December 4, 2012

A Brief, Recent History on Parking Meters in Syracuse

Coin-operated meters along Pearl Street, pictured here in 2007.

In an effort to put all of this information onto one page, the following is a brief summary of Syracuse's parking meter fiasco from 2000 to 2012.

2000: Utica, NY resident, Ronald Mancuso, begins to conspire with then Loomis employee, Sean McGuigan of Syracuse, to steal coins from Syracuse's coin-operated parking meters. Mancuso drives to Syracuse to pick up the coins that McGuigan is supposed to deposit into a city account. The coins are then brought back to Utica by Mancuso and exchanged for cash at area banks, where Mancuso tells bank tellers they come from vending machines [1].

2003: The city begins to replace their single space, coin-operated machines with "DG Classic" electronic parking meters from supplier, Parkeon Inc. The first neighborhood to have the new machines is Armory Square. The city also begins to "behead" their older, coin-operated machines; a tactic that would continue for several years where the meter head is removed but the metal pole is still left sticking out of the ground.

2005: Mancuso and McGuigan's scheme has begun to wind down. In all, they've managed to steal $700,000 in quarters, dimes, and nickels from the city over a five-year span. As it continues to replace them, the city remains under the impression that the older machines are purely broken. Meanwhile, after noticing a decrease in amount of coins they're able to steal, Mancuso and McGuigan begin to purposely jam the new electronic machines using a liquid salt solution, in an effort that the city would revert back to the original machines once they realized that they were spending too much money on repairs [1].

2006: Downtown TNT (in partnership with the Downtown Committee and Cultural Resources Council) begins the Totem Project; an artistic effort to beautify the headless meters around Downtown. The project expands to other parts of the city the following year with help from the 40 Below Public Arts Task Force and the Gifford Foundation.

October 2009: The city becomes aware of Ronald Mancuso and Sean McGuigan's parking scheme. Their names are tipped off by the FBI, after Mancuso's brothers, Paul and Steven, were found guilty in a trial of conspiring to violate federal asbestos regulations in Utica [1].

2010: Parkeon informs the city that it would no longer manufacture replacement parts for it's DG Classic pay stations and recommends their "Strada BNA", which accepts dollar bills, has multilingual capabilities, and includes a "maximum pay" button that allows motorists to quickly purchase the max time allowed (instead of requiring them to press a button several times for each increment like that on the DG Classic model) [2].

January 2010: The Syracuse Common Council approves a plan to add credit card devices to existing DG Classic meters, as well as to increase on-street parking from 75 cents an hour to $1.25 an hour [3].

2012: 37% of city motorists who pay for on-street parking are utilizing the credit card feature on the meters. The electronic meters are also bringing an additional $400,000 in revenue [4] to the city over the older, coin-operated meters.*

January 2012: A federal judge dismisses a civil lawsuit by the city of Syracuse against Loomis because the statue of limitations expired [5].

April 2012: Parkeon Inc informs DPW Commissioner, Pete O'Connor, that the wireless data connection used by 270 of the city's electronic parking meters is set to go dead by the end of the month. The current DG Classic machines would still be able to take coins, but their credit card feature would be inoperable [2].

September 2012: Parkeon again informs O'Connor of a wireless shutdown that will happen, this time by November. (At this point, adding a new mobile communications network into the Strada BNA machines would have cost $370,000, but the parking stations that the city has bought and updated over the past decade, the DG Classics, are now out-of-date and also contain hazardous lead) [2].

September 24, 2012: After voting down a plan earlier in the month, The Syracuse Common Council unanimously votes to spend up to $2.54 million in replacing the 270 city parking meters over a three-year period, authorizing $848,000 for the first 90 meters. Pete O'Connor also recommends that the city replace its remaining 288 single space, coin-operated meters with electronic meters. The council does not expect to recieve a response for 6 to 8 weeks [6].

November 29, 2012: The DPW receives five bid proposals for replacement meters [7].


