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Buffalo Skyway around 1956
(from WNY Heritage Website)

The Buffalo Skyway was originally known as “High Level Bridge”, a description of the function of getting the road over the Buffalo River.  The bridge opened in 1955 and was a marvel of modern engineering.  The bridge is fraught with controversy today, as many people see the skyway as a barrier to development of the waterfront.

The bridge eliminated the waits for railroad and lift bridges that plagued commutes between downtown Buffalo and South Buffalo/Lackawanna.    Plans for a bridge had been discussed amongst the Planning Commission as early as 1922.  Some early traffic planners had fought for a tunnel instead.  The tunnel idea was scrapped because the City would have been responsible for operation and maintenance costs for lighting, ventilating and other maintenance, which the City could not afford.  New York State is responsible for maintenance of the Bridge.

Some planners insisted that construction of either the bridge or a tunnel would be too expensive and not worthwhile.  The Skyway was built despite the fierce opposition and bitter criticism.  It was heralded as a triumph of development and engineering.

The highest piece of the bridge sits 120 feet above the River.  And the viaduct is 5,803 feet in length.  The Steel used to create the skyway was from the Bethlehem Steel plant, just down the road.  The girders were brought to the River via barge.   The Father Baker Bridge, further down the river, was built in similar fashion to cross the Union Slip Canal and opened in November the following year  The two plate girder spans measure 348 feet and at the time were the second longest on any structure in the United States (not sure if they still are).  The bridge was built by the Bates and Rogers Construction Corporation.  Approximately 10,000 cubic yards of concrete was used.  It is supported by 15 massive steel “bents”.  More than 10,000 gallons of paint were used to protect it from the weather.  The bridge incorporated 11,516 tons of structural steel that was fabricated by Bethlehem Steel.

The Street was named The Buffalo Skyway after a contest was held to name the bridge.  Mrs. Wallace E. Easter, of Lackawanna, submitted the name “Skyway”.  Mrs. Easter received a golden key to the City and $100 for her prize.  If you had to name the road, what would you have named it?

Officials on the Skyway
October 4, 1955
From The Buffalo News

The Bridge cost $12,000,000 (1955 dollars) and Opened on Oct 19, 1955.  The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held on October 19th and consisted of Mayor Pankow accompanying an inspection party of city and state officials on a tour by car and a ribbon cutting at the north abutment near Delaware and Church Street.  A reception was held following the ceremony at the Hotel Lafayette, which included an address by State Public Works Superintendent John W. Johnson.

The Skyway brought the start to some major transportation investment projects in Buffalo.  The following projects were announced as being funded during the reception (costs in 1955 dollars):

  • Union Slip Canal Bridge (aka the Father Baker Bridge…it has since been demolished) – $13,000,000
  • Kensington Expressway – $6,3,00,000 (for Section 1)
  • Broadway Viaduct Elimination (aka the Z-viaduct of the New York Central) – $2,4,00,000
  • Scajaquada Creek Expressway – $10,000,000.

These investments brought the City of Buffalo into a new time period.  A time where the car was king.   The state officials at the reception called the opening of the Skyway “so magnificent as to be unforgettable”.

Today, many people consider the Skyway to be a barrier to development of our waterfront.   Many public meetings regarding the waterfront, canalside, and other projects result in cries to remove the Skyway.  However, from a traffic perspective, it’s one of the best ways to move traffic.  It’s a key transportation artery in the City of Buffalo, carrying an average of 38,800 vehicles each day (according to 2011 data from GBNRTC).  The New York State Department of Transportation see the Skyway as “a safe, efficient sturdy roadway with another 40,50 years of life in it”.

Yesterday, a new article was published in Next American City which quotes the Congress for the New Urbanism stance that the Skyway as one of the top 12 roads that need to be removed.

Many argue that the accidents on the Skyway is a reason for its removal.  However, the rate of accidents on the Skyway is 0.61 accidents per mile, far below the statewide average for urban, divided four-lane highways, which is 1.52.

Some see the Skyway, with its smooth curves as graceful, while at the same time monumental and graceful.   The ride along the Skyway is unlike any other drive in Buffalo – these people see the climb, the descent, and the view as phenomenal.

So which side of the Skyway Debate do you fall on?

[To learn about other streets, check out the street index. ]

Sources:

  1. “Buffalo Skyway to Open” Oct 19 with a ribbon-cutting, Buffalo News 10-4-1955
  2. “Final River Span Lifted Into Place” , Courier Express 5-5-1955
  3. “Skyway Name Approved by Mayor” Buffalo News 10-6-1955
  4. “Traffic Streaming Over Skyway Heralds New Era For City”,  Buffalo News 10-19-1955
  5. “Skyway Called First Of Big Projects”,  Courier Express 10-20-1955
  6. “Skyway Celebrates 50th Year” Buffalo News, 10-21- 2005

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