U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins recently indicated that he would like to see “The Riverline” project receive $10.5 million from President Joe Biden’s proposed highway bill. Are you wondering that “The Riverline” is? The Western New York Land Conservancy – a not-for-profit land trust that is developing the project – describes The Riverline as a “a nature trail and greenway” that will transform the abandoned DL&W rail corridor and link downtown Buffalo to the Buffalo River.
The 1.5-mile greenway will traverse three working class Buffalo neighborhoods, Perry, The Old First Ward, and The Valley. While they have experienced economic and social stress for decades, the Land Conservancy envisions The Riverline assisting these neighborhoods build “a shared future of equity, opportunity, and prosperity.”
You can learn much about The Riverline concept – “a vision created by the community” – by visiting the Land Conservancy’s website and immersing yourself in the project’s design drafts. The renderings are detailed, informative, and intriguing. You’ll discover that the linear trail will have gateway entries, bridges, and two miles of paths. Conceived primarily as a refuge – with nature trails and wildlife views – The Riverline will include an abundance of gardens (of both the neighborhood and butterfly variety), as well as passive recreation areas.
But the zoning-law-attorney in me needed to experience something beyond concept drawings. I’ve learned from decades of assisting residents in communities throughout Western New York that nothing beats a “site visit” if I want to truly begin to understand a neighborhood and imagine the impact of a proposed project (even if the site visit is a mile-and-a-half long).
So, despite the daunting heat predicted for later that day, I spent 2 or 3 hours on June 7th walking the neighborhoods that will be touched by The Riverline, taking photos, and making mental connections between the colorful concept drawings and the real world. The images that follow will be “organized” into three groupings, reflecting the Riverline’s three sections, The Del, The Juncture, and The Basswoods.
The Riverline begins at the corner of Moore and Miami streets, and proceeds in a southeasterly direction, initially on the north side of Miami Street, then on Miami’s south side, with an elevated berm eventually dropping to street level at Louisiana, Alabama, and Hamburg streets. Here’s the view looking east down Miami St. from Moore St.:
Just steps away, at Ohio St. and Moore, you’ll find the Buffalo River Fest Park:
And, as you peer down Miami St. from Moore, this is what is right behind you:
As you head easterly down Miami St. towards Chicago St., The Riverline will be on your left:
And here’s the scene on your right:
This is the view looking westerly back down Miami once you’ve reached Chicago St.:
Awaiting you at the northeast corner of Miami and Chicago is an abandoned brick building:
But there’s a pleasant surprise as you peak around the corner of that tired brick structure:
Here are views heading east down Miami from Chicago:
The next cross street is Louisiana:
The Riverline path switches to the south side of Miami as you proceed easterly from Louisiana St.:
But the north side of Miami St. is totally different, and makes you aware of the proximity of the future nature trail to this mixed industrial and residential neighborhood:
This is the view of the Riverline directly across Miami St. from these houses:
You soon come to Alabama St.:
This is a picture of the residential block looking north down Alabama from Miami St. heading towards South Park Avenue:
At the end of that block, you’ll find a struggling South Park commercial area, and a reminder of where you are:
Back to Alabama and Miami, this is what you’ll encounter as you look southeast across Alabama just south of Miami St.:
Then there’s Mackinaw St.:
And a lovely single-family home at 169 Alabama St., looking proud a half-block beyond Mackinaw:
As you proceed southerly down Alabama, you’ll find a neighborhood stalwart, Our Lady of Perpetual Help R.C. Church:
You’ve reached the end of “The Del” community as you walk easterly down Mackinaw or Miami to Hamburg St.
I have a bit of a confession to make here (and, I won’t blame it on the heat). After I crossed Hamburg Street on my self-guided tour, I made the mistake of criss-crossing the various streets – Sidway, Mackinaw, Katherine, Fitzgerald, and O’Connell – without taking notes of precisely where I was as I took each photo. So, I’m not 100% certain of either the street or direction I was looking (or, both) while capturing some of the images that follow. My apologies. But, at least, now I have an excellent reason to re-visit “the site” in the near future.
By the way, the moniker given to this section of The Riverline, The Juncture, reflects a prominent feature of the neighbor, its proximity to the intersection of two active railroad tracks. The photos of tracks inserted below were taken from a point just beyond the dead end of Mackinaw St. east of Fitzgerald. The Riverline will include an impressive trestle bridge providing its users with panoramic views of the railroad looking to the north and south.
Back to the site visit.
These are images looking easterly down Mackinaw from Katherine Street.
These are the last homes on Mackinaw as you approach the Dead End sign and RR tracks:
My first glimpse of the tracks:
I’d call this the juncture, or junction, or, perhaps, intersection:
And, here’s the view from ground level as I turned around:
If I’m reading the design drafts correctly, The Riverline will be traversing the existing neighborhood through what are now mostly mowed fields, and lastly a mature stand of trees southeast of the corner of Fitzgerald and O’Connell streets. The trestle bridge will then take nature lovers across the railroad tracks and continue southeasterly.
These are O’Connell St. homes near Fitzgerald (if my memory serves me):
Now it’s time to leave The Juncture and head by car down South Park to the intersection of Smith and South Park (just before the road goes over a bridge and past the Tesla complex). Our destination: the third and final section of The Riverline called The Basswoods.
I still have much to learn about both The Riverline’s vision and the existing terrain. I found the following excerpt from Buffalo News reporter Mark Sommer’s April 28, 2021 article to be quite helpful:
“… [The Riverline] disappears east of Katherine Street [Mark’s referring to the trestle bridge] before picking up again adjacent to Red Jacket Riverfront Park. From there, the trail would cross one of Buffalo’s busiest railroad lines over an existing bridge south and east of Smith Street and end at a half-bridge over the Buffalo River with views of the South Park Avenue lift bridge, the Buffalo Color peninsula and the Tesla plant.”
My photos pick up at South Park Ave. and Smith Street, heading down Smith in the direction of railroad tracks and two “art walls”:
I came upon a pleasant surprise when I reached the end of the “art wall.” As I looked north and west – in the direction I picture The Riverline’s trestle bridge would be gracing the terrain someday soon – I not only found a helpful sign, but also an Erie County field office/bus attending a herd of hungry goats (“Goats at Work”) energetically removing invasive plants in advance of The Riverline’s arrival, and then, down a picturesque path, basswood trees (I presume):
When I returned to Smith Street, I momentarily admired the other “art wall” bookending the road, and walked southeasterly for the final segment of my site visit:
That’s my last photo for now. But, I know that I did not reach the end of The Riverline, and look forward to future exploring. Meanwhile, you may want to click on the link above to Mark Sommer’s April 28th report. It includes a photo of a plank bridge, by Sharon Cantillon, with the following caption: “Buffalo’s Riverline park is expected to end at this bridge, overlooking the Buffalo River and the Tesla plant.”
I hope this posting has whet your appetite to learn more about The Riverline and the many other endeavors happening in Buffalo to protect, preserve, and enhance our natural and built resources.
With All Due Respect,