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Niagara Heritage Partnership

Response to the

Robert Moses Parkway

Pilot Project Evaluation Report

Conducted by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

and the NYS Department of Transportation 









February 12, 2004


The Niagara Heritage Partnership Response

To the NYOPRHP and DOT Robert Moses Parkway

Pilot Project Evaluation Report



On the evening of 12 March 2001, without public input, the OPRHP announced a pilot program to study the Niagara gorge parkway involving about half of the total 6.5 miles.  Two lanes would be closed to vehicles; the other parallel lanes would be used for two-way traffic.  Hikers and bicyclists were to use the closed portion of the highway; commuters, buses, tour coaches, etc. would continue to drive on the other lanes.  NHP strongly objected to this at the time in a letter with over 200 cosigners and a Benefits Assessment comparing the alteration to our proposal for all four-lane removal over the entire 6.5 miles.  There was no response.  The letter itself was included in the OPRHP’s final pilot report, but without the cosigners, and without the Benefits Assessment.  We believe this omission indicates OPRHP’s reluctance to consider ideas other than those originating from within their own agency, or to acknowledge ideas in conflict with their own.  The letter and omitted documents are attached as Exhibit 1.1, Exhibit 1.2. 

Those of us who objected to the pilot on the evening of 12 March were assured that all options were open, including the removal of all four lanes. 

In September 2001, alterations made to the parkway started the “pilot.”  In December of 2003, the OPRHP and the NYSDOT released the evaluation report of this study.  It’s about 130 pages, 8 ½ x 11, plastic-spiral bound, with about 25 pages of glossy color photos and fold-out maps, 39 pages of “Correspondence Received” on the issue from community members, the remainder assorted compliance documents, traffic flow records, stipulations of no environmental impacts, public survey copies, etc., and the Executive Summary. 

THE EVALUATION REPORT IS AN ATTEMPT TO JUSTIFY THE OPRHP’S UNSATISFACTORY DECISION TO MAKE THE PILOT ALTERATION PERMANENT.  It is characterized by undefined terms, outrageous assertions, the omission of contrary information and arguments, and convoluted reasoning that defies reality. 

The report cites the “need” for an automobile route along the gorge rim from Niagara Falls to Lewiston, NY, “in fact” because of the 1926 plan for such a road submitted to Niagara Reservation Commissioners by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.  Does any reasonable person think that Olmsted Jr. submitted this plan on his own, without being so directed by the Commissioners?  This is a disingenuous, but transparent attempt to justify a 21st Century highway by evoking the name of Olmsted.  There’s little doubt that Jr. wasn’t the visionary his father was—and even he couldn’t have foreseen the over 235 million vehicles on America’s roads today.  In 1926 there were 17 million vehicles in the entire nation. 

Every plan and study thereafter followed Jr’s lead, even beyond the reality of the Robert Moses Parkway, to the 1992 Niagara Waterfront Plan prepared by Sasaki Associates, a plan the OPRHP cites as influencing their “direction.”  Yet each planner or designer not only relied on the accumulated shelf of previous design plans, but was paid and directed by government agencies whose starting point was the continued existence of a gorge rim road.  It is extremely unlikely that a planner would be paid hundreds of thousands and given the option to envision a gorge rim free of highway. 

Thus Sasaki and Associates, innovative abilities restricted, brought their cookie-cutter waterfront notions to the Niagara Frontier.  Unaware of the environmental, historical, and cultural significance of Devil’s Hole, and of the old growth forest at DeVeaux, for examples, they continued to ink in some variation of the highway that continues to degrade these unique features of our landscape.  And the OPRHP, from its Albany offices, uses this plan and others to legitimize, to validate, their decision. 

The Executive Summary further said that this “automobile route along the brink of the gorge… would also ensure a protective border along the gorge…” How is this highway a “protective border”?  Does it protect the gorge rim from pedestrians?  Does it keep trees from climbing out of the gorge and taking over the city? 


It announces vehicle accidents have been “reduced by a remarkable fifty percent” and that vehicle emissions near the environmentally sensitive gorge have been decreased by 37,083 tons of carbon per year, a 16% reduction. 

There is no mention of “T-Bone” Steven C. Porter’s death on the parkway in June 2003.  Is his death statistically insignificant? 

It seems obvious that with no parkway lanes, there would have been zero accidents, a “remarkable” 100% reduction, a total elimination of vehicle carbon emissions equaling 231,768.75 tons, and Steven C. Porter would not have been killed trying to cross the parkway. 

The Report also repeatedly cites the “improved access” to the gorge for pedestrians.  This grand phrase is technically accurate: the “improved access” is, however, the opportunity to reach closed parkway lanes by walking up the now unused exit lane at Whirlpool Street (just north of the Whirlpool Bridge), under the parkway overpass—and a painted crosswalk over the parkway lanes at DeVeaux Woods.  The other three “access points” existed before the pilot, two of them walkover bridges, near the Aquarium of Niagara and the other at Devil’s Hole.  But there are color photos of all five in the Report.  This is like smashing the back window out of a car and painting an arrow on the trunk and calling it “improved access.”  Color photographs could label the driver’s and passenger door “Access Point #1” and “Access Point #2.” 

The phrase itself, “access points,” reveals the corrupted vision of the gorge rim.  Highway lanes are accepted as an immutable presence, an eternal barrier through which people, at certain “points,” can pass. 

Without parkway lanes, “access points” would become an alien concept, an obsolete term, as it should be.  Each Niagara Falls street leading toward the gorge parkland, along Whirlpool, through DeVeaux, and into Lewiston’s Fort Gray area, should lead to stairways, ramps for handicapped and wheelchair users, and paths or lanes, or people walking across an expanse of lawns into the natural landscape along the river.  Instead we get the OPRHP “considering…a minimum of two” additional “points” as part of their “Long-term Vision.” 

Access to the gorge for most residents remains unchanged: driving to a walkover, paying a ten dollar parking fee at Prospect Park, or continuing to clamber over walls, to climb fences, or to squirm through holes in the fences before crossing two lanes of the parkway commuter road.  Is this the safe part, or the effective part? 

The Summary mentions “the potential of ecotourism” in a vague but seemingly positive context related to the pilot’s existing configuration.  The Report itself (at 2.2) grows more assertive: “These investments are part of an ecotourist…development strategy…” The investments referred to include about 20 million for observation tower/elevator/gift shop renovation, about 4 million for the rehab of the Schoellkopf Museum into the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, upgrading the Top-of-The-Falls restaurant on Goat Island, the American Rapids Bridge at 7 million, and the Pilot itself at over a million, thus far.  BELIEVING THESE EXPENDITURES AND THE EXISTING PARKWAY CONFIGURATION WILL ATTRACT A SIGNIFICANT ECOTOURISM POPULATION IS SIMPLY DELUSIONAL.  It tosses “ecotourism” into the mix as a buzzword, and is not deserving of serious discussion. 

Creating a high potential for an ecotourism market has been a major component of the NHP proposal for all lane removal of the gorge parkway.  In addition to our Benefits Assessment being omitted from the Report, its Evaluation Matrix (7.4) makes it evident that all lane removal was never an option for the OPRHP.  The Matrix is a self-serving tallying of “goals” that support the decision to retain the current parkway configuration.  Examples are: improve parkway safety—reduce accidents; provide for additional access points; consistency with previous parkway plans; improve safety and aesthetics of pilot; provide adequate road for traffic, etc.  Their plan achieves a perfect score, but why wouldn’t it?  All but three of the goals are bogus; the NHP plan would also meet these worthwhile exceptions. 

The biased posture of the OPRHP toward a large constituency of park users is best illustrated by the following from the Evaluation Report: 

To summarize public reaction to the Pilot Project and the Robert Moses Parkway, there are generally two basic groups/views which can generically be summarized as outlined below. 

RETENTION OF PARKWAY.  Representatives of northern Niagara County communities, area attraction representatives, business associations [Lewiston, Porter, Wilson, Olcott] local residents and others.  These individuals/groups support retention of the four-lane parkway, but are generally willing to compromise if at least a two-lane roadway, which provides a continuous direct link along the general alignment of the current parkway, is maintained. 

TOTAL REMOVAL OF PARKWAY.  (Niagara Heritage Partnership.)  This position was summarized in a 09/28/03 Niagara Gazette article as follows:  “The Niagara Heritage Partnership seeks total removal of the parkway from the aquarium to Route 104 in Lewiston without compromise.” 

