Here we go again, with yet another “study” of the gorge Robert Moses Parkway to be conducted by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). What? They didn’t learn anything the last time they studied it, just eight years ago? What’s changed since they established the so-called pilot project, complete with its orange cones, which they declared a success in December of 2003?

Traffic still detours the business districts of Niagara Falls, more than 200,000 tons of carbon emissions are still emitted into the fragile gorge environment by vehicles using the parkway, vehicles are still driving unrestricted across the power plant and under one end of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, residents and visitors are still denied free access to the gorge and river, and the region’s huge potential for eco-tourism remains unrealized.

On the other hand, we now have: about 4,000 individual names on electronic and paper petitions in favor of parkway removal; 77 local, state, national and international groups (with a combined membership of about one million) in support of removal; knowledge of over a dozen such highways around the world that have been removed to create great positive economic impacts; the Main Street, Niagara Street and the Pine Avenue business associations in favor of removal; the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board and City Council in support of removal; a funded Niagara River Greenway plan compatible with removal and a National Heritage Area designation for the Niagara River Corridor whose goals would embrace the proposal for parkway removal. USA Niagara Development Corp, the state Niagara Falls economic development agency, supports total gorge parkway removal between Niagara Falls and Lewiston.

And what does Carol Ash, commissioner of the OPRHP, say about all of this? She wants a “kinder, gentler” parkway. After a “study,” of course.

The Niagara Heritage Partnership, therefore, advocates for the kindest, most gentle removal of the gorge parkway that can be imagined.

Please, would someone please call or write Ash and bring her up to speed on this issue, please?

When I had the opportunity to speak with Ash on March 6, I asked if the proposal for parkway removal would be given genuine consideration during the study. She assured me enthusiastically and emphatically that it would. On March 15, her “kinder, gentler” comment made the newspaper along with her vision of the parkway as a “string” that leads from “Artpark to the Underground Railroad” along a “beautiful state parkway into Niagara Falls and back out again.”

It sounded as if she’d made up her mind before the “study.” Why bother with it, then? And how much will it cost, anyway? OPRHP certainly shouldn’t be the lead agency as is now planned. Her reported comment, if it’s accurate, reveals she envisions tourists starting out from Artpark, that the parkway should function to lead the tourist in and out of Niagara Falls like a yo-yo, and that the Underground Railroad is a location, an interpretive center, rather than a regional experience that incorporates a gorge location, which might even include a walk through a natural environment, a woods. Further, does it need to be noted that the experience of visiting Niagara Falls doesn’t begin at Artpark?

Those opposed to parkway removal (generally, the north towns, Lewiston, etc. represented by the Lower River Region Chamber of Commerce) demonstrate their opposition in the following ways: 1) they refuse to acknowledge or to discuss the major tenets in favor of removal, the revitalization of Niagara Falls’ business districts, and reestablishing natural landscapes crucial to creating an ecotourism market 2) they attempt to dismiss the massive support for removal 3) they ignore (other than Lewiston Road) alternative north-south routes, should the parkway be removed 4) they privately influence politicians and others in positions of power, such as Ash, whose comments as of late appear to reflect their skewed perspectives.

Their Parkway Preservation Web site is comprised of half-truths, total fabrications, and unsupported assertions. They want to retain the parkway, for example, to “protect the tens of millions of dollars in private and public ... investment in communities along the parkway that serve as economic engines for our region as part of a burgeoning tourism industry.” This sounds good, but which communities along the gorge parkway fit this description? Fred Newlin, Lewiston town supervisor, recently voiced his opposition to removal: “It’s unfortunate,” he said, “... some people are insistent on taking this pathway out.” He also said it’s “imperative” the parkway be retained because it’s the “most direct and convenient channel for tourists” to travel to Lewiston. Never mind the struggle of Niagara Falls to be reborn. Who cares about that? Lewiston needs its “channel.” And it’s only “some people” who want to remove what he calls the “pathway,” the four-lane, concrete parkway that dishonors the gorge rim and the city it detours.

No further study is needed. It’s time to actually do something. May we suggest removing the gorge parkway? If OPRHP is determined to do yet another study, however, let it be transparent, so that the process and resulting rationales can be evaluated by the general public. The decision-making process should itself be evaluated as part of the study. Parkway traffic counts, for example should be subject to ongoing verification, daily, by a stakeholder such as Riverkeeper. All information submitted to the lead agency should be made available to the public.

We don’t need another decision like the last one.

Bob Baxter is the Conservation Chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership.