In USA Today, researchers Evan Comen and Michael B. Sauter reported that Erie, Pennsylvania is the nation's “worst city for Black Americans.” After reading the USA Today article, an Erie social worker commented “if Erie demolishes the McBride Viaduct, we’ll be proving they were right.”
Erie is on track to continue the deliberate disinvestment of the 1930 "redlining maps" into the 21st century. The community group, ErieCPR: Connect + Respect reports that - against the advice of nationally renowned city planners - the City of Erie, Pennsylvania plans to demolish the Viaduct, a pedestrian and bike artery used 24/7 by impoverished minorities.
Erie’s outgoing mayor, Joe Sinnott, is poised to sign a contract to demolish the McBride Viaduct, an 80-year old bridge connecting neighborhoods long divided by railroad lines. If demolition occurs, many African-Americans and New Americans will be relegated to a 2,000 foot long path alongside a highway and a sidewalk punctuated by driveways in a busy industrial corridor.
On November 9th the ErieCPR President, architect Adam Trott, announced that an attorney has volunteered to assist in filing an injunction based on the demolition’s clear “irrevocable harm, cost and safety issues”. In addition, ErieCPR has asked Mayor-elect Joe Schember to slow demolition efforts by calling for a public hearing to review these issues:
- Viaduct demolition costs were announced at $1.2 million, they now exceed $3 million – more than the cost of stabilizing the Viaduct as a pedestrian and bike route.
- A demolition team will be hired from outside the region. In contrast, “re-skinning” the Viaduct will allow the establishment of an infrastructure-repair training program and the creation of local jobs through a Community Benefits Agreement.
- There are safety issues. The promised sidewalk on the south-side of E.12th isn't going to be built, and, in the absence of the Viaduct, pedestrians and bicyclists (including school children) will be forced to use a longer, narrower route, and cross a busy intersection (with a dangerous blind spot) next to daily average of 14,000 speeding motorcycles, cars, trucks and tractor-trailers throwing off exhaust, rain, snow and plenty of noise.
Urban architect, Charles Buki of czb created the 2015 “Erie Refocused” plan. Two guiding principles of Buki’s plan are 1) prioritizing pedestrians over vehicles and 2) investing in existing assets. These directives support the logic of saving the Viaduct for non-vehicular use and allowing the community to consider proposals to create a local version of NYC’s High Line.
Planning experts agree that urban connectivity is a priority and that Viaduct should be retained as a convenient walk and bike way: John Norquist, the former Mayor of Milwaukee and former Director of the Congress for the New Urbanism; Toni Griffin, architect and editor of Just City; Terry Schwarz, Director, Cleveland Urban Design; and Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove author of “Urban Alchemy”, planning consultant and respected “town shrink.”
The spokesperson for ErieCPR, Michael Keys, commented that the people most dependent on the Viaduct are “living in poverty . . . trying to survive” and cannot “fight City Hall” on their own. Another ErieCPR member, Cynthia Muhammad (publisher of the Erie Metropolitan Black Yellow Pages) says that demolition will create a “containment area . . . where children will be injured.” ErieCPR supporters Rev. Charles Mock of Erie’s African-American Concerned Clergy and Erie’s NAACP President, Gary Horton believe saving Viaduct is crucial to maintaining safety, creating jobs and fostering hope.
During his campaign, Mayor-elect Joseph Schember wrote that he intends to “transform Erie” with “bold ideas, swiftness and collaboration.” To do so, Adam Trott believes Schember must call for a public hearing on the Viaduct, now, before a demolition contract is signed by the outgoing mayor. # # #