Protesting Erie’s Bayfront expansion

Natalee Stinebiser, Asst. Editor

This past Wednesday, I was able to attend a peaceful demonstration at the corner of State Street and Bayfront Parkway against PennDOT’s Bayfront Parkway Plan, which is to begin construction in late 2021. During this, fellow protesters and I advocated for a boulevard instead of a highway, walking from the street corner down to Dobbin’s Landing. As we stood there, holding our “Don’t Give Up the Bayfront!” signs, many people in their cars asked, “Giving it up to what?” The answer is quite simple: a highway!
As per the plan, which is costing $70 million to $100 million, these “improvements” would include:
Dual-lane roundabouts at Sassafras Street Extension and Holland Street, a grade separate intersection at State Street, including a traditional signalized at-grade intersection and a path for through traffic on the Bayfront to travel below the intersection, a sidewalk and crosswalk upgrades throughout the length of the project, a multiuse trail connecting the existing trail network downtown and the waterfront, and overhead pedestrian bridges at each intersection.
Currently, the Bayfront is the only piece missing of PennDOT’s high-speed, four-lane route between I-79 and 1-90. Adding this would increase traffic immensely, reaching about 30,000 cars a day. Non-car travel would be impeded by the addition of a highway at Bayfront Parkway.
Clearly, with the expansion in both traffic and roadway width, it would become incredibly more difficult for residents to go to the Bayfront by foot — or even by vehicle. The proposed dual-lane roundabouts are another issue that pedestrians would face as well. They are extremely dangerous, especially for those who are physically impaired. The downtown region of the Erie would be cut off from the waterfront completely, separating the Eastside even more from the Downtown area. As stated in the Erie Refocused Plan, “Development in Erie must respect the city’s pedestrian-centered origins…DON’T DESIGN FOR AUTOMOTIVE CONVENIENCE.”
PennDOT’s so-called “solution” to the walkability issue that would occur is to build enclosed pedestrian bridges. However, there is absolutely no budget for this in their proposal and would have to rely solely on private funding for these bridges. If this is the case, private investors could restrict access to the bridges. How would this solve our issue, PennDOT?
This plan also fails to take our environment into consideration. Because this project is going to spend so much taxpayer money, a review process is required to measure how much it will impact the community. An Environmental Assessment was scheduled for the Bayfront Parkway Expansion project, due to the size of the project, to examine the harm to residents and the environment. However, instead of going through with an Environmental Assessment, PennDOT opted to apply for a Categorial Exclusion — which is normally used for smaller projects like road repairs. PennDOT genuinely believes that this project would not have an impact on the environment…which is absolutely untrue.
The Bayfront Parkway Expansion would increase impervious surfaces, surfaces that allow little to no stormwater infiltration to the ground, substantially. Because stormwater would be unable to trickle into the ground, it would flow across the concrete surfaces, picking up every piece of litter and depositing it directly into our lake. Studies show that when 15% to 25% of a watershed is impervious surfaces, the amount of runoff can double. And for every 10% to 20% increase in impervious surface, it doubles again.
Much of Erie’s land is already impervious surfaces. Imagine what would happen if we added a massive highway by our waterfront, especially with the addition of nearly 30,000 cars traveling on it daily, plus the amount of rain and snow we get annually? We would be voluntarily poisoning our lake. How can PennDOT promise that this project would not have a massive impact on the environment when it is so obvious that it would?
I’m sure you’re wondering, “Yeah, I don’t like the sounds of this…but what can I do about it?” As Lisa Austin, coordinator of the peaceful demonstration, said, “This is what you have to do: educate yourselves and educate other people.” She also suggested to read more about this issue at Connect Urban Erie’s website at and contacting City Council, County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper and Mayor Joseph Schember regularly. It is about time for the city to rise up and say, as Austin put it, “well you know what? That highway’s not for us!”

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