It is clear that the few words characterizing the NHP position imply rigidity impervious to reason.  The OPRHP’s willingness to accept a newspaper reporter’s summary of the NHP indicates their unwillingness to do their own evaluation.  Undoubtedly the newspaper description suited their purpose.  Our advocacy for a gorge rim free of parkway has been, however, supported by facts, an evolving rationale, and a perspective aligned with that Olmsted (Sr.) vision that restored the natural environment of the Niagara Reservation over a century ago.  The NHP proposal for parkway removal is supported by a varied coalition of 65 groups, listed here as Exhibit 2, and thousands of individuals on both paper and online petitions. 

We maintain that it’s reasonable to believe that not all compromise is desirable, that issues need to be examined on their merit to determine whether or not compromise would bring about satisfactory resolutions.  Compromising on total lane removal destroys the benefits we believe would result from total removal.  Commentary with additional details is included here as Exhibit 3

Generally, we believe the OPRHP has been irresponsible in 1) unfairly characterizing the Partnership’s advocacy and 2) in its failure to give total lane removal serious consideration. 

Of the 39 pages of the Report’s “Correspondence Received” section, 33 are opposed to parkway removal.  While these numbers alone indicate that most who sent letters, etc. favor keeping the parkway for various reasons, it is also clear evidence of at least a general awareness of the NHP advocacy.  This awareness seems to have escaped the OPRHP which, in any case, should possess a far more complete knowledge. 

The NHP failed to send letters or information directly to the OPRHP offices in Albany.  We also failed to encourage supporting groups and individuals to do this.  We did not “correspond,” so to speak and, therefore can’t complain too loudly about the small number of pages in the “Correspondence Received” section, or anywhere else, of the Report.  We neglected to do so out of ignorance, believing that our publicly stated views in newspaper articles, letters-to-the-editor, and guest views would be forwarded to Albany by our regional OPRHP office.  We won’t make this mistake again. 

Since the Niagara Gazette newspaper article seemed to have been so readily available for the OPRHP to characterize NHP’s attitude, there may be a folder of clippings somewhere, but Park’s personnel have been less than enthusiastic about accepting information from us or about forwarding our concerns to the appropriate individuals in Albany: the appointed group of Niagara Falls Parks Commissioners, chaired by Jean Knox, did not respond to our repeated requests for a meeting to express our concerns (those letters included here as Exhibits 4 & Exhibit 5); information emailed to Rolfe Steck of the local OPRHP office didn’t make it into the Report; Deputy Commissioner Jacangelo in Albany, when informed by telephone of pertinent information on our website, said he "didn’t have time for web surfing.” 

The content quality of the letters in the Report in favor of parkway retention is very poor.  They must have been counted as a politician counts votes, but not evaluated for content.  Otherwise, the arguments which the NHP had successfully dismissed over the past seven years would have been weeded out by the OPRHP.  Here are examples: 

1)     For the many letters, resolutions, etc. in favor of retaining the parkway, “but generally willing to compromise if at least a two-lane roadway, which provides a continuous direct link along the general alignment of the current parkway is maintained,“ WE SUGGEST THE FOLLOWING GENERALLY ALIGNED ALTERNATE ROUTES: LEWISTON ROAD, HIGHLAND AVENUE, HYDE PARK BOULEVARD.  DOT NUMBERS DOCUMENT THESE ROUTES COULD EASILY ABSORB CURRENT PARKWAY TRAFFIC. 


3)    Letter from KOA campgrounds, whose campers, it is claimed, make 10,000 trips to or from the Falls each year and “Those motor homes are very tall” and can’t fit under the railroad bridge overpass on Main Street near Ontario Avenue.  THIS OLD RAIL BRIDGE WILL BE TORN DOWN AND RECONSTRUCTED WITHIN A YEAR, ELIMINATING THIS PROBLEM. 

4)   For the letter that implies the parkway is necessary for ambulances to transport injured soccer players from Youngstown to Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital:  THERE IS NO PARKWAY EXIT TO MT ST MARY’S FOR SOUTHBOUND TRAFFIC. 

5)   The self-promoting letter from Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, a business continually degrading the lower Niagara River, both aesthetically and physically, with shoreline erosion in Youngstown requiring a $100,000 matching grant from the OPRHP under the Clean Water, Clean Air Bond Act to remediate, has the gall to say parkway removal would “hinder the area…environmentally.”  This letter should have been filed under “HM” for “Hypocrisy, Monumental.”  Has an Environmental Impact Study been done to assess potential damage from the Jet Boats?  JET BOAT TOURS SHOULD BE ASSESSED THE MONEY TO REPAY FUNDS SPENT FOR SHORELINE REPAIR. 

