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Expressway seen as symbol of racial inequity, health problems

  JAN 15, 2018

First in a series on environmental justice issues.

The scent of exhaust fumes fill the air on a mid-January afternoon. Cars, trucks and buses zip back and forth from downtown Buffalo on the Kensington Expressway, also known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway.

This section of Route 33 was built in the early ’60s, wiping out a tree-lined parkway designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.  Today, the sunken, six-lane expressway cuts straight through an African-American community.

“It was like they were building the Erie Canal that’s what it reminded you of this big elongated ditch,” said 67-year-old Al Thompson, who lives nearby.

He remembers playing football with friends on the Humboldt Parkway’s wide median strip. He also remembers when the parkway was destroyed.

by ANGELICA A. MORRISON / Signage outside the Kensington Expressway Buffalo NY.

Thompson describes the expressway as a road built so that whites working downtown could quickly get to and from their suburban homes.

“You would look down on to the expressway and you can see into the cars, from the bridges going across,” he said. “It’s all white folks. During the rush hours leaving town.”

Thompson and others see the expressway as a symbol of redlining. That federal policy guided home loans for years after World War II. Experts say it led to racially segregated city neighborhoods and mostly white suburbs. 

“Now, it wasn’t until later when I got to be a bit more academically astute, that I understood how sinister the aspect of redlining was. And in my mind, that 33 is the Redline Express,” Thompson said.

Henry Taylor Jr., founding director for The University at Buffalo’s Center for Urban Studies, said the expressway changed city neighborhoods.

“They planned the design and construction of the 33, really before the African American population got there. So they had not yet started construction until the 1960s,” he said.  “So whites knew that the highway was coming through and they started to sell their houses to blacks.”

Highways were put in areas where there were fewer single-family houses, and more industry, he said. Lower income workers, blacks and Latinos typically lived in these areas.

“So they’re living on the lands that are most likely to be polluted. And they’re living on lands that are historically situated near your transportation linkages,” Taylor said.

Julian Marshall is a University of Washington professor and co-author of a report on one of those pollutants: nitrogen dioxide. It’s emitted from vehicles, and can contribute to asthma.

by ANGELICA A. MORRISON / Morning traffic rush on an expressway lined with residential properties, Buffalo NY.

The report showed that, across the nation, minorities face a much higher exposure than whites.

“There’s this enormous historic lag, to where people are and where pollution is,” Marshall said. “The forces from 50 years ago are still alive today. If we built a highway, that highway will very likely still exist.”

Experts have some ideas for reducing these disparities.

Marshall says government officials should continue to push to reduce air pollution. Taylor says solutions can start with changing the road system.

“So right now part of the problem with the 33 and the thousands upon thousands of cars, no green infrastructure,” Taylor said.

Thompson has some ideas, too.

He has a form of leukemia that some studies suggest is linked to vehicle emissions. The disease is in remission, and he spends much of his free time working with a group called Restore Our Community Coalition.

It aims to raise money to cover part of Route 33 and restore the lush, green Humboldt Parkway. Thompson thinks that could address old wounds from redlining.

“It will go a long, long way to the healing of some of the ills that plagued us,” he said.  “And it will be a physical example for all to see that ‘yes we were wrong we made a mistake,’ but we made it right… now.”

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Nation’s top transportation official sees benefit of revival of Humboldt Parkway

on May 21, 2016 – 8:47 PM

, updated May 21, 2016 at 11:08 PM

  • “This is particularly important now because we will be replacing or rebuilding so much of our infrastructure.” – Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

The nation’s top transportation official said Buffalo should consider resurrecting at least a portion of the grand, tree-lined boulevard that once stretched 3 miles from Delaware Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Park – before it was replaced by an expressway that split the neighborhood.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said it’s incumbent on Buffalo and other cities to explore how to revive neighborhoods decimated by the urban renewal projects of the 1950s and ’60s.

In April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $6 million to complete a Department of Transportation study on the feasibility of covering a portion of the Kensington Expressway, also known as Route 33, and return it to a tree-lined parkway and promenade.

Doing so won’t come cheap: The 2012 DOT study showed a $600 million price tag in 2018 dollars for what was named Alternate D. It would deck the highway and create green space over a three-quarter-mile portion between East Ferry and Best streets.


The Buffalo You Should Know: The slow death of Humboldt Parkway in building the 33 and 198


“I grew up in a neighborhood that was carved up,” Foxx told The Buffalo News. “The lingering effect of those kinds of decisions across the country was that there was poor connectivity in almost every way – from a neighborhood economic standpoint and from a community vitality standpoint.

