May 22, 2013

Syracuse Love

Thoughts from the SMCT's public meeting on I-81 yesterday. Hat-tip to Jim.

May 13, 2013

Salt City Critique's proposal for I-81

The I-81 debate is catching fire as of late. There was a meeting in Salina about I-81 last month, four proposal companies are being reviewed by the state, the Onondaga County Legislature did a premature ejaculation vote on keeping I-81 as a highway, I wrote a letter to the editor about the vote on, The Post-Standard editorial board wrote their response to the vote, then the Town of Owasco voted to keep I-81 as a highway (where town supervisor Ed Wagner will be galavanting around Cayuga County to dredge-up support to keep I-81 as a highway through Downtown Syracuse), and there is another public meeting on I-81 next week.

Owasco? Yikes. Let's keep this discussion within the same ballpark. That's like saying I have a right to input on tolls on the Jersey Turnpike.

And we're still many months away from any sort of official word from the state.

So at the risk of turning this into an I-81 discussion blog, which at this point is pretty much what this place already is, I thought I'd lay out my plans for what I hope is done with I-81. Let's kick it...

Proposal for I-81

1) Dismantle the elevated portions of I-81 between Adams St. and Pearl St. This isn't an opinion, but a mandatory project that the New York State Department of Transportation will be conducting sometime around 2017.

Construction of the I-690 and I-81 interchange in the middle 20th century

2) Encourage and re-route I-81 travel to I-481. I'm not a licensed traffic engineer, but I'm guessing that this is what the state DOT will be doing anyway during the dismantling process. As I see it, cars will still be able to drive north on I-81 into the Adams St. area and south on I-81 into the Pearl St. / Salina St. area, but we may see signs as far south as Nedrow and as far north as North Syracuse that detour thru-traffic to I-481. Again, all speculation. Though, if this is the case, I have a feeling this is going to be the messy part of the entire project regardless of whatever solution NYS decides on. People will be over-reacting and up-in-arms about traffic times and on and off ramp delays in and around Downtown. Maybe rightfully so in some cases because I can see it getting tricky around rush-hour times, so it actually might be difficult if there are no sensical on or off ramp solutions or detours that NYS encourages.

3) Rename I-81 between I-481 N and I-481 S as the Syracuse Intercity Highway (or some variation thereof). Rename I-481 as I-81. This is more or less a smoke and mirrors tactic to cloud the fact that cars will be adding several minutes to their commutes around Syracuse via the old I-481.

Map demonstrating new I-81 and the Syracuse Intercity Highway

4) Have the new Syracuse Intercity Highway dump in and out at Adams St. (south of Downtown) and near Erie Blvd. (north of Downtown), create simpler and easier transition to I-81 at Pearl St., and improve all of its on and off ramps north to regional transportation center.

5) Build a civic parkway beginning at Adams St heading up toward Erie Blvd; two, one-way streets bordering a neighborhood park stretching ~0.8 miles in length with stop lights at most intersections (lights at Madison St, E Genesee St, E Fayette St, E Washington St, E Water St, Erie Blvd E) which restores this section of Downtown to its original streetscape and grid pattern.

Map demonstrating new greenspace and the Syracuse Intercity Highway

6) Construct the parkway as a likeness to Commonwealth Ave in Boston, MA. A park in the center, buffered by two one-way streets, buffered by sidewalks.

7) Add bike lanes between the street and sidewalks (which could help spur growth) and connect them to routes along Connective Corridor.

8) Require specific building permits and zoning laws on the new plots of land in front of the sidewalks. The new zoning laws: units at least 2 or 3 stories high (strictly mixed-use or residential buildings only) located close to the sidewalk.

9) Decrease the speed limits to a sensible 30 or 35 mph, have crosswalks at each intersection, and have parallel parking on each side located along the new parkway.

10) Name the new parkway the Almond Street Parkway. It's catchy, reminiscant of the old street that I-81 was towering over, and brings some much needed elegance to the city.

11) Plant almond trees along the center of the new greenspace to match the name of the parkway and bring some much needed color into Downtown.

12) Tie the new greenspace together with Forman Park, creating one centralized park for Downtown and University Hill; a symbol of unification between the two neighborhoods.

