Bike Lanes on Euclid Avenue

On July 11, the Post-Standard reported that Syracuse’s DPW had requested almost $935,000 to repave Euclid Avenue between Comstock and Westcott Streets. The City of Syracuse has been mulling the idea of painting bike lanes on this stretch of Euclid Avenue for a few years now, and the DPW’s request is just the latest step in what has been an extremely slow process.

This request makes it look like city government prefers to provide basic services in some neighborhoods rather than others. As the Post-Standard notes, the city government can only afford to pave about 2 miles of streets a year, and, according to the DPW’s own scale for measuring street quality:

Euclid was rated a seven out of 10 in 2015, according to the city’s public data. That’s better than most streets in the city.

Chris Baker, the reporter who wrote this article later tweeted that Euclid Avenue is in better shape than the streets “anywhere south of downtown”–a reference to the City’s most visible public housing projects and its most concentrated black neighborhood.

It’s impossible to look at this plan for Euclid Avenue and ignore Syracuse University’s influence. In its recently published Campus Framework, the University emphasized the importance of creating ‘gateways’ to campus, and it specifically called for this kind of work on Euclid Avenue:

Along Comstock Avenue and Euclid Avenue, new cycle lanes and streetscape improvements signal arrival to a campus district.

In the past, when the University wanted to make some change to University Avenue and Walnut Park, city government just turned those public resources over to this private entity in exchange for money. If city government is repaving Euclid Avenue in response to pressure from the University, then we should be thankful that at least this time the street is staying in public hands. It’s also possible that city government agreed to do this work in the negotiations that led to the 2016 Service Agreement, or in return for the money that the University spends to subsidize Centro.

Apart from any questions about who’s paying for this paving, the street’s new design also shows how the proposed zoning ordinance can influence seemingly unrelated issues in city neighborhoods. All of this talk about bike lanes got real momentum when the DPW published its 2014 Euclid Avenue Parking Study. That report surveyed demand for on-street parking along Euclid Avenue and proposed different bike lane designs that would maintain the necessary number of on-street parking spaces. That kind of evidence-based demand study is a good way to make decisions about parking, but runs up against a zoning ordinance that regulates parking without considering evidence at all.

On the most recent draft of the City’s zoning map, all of this stretch of Euclid Avenue is zoned as MX-1. As the Post-Standard notes, the vast majority of properties along this stretch of Euclid Avenue are multi-family apartment buildings. According to the most recent draft of the new zoning ordinance, multi-family residential properties that are zoned MX-1 are required to provide 1 off-street parking space per apartment. The draft allows that “On-street parking spaces along the property line may be counted to satisfy the minimum off-street parking requirements, if approved by the Zoning Administrator.”

All of that is to say that it doesn’t matter whether or not people use the on-street parking along Euclid Avenue–if DPW paints new bike lanes in such a way that they remove on-street parking in front of residential properties, the property owners will have to build new off-street spaces in order to meet the new zoning code. By effectively requiring property owners to pave their backyards, this bikelanes project will influence landlords’ willingness to renovate their properties, it will influence the uses to which those properties can be put, and it will even frustrate the County’s efforts to keep rainwater out of the city sewer system.

City issues are interrelated. The DPW wants money to repave a road, but the causes and effects of that request are difficult to trace. In this case, that request has to do with city government’s money problems, Syracuse University’s long range plans to attract students, and the proposed zoning ordinance–it’s about a lot more than potholes and bike riders.