? How about encouraging traffic flow back into downtown Niagara Falls and sparking new development? How about getting rid of the Robert Moses Parkway?

Removing the Parkway, in particular, the section from the Rainbow Bridge to Lewiston, would provide 6.5 miles of virtually unbroken parkland with breathtakingly beautiful hiking and biking trails. We would have a magnificent, family-oriented attraction that, for many visitors, would offer a lasting impression of Niagara’s true scenic splendor.

For the City of Niagara Falls and on into Lewiston, the Robert Moses Parkway is a barrier and an eyesore. It is a decaying, fenced-in no-man’s land that denies access to natural vistas we all should be able to enjoy. Except for the small plot of land that comprises Whirlpool Park and the ridiculously miniscule Devil’s Hole Park, there is nowhere to walk or ride your bike safely. In fact, there is only one practical access point for cyclists and that is the pedestrian overpass at Devil’s Hole.

Residents of the DeVeaux neighborhood have some of the northeast’s most awesome natural scenery right in their backyards. In order to get to it, however, they have to drive their car. A few daring individuals (many of whom are youngsters) have improvised short cuts through the chain link fence, across the four-lane parkway, and over the guardrail. Fortunately, heavy traffic is not something you have to worry much about on the Parkway.

Whether intended or not, the Robert Moses Parkway has always served as a detour around the City of Niagara Falls. Arguably, this small convenience afforded to residents of Lewiston and Youngstown has, in the long run, contributed to the decimation of Niagara Falls’ Main Street Business district. Today the area is one of boarded-up windows and blight. Visitors and, sadly enough, many of the city’s younger residents, have no idea that Main Street was once a thriving commercial district, full of activity and life.

Despite its obvious problems, Main Street is one of the last remaining areas of Niagara Falls that still retains any of the original architectural charm of the city in its heyday. Sure, it’s in pretty bad shape right now, but with wise planning and a bit of investment, it could be brought back to life as a colorful "old town" business district with visitor-oriented retail and specialty shops as well as stores and services for local residents. It could thrive once again.

Consider, also, if instead of the Robert Moses Parkway we had open access to the gorge from the Schoellkopf Geological Museum in Niagara Falls all the way to ArtPark in Lewiston. Imagine hiking and bicycling through reclaimed parklands that have been restored with native trees, grasses, and wildflowers. Imagine school children from all around Western New York spending the day on a healthful, educational trek from Niagara Falls to Lewiston.

The day might begin with a visit to the Schoelkopf Museum or the Aquarium. Next, a picnic lunch at Whirlpool Park. Along the way to Lewiston the children marvel at the spectacular scenery of the gorge and rapids, the playful birds and other wildlife. Periodically, they pause at historical markers that recall tales of the famous Niagara Portage Route and important sites like Devil’s Hole and Fort Gray. A new stairway or elevator takes them up to the Power Vista to learn the story of hydroelectric power at Niagara.

Imagine visitors from around the world spending not a mere three hours in Niagara but a whole day, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, the educational attractions, the unforgettable scenery and history. The trail leads them right into ArtPark, at what was once called "The Spoils Pile," now reclaimed as a wildlife habitat of native grasses, songbirds, and butterflies.

Finally, it’s on into the heart of Lewiston where they spend the remainder of the day dining, shopping and, perhaps, taking in a show at ArtPark. This is the type of memorable vacation experience that will bring people back. The Parkway only leads them away.

Rather than spend another cent to repave, refurbish, and maintain this decrepit roadway, we should petition the state to tear it up and restore it to parkland. The eventual cost of totally rebuilding the Parkway has been estimated at nearly $100 million. Removal would cost only about $2 million. The elimination of maintenance costs alone would pay for the work in less than 10 years.

Other areas of the country have already realized the potential of environmentally minded "ecotourism" attractions. Cleveland, for example, has been very successful developing and marketing hiking trails at its Nature Center. Our Niagara scenery outclasses it a hundred-fold.

The Robert Moses Parkway should never have been built. It was a terrible mistake and the Niagara area has suffered for it. It stands as a monument to shortsightedness and disregard for the natural gifts our area has been given. It’s time to rid ourselves of this concrete barrier and reclaim the land for a more economically beneficial and environmentally sound purpose.



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Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723