“We have to help communities trying to reinvent themselves and reconnect themselves to find ways to do so,” Foxx said.

Foxx, who has been transportation secretary since April 2013, lived in a low-income, mostly African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C., that was divided by a freeway. Transportation planners and community engineers routinely routed highways through minority and low-income neighborhoods as the preferred way to take cars off city streets, move people more quickly to airports and speed up the commute to and from the suburbs. As in Buffalo, it typically occurred over objections of the affected communities.

Foxx, who was Charlotte’s mayor before his current job and has eight months left in office under President Obama, said the issue of addressing the harm done by urban renewal also is timely.

“This is particularly important now because we will be replacing or rebuilding so much of our infrastructure,” Foxx said. “If we do it correctly, we can begin correcting some of the mistakes that were made, including to places historically underserved and neglected.”

Riding horses

Tanya Redmond, a retired phone company worker, remembers riding horses as a girl on Humboldt Parkway, surrounded by rows of Dutch elm and maple trees.

“There were beautiful trees that were straight on one side, and straight on the other,” Redmond said. “It was in the middle where the activities would take place. It was just a peaceful place. We always called it ‘the Park.’ ”

An estimated 300 trees were cut down to make way for the highway on the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parkway. Hundreds of families were forcibly relocated by the time the green respite from urban living disappeared by the mid-’60s and the below-grade expressway, with five bridges, divided the community.

“I feel angry that such a beautiful area was taken away from us. It was gorgeous,” Redmond said. “It split this part of our community up.”

Redmond’s father, Clarke Eaton Jr., was one of the first to advocate restoring the parkway as a way to make the community whole again.

“It was my father’s vision for 40 years, and he’s 81 now,” she said. “I pray he lives long enough to see a groundbreaking.”

Don Hill, who grew up on Humboldt Parkway, said the parkway’s destruction coincided with the flight of Jews, Italians, Germans and others to the suburbs.

Hill has many fond memories of the parkway, like walking to school in the wintertime.

“It was like walking through an Ansel Adams photo,” Hill said. “That’s why many of us who grew up in the area were just devastated. It was a spectacular parkway.

“They said it was ‘for the sake of progress,’ but it was just to get people from downtown out to the suburbs, and it didn’t matter to them what it did to the people living here.”

But Hill, 70, remains hopeful. “I’m happy for the movement to make this a Frederick Law Olmsted city, and to restore his vision to what it once was.”

Completing the study

The DOT study announced by Cuomo is the follow-up to the department’s preliminary engineering feasibility report issued in August 2012. It is expected to provide a more complete environmental assessment and detailed cost analysis.

Both studies came about as the result of community advocacy, including efforts by the Restore Our Community Coalition and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Karen Stanley Fleming, ROCC’s executive director, said the study will point the way to the best course of action. That could mean supporting the decking and green space between East Ferry and Best streets, Fleming said, or another approach that reconnects the entire span between Delaware and Martin Luther King Jr. parks.

Fleming said more than the sheer economic cost needs to be weighed.

“You have to look at the investment and the repairing of a community that was destroyed,” she said. “This is going to bring back a neighborhood and improve property values.”

A 2014 economic study prepared by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute’s Urban Design project found there would be a significant economic impact from an increase in property values along the parkway, higher tax revenues and hundreds of construction jobs.

“We think the time is now to move on this, and we are very excited that this is exactly the type of project Secretary Foxx is speaking of,” Fleming said.

Peoples-Stokes, who pushed for both DOT studies, said the waterfront’s resurgence gives her confidence the parkway can also come back to life.

“Urban areas don’t thrive when you take everything out of them,” Peoples-Stokes said. “They thrive when you put everything in them.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said it took years and many incremental steps to turn the waterfront around, and suggested it may be necessary to start with a smaller area such as Northampton Street to Best to get things going along Humboldt Parkway.

“Projects like this need a start, not a finish, and I think the Best Street corridor is going to be very, very important,” Higgins said, noting its proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the Buffalo Museum of Science, City Honors School and the Johnnie B. Wiley sports complex. “If we could get that done in a decade, I think it would demonstrate tangible progress, and be a major contribution to righting that historical wrong.”

Higgins said there’s a reasonable chance that a massive investment will be made in the nation’s aging roads, bridges and rail in the coming years, with the prospect of federal funding for large infrastructure projects like this one.

When Cuomo announced the $6 million study on April 6 at the Buffalo Museum of Science, it was met with loud cheers from the audience.

“Most places have reversed their mistakes, and that’s what we are going to be doing here,” Cuomo told them.

Later, the governor told The Buffalo News it was possible for the state to provide significant funding for the project.

