Syracuse City Hall is working with the SMTC to make it easier for people to walk around Armory Square. That’s great news! Lots of people get around that area on foot, and they often have to put up with cars blocking the crosswalks, speeding down the street, failing to yield to pedestrians at stop signs, etc.
SMTC has lots of good ideas—like widened sidewalks, raised intersections, and curbless streets—to make the area safer by slowing cars down and giving pedestrians more room. They’re even talking about banning cars from Walton Street entirely to create a ‘pedestrian mall.’
That all sounds great, but it takes more than banning cars to make a place truly accessible to people who don’t drive.
Look at Downtown’s other pedestrian mall. You know, the 200 block of East Genesee Street between Warren and Montgomery. If you’d forgotten about that block, it’s probably just because no one actually goes there. Despite having all the same features that SMTC is talking about for Walton—landscaping, furniture, no curbs—few pedestrians use it because there’s no reason to walk there. No businesses occupy any of the storefronts that line the street even though there are popular restaurants and retail on all the surrounding blocks.
There’s another kind of mall in Syracuse that’s no good for pedestrians in a different way. Inside, Destiny USA is the ultimate pedestrian environment. It’s an entire downtown’s worth of retail compressed into a highly walkable, climate controlled, carless simulacrum of Syracuse’s old city center. People go there to walk for exercise without ever entering any of the stores. The problem is that, even though walking is the only way to get around the mall, almost no one actually walks to the mall. It’s surrounded on all sides by parking lots, so nobody can live within walking distance of it, and because no one lives within walking distance of it, most everybody has to drive to get there.
Even though these two places look very different, they both failed for the same reason: they’re isolated attempts to carve out pedestrian space in a car-dominated city. Genesee Street is a pedestrian shortcut between Clinton Square and Columbus Circle, but too few people actually walk between those two places to support a business that might open up on the first floor of the State Tower Building. Destiny has always catered to car traffic from Canada and Pennsylvania, assuming that people in Syracuse will have to drive to shop there too.
Armory Square can’t just be a destination—a carless street that’s cool because it’s so different from the rest of the car-dominated city—a quaint pedestrian island in a sea of car traffic. If that happens, Walton Street will stay a place that people necessarily reach in a car, and it will either have to be surrounded by parking lots and garages (already sort of true), or it will wither and die when people stop driving there. Either outcome would make it impossible to duplicate Walton’s success on the surrounding streets.
The way to avoid that trap is to make more space for people to walk, bike, and bus throughout the entire City. That means big things like extending the Creekwalk through the Southside, and it means small things like fixing cracked sidewalks. It means taking space from cars by narrowing travel lanes, and giving it back to people in the form of bike lanes and wider sidewalks. It also, most definitely, 100% means improving Centro as a way for people to get all around the City at all times of day. Do all that, and Armory Square will become a better place to walk because Syracuse will be a place where people get around on foot.
This process is still in the planning stages. You still have the opportunity to read the slides from the presentation, and email SMTC to let them know that Syracuse needs to elevate carless transportation in the whole city if it wants to make Armory Square better for pedestrians.