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Olmsted, Thoreau and the Parkway Issue

Some Niagara Falls business interests, because of a misguided sense of municipal propriety, refrain from taking a position on the Niagara Heritage Partnership proposal for parkway removal and gorge rim restoration beyond the city line.  They feel their neighbors to the north might be offended. 

The northern neighbors, Mayor Soluri of Lewiston Village and an assortment of town governments and supervisors, for example, do not feel similar neighborly constraints.  Traffic flow, what Soluri claims to be so important to Lewiston, via the parkway, isn’t necessary for Main Street, Niagara Falls.  Main Street, he announces, has to “blossom first” and then “people will return.”  All over America urban planners concerned with inner city decay must be slapping their foreheads.  It’s so simple!  Blossom first!  Why hadn’t they thought of that? 

That significant business investments follow heavy traffic patterns or the potential for increased traffic is a well-known part of economic revitalization.  This is one of the benefits of the NHP proposal.  There’s not much “blossoming” on US Route 66 these days. 

A recent newspaper commentary by Soluri trots out the same tired and faulty arguments he published in the Niagara Gazette on 12 August 2001, most of it word for word, in favor of parkway retention.  He makes no genuine effort to respond to the economic and environmental benefits of the NHP proposal.  His idea of “compromise” is anything that keeps the parkway as a commuter route.  He claims   heavy support for keeping the parkway; that it’s a “major lifeline” for Lewiston, Youngstown and other towns 30 miles east; that there’s nothing more “glorifying” when traveling than to drive by “a pond, a lake, a river, the sea,” and so on. 

The heavy support claimed by Soluri was gathered under suspect circumstances.  Petitions were circulated in business places of Lewiston amidst a long newspaper assault of misinformation that reported or implied the NHP advocated parkway removal from the north Grand Island Bridge to Youngstown, New York, a distance of over 20 miles.  Whether this misinformation was intentionally spread or was merely reflecting ignorance is open to debate.  In spite of NHP protesting and repeating that our proposal concerned only about five miles along the gorge rim, the damage had been done.  Several months ago, for example, when I met with Mr. Dean, Wilson Town Supervisor, to ask him why he opposed the proposal, he said that Wilson residents used the parkway frequently.  That was how they got to Lewiston, he informed me, right down Lake Road to Youngstown and then down the parkway.  He appeared surprised to learn NHP had never said a word about that section of the parkway. 

Indeed, the petition “generated” by the Greater Lewiston Business and Professional Association either seemed designed to permit signers to think whatever they wanted, including that they were objecting to the two-lane “pilot program” closure, or was just poorly conceived of as a legitimate measure of public opinion.  It said, “We the undersigned oppose the closing of the Robert Moses Parkway.” 

By contrast, the petition being circulated by NHP at that time said in a large capital letter heading, “Robert Moses Parkway Removal,” and beneath that “We, the undersigned, support the Niagara Heritage Partnership proposal to remove all four lanes of the Robert Moses parkway between Niagara Falls, New York and Lewiston, New York, and to have the area restored with forest and long-grass wildflower meadows and with hiking and bicycling trails.”  Below that was our website, “”  People knew exactly what they were signing.  There is a petition online now, as well, where signers can leave a comment. 

The claim that the gorge rim parkway is a “major lifeline,”: essential to northern business communities is unsubstantiated.  The parkway is about a six-mile stretch of road at the extreme southwestern edge of the county.  A certain number of patrons, let’s say for Lewiston restaurants, for example, live within a mile or two of parkway entrances which encourages them to drive north to Lewiston along the gorge rim.  Much further away than that seriously reduces the probability that a driver would head toward a parkway entrance to reach Lewiston..  Would those living within a few blocks of Hyde Park use the gorge parkway to reach Lewiston?  How about those in the Town of Niagara, LaSalle, Wheatfield, Porter, Cambria, Pendleton, Wilson, Lockport, and so on? 

Of the tiny percentage of county residents living near gorge parkway entrances, how many of these would refuse to go to a Lewiston restaurant if the parkway were removed?  It appears to us people dine at a restaurant because they enjoy the ambiance, the menu, reasonable prices, the other patrons, and for other such reasons.  It’s almost impossible to imagine someone with a favorite Lewiston restaurant refusing to go there because an alternate road took six minutes longer and there were three stoplights en route. 

It’s undeniable that hotel staff and others find it easy to direct tourists to Lewiston and to Fort Niagara with a wave of the hand and “Just get on the parkway.”  Drivers of tour coaches and busses use the parkway as an easy route, too, even though commercial parkway traffic is supposed to be prohibited.  They are exceptions.  To suggest, however, that tours would no longer go to Fort Niagara without the parkway, is not realistic.  Tour drivers would quickly select alternate routes.  When visitors by the bus load are willing to pay to go to Fort Niagara or the Lady of Fatima Shrine, drivers take them to these destinations.  Gorge vehicle access points would still be available to those interested, as we’ve stated elsewhere.    Individual tourists with vehicles should be provided with “tourist maps,” with clearly marked routes that note points of interest throughout the county, not only in Lewiston and Porter. 

I am not sure how the state of being glorified might be achieved.  If I had to say, I’d guess it had to do with a religious or spiritual experience, or an act of courage.  No guts, no glory.  But I am sure it has nothing to do with driving near a pond or other body of water.  Thoreau didn’t drive by Walden and millions of Americans and others around the world will continue to be profoundly grateful that he did not.  From what we know about him, the mere thought of it, even if an automobile had been available, would have been horrifying to him, not glorifying.  Frederick Law Olmsted, a contemporary of Thoreau, whom we have every reason to believe was familiar with Thoreau’s writing, took pains to ensure that the automobile of his day, the horse-drawn sightseeing carriage, was excluded or kept back from scenic river-edge landscapes at the Niagara Reservation where their presence would intrude. 

It is the Olmsted vision we’d like to see extended along the gorge rim, even if we are in the process of losing it nearer the falls.  While compromise is the time-honored political reaction to settling differences of opinion, in this case the word rings hollow.  Those who pretend consideration of the Niagara Heritage Partnership proposal and then suggest “compromise” as if they are speaking with the voice of wisdom are instead revealing a willful ignorance. 

We believe it may be useful for those on opposing sides of this issue to participate in a series of discussions where the concerns of both sides could be addressed, where various points of view could be thoroughly examined, where evidence for assertions could be offered and documented, and where common goals might be established.  We appeal to some third party or combination of community institutions to consider sponsoring such a forum.




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Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723