“These transportation projects – you bond them, they’re done over time, and they’re doable,” Cuomo said.

Foxx said there are federal dollars that could be of assistance, pots of money that Higgins said he’s looking at.

Fleming said having the federal transportation secretary recognize the importance of what happened in places like Buffalo means a lot.

“We understand Secretary Foxx’s personal experience, and we very much appreciate his vision for reconnecting communities,” Fleming said.



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Cheers greet Cuomo on goal of reviving Humboldt Parkway area

Source: The Buffalo News

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces local funding at Museum of Science. Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

The state’s new budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year revives an old idea that eventually could reunite a historic East Side neighborhood torn apart by the 1950s construction of the Kensington Expressway.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo elicited a chorus of oohs and aahs during his appearance at the Buffalo Museum of Science on Wednesday as he unveiled a $6 million effort to study covering a three-quarter-mile stretch of the Kensington between Best and Ferry streets, transforming it into a tree-lined parkway.

“It was originally the Humboldt Parkway, it was beautiful, and it was part of the Olmsted design,” Cuomo said. “In the mid-’50s, we had a better idea and it turned out not to be a better idea, which was to move vehicles in and out of Buffalo faster by building a highway. This was not just in Buffalo; this was all over the United States.

“Most places have reversed their mistakes, and that’s what we are going to be doing here,” the governor said to cheers from the audience.

The state Department of Transportation has estimated that the cost could surpass $500 million to fully restore that stretch of the East Side neighborhood. A community group, Restore Our Community Coalition, has been advocating for a study since 2012.

In fact, state transportation planners were considering the idea back in 2009. The area’s transportation planning organization took initial steps then toward a $2 million study of the idea, which was proposed years before that by former State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson when he was the Masten District member of the Common Council.

Cuomo told The Buffalo News editorial board later Wednesday that it is possible for the state to come through with significant funding for the project.

“These transportation projects – you bond them, they’re done over time, and they’re doable,” he said.

Cuomo also reiterated plans to spend $30 million on turning the Scajaquada Expressway into an urban boulevard, with $54 million more to support the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. An additional $4 million will be spent for the next phase of returning cars to Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

An additional $4.5 million also is being invested in Niagara Falls State Park and two other state parks upstate.

“With these investments, Buffalo will really start to be restoring the very fabric and restoring community,” Cuomo said.

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Funding Is Step Forward for Kensington Expressway Revamp Effort

Source: Buffalo YNN

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Before it was cars and concrete, the view for people who live along this part of the 33 in Buffalo used to be much greener.

“It took $45 million back in 1954 to destroy Humboldt Parkway, which today would accumulate to up to $400 million so, the state certainly had the money to destroy the parkway, so now they most certainly have the money to repair the parkway,” said Restore Our Community Coalition Research Associate Bradley Bethel, Jr.

“This was all over the United States, this type of urban development was being done. Most places have reversed the mistakes, and that’s what we’re going to be doing here,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday during a media event in Buffalo.

The coming year’s budget includes $6 million for environmental and design assessments to study restoring one-third of the original Humboldt Parkway. ROCC supports a design that would cover a mile of the expressway.

“The covering will completely leave the freeway alone,” said Bethel. “People will still be able to commute from downtown to the airport as they wish.”

Those in favor of the project say reconnecting the neighborhood can help spur economic growth on the city’s east side, an area some say was left behind while the rest of Buffalo experienced a so-called renaissance.

“We’re envisioning a completely rejuvenated east side, bringing a part of the city that has been disenfranchised for about 50 years, brining it into the fuller narrative of the city’s redevelopment,” said Bethel.

Bethel says that could include increased property values and may help attract businesses to the area.

Next up, he says the environmental study will take a look at air and soil quality. He says the design and build phase could take up to five years.

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Neighbors react to news of $6 million Humboldt Pkwy study

Source: WGRZ

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A $6 million study will look at the possibility of covering the part of the 33 that runs from Ferry Street to Best Street.

“This is an example of how all aspects of the city should be included whenever investment is made,” says Karen Stanley Fleming.

Stanley Fleming is the Executive Director of the Restore Our Community Coalition, an advocacy group pushing to restore Humboldt Parkway. Coalition members say $4 million would fund a study of design alternatives and an environmental assessment. That would take three years.

“To restore this parcel of land does a lot to lift the spirit of a community whose spirit has died because of what’s happening with this wall,” says Stephanie Geter, ROCC Board President.

Then, it would take an additional two years and $2 million to create construction drawings and manage the bid process. Shovels could be in the ground in four to five years.

The state funding means a lot to Richard Cummings.