What a clusterfuck. Communication problems (both literally and figuratively), technology issues, public arts trying to help, the city not collecting money properly, the city not spending money properly, etc...

I generally don't subscribe to the LOLSyracuse or SorryCuse or SewerCuse memes and designations. You know... where no matter what happens, it's always "poor, poor Syracuse.". Actually, I get really offended when people use "SorryCuse" as a way to make their point. But that all being said, the city really came off like a SorryCuse and botched this one across the board in several different aspects over a span of twelve years. It's actually kind of ridiculous when you look at it all at once.

My only hope is that the city never goes through something as stupid as this ever again. Here are four points that I take away from this huge mess...

1) The city needed to take better care of its finances. Writing something off as "broken machines" when something is in fact thievery is a major discrepancy. Granted it was 2005, and Syracuse was in a different position back then from where it is now. But in a city that has had little money and at a point when it needed to be very fiscally responsible about anything falling through the cracks, dismissing $700,000 is kind of a huge deal.

2) The electronic machines that the city installed in 2003 ended up costing them more money over the long-run: they had to replace the coin meters, upgrade the electronic meter panels, and then replace the electronic meters altogether. The city was notified once in 2010 about outdated machines, it was then notified again in early 2012 about a possible network failure, and yet it did nothing except bumble along. Hindsight is always 20/20, but if Syracuse hadn't gotten the cheapest version installed to begin with, this problem probably never would've happened. In Boston, they got it right the first time. In 2006, their single space parking meters were replaced with 1,000 Parkeon solar-powered Strada BNA machines over the course of 3 years at a cost of $10 million. The meters are still in use today.**

3) I'm a very big advocate of the arts, but only when it's done so in a humanizing way. The Totem Project (i.e. dressing up beheaded parking meters) failed to do this. Like countless other projects and developments around Syracuse where people end up shaking there heads afterwards, it's done so with good intentions, but in the end had poor results. It was like trying to spruce up something that was already an embarrassment to the public perception in regards to improper planning and execution. The art itself is fine. In some cases beautiful. But it misses the overall mark in three key ways. One, it almost celebrates the fact that the city has no money. Two, in a city that can't afford to look more defeated than it already is, it actually boasts the fact that it's made poor planning decisions. And three, it puts more jumbled unorganization onto the sidewalks (thereby making the already messy Downtown street less tidy). Again, good intentions, but poor results. All the city had to do originally was file the poles down to ground-level and fill them in with a dab of concrete and that would've been an upgrade. I mean, really. How difficult would this have been? Oh and as of this writing, there are STILL headless poles scattered throughout the city and around Downtown.

4) From an aesthetic point of view, I'm partial to the older, coin-operated machines. I don't really know why, but there's just something a little more nostalgic and a little less corporate about them. Plus, I actually enjoy carrying coin currency around (I'm probably in the minority on that one). While I don't necessarily mind the idea of electronic meters, I really wish Syracuse's current electronic parking meters weren't so obtrusive and clunky. When the new machines are installed or what company the DPW decides to go with or what they'll look like is anybody's guess.

As an FYI, the "DG" machines are still taking credit cards as of this writing - that is until Velocita, the company overseeing the fate of the wireless data, decides to pull the plug. For now, the city is loaning 180 parking modems from Parkeon so most of the machines will still be able to accept credit cards. But mind you, wireless data also represents the pay station's coin intake (to prevent theft) as well as a way to monitor maintenance. So until then, who the hell knows what will happen. We could wind up back at square one with yet another coin-stealing scheme, twiddling our thumbs until the new machines arrive.


*This is most likely due to how often a motorist overpays for a spot with an electronic machine, as oppose to a coin-operated one. There's also less hoarding with the newer machines, a tactic where motorists park in one on-street spot all day and continue to re-fill the meter. While still possible, the electronic machines diminish this abuse.

** It's nice for Boston, but I'm not so sure how a solar-powered anything would function properly here.


June 7, 2012

Destiny USA: Nothing Like It In The World

Link via The Atlantic Cities.

