Centro at the Fair: 2019

Public transportation allows a lot of people to all get together in one place at one time. That’s a good thing, like when Centro carried a quarter of this year’s record breaking crowd to the New York State Fair. It can also be a good thing in Syracuse every day by getting enough people together to create the kinds of places the City needs.

People ride Centro to the Fair for the convenience—not because it’s cheaper (it’s not), not because they don’t own cars (they do), and not because it’s the environmentally conscious thing to do (no one cares).

People ride the bus because there’s simply not enough room for 150,000 people and their cars to all fit at the fairgrounds. On Saturday August 31 when the Fair set its all-time daily attendance record, the parking lots were totally full by 3pm. At that point there was plenty of room left for more people, but no more room for cars. Centro squared that circle by getting thousands more people to the Fair without needing any room to store all of their personal vehicles.

The Fair could take a different tack. It could demand that everybody come in their own car, and it could increase attendance by clearing out more space for all those extra cars. The problem there, though, is that when you make more space for cars that means less space for people. The Fair already parks cars on just about all the extra land it’s got, so at this point bigger parking lots would have to take space from the Fair itself—kicking out the RVs or paving over the amphitheater or the midway. That obviously defeats the purpose, though, because then fewer people would want to come to the Fair in the first place.

Compare that to the City itself. A lot of those same people riding the bus to the Fair would never take Centro around town. Syracuse has empty highways and plenty of parking—more than enough to accommodate everybody trying to get there, so why not just drive?

The Fair’s example shows just how damaging that is. Every surface lot, every highway interchange, every parking lane, every driveway is space where someone could run a business, go to school, or make a home. The reason that there’s enough space to accommodate all the cars of all the people who want to be in the City is that excess pavement has crowded out all of the other possibilities that could make enough people want to come to Syracuse to actually fill its space.

So Blueprint 15 will displace people because of parking minimums, Walton Street is going to be a walker’s paradise that you have to drive to, and we can’t get enough space to walk or bike because so much of the street is wasted on car storage. City Hall, developers, everybody plans for cars first, makes enough room for them, and then doesn’t leave enough to accommodate people. The predictable result is empty places without enough neighbors, businesses, or institutions to thrive.

The alternative is to rebalance the City’s transportation options to look more like the Fair’s. Sure it’s possible to drive to the Fair—it’s just a hassle. Anybody who doesn’t want to deal with that can take Centro’s frequent, predictable, convenient buses. Imagine that in Syracuse. Parking lots and interchanges turned into parks, homes, schools, stores, and libraries, curbside parking lanes turned into wider sidewalks, bike lanes, outdoor cafes, and gardens, and bus service that makes it easy to get around town so that people don’t even miss all that empty pavement.