“I got roots here. My grandparents grew up on Girard Place, and my parents right now live right across the street from the park,” says Cummings.

But by the time Cummings moved here in 1969 from Chicago, the trees were already gone.

“I remember seeing the construction and the dirt and hearing the pounding,” he says.

The result ended up dividing the community. A U.B. study done previously showed the investment of this restorative project would pay off with businesses coming back and homes rising in value.

“All of the homes that we see here around Humboldt have lost their property values incredibly because of this chasm in front of us. But in addition, there have been serious detrimental environmental and health damages to many homes in this parkway,” says Stanley Fleming.

“So to restore that, to us, means everything. Just brings back to life. It’s our restorative kind of branch happening in this whole reborn Buffalo movement,” says Geter.

The current estimate for the total cost is $570 million, but the work the NYSDOT does with the $6 million will give us a more accurate number.

If ultimately approved, the project would be paid for with a mix of state and federal funding, as well as private donations.

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Town Hall Meeting

Restoring Humboldt Parkway Could Cost $500 Million

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Correcting what one group calls the “Kensington mistake” comes with a huge price tag. The group, Restore Our Community Coalition, estimates it would cost around $500 million to create a green parkway over the 33 from Best Street to Ferry Street.

The stretch we’re talking about goes for almost three-quarters of a mile. It was the topic of a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

The Buffalo Common Council approved getting rid of the original parkway back in 1954, and this coalition wants to restore the Kensington back to its original design, a tree-lined parkway, by covering the expressway.

They showed many examples of other cities that have successfully built green parkways over highways including Seattle, Dallas and Phoenix.

The goal of the Restore Our Community Coalition in 2016 is to raise money. Its leaders explained where it could come from.

“Hopefully, from the federal government and some philanthropists. This has been done across the country and different cities with a combination of both. In some cases, most of the money came from philanthropists, and in other cases most of it came from the government. But no matter what the cost is, we had a study done by UB and it will pay for itself plus create profit to the community” said Richard Cummings from ROCC.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan was at the meeting. His spokesperson tells us that like any major road construction project, this would need a combination of state and federal funding. Ryan is involved now, early on, to help figure out what those funding sources might be.

Nothing has been approved, but this coming year, the Coalition wants to come up with a preliminary design, do an environmental assessment, produce plans, and fundraise.

Community members ask for support to restore Humboldt Parkway

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Community leaders in Buffalo want to restore Humboldt Parkway to its former glory. The ambitious plan is still in the preliminary stages.

“Something of this caliber can be accomplished in the City of Buffalo,” said Bradley Bethel, Jr. with Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC).

ROCC spoke in front of NYS Department of Transportation representatives and public officials, including Assemblyman Sean Ryan, on Tuesday night. The group has been working on plans to change the road pattern since 2012.

The Kensington Expressway cuts right through East Side neighborhoods.

“You can’t cross it to get to a store or even see a neighbor,” said Inez Hord, a longtime resident.

Hord has lived a block from Humboldt Parkway since 1962 and remembers what the road was like before that section of NY-33 was built.

“Beautiful, with trees, grass and greenery, children playing in the parkway, just beautiful,” said Hord.

A group of community leaders want to restore the parkway.

The DOT has come up with options that include lowering parts of Kensington Expressway and running it underneath a parkway. The next step would include scoping and creating preliminary designs, which could cost six million dollars, according to the DOT.

“We’ve had about two dozen cities across the country who have accomplished this over the past 40 years,” said Bethel.

ROCC estimates it will cost $570 million to fully restore the mile between East Ferry and Best St. The group is now asking for public support so they can secure grants to reunite the neighborhood.

“Improved property values, less noise and pollution in our neighborhood, and eventually commercial reinvestment in the Fillmore and Jefferson commercial districts,” said Bethel.

They estimate the project would create more than 900 jobs.

Inez Hord said it’s worth paying tax dollars to complete.

“It would be a wonderful thing,” said Hord. “I believe it’s possible but I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime.”

Residents want park built over Kensington Expressway

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) – Residents of the Humboldt Parkway neighborhood came out Tuesday night to build support for their idea to build a park over the Kensington Expressway.

Residents say Rt. 33 divides the historic neighborhood. Those activists, with the Restore our Community Coalition, want the neighborhood to have a similar feel for what it used to be.

The meeting took place Monday night at the Frank Merriweather Library.

Activists say “the mistake was to destroy a central piece to an internationally acclaimed park system, dividing a community, leaving a roadway as a scar that continues to serve as a physical and psychological barrier to full economic participation by all areas of Buffalo.”

Advocates also believe that putting an expressway so close to homes causes health issues.

