With highway removal, Niagara Falls can leverage traffic to expand its tax base

For decades, the Robert Moses Parkway has strangled the City of Niagara Falls to near death when New York State began redirecting traffic directly into the State Park rather than through the City, arguably to benefit the vendors of the State Park, like the Maid of the Mist, concession operators, and parking lots that return dollars to Albany instead of Niagara Falls.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the collapse of the Main Street and Pine Avenue commercial districts were driven by the mid-century mania of highways and so-called renewal projects that Robert Moses — one of the most powerful bureaucrats in American history — which divided the City’s neighborhoods and robbed it of commercial opportunities, as Niagarans fled to the suburbs.

For all his faults, outgoing Mayor Paul Dyster does deserve some credit for removing the portion of the Robert Moses Parkway that runs between the Falls and Whirlpool State Park.  The City will be able to reclaim its gorge-front, and hopefully, in the not too distant future, it will spur the rebirth of Main Street.

View down Main Street in Niagara Falls, NY, on March 14, 2013. After economic troubles and with an aging popluation much of Niagara Falls has fallen into disrepair.
Main Street in Niagara Falls was once a bustling place, lined with department stores, theaters, and restaurants. It sits largely vacant now.  If Toronto’s GO Train route is extended from Niagara Falls, ON to Niagara Falls, NY, it could help turn these empty storefronts into artists’ galleries, antique stores, and coffee shops.

As locals realize, most tourists don’t enter the City from the north.  The vast majority of visitors travel over the Grand Island Bridges and onto the Robert Moses Parkway, which funnels traffic directly into the Niagara Falls State Park and its massive surface parking lots.  That arrangement is by design — allowing visitors to avoid the City nearly entirely.

Jimmy Glynn, the owner of the Maid of the Mist, and Delaware North, which runs the Park’s concessions, have always wanted it that way.  They wrongly believe that profitability is driven by rates of turnover in the State Park’s parking lots.  They couldn’t be more wrong, but their logic has kept the City in its proverbial economic shackles.

Instead, the State should focus on growing the economic pie by evolving the destination, rather than protect mediocre fiefdoms for a handful of State vendors that monopolize the City’s current tourism economy.  One need not look further than Niagara on the Lake or Victoria Park, where remote parking is complemented with bus shuttles to optimize pedestrian traffic flow in public spaces.

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It’s unclear if James Glynn or Delaware North will oppose the removal of the remaining portions of the Robert Moses Parkway.

If the traffic entering the City distributed more strategically, the Niagara Falls community could be sharing much more broadly in the economic blessings that have been bestowed on us by tourism.  Look at the way that Lundy’s Lane has emerged in Niagara Falls as a principle roadway entering the City’s tourism district.  It’s lined with hotels, bars, and restaurants, with all sorts of tourist shops.  That could be Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Street, and Pine Avenue.

First, it requires removing the remainder of the Robert Moses Parkway — most especially the portion that runs from the Grand Island Bridge to the State Park, and redistributing that traffic so that the City’s neighborhoods can benefit from its tourism again.

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Urban Planners recommend a “Smart Street System” that would utilize new electronic traffic signaling systems that evenly distribute traffic flow into the City along several major roadways.  The technology can nearly eliminate traffic bottlenecks while increasing the development potential of real estate across the inner city.  Traffic from the I-190 would be directed to enter the City along Buffalo Avenue, a new LaSalle connector, or Niagara Falls Boulevard (aka Pine Avenue) on an alternating basis.

The Robert Moses Parkway sits atop land that is owned by the New York Power Authority. That could be the most transformative parcel of real estate in the City’s history, and NYPA would be likely to gift it to the City, if for no other reason than to avoid a bruising discourse on the Authority’s expropriation of our natural resource wealth.

Repurposing the Niagara Falls waterfront as either State or City parkland opens up a world of redevelopment possibilities that would have been thought unimaginable a few short years ago.

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Over time, industrial parcels along the City’s vast riverfront can be remediated and either developed or added to the park scape.  Urban planners envision a rapid 10 year period of relocating the industrial plants that operate on the City’s waterfront, with the help of Empire State Development, to modern locations elsewhere in Niagara County.

Some parcels, like the City’s water treatment plant, could have a catalytic impact in drawing tourists further into the City — if that antiquated and now notorious treatment plant were moved further from the waterfront.

Doing so would also solve the continuing problem of unwanted sludge discharges being dumped into the Niagara Gorge near the Maid of the Mist’s docking station.  That large waterfront parcel could then be added to the tax rolls, or used for new public park space.

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When the Niagara Power Project was constructed (1957-61), the dirt that was dug to construct the facility’s massive underground water intakes was dumped along the Niagara River’s edge, forming new land atop which the Robert Moses Parkway now sits.

Urban planners have been calling on NYPA to remove the parkway and to transfer the land’s ownership to the State Parks system or to the City of Niagara Falls so that the community can begin modernizing that vast public space.

Some longtime community activists in the City think that NYPA should fund the redesign and reconstruction of the Upper Niagara Riverfront as a premier nationally-recognizable public space.  That proposal could take a decade and cost the power authority more than $1 billion.

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In recent years the New York Power Authority has been generating operating profits between $200 and $300 million each year. Some Niagara Falls residents want NYPA to invest $100 million each year for 10 years, in order to rebuild the City’s infrastructure — including sewers, drinking water, streetscapes, broadband, and public spaces.

3 Comments

  1. Or you kill the state park. I already refuse to go to city of Niagara Falls, NY due to the slow traffic.

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