Buffalo Residents Push Back on Proposed Cap Park

State and local officials say the $1 billion project will heal neighborhoods divided by the Kensington Expressway, but community members say the proposed plan will exacerbate already poor air quality in the area.

2 minute read

February 23, 2024, 6:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon

Buffalo, New York

AndreCarrotflower / Wikimedia Commons

When it was built in the 1950s, the Kensington Expressway cleaved neighborhoods on the East Side of Buffalo, New York, apart and led to air quality-related health concerns for nearby residents. A new $1 billion project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law proposes to sink a three-quarter mile section of the highway and cap it with a park to reconnect the neighborhoods and restore a historic boulevard. But some locals are fighting it, saying it will only make the pollution worse, reports Benjamin Schneider in a Bloomberg CityLab article. The project’s environmental assessment projected that car exhaust pushed out either end of the tunnel by the airflow caused by the moving vehicles “would increase pollution levels by about 6% over current conditions in the areas immediately adjacent to the tunnel entrances, even as air quality would improve slightly on the cap itself,” Schneider writes. 

According to Schneider, “the debate underscores the challenges facing the US Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities program … that’s designed to redress the harms of urban highways built across predominantly Black neighborhoods during the 1950s and ’60s. Some of the biggest and most costly projects being funded by the program are freeway caps — a popular strategy for knitting neighborhoods back together without reducing the volume of vehicles or the emissions they produce.” He reports that Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Austin are considering using funding from the federal infrastructure act program for freeway caps.

The project is one of many of a growing “cap and cover” movement that state and local governments are hopping aboard, as reported by the Daily Beast. But questions about the long-term implications of these projects remain. A Colorado Public Radio News article about Denver’s new 4-acre cap park above I-70 that opened last year states, “Air quality concerns are only one reason anti-highway activists now see Denver’s park as a cautionary tale.” Among others are fears that the new public green space and park amenities will spur gentrification and displacement of existing community members.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024 in Bloomberg CityLab

Aerial view of homes on green hillsides in Daly City, California.

Depopulation Patterns Get Weird

A recent ranking of “declining” cities heavily features some of the most expensive cities in the country — including New York City and a half-dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area.

April 10, 2024 - California Planning & Development Report

Close-up of maroon California 'Clean Air Vehicle' carpool lane access sticker on the back bumper of a silver Tesla vehicle.

California EV Owners To Lose Carpool Lane Privilege

A program that began in 1999 to encourage more electric car ownership is set to expire next year without Congressional and state action.

April 2, 2024 - San Francisco Chronicle

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Google street view of grassy lot next to brick church with elevated freeway on other side in Houston, Texas.

Houston Supportive Housing Development Sparks Debate

Critics say a proposed apartment building would negatively impact the neighborhood’s walkability.

4 hours ago - Houston Chronicle

Closed black wrought iron gate in front of gated residential community with large palm trees along sides of street.

Friday Funny: Gated Community Doubles Down

The Onion skewers suburbia.

5 hours ago - The Onion

Aerial view of Chicago with river in foreground.

‘Cut the Tape’ Report Takes Aim at Inefficiencies

A set of recommendations from the Chicago mayor’s office calls for streamlining city processes to stimulate more residential and commercial development.

6 hours ago - Block Club Chicago

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.