The OPRHP should be aware that the insistence of some locals on retaining parkway lanes perpetuates an “up and back” river-corridor tourist manipulation, encouraged by the adjacent business, to the detriment of Niagara Falls business districts—Main Street, Niagara Street, and Pine Avenue—and to the region’s other attractions and locales of interest, such as: the Lockport Cave Tours, The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, Lockport Locks and Canal Cruise, Murphy’s Orchards, Niagara Landing Wine Cellars, Warm Lake Estates and other wineries, the future Sanborn Historical Farm Museum, the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, and others.  It is, for example, deplorable, on the tourist-rich Niagara Frontier, that the Carrousel Factory Museum, just a few miles from the Falls, must go to the County Legislature for repair funding to continue operation.  An altered infrastructure and good tourist maps would help to remedy this inequitable distribution of visitors. 

At “Hazardous Materials Screening” (8.6), the OPRHP Report says, “No known active or inactive hazardous waste sites are located within the project area,” and offers the documentation of a NYSDEC Hazardous Waste Site Map.  Six such sites, however, are shown on the map, though none may be “within the project area,” strictly defined, since no significant excavation or disturbance of the parkway will take place under the OPRHP decision. 

It is precisely because the parkway will remain intact that it will continue to function as a concrete shield that permits the severely contaminated runoff from just one of these sites to continue unabated down the gorge wall into the Niagara River near Devil’s Hole, upstream from the public fishing dock.  This is the Hyde Park Landfill (Site Code 932021).  We provide DEC documentation here at Exhibit 6.  The “minimal remedial maintenance period” required by law will expire in 2012.  Though acknowledging this contamination does not seem to be required of the OPRHP related to this project, it is shortsighted to maintain the status quo of parkway lanes as if there’s no contamination flowing under them. 

WHILE THE PILOT PROJECT EVALUATION REPORT IS FLAWED BEYOND REMEDIATION, ITS MOST EGREGIOUS OFFENSE IS THAT IT WAS ISSUED AT ALL AT THIS TIME.  We acknowledge that it was “due” at the end of the trial period but, as we pointed out in a letter to the Parks’ Commissioner dated 6 October 2003 (included here as Exhibit 7), a final decision about the gorge parkway would be in conflict with ongoing relicensing discussions with the NYS Power Authority, where the parkway is an issue for the environmental stakeholders coalition.  The comment was ignored. 

The decision by the OPRHP compromises the Power Authority’s ability to engage in good faith discussion in consideration of alternate visions for the gorge rim and the protection of the watershed, which are being put forward by a sizable constituency.  THIS DISREGARD FOR THE RELICENSING PROCESS IS UNACCEPTABLE. 



THE OPRHP HAS BEHAVED IN A MANNER INCONSISTENT WITH GOOD STEWARDSHIP ON THE NIAGARA FRONTIER.  Its decision to permanently alter the Robert Moses gorge parkway to the pilot configuration will support and further establish a destructive condition for the gorge rim.  It reduces the possibility for an extension of Olmsted’s vision of a natural landscape; maintaining the commuter highway will guarantee a continued aesthetic affront and contribution to watershed pollution; any tree plantings and grass on the medians will likely be the groomed strips of most parks.  Such a setting will be inviting to the continued sprawl of commercial exploitation characteristic of the park at the Falls.  Wildlife habitat will not be increased. 

THE DECISION IGNORES ALTERNATE ROUTES TO KEEP A DETERIORATING MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR HIGHWAY, ENSURING THE EXPENDITURE OF MILLIONS IN FUTURE MAINTENANCE COSTS, FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF A SMALL NUMBER OF COMMUTERS.  The rest of the taxpayers will continue to pay the bill.  It’s already cost well over a million dollars over the last 24 months and the end isn’t in sight.  No additional money should be spent on this pilot study. 

*     *     * 

Since those who want to retain all or part of the parkway and those who want it entirely gone have grown resolute in their positions, we suggest the following: 

1)      THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A TWELVE-MEMBER INDEPENDENT COUNCIL TO INVESTIGATE AND EVALUATE THE FACTS AND ARGUMENTS OF THE PARKWAY ISSUE.  The members of this council should be selected from outside the region in an attempt to attain the highest level of objectivity possible.  While the final makeup of the council should be open to discussion, its members should have demonstrable expertise in subject areas related to the issue, and one or more from the National Park Service should be invited to serve. 



Bob Baxter, Conservation Chair

Niagara Heritage Partnership





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Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723