Smart Growth America tapped to help determine the future of the Buffalo Skyway

The aging and fracture critical Buffalo Skyway bridge looms over the Buffalo Harbor project site. (Image: Wayne Senville, Planning Commissioners Journal,

Like a number of other 1950’s-era, aging elevated highways that are (or have already) reached the end of their designed lifespans, the elevated Buffalo Skyway bridge in New York could be the latest to be replaced with a more people-centric design that better connects the city to its waterfront. Smart Growth America’s CEO Calvin Gladney has been selected to join a panel of other notable experts to judge a state-chartered design competition about its future.

Built during the 1950’s at a height that allowed lake ships to pass underneath back when Buffalo was a busy port city, today’s Buffalo Skyway is a relic from a different age and a perpetual headache for residents and city/state officials.

It blocks downtown from its waterfront, it occupies valuable yet underutilized waterfront land, and requires seemingly never-ending expensive construction just to keep the structurally deficient and fracture critical bridge limping along. A recent state proposal in 2014 to modestly rehabilitate and maintain the bridge as-is would cost $42 million over a 20-year period, according to former State Assemblyman Michael Kearns.

New York leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have decided that it’s time to stop throwing good money after bad. Gov. Cuomo this week launched a new design competition to solicit creative ideas for replacing the bridge, with a $100,000 prize available for the winner.

In the press release announcing the six-month design competition, Gov. Cuomo reiterated his view that the Skyway was created for a different time and stressed the urgency of coming up with a plan for replacement sooner rather than later.

“The skyway is outdated and aging infrastructure that separated Buffalo from its waterfront, representing a much different city than the one we know today,” Governor Cuomo said. “Replacing it must include new ideas and creativity, which is why we’re launching this competition to incentivize the best urban planners, architects, and design firms in the country to present their plans so we can continue to revitalize Buffalo and build on the enormous economic progress we’re making in the city and across the state.”

Smart Growth America President & CEO Calvin Gladney joins an impressive roster of other experts to judge a six-month-long design competition with a $100,000 prize for the best idea for replacing the Skyway.  (Full list of panelists at the bottom of this post.)

“I am honored to join the distinguished company on this panel to help New York State and residents of the City of Buffalo chart a smarter, more resilient course for the future of their proud city,” said Gladney. “Cities of all sizes are coming up with creative ways to undo the mistakes of the 1950s and prioritize serving the people in their cities rather than just moving vehicles right through their cities. I’m eager to see the creative ideas that are produced and I am bullish on the prospects for a better Buffalo.”

The debate over the future of the Skyway has been going on for years. The Congress for the New Urbanism, also represented on the panel by CEO Lynn Richards, has written extensively about the future of the Skyway over the years:

In May of 2016, Congressman Brian Higgins spoke in favor of some sort of alteration to or removal of the Skyway, noting that Buffalo is not the same city it was when it was built in the mid-50s and calling for a full and formal Environmental Impact Statement of the Buffalo Skyway including an assessment of Skyway removal and alternatives. …It has also been concluded that even the removal of just one ramp that connects the Skyway to I-190, for example, would free up an entire downtown block for development. As it becomes more and more clear that The City of Buffalo can no longer afford to have prime waterfront real-estate continue to sit idle, underutilized, and unimproved for another half century, and with the Federal Highway Administration commenting on the only bridge in New York State that will close each year due to inclement weather by classifying the bridge as “functionally obsolete,” locals know that it is time to replace a highway that currently divides a community with a roadway that re-connects neighborhoods and helps bring vitality to the area.

It’s encouraging to see New York State leadership that was once focused on simply rebuilding the 60-year-old Skyway fully on board with the notion that the best cities are all about maximizing access to amenities for residents, adding housing and jobs in walkable, connected neighborhoods, and providing new opportunities for sustainable, equitable economic development in the city.

Full list of panelists

  • Rossana Rosado, Secretary of State of New York
  • Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo
  • Bob Shibley, Dean, University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning
  • Hal Morse, Executive Director, Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council
  • Ethan Kent, Senior Vice President, Project for Public Spaces
  • Lynn Richards, President and CEO of the Congress For the New Urbanism
  • Danielle Arigoni, Director of Livable Communities at AARP
  • Lee Fisher, Dean and Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University (Former CEO of CEOs for Cities)
  • Jennifer Vey, Director, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking and Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
  • Calvin Gladney, President and CEO of Smart Growth America
Complete Streets Economic development Resilience Transportation