LOLZ. On the upside, there will be no monorail, Erie Canal recreation, or 65 acre enclosed park. On the downside, the city will not be bringing in $17 million a year in taxes over the next three decades.


May 9, 2012

Robert R Haggart Memorial Park Update

It'll be interesting to see what the city does here; that is, if they do anything different at all. I will say this: it would've been nice for a little neighborhood input as to what local residents wanted at this spot. My uneducated guess is that there's somewhere between 10 to 20 people living on this block and within a few feet's walk of this corner. All of whom are within the age range of ~18 to ~40.

Instead of constructing it as a generic "green space" with benches, they could add some concrete or stone gaming tables (chess or checkers) as they'd be a nice addition to some of the more mundane pocket parks scattered around Downtown.

Or take it one step further and build a bocce court (they have these at Langone Park in Boston). Granted, I'm probably one of only a few people in the 'hood that would use that on the weekends in the summer, but at least it would demonstrate that Downtown has something else going on at its parks other than offering lunch-goers a place to sit for a few minutes on weekday afternoons.

PS: It's an old corner (and they're old streets) so it's interesting to see how deep that brick foundation went from the old building that was there. You can see right down into the basement.

Alley at 317 Montgomery St

March 29, 2012

Sticking Up for Downtown and its Parking (Re: "Mayor Miner, tear down those buildings")

This is a tad overdue, but none the less, a response to Maureen Green's column, "Mayor Miner, tear down those buildings" [1], from the March 3rd, 2012 edition of the Post-Standard.

I won't try to summarize the column all too much, as I encourage you to read the whole thing first to get a sense for what's being suggested, but the gist of which is that the city should demolish its post-World War II buildings along Warren Street to build parking lots and garages.

Without getting right into it, I'll first unravel a truth about Syracuse that I've come to realize after living here for most of my life and specifically in and around Downtown over these last 5 years.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there is one, and only one, true problem with all of Downtown Syracuse, the City of Syracuse, as well as Central New York. I call it "The Suburban and Urban Divide" (which has initial subcategories of education, housing, tax revenue, and crime; each of which have subcategories of quality of life, parking, personal space, and safety; and each of those have subcategories of elitism, defeatism, classism, racism, basic human psychology, and preconceived perceptions about reality).

It's as if you discuss any one of these subcategories with anyone, suddenly one feeds directly into a neighboring one or vice versa. They may not all be linked, but find a problem with one and there's a good chance that another one of them right beside it along the same spectrum. The thing is they all seem to come back to The Suburban and Urban Divide.

It's way too broad and time-consuming of a topic for me to fully dive into; especially because I don't get paid in beer or tacos to write blog posts. But I feel as if I could publish an entire book if I really had to. Mrs. Green's column specifically deals with parking so I'll do my best to stay within that realm as well as venture out into several other aspects that center around it.

March 11, 2012

Back to the Onondaga Creekwalk: Part II

So in continuing with my creekwalk discovery, I took some pictures along the section that I hadn't traversed yet; the portion between Franklin Square and Carousel Mall.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It's nice that this is actually here. As a Downtown resident, getting a bit of the urban / city feel mixed with water and nature is rare and a great combination that I really can't wait to take more advantage of come summertime.

Plenty of pictures after the jump...

February 15, 2012

Well Designed Travel: The Sidewalks of Buenos Aires

Though mostly a home design blog, Apartment Therapy has some excellent pictures of sidewalks around Buenos Aires. I'm especially partial to the example in the bottom row, second from the right; a perfect example of beauty, originality, and tranquility, all tied within a valued consciousness of the public realm.

Those are just a few ideas to get the brain thinking about what could be possible here. Sidewalks have plenty of potential to encourage and to portray a sense of real value and a sense of place. Not all of them have to be one dimensional, poorly maintained, or of such low quality.