The coalition had four goals Monday night: to discuss preliminary design ideas, discuss other parks that cover highways, review the original parkway in the Kensington Expressway’s place and talk about how to raise awareness.

According to the community coalition, the Expressway “destroyed the clean, green gathering space along Humboldt Parkway.”

The Restore Our Community Coalition was organized in 2007.

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Taking Steps Toward New Future for Rt. 33

By Sarah Blazonis
Saturday, August 8, 2015 at 08:03 PM EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Before the hum of traffic along Humboldt Parkway, there was the sound of wind through trees. Stephanie Geter remembers.

“It was gorgeous. Four trees across all the way from Delaware Park all the way downtown,” said Geter, who now lives in the neighborhood.

She’s talking about the space between Humboldt Parkway north and southbound. It looked much different before the late 1950s, when work began to build an expressway to help commuters get from the city to the suburbs.

“The 33 went in and really divided the community, what was a beautiful portion of the Olmstead Park System, beautiful homes,” said Mayor Byron Brown.

“It has dramatically decreased property values, and it has impacted commercial development along Fillmore and Jefferson Avenue, and it has impacted overall morale around the East Side,” said Bradley Bethel, Jr. He’s a research associate with the Restoring Our Community Coalition.

Geter is now chair of the group, which is working to change that.

ROCC marched along Humboldt Parkway on Saturday to help bring attention to their effort to build a park deck over the expressway. That would involve digging the roadway deeper and constructing cover over it, essentially turning the 33 into a tunnel.

ROCC said the plan would have environmental, visual, and economic benefits, and they’re hoping for help from federal officials to make it happen.

Brown said he supports reconnecting the neighborhood. He said the project could cost hundreds of millions of dollars that would need to come from a federal source.

“This is one of those things that many consider a planning error that occurred in the City of Buffalo, and being able to reconnect both sides of the community…is something many people support,” he said.

ROCC said a UB study shows economic boosts could include a potential new tax base of $2.8 million.

According to some, the best impact could be including this neighborhood in the city’s overall revitalization.

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Buffalo group wants park built over Rt. 33

Saturday, the Restore Our Community group called on the City of Buffalo to build a parkway over the Kensington Expressway, connecting the Humboldt Parkway Community to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Advocates say the route used to be tree-lined and beautiful until the construction of the Kensington Expressway over 60 years ago.

The group is hoping to raise enough awareness for public funding.

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Community coalition calls for restoration of Humboldt Parkway

AUG 9, 2015

What remains today of Buffalo’s Humboldt Parkway is an ordinary stretch of sidewalks and city streets, divided by the Kensington Expressway. Decades ago, it was a tree-lined parkway connecting major parks of the Olmsted system. On Saturday, a community coalition once again led the charge to restore the parkway design.

The Restore Our Community Coalition organized a march along Humboldt Parkway to the Buffalo Museum of Science to spread awareness of the desire to see the parkway restored. Executive Director Karen Stanley Fleming says their message was that it’s time for a change.

Mayor Brown encourages marchers on Humboldt Parkway, en route to the rally to restore the original parkway over the Kensington Expressway

Mayor Brown encourages marchers on Humboldt Parkway, en route to the rally to restore the original parkway over the Kensington Expressway

“The group acknowledged that the construction of the Kensington brought economic and environmental devastation to the Hamlin Park and Martin Luther King Park communities,” said Fleming. “But we want to move on from that devastation and move to a place of restoration.”

Fleming says money has been set aside with the department of transportation for half a decade, and within that time two different feasibility studies have been conducted by the University at Buffalo. One illustrates the design of a deck above the Kensington Expressway, turning a stretch of it into a tunnel with the parkway above. The other looks at the economic value.

“We really look at it as an investment, and the return on the investment could be over 900 jobs on such a construction project, and also increasing the property values, and therefore the personal wealth of home owners all along Humboldt Parkway,” said Fleming. “But also spreading and eliminating the blight all the way over to Fillmore on the east and over to Jefferson on the west of Humboldt.”

According to the Coalition, that there are 21 other cities in the U.S. where parks have been built over expressways to reconnect communities and build green gathering spaces.

Restore Our Community Coalition Logo

Restore Our Community Coalition Logo

If the deck is going to happen, Fleming says it’s got to be a federal-level project. That’s why the coalition has gathered support from city, county, and state legislators, in hopes of catching the eye of federal officials like Senator Charles Schumer.

The coalition hopes to get federal attention before the year is over, but recognizes that any large-scale progress could still be years away. Fleming says the movement is by no means in its beginning stages, noting that community activists and residents have been advocating for the change since the 1970s.