13) Plant a tree (something different, an oak perhaps) or a water feature at the nexus of the two parks, signifying the abandonment of the elevated, concrete highway through Downtown - which is similar to what the residents did in Greenwich Village when they blocked an elevated highway running on top of their neighborhood in the early 1960's. The tree still stands today.

My hopes and expectations

It will take some time, but I'm hoping the city will grow specifically between Downtown and the medical centers. Will traffic be a harder handle between Erie Blvd and Adams St? It's possible - but specifically only during weekday rush-hours. Street traffic volume as well as current I-81 traffic volume is very low outside of rush-hours.

Other predictions: real estate values rise along the ex-highway that is now beautified (just like it's happened in other cities that have done the same thing), the university and medical centers begin to intertwine with Downtown (just like other successful cities do), new businesses and more jobs move in and around Downtown, more people move into the city (specifically around Downtown) as a result of its current and potential growth, and the city's tax base begins to grow, giving them desperately needed money to spend on police and fire departments, schools, utilities, and housing.

That's mine. If you have thoughts, critiques, or ideas of your own, feel free to write them in the comments.

May 9, 2013

Food for thought on I-81

This is short, SimCity-ish video of Rio de Janeiro's plans to transform its entire waterfront district in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The city is planning to demolish its elevated highway, construct an underground tunnel (totaling about 0.9 miles in length), and rebuild its streetscape along the old highway. Hat tip to The Atlantic Cities.

I can't say I like all of the ideas in this video (especially the parts that hint of neighborhood gentrification), but it's interesting to see what they might be doing there and compare that to what kind of effect those types of things could have on a region like Central New York; especially considering that an underground tunnel idea has been floated before, the possibility of bringing a real park to Downtown Syracuse, and what future changes to I-81 could have on I-690.

May 8, 2013

Neighborhood parks

"You can neither lie to a neighborhood park, nor reason with it. 'Artist's conceptions' and persuasive renderings can put pictures of life into proposed neighborhood parks or park malls, and verbal rationalizations can conjure up users who ought to appreciate them, but in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use."

-Jane Jacobs, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"

May 6, 2013

Franklin Square water tower

The amount of arrogance emanating from Destiny USA can be excessive at times, to say the least. I even get a little pissed-off when I see that huge, unused crane resting outside the mall towering several hundred feet into the air as if to say: "Look at me, goddammit!". The relationship between the city and the mall is awkward and always has been, ever since the city got hosed on the deal from the get-go.

Our latest fiasco comes from last week when Destiny USA began to paint over an old New Process Gear water tower only to receive a "stop work" from the city's codes enforcement. The tower, built in 1921, is one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture in Syracuse and unmistakably identifiable with Franklin Square.

The catch is even if you own the property that the water tower rests on, you still need permission from the city to create any kind of advertisements. As it stands, the Lakefront and Franklin Square both have zoning codes which do not permit any billboards.

It's tough to say what actually when on here, how much discussion or thought there was on the part of Destiny beforehand (if any), or what they were planning to paint on it. I'm certain we'll hear the spin machine take its defense soon. I think when you get down to it, that historic water tower has ties to Syracuse very powerful industrial age and I'm sure the residents of Franklin Square do not wish to see an advertisement for Destiny USA when the site already exists several hundred feet away from where they live. Whatever the case is, the move definitely doesn't show any respect or regard for the city's past or its residents.

And as one resident so eloquently puts it in this article from CNY Central: "If it had something like 'Welcome to Franklin Square' on it, that would be one thing, but if it's going to be a giant neon arrow pointing down the street to Destiny, that might be a little different".

And the awkward relationship moves onward...

May 5, 2013

215 Tully St

I wandered around this afternoon taking pictures in the Near Westside and found myself at 215 Tully St. I didn't even know that building existed and am glad I randomly stumbled upon it. The art is gorgeous and I had to take some pictures. Coincidentally, two younger guys were walking along side of the building discussing the graffiti so I asked if they had any additional information about it. Turns out they were two of the artists.

You can find more information about 215 Tully and some of the artists in this article from