February 6, 2012

Construction of Inns at Armory Square to start soon

Developer Richard Sykes Jr plans to construct a 102-room Marriott Courtyard and a 78-room Marriott Residence Inn at the northwest corner of South Franklin and West Fayette Streets along the northern edge of Armory Square. The site is currently a surface parking lot.

Artist rendering. RHS Holdings.

The rendering looks OK. It's a bit "meh" for me and also a bit big (Armory Square tends to be mostly condensed 2 to 3 story buildings). But when you take into account the adjacent 6 and 7 story buildings located on this block, The Warehouse and Washington Station, and other similar sized ones in the "Power District", the Niagara Mowhawk Building and the Federal Building, it's going to visually blend them into and out of Armory Square fairly well. At least, way better than a surface parking lot.

And this is one big surface parking lot.

Funny how Washington Station, the building at the right, has all this unique siding and glass on its south facade. The part that will be most visual to the public now is that drab, gray wall that faces east. The new hotel will allow some window interaction from the private (inside) to the public (outside) and it's also scaled to the pedestrian fairly well; something that Washington Station clearly does poorly.

The Syracuse Industrial Development Agency has granted the project a 15-year full tax abatement. That applies to the actual hotel and not the parcel of land. 15 years is a bit extreme, especially considering that the city needs every bit of tax money that it can get right now, but juxtapose that with the fact that this corner of land (a surface parking lot mere steps away from the city's most pedestrian-friendly neighborhood) could easily sit empty for 15 years.

If all goes as planned, we'll see some much needed visual continuity of the surrounding blocks, a building welcoming you into the neighborhood rather than an empty lot, and something that piggybacks on the success of Armory Square.

And really, any day where Downtown has one less surface parking lot is a good day.

February 3, 2012

City plans to demolish Otisca Building

Picture courtesy of the Onondaga Historical Society.

Well, I'm glad I took some pictures when I did. The city plans to demolish the former Ryan's Brewery, a 2 and 3-story brick structure at the northeast corner of Butternut and McBride Streets, sometime this month. The demolition is being paid for by Home Headquarters, a local non-profit agency.

Also mentioned in the article is that ownership of the property will then change hands to Housing Visions where 30 "affordable" apartment and store fronts will be constructed after the group applies for a state grant this spring.

I haven't seen any plans of the apartments yet, but I'll post them here when more information develops over the coming months. I'm vehemently opposed to demolishing historic buildings when nothing legitimate has been lined up to replace them. There's way to many examples just in Syracuse alone of empty promises turning into empty lots. Hopefully this is not one of them.

Also, I'm generally not a fan of affordable housing because it tends to centralize way too many people of the same demographic into one tiny area. Although, the two non-profit agencies tied to this have done some nice work in the city as of late. And the phrase "store fronts" in the article is also encouraging. If it indeed is mixed-use, it could be a step in the right direction; as long as it's not overly suburbanized (i.e. set too far away from the street, automobile-focused, etc...).

We'll have to wait and see. It would've been nice to see the old brewery re-used in some capacity. If only a small section of it. But, I guess there is no chance of that now.

Take your pictures soon, because one of the last remaining breweries won't be around too much longer.

January 16, 2012

317-319 S Salina St

Yup. $3.2 million renovation for a buildling on Salina Street. Mark my words: this is a sign of things to come. Peter Elitzer, owner of this former Label Shopper Building that was built in 1915, plans to have the project finished by the end of March. It's expected to house a new retail tenant (Philadelphia-based Villa athletic footwear and clothing) and 12 rental apartments. More pics here.

This is very encouraging. Yes, an athletic shoe store is what it is, but if you look at the big picture of what's really going on here, this is one of the first large chains to commit to Salina Street since it started hitting its decline in the 1960's and 1970's. It's a positive sign for the street, which is suddenly at the cusp of turning its fate around with the recent redevelopment planned at the corner of Fayette St, the new Centro bus hub on the south end, the Landmark Theatre expansion, and the recently completed Deys building that contains offices, apartments, and a fantastic coffee shop. They're all slow steps, but each one seems to signal something positive and generates more life for the once struggling street that has become a huge eyesore in the perception of Downtown Syracuse over the last 40 years.

