Starr Gazing
   


Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.
starr@canisius.edu

   

S.O.S. – Save Our Skyway

Voices have been raised calling for the Buffalo skyway to come down. Criticism has grown over the past few years. Congressman Higgins has emerged as the champion of “tear it down.” The Buffalo News shares his views. We all know that both the News and Higgins have accomplished much for Harbor Place and CanalSide, but they seem misguided on the Skyway issue. The Skyway is worth keeping.

The skyway was well received when it was built in 1955. Over the past decades, the cost of continuing to repair the skyway has been a concern. I think many of us are aware that repairing bridges is always going to be a major concern as well as an ongoing task. Look at the Peace Bridge. I simply cannot recall when I have not seen work crews on the Peace Bridge. A somewhat similar situation prevails with the Grand Island Bridges among many other bridges throughout our fair land.

If the skyway were in danger of collapsing, endangering many lives, and shown to be excessively costly, then replacing the skyway would need some serious discussion. However, we are not at that point yet.

Rep. Higgins and his supporters have other things in mind. They point to the “valuable” space that the skyway takes up. Really! Where is all that space for the developers? Is it under the 1.34 mile roadway? Plenty of that space is already being nicely utilized by marinas and boat storage facilities. Developers might locate some small pockets near the ramps. But if there were no skyway ramps, there would still need to be exits and entrances from the I-90 for downtown and to the harbor area.

Let’s look at the plus side, the many advantages of maintaining the skyway. Authorities say that more than 35,000 commuters use it on a daily basis. With no skyway, the traffic over the Ohio Street Lift Bridge would be a nightmare. Building another bridge would not be the answer. The skyway seems essential for thousands who live in the Southtowns and beyond. There is no sensible alternative.

The skyway provides an important roadway for WNYers headed south and west. It is important for those heading to summer homes and cottages all along the Lake Erie shoreline, for frolickers headed to the Evans/Angola area or the Sunset Beach area, for those going to Chautauqua, and, in the winter, to ski resorts. With no skyway, there would be major headaches.

The skyway offers magnificent views, wonderful panoramic views of our city, views that cannot be found anywhere else. True, you can also see fine views from the observation deck in City Hall and the 40th floor of the former bank building at the end of Main Street. But the skyway stands alone in terms of singular, outstanding views. Visitors from the west, driving from Cleveland, Chicago, and beyond, come over the skyway and see the harbor, the Navy ships, the new hotels, and the Sabres arena, and they see St. Paul’s steeple looking as though it is smack in the center of Main Street surrounded by downtown Buffalo’s “near” skyscrapers. It’s quite breathtaking! Glancing to the right side as they come to the top of the skyway, they can see Central Terminal, St. Stan’s (the mother church of Polonia), and much more.

The views are just as magnificent going the other way, leaving the city over the skyway. You see the outer harbor, the famous 1833 lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor, the upper Niagara River, and the Canadian shoreline, all the way up to the legendary Point Abino lighthouse. You might even point out to your children the place where the giant roller coaster, the Comet, that you so enjoyed as a child, stood at Crystal Beach.

Looking straight ahead, you see where the vast Bethlehem Steel plant stood; now the site looks a little like Holland with its cluster of windmills. Far ahead, you see Sturgeon Point and the curvatures of Lake Erie. To the east, you see numerous grain elevators, the Buffalo River, the fabled First Ward and beyond to South Buffalo.

Another valuable point made by the likes of my friends Dave Cooke and Zuke is that the skyway has become a symbol of our city. It is not an architectural gem, like the Sydney Opera House or the Taj Mahal, but it rates a worthy comparison with the Space Needle in Seattle or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The skyway has become a landmark, an integral part of Buffalo.

Another objection is that the skyway is not aesthically pleasing. Well, it may not be a work of art or even on par with the Golden Gate or Brooklyn Bridges. But if you look up at the skyway from a kayak in the harbor (as famed kayaker Tony McElroy does), you see that the skyway frames or even enhances some of the skyline that includes the 40-story bank building, many grain elevators, and the Sabres arena. Similar views can be had from the likes of Paul Reister’s sailboat in the harbor entrance.

There are still other reasons why the skyway is valuable and needs to be maintained for the benefit of the community. Here’s an idea: close the skyway to regular traffic on certain days in the summer. For instance, close it on Sundays from 10am to 4pm and allow pedestrians and bicyclists free reign. Actually, we have already experienced some successful bike-a-thons and roll-a-bikes on the skyway.

How about senior citizen groups taking trips to the top of the skyway? Just think of the many senior citizens who would welcome a minivan trip from Fox Run, Amberleigh, Weinberg, Canterbury Woods, or from any other of the numerous adult living facilities in Western New York. What a grand way to spend a summer afternoon! Old timers could reminisce about their early days in Buffalo as they gaze out over the cityscape. Hyperbole would be flowing.

How about closing the skyway on certain days at the beginning of the school year? Schools could provide for their social studies students to take a half-day trip to the skyway to learn about the city’s history. I can see it now: Ms. Farrington’s 7th graders viewing the beginnings of the city of Buffalo in the early 1800s around the mouth of the Buffalo River, or Anne Eckert’s classes learning about the huge grain elevators and Buffalo’s emergence as a major industrial city by the end of the 19th century. Someone else might point to the Central Terminal, and the DLW Terminal, and the site where the Lehigh Valley Terminal was, and discuss Buffalo’s important role as a major rail center second only to Chicago. Ann Bennett’s students might be made aware of the harbor below as one of the busiest inland ports in the world some 150 years ago. Someone else could point out where the Irish, African Americans, Polish, Italians, and others had settled in the past. Yes, a classroom in the sky!

I am not a civil engineer. I lasted one week in the UB engineering program back in 1952. But I have consulted engineers and have read extensively of the skyway issues discussed by local authorities. Buffalo Rising has provided valuable information and insightful articles. For example, R. Nussbaum notes in “The Future of the Skyway,” that we are “just starting to understand the potential of the bridge.“ Dr. Edward Steinfeld, UB professor, has had students investigate possible uses for the skyway, demonstrating that the skyway is “an opportunity rather than a liability.” The article was titled “The Skyway Revisited” and it was noted that the skyway is a “unique structure with outstanding views of Buffalo and Lake Erie.” Angela Keppel in ”Which Side of the Skyway Debate Do You Fall On?” also provided valuable information.

I cannot resist a final segue. In the early 1950s, I was a part of the generation coming of drinking age at 18. That meant that in the summertime, we spent a lot of time on the American lakeshore. For us, it meant principally Lerczak’s. For others, it meant Angola/Evans beaches, Point Breeze, or the awesome Sunset Bay area. The 30 mile trip out to the lakeshore could be time consuming and even arduous. There was no skyway so you drove over the Ohio St. lift bridge. Buffalo Harbor was still busy with big ships coming and going so you might have to wait a half hour at the bridge. Then it was out Fuhrmann Blvd. and again we might get stuck for another half hour at the Union Canal lift bridge waiting for a ship headed for the Donner Hanna complex. Then, it was out down Route 5. A few years later, the skyway took care of all that and the trip was much shorter

 

Back to After 50 Home Page