June 21, 2013

Friday Follow

If you do one thing today, you should probably start following Future Syracuse Committee on tumblr (and on twitter as well @futuresyracuse), which is a wonderfully poignant look at remembering the group of political, business, and community leaders that originally fought against railroad elevation in Syracuse during the early part of the 20th century.

It's striking to see the resemblances with what these leaders were thinking at the time to the relationship that we have now between the city and its elevated highways (specifically the future of I-81).

"Elevation within the city would encumber Syracuse with the poorest and worst planned railroad plant of all the cities in this state, and one of the worst in the country. Our city would then have these barriers, these embankments, north, south, east and west. What use of any more city planning after such a series of walls are built? All we need is a moat alongside to complete our medievalism. This is the era of city planning. For their own comfort, and because of the desire to favorably impress strangers, people of various communities strive to make their cities more beautiful. Any factor which militates against this is sure to be tabooed by the forward looking element in every community."

- Louis Will (former mayor of Syracuse), Syracuse Journal, March 14, 1923

June 18, 2013

Syracuse's Elevated Highways in Pictures

Here are some recent pictures of the elevated portions of I-81 and I-690. Having lived next to them for about 6 years now, I've walked underneath them many times, but had never walked the entire length of I-81 through Downtown before. Some opinions and observations from the experience...

  • It's huge. The amount of space that the elevated portions take up both horizontally and vertically is massive.
  • Homelessness is a real problem at the intersection near Erie Boulevard and Townsend.
  • There's almost no on-street parking around the highways and almost all of the surface lots are privately owned or owned by the NYSDOT.
  • It's loud. This is an uneducated guess, but I'd go out on the limb to say that the noise level hovers around 70 to 80 decibels; or the amount of volume that comes from a vacuum cleaner. In all seriousness, it would be interesting to see what the exact decibel levels are and how much exposure someone would need for potential ear damage generated by these highways.
  • I did not feel safe walking underneath the elevated portions; most specifically when crosswalks were poorly marked, but also in terms of personal safety from of the amount of desolation and isolation that they encourage.
  • There's no sidewalk on the western side of I-81 between Harrison and Adams streets, so anyone living in the Pioneer Homes who needs to walk north, has to walk on a dirt path (which you can actually see on Google Maps).

    On to the pictures...

  • June 9, 2013

    West Genesee Street Love, or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Question Onondaga County

    As my dad says quite often, "Some change is good, Joey. But some change is not so good.".

    It might come off as a bit Yoggi Berra-ish, but that statement echoed with me a lot last year as I looked from my apartment window onto West Genesee Street.

    If you were around the city at all last year or even up until now, you probably noticed the above average amount of construction going on all over the place. Downtown and University Hill had a lot going on. Roads, bike lanes, new buildings, etc... A growing community is something to generally be proud of (when it's done correctly) but it can also make getting from point (a) to point (b) tricky on occasion. I won't dive into each and every project, but one of the construction zones that hits closer to home is the Save the Rain project along West Genesee Street; a program designed to help contain sewage overflow. The project is spearheaded by Onondaga County (with construction carried-out by an independent contractor). It was scheduled to finish in August of 2012, but the finish date ended up being closer to December of 2012. I only know this because of the constant drilling, pavement machines, beeping, and tree cutting that happened outside of my apartment building well into last winter.

    Just to preface, I'm generally not one who gets behind the county on many decisions; for the main reason that, historically speaking, they tend to know very little on how to plan for an urban environment like Downtown. To use some examples, it's the same organization that wanted to build a sewage treatment plant next to Armory Square, liked the idea of putting a baseball stadium in the middle of nowhere, and recently passed a vote to suggest to the NY DOT that rebuilding I-81 through Downtown would be wonderful before doing any of their own cost analysis or interpretation of any design concepts. This project on West Genesee Street isn't quite as extreme as those examples. The end results of this project can go either way. There's good change and there's bad change.

    On the one hand, it saves money, prevents sewage overflow, and its objectives seems to be clear: a safe, clean, and reliable solution for sewage run-off; all of which are difficult points to disagree on. However, my concern lies with its aesthetics and how they were overlooked or in some cases not even taken into consideration. And many of these details that fell by the wayside will end up having long-lasting effects on the overall character, feel, and function of the street. There are several areas to look into so let's get rollin'...