Skyway finalists announced, winner to be selected today

Sep 17, 2019

The top nine teams for the Buffalo Skyway Corridor Competition have been revealed. The finalists will pitch their ideas Tuesday morning in front of a live audience and judging panel. At noon the winners will be announced, with first place receiving a $100,000 award.

Three of the nine finalist plans revealed Monday night
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

Congress for the New Urbanism President Lynn Richards said the big issue Buffalo will grapple with is mobility.

“And we need to change our overall perspective around mobility. That we’re designing our cities now to help move cars efficiently from point A to point B,” Richards said. “And instead we need to think about how we, an individual person, can move effectively and efficiently through the town. And that’s more about mobility versus about designing a place for cars.”

Richards said cities across the country are facing the same problem Buffalo is-- infrastructure aging out.

“It is now a decision at the state and local level of how you’re going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to either strengthen the Skyway or to bring it down and use that money to invest in other placement making strategies with economic benefits,” she said.

Lynn said removing the Skyway could open up billions of dollars for economic development in the surrounding region because acres of land would become eligible for development.

Empire State Development Chairman Howard Zemsky said any recommendations will go through an environmental impact process.

“You’ll have a lot of community input the way you’re familiar with when we did the Outer Harbor preferred plan or really any of these types of significant regional transportation development plans,” he said.

Zemsky pointed out the Governor’s focus over the past decade for Buffalo has been activating the waterfront.

“We’ve had that road up for over 65 years. The question in the Governor’s mind is, what’s the best thing for Buffalo and Western New York for the next 65 years.”

Out of the nine finalists, two include team members from Buffalo and five overall from New York State. Zemsky said it was important to draw interest not just locally, but internationally.

“We were hoping for the kind of robust participation we got across the country. It’s great that there’s (groups) from Buffalo. And there’s some other from upstate New York and around the country,” Zemsky said. “We are really evaluating it based on the quality. Again, this is a massive decision. It’s super impactful and very important. The quality of the work is the most important thing.”

Panelists speaking before the finalists were revealed Monday night.
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

Zemsky said the winner of the competition will act as the guiding idea the state moves forward with. In addition to the first place award, second place will receive $50,000 and third will get $25,000.

The nine finalists are:

  • Skyway 2.0

Team: Team Ramboll

Syracuse, N.Y. and the Netherlands

This submission bills itself as a "future-proof design for the Skyway Corridor."  It envisages a gradual development of the area through a systematic implementation of complementary stages that address the Inner Harbor, Outer Harbor North and Outer Harbor South. The Skyway would remain in this proposal and gradually converted to accommodate multi-modal access including either bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail transit. It would also be complemented by a series of new pedestrian bridges between the Inner and Outer Harbor.

  • The Skyway River Loop

Team: Marvel Architects

New York, N.Y.

This submission says it will "Keep the Skyway and reinforce the heart of Buffalo."  It proposes keeping the Skyway, adding new street-level greenway and access features and reframing the entire system for new use. The proposal calls for new local bridge connections between the Inner and Outer Harbor at Michigan Avenue and at Ohio Street near the southern terminus of the City Ship Canal. The Skyway River Loop is about making connections to the existing neighborhoods and supporting their further development and use.

  • The City of Lights: Owning our Waterfront

Team: SWBR, Fisher Associates and MRB Group

Rochester, N.Y.

This concept for Skyway and Route 5 Corridor is "actually quite simple; remove the barriers separating the City of Buffalo from its waterfront." Removal of the Skyway (Church Street to Prime Street) along with the access ramps makes 12 acres available for development in downtown and Canalside. A piece of the Skyway high level bridge would be re-purposed as "SkyPark," which would provide iconic views and recreational amenities. Traffic would be redistributed over a series of new facilities including a new "Tifft Street Extension" road connecting to I-190; a new lift bridge at Michigan Avenue; and a new road connection between Ohio Street and Fuhrmann Boulevard south of the City Ship Canal; among other improvements.

