ReZone—City Hall’s complete rewrite of its zoning ordinance—assumes that Centro will run some kind of Bus Rapid Transit service in the future. The current draft ordinance includes special zoning around public “transportation terminals,” and the project’s guiding document refers to a “TOD overlay” within .25 miles of BRT stations. SMTC and Centro have planned two potential BRT lines already—and ReZone needs to account for those plans—but Centro needs to get a move on and finish planning the rest of its BRT network before City Hall adopts ReZone as law. Otherwise, Syracuse runs the risk that its new high quality bus service serves neighborhoods where restrictive zoning will limit its success.
The 2014 Syracuse Transit System Analysis identified four other potential BRT corridors, and Mayor Walsh’s transition team identified half of one of those (Downtown to Dewitt) as a priority for his administration.
BRT service running on Erie Boulevard out to Shoppingtown Mall would pass within walking distance of all the new housing along Genesee Street on the Near Eastside, it would run through other older Eastside neighborhoods, and it would connect those residential areas to major employment centers Downtown and along Erie Boulevard.
This map shows the potential BRT route in red, and it shows Jobs and Persons Per Square Mile—a measure that indicates how many people might use public transportation in an area—in shades of blue. Areas that are not shaded do not have enough people and jobs to support BRT service.
Lots of people already ride the existing 168 bus along Erie Boulevard, so that’s a good route to upgrade with shorter headways and faster runtimes. The Mayor’s transition team probably also chose to single out that route because a new BRT service could run in fully separated bus lanes in Erie Boulevard’s wide median.
But there are problems running BRT service on Erie Boulevard. There is no housing on any of the enormous parcels that line the street from Beech Street all the way out to DeWitt. All that land is zoned for commercial use only—no housing is allowed. Erie Boulevard runs down the middle of a deep valley, so anybody living in the housing that is nearby has to walk up a steep hill just to get home from the bus stop. Shoppingtown Mall—the line’s eastern anchor—is dying, and there are no concrete plans to turn it around. It might not even be possible to put bus lanes in the Erie Boulevard Median because of the State’s plans to use that space for the Canalway Trail.
Given all that, the City’s Eastside might be better off if that BRT service ran on Fayette Street instead. That would bring better bus service to neighborhoods where a lot of people don’t own cars. It would also connect LeMoyne College to the rest of Centro’s BRT network. Ending the line at LeMoyne instead of at Shoppingtown would also shorten the route by 35%, allowing Centro to run more buses more frequently for less money.
Centro could also split the difference between these two options by running the line along Fayette to LeMoyne and then continuing it out to DeWitt along Erie Boulevard, say, or by turning onto Erie at Seeley or Columbus Avenue (like the existing 168 bus does). Those are decisions for actual transportation planners to make in consultation with Centro, the City, and the public, but let’s get them made.
Choose where the bus will go and where it will stop. Then, the ReZone team can make the changes it needs to—like lifting the ban on housing along Erie, or allowing more mixed-use development in Salt Springs—if that BRT service is going to succeed. The clock on ReZone is ticking, and Syracuse needs better bus service now.