Just for the record, I hate when people talk about the good ol' days of Salina Street and how it will never live up to how it used to be. It's alluded to in just about every news article about Salina Street (either in the article or in the comments) and I really can't stand it. It literally means nothing to me. That perception has little to no effect of how Salina Street is functioning right now. All it does is cloud someone's impression of how successful it can be. You know what? Most city cores were thriving during the the 1940's. It's just how it was. People were more centered, lived closer to where they worked, used mass transit more (somewhat), and weren't spread out as much. It wasn't just Syracuse or Salina Street. It was hard for just about any American city not to be successful during the early to mid-1900's.

My impression of S Salina Street since I was a kid? Shoddy, run-down buildings.

Any development that's cohesive, doesn't require any demolition, saves the street's architectural facades and landscape, and benefits the city and its residents in the long-run is a good thing for the street, in my opinion. Salina is the major artery of the city, represents the consciousness of Downtown, and it needs all the help it can get.

My ONLY issue with this is the rental rates. The developers claim it will be between $1,200 and $1,700 a month plus utilities. I don't doubt that they can fill these space given how high demand has been for housing over the last several years, but I wonder how long it will be before the high rent spaces in Downtown stop filling up and demand starts dwindling. At some point, you're going to need affordable apartments for young, single renters (which, for lack of a better definition, is the demographic that tends to be more social, go out more, and spend a decent amount of their income on restaurants, bars, and retail). If you want these people to spend their money at Downtown businesses, they're going to need to be able to afford it by not devoting so much of what they earn towards their living spaces each month.

I'll dive more into Downtown housing at some point in the future. I've been a resident for a few years now and have about a billion thoughts on what the city does well and what it could do better. For now, the new building rehab should be great and hopefully it's a positive sign of things to come.

January 10, 2012

Inner Harbor Proposals

I went to the Inner Harbor public hearing last night to see the potential plans for the area from three local developers. You can read more details about it here. Essentially, one of the three will soon get the go-ahead by the mayor to redevelop the harbor and mostly brownfield surroundings into something new.

First up was Hart-Lyman's plan which was, for lack of a better definition, based on landing a Bass Pro Shop, the second (albeit small) by J&A was redevelopment of a current building into rental apartments, and the third was COR's plan of redeveloping the entire area into a mixed-use community.

COR's plan brought a tear to my eye (not literally, but it should've). It was very detailed and exactly what I was hoping to find in one of the proposals. It's also eerily similar to the plan Andres Duany had in mind for the area roughly 10 years ago. Anyway, here's three slides from COR's presentation...

The overall masterplan...

Parcels B & C looking southwest...

Looking northwest from Kirkpatrick and Solar Streets...

I don't know how else to word it, but Syracuse needs to do this. The design is good on so many levels. It takes into account New Urbanism techniques, it brings OCC near Downtown, it utilizes the harbor for the community instead of relying on one business, it creates a pedestrian-friendly environment, it cohesively expands and enhances Franklin Square (something that already works), it promotes local boating, crew, and education, it looks both historic and new (which is the angle most developers should be playing in Syracuse), it brings in some retail, restaurant, and commercial aesthetics from places like Faneuil Hall in Boston, it creates affordable housing for both young adults and seniors, it feeds off the 99% occupancy rate in Downtown housing, and it capitalizes on some the energy recently created from the Creekwalk. I literally have no faults with their entire plan.

If people want Syracuse to behave like a real city, they need something like this that not only looks good, but enriches the community. This is something that could become truly unique not just to people outside the community but inside of it as well - something that a mega mall could never do. And really, how many other Upstate New York areas have the opportunity to do something like this and use it to their advantage? None?

If this ends up getting redeveloped as a Bass Pro Shop, I'm just going to pack-up and leave Syracuse.

OK, not really, but I'll pretend to.

The mayor intends to vote on one of the three redevelopment plans within the next month.