On January 11, the new Mayor of Erie (a community identified in 2017 as the worst city for Black Americans) announced his first plan: demolish a key pedestrian/ bike artery used by impoverished minorities 200 times a day to cross RR tracks. To that end, on Feb. 7th, Mayor Schember will attempt to block efforts of City Council President Sonya Arrington to hold a public hearing on March 7th. If the Viaduct is demolished children will have to use an unsafe route to school along 4-lane arterial highway. The 70,000 annual pedestrians, bicyclists & folks pushing strollers on the Viaduct will have to utilize a path just 24 inches from 14,000 vehicles' exhaust, noise and splashes during inclement weather. Pedestrians, wheelchair users, parents pushing strollers and bicyclists will be forced navigate blind spot between tractor-trailers turning “right on red” in both directions. The planned demolition of the Viaduct is a huge environmental and social justice issue that was made without directly engaging the people who walk and bike over the Viaduct to get to school, work, worship, shopping, recreation, family and friends.
As a mayoral candidate, Joe Schember pledged inclusive, transparent decision-making; agreed to allow Public Hearing on Viaduct. He promised to follow the Erie Refocused Comprehensive Plan authored by Charles Buki.
But, in one of his first acts as mayor, Schember called for a swift demolition of the Viadcut WITHOUT a Public Hearing. The Mayor, a tall, white, healthy, wealthy retired banker, justified demolition of the Viaduct by explaining that he jogged along the Bayfront highway route and "felt safe" (thus, according to his research, the Viaduct is "redundant.")
As Mayor, Schember is ignoring the Erie Refocused's Charles Buki’s call to “pause demolition” and hold a Public Hearing.
Erie City Council President Sonya Arrington has called for a Public Hearing and has placed a resolution on the Feb. 7th Agenda to gain Council support for a March 7th hearing.
In response, Schember's team has placed three resolutions on the Feb. 7th Agenda seeking pre-authorization for demolition, in what appears to be an attempt to circumvent the will of the people for a Public Hearing.
DEMO VS FIX $$$
PennDOT supports the City's plan for a demolition that will cost taxpayers $1.45 million - $2.2 million. Stabilization of Viaduct for non-vehicular use estimated $1.35M has not been considered by the City. PennDOT has confirmed that $1.26 million Demolition-Offset funding can be used to fix Viaduct. In addition, the City can reallocate their $70,000 (5% Demo Contribution) to fix Viaduct. The balance needed is only $20,000. plus annual $7,700 to maintain and fund optional, cosmetic capital improvements.
ADDITIONAL FUNDING IS AVAILABLE
City can apply for a portion of the new municipal infrastructure fund that expected to collect at least $15M over the next decade. The annual “Erie Gives” day held by the Erie Community Foundation will be an opportunity for the public to make donations. Lastly, additional, optional, cosmetic improvements can be funded via place-making and public health grants using the original PennDOT funding as a "match.
Missing Design Expertise
The decision to demolish was made in 2013 during the Joe Sinnott by 5 traffic engineers, without the advice of a city planner. The new Joe, Mayor Schember has embraced Sinnott's misguided demolition plan over the objections of five design experts have visited Erie and recommend retention of the Viaduct: 1) “Town Shrink” and author of Root Shock and Urban Alchemy - Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove ; 2) President of the J Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City - Architect Toni Griffin; 3)NYC’s past park director and “practical visionary” - Charles McKinney; 4) Former Milwaukee Mayor, former CNU Director and author of The Wealth of Cities- John Norquist; 5) Director of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative - Terry Schwarz.
Supporters of Public Hearing
All three female members of Erie's seven-person City Council support a Public Hearing. In addition, a former County Executive, two former Mayors, a Former County Councilman and the Erie NAACP, African-American Concerned Clergy, Erie County United, Keystone Progress, Bike Erie, All Aboard Erie, Preservation Erie, Civitas & ErieCPR:Connect+Respect are all calling for a "pause in demolition" and a Public Hearing about the planned demolition of the McBride Viaduct.