  • Queen City Harbor: Bringing Buffalo to the Water's Edge

Team: Christian Calleri, Jeannine Muller, Min Soo Kang, Andrea De Carlo

Washington, D.C.

This submission proposes a strategy that "capitalizes on this historic opportunity to remove the notorious 'Skyway' and extend the positive legacies of Buffalo's artistic, cultural and industrial past directly into an intelligent, beautiful and ennobling future. This vision depends on a robust program of dense infill neighborhoods on lands opened up or facilitated through a Skyway removal, involving mixed-use and residential development in and around the Queen City Harbor. The concrete piers of the Skyway bridge would be repurposed to accommodate solar and wind power production.  Access would be provided through a retrofit of Fuhrmann Boulevard and Ohio Street to accommodate multi-modal access including BRT, while new lift bridge connections would be provided to the Outer Harbor at Main Street. 

  • Highways to Parkways

Team: Ryan Kucinski, Steinberg Hart

Los Angeles, Calif.

This plan envisions the Skyway Corridor to be "redeveloped through multiple mixed-use neighborhoods, each with an intimate relationship with public open space by designing with nature and driven by new modern infrastructure networks." The plan would involve a long-term phased approach that would lead to the ultimate removal of the Skyway bridge and convert the elevated expressway with an Olmsted parkway. A similar conversion of a downtown segment of I-190 is also proposed, along with light rail transit extensions to the Southtowns and the Airport.

  • Olmsted Parkway

Team: Andrew Vesselinovitch, Lake Erie for All Team

Chicago, Ill., Cleveland, Ohio and Buffalo, N.Y.

This proposal is inspired by Olmsted's vision of connecting his earlier parks to the north. This vision would replace the Buffalo Skyway's elevated expressway with an Olmsted Parkway and remove the high-level bridge. The Outer Harbor would see a new Olmsted Park; new infill real estate development on land previously occupied or made less usable by the Skyway; a "Ship Canal Promenade"; and a Buffalo Sculpture Park. A new lift bridge would connect the Inner and Outer Harbor and a number of interchanges and weave segments along I-190 would be removed or simplified to address traffic. A new light rail extension to the Outer Harbor is also envisioned.

  • The Sapphire Necklace

Team: Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists, with Clark Patterson Lee

Pasadena, Calif.

The centerpiece of this proposal is to remove the Skyway and Route 5 entirely from I-190 through the Outer Harbor and south to Tifft. With it fully gone and replaced by a "grand boulevard along Ohio Street, the entire corridor will transition to being some of the city's premier living, entertainment and recreational venues with nature preserves, havens for fish and other water life." Two alternative visions are considered for the Outer Harbor—one involving largely open space uses and one involving a small mixed-used village center. The proposal envisions a new lift bridge at Michigan Avenue to the Outer Harbor, and multi-modal access features on all local streets in the corridor, including the ability to support a light rail extension down Ohio Street, as well as bus and water taxi access.

  • Vision for Skyway Corridor and Relocated NY Route 5 Highway

Team: Raymond C. Vaughan and Anthony James

Buffalo, N.Y.

As part of this vision, traffic that currently travels on the Skyway Corridor as far south as the Union Ship Canal will be diverted onto a new highway and Fuhrmann Boulevard will be reduced to one traffic lane in each direction within the Corridor. The Skyway itself will remain standing and be adapted to new purposes for the next few years, beyond which its long-term future may be determined by a public decision-making process. Future development in the corridor would largely follow existing plans.

  • Buffalo Up!

Team: CLNW, Wendy Wang

Boston, Mass.

This plan's vision is to create a sustainable transport system for the Skyway Corridor that makes a major contribution to the corridor's livability by replacing the existing highway. This system would apply intelligent transport systems strategies to existing routes, thus increasing their efficiency, and build a sustainable transport network through the corridor. The Skyway itself would be slowly phased out, initially to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian access on it while other road, bridge and transit are developed, and ultimately to remove it at the end of its useful life. 

The judging panel is chaired by Empire State Development Chairman Howard Zemsky, with eight panelists including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado and local and national experts in the fields of architecture, design, urban planning and transportation.