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Posts from the "Syracuse" Category

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Battle Lines Drawn Over Syracuse Highway Teardown

Syracuse's I-81 is crumbling. Will the city rebuild it, or tear it down?Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

Syracuse’s I-81 is crumbling. Will it be rebuilt and continue to divide downtown Syracuse, or will it be torn down? Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

To keep the aging relic blighting downtown, or tear it down?

That’s the question looming over many American cities with Eisenhower-era highways these days. And nowhere is that question more immediate than in Syracuse.

Syracuse’s Interstate 81 is one of the best candidates for a highway teardown in the country. The aging elevated freeway is widely considered a blight on the city and is nearing the end of its useful life. The state of New York is considering a plan to tear it down and replace it with an at-grade boulevard.

If Syracuse tears down I-81 — and there are a lot of compelling reasons to do that — it could set an important precedent for other American cities, helping to make intentional highway removal more common.

The removal of I-81 enjoys a great deal of grassroots and political support, but nothing worthwhile ever happens without a fight, and a new group has emerged to oppose the teardown. They call themselves Save 81.

Among Save 81′s public list of members are a number of suburban politicians and business owners who believe the highway is vital to their interests.

The issue has been heating up since last year, when state officials narrowed down the options for I-81 to two: tear it down or rebuild it. In doing so, the state acknowledged that burying the roadway is not financially feasible.

A concept rendering for the boulevard that could replace I-81. Image: Onondaga Citizen League

A concept rendering for the boulevard that could replace I-81. Image: Onondaga Citizens League

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In the Rust Belt, Protecting Pedestrians is a Two-Way Street

There’s a livable streets battle taking place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s the same one that’s been going on in Syracuse, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Counting traffic in Syracuse, where the city is considering converting several one-way streets back into two-way. Photo: Syracuse.com

All three of these Rust Belt cities are considering or undertaking conversions of one-way streets back to two-way traffic. The goal is to slow down motorists a little bit and create a more hospitable environment for pedestrians — and, as a biproduct, for local businesses.

In these cities and others across America, one-way streets were a 60s-era innovation designed to increase car capacity in downtowns — meant to funnel drivers as quickly as possible onto exit ramps and off to the suburbs. But as mid-sized cities across the Midwest see an increase in downtown living, there has been heightened awareness about the drawbacks of this arrangement for pedestrians.

“You essentially have a drag strip,” Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman said of one of the city’s four-lane, one-way arterials. “They are a constant source of complaints — from residents across the street and visitors who choose to walk rather than drive.”

The Alderman has been a leading advocate for a series of four conversions of one-way streets to two-way streets. His motivation? A more livable, less car-centric city.

Two-way streets “keep traffic speeds down,” he said. “They’re more conducive to pedestrian activity. They’re more conducive to retail activities. In every aspect except traffic capacity, they’re more conducive to urban areas.”

Bauman is hoping the city’s Common Council will approve the conversions at their next meeting in a few weeks — before their summer recess begins and before a related bridge project gets underway.

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Syracuse Looks to Highway Removal to Revive Downtown Economy

All cities have physical barriers that divide neighborhoods and social classes. In Syracuse, one of the biggest is Interstate-81.

On the east side you have the area known as “The Hill.” There, Syracuse University and its affiliated hospitals and research centers have fostered growth and prosperity.

On the west side of the highway, things aren’t quite as rosy. The west side is where most of the city’s 1,600 vacant houses are located. It’s also, significantly, where the city’s downtown lies.

The city of Syracuse is considering removing this highway that divides downtown from the Syracuse University. Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

This highway, like so many of its type, was built as an urban renewal project in the 1950s. And many of the neighborhoods surrounding it have never quite recovered.

Now, Interstate 81 is itself showing signs of age. And many in the community say it’s time to remove it.

“To increase accessibility to [The Hill] we need a better transportation solution,” said Sandra Barrett of the Onondaga Citizens League, a local nonprofit civic group. “We need to remove the elevated highway that just depresses real estate values in the area.”

The Syracuse Metropolitan Planning Council says that the elevated portion of the highway, the part near downtown Syracuse, is the most in need of repair. The viaduct will reach the end of its useful life in 2017. There is already an arrangement in place with local contractors for 24-hour emergency repair.

Syracuse is in the early stages of discussing what should be done with I-81. SMPC and the New York State Department of Transportation have embarked on a public input process they are calling The I-81 Challenge, asking local residents to weigh in on the problem. Thus far, proposals have included a Big-Dig-esque tunnel, relocation, rebuilding, and, finally, teardown and replacement with a street-level boulevard.

Some influential community leaders are coming out early on behalf of the highway-to-boulevard proposal. The most prominent of them is Van Robinson, president of the Syracuse Common Council (the city government’s legislative branch). For years, Robinson has been beating the drum for a teardown.

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