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Lawsuit seeks to restore Humboldt Parkway, remove parts of Scajaquada Expressway

A woman in a skirt and T-shirt is holding a microphone and standing in front of a podium. The sign on the podium says "Restore Humboldt Parkway." Another sign in the foreground says "Remove the Kensington Expressway." Behind the speaker are several activists sitting under a white canopy tent.
Grant Ashley
Denise Barr, an activist from the Fruit Belt, spoke in favor of restoring the Humboldt Parkway during a press conference Thursday.

Wayne Blassingame moved to Buffalo’s Hamlin Park neighborhood as a child in 1953. He remembers using the Humboldt Parkway to walk to the wading pool at what’s now MLK Park and standing alongside it to watch people ride their horses across the East Side.

But over the course of the 1950s and ‘60s, a series of construction projects replaced that parkway with the Kensington Expressway.

Now, decades after it was first completed, Blassingame and 60 other community members affiliated with the East Side Parkways Coalition are suing to bring the parkway back.

“I don’t know what was on the mind or what they were thinking when they decided to do what they did, but it's not appropriate for this community,” Blassingame said at a press conference just outside the Buffalo Museum of Science. “They need to restore the way it was as best as possible.”

If successful, the lawsuit would force New York State to fill in the Kensington Expressway and replace it with the original Humboldt Parkway, which stretched from Delaware Park to MLK Park. The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court on Thursday, would also require the state to remove the portions of the Scajaquada Expressway that run through Delaware Park.

Attorneys for the Parkways Coalition argue in that suit that the State Legislature never gave the Department of Transportation permission to build highways on park land, and that the pollution created by the highway violates city residents’ state constitutional right to clean air. Advocates say that replacing the highways with park space would improve quality of life and reduce health problems for East Side residents.

“I’ve seen people get sick, die, and all because of this expressway,” Marcia Ladiana, a former DEC employee who’s lived in the Humboldt Parkway neighborhood for 35 years, said. “I see no reason to have a six-lane expressway through a residential neighborhood. It’s ridiculous, and to have them build the tunnel and perpetuate this for another 100 years is insane. It will continue to damage our health, it will damage our homes.”

If successful, the lawsuit would also put the brakes on a construction project to rebuild a portion of the parkway over a three-quarter mile stretch of the existing three-mile expressway. Construction is expected to begin in December.

That project is endorsed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who’s argued that alternative project proposals don’t have community buy-in, risk losing federal funding, and would clog Buffalo’s residential streets with traffic.

“To lose $55 million from President Joe Biden, to lose $1 billion from the state of New York that was hard fought for, and to lose the momentum that has been created and the energy of this community? All because a handful of naysayers want to stop progress? No, we’ve done this before,” Hochul told reporters after announcing in February that the project would move forward. “We in Western New York are notorious for letting the voices of a few dominate the will of the majority. I will not let that happen.”

But Parkway Coalition members say that highway removal is possible for Buffalo. They point to similar projects in Rochester and Syracuse where highways that divided neighborhoods are being removed completely.

“For some reason, here in Buffalo, even after the horror that visited our city not too far from here on 5/14, all we get is piecemeal solutions,” Matt Dearing, a Parkways Coalition member and former Buffalo Common Council candidate said. “That doesn’t sit right with me. It doesn’t sit right with the people behind me, and I don’t think it sits right with about 99% of the people in Western New York.”

Parkway Coalition members say that they’ll be filing more suits in the coming days and weeks.