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Trouble with the Curb

In the 2020 State of the City address, Mayor Ben Walsh announced that City Hall is going to try and find a way to take full responsibility for sidewalk maintenance and snow removal, and he announced that City Hall is going to repair a lot more pavement. These two promises have the potential to remake Syracuse’s streets so that they work for everybody in the City.

Streets are the publicly-owned space (all of it) between private property lines. That space contains the paved lanes where cars drive and park, and it also contains the raised concrete area where people walk and wait for the bus, where neighbors stop and chat, where kids set up lemonade stands.

For decades (forever?) City Hall has spent millions of dollars to maintain the portion of that public space below the curb, and it has sheepishly suggested that everybody else could, maybe, if it wasn’t too much trouble, use their own time, money, and energy to maintain the little plot of public space above the curb in front of their property. This local experiment in the Tragedy of the Commons has left Syracuse with broken sidewalks covered in snow, and it’s left people dangerously exposed to car-traffic because the only place they can walk is on the pavement below the curb.

So it’s a big deal that Mayor Walsh is trying to get City Hall to take full responsibility for the full width of the public street instead of confining DPW’s maintenance work to the car-dominated area between the curbs. So many people get around Syracuse some way other than in a car, and they need wide, clear, level, ADA-compliant sidewalks across the City. The Mayor’s commitment sidewalk maintenance can meet that need.

But it would be much better to get past this backwards notion that got Syracuse in this mess in the first place. The notion that the street is made up of two parts—space for cars below the curb, and sidewalks above the curb. One the real street that has to be maintained, and the other a nice amenity if we can afford it.

The Mayor’s commitment to major road reconstruction has the potential to eliminate that division by redesigning city streets to actually accommodate all of the different people who need to use them in different ways.

Bollards that carve out space below the curb for bikes, raised crosswalks that extend the sidewalk past the curb through the intersection, additional curbs that separate bus lanes from all other paved lanes, getting rid of curbs entirely, banning motor vehicles even below the curb—all of these potential changes blow apart the idea that the curb is some special boundary line that marks the edges of the real street. All help people make good use of the whole street—from property line to property line—in a variety of ways, and all make it clear that City Hall has an obvious responsibility to maintain the whole street for all of those uses.

None of this is guaranteed. The Mayor only announced his intention to maintain every sidewalk—City Hall still has to work out the actual details of how to actually do it. And more street paving could actually make Syracuse worse if it’s just a way to reassure car-drivers that City Hall still thinks they’re the most important people on the street.

But the promise is there, the potential is there. In a City where 30% of households don’t have a car, 20% of people are too young to drive, and 13% of workers walk to their jobs, it’s ridiculous that local government has left its sidewalks to deteriorate so badly for so long. This new commitment to sidewalk maintenance can change that, and a new understanding of how people really use our streets can make sure that it never happens again.

Congressman Katko’s Letters

When the Trump administration tries to harm Upstate New York, John Katko writes a letter about it. That’s what he did last week after Sonny Perdue announced a plan to take away people’s food stamps. The Congressman wrote a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture asking that “we don’t make people food insecure as a result of this.”

We’ve seen this one before. For three years the Trump administration has been making it harder for refugees to come to America. That’s bad for Upstate New York where new immigrants have been a blessing for so many struggling cities and towns over the last two decades. So Congressman Katko has written and co-signed letters about it, asking a man who campaigned for the presidency on xenophobia to abandon his signature policy and instead “uphold our nation’s commitment to assist individuals who have been displaced by violence and strife.”

None of those letters worked, and this one probably won’t either. Republicans have been trying all kinds of different ways to cut food stamps for years—from administrative tricks like getting rid of the software that allows people to use food stamps at farmers markets, to direct legislative action in the Farm Bill. This is a core value for them, and just writing letters about it isn’t going to change that.

For now we’re stuck hoping that John Katko writes persuasively enough to change Sonny Perdue’s mind. Stuck hoping that it’s not just another purely symbolic gesture designed to save the Congressman face while his party—led by a man whose stated position on Upstate New York is that people should leave it—weaponizes domestic policy to depopulate our communities.

But 2020 is an election year, so we won’t be stuck with that thin hope for long. Come November we can vote them all out and get a federal government and a local representative willing and able to exercise real power—to do more than write letters—to benefit Upstate New York.

ReZone and Syracuse’s Housing Shortage

There aren’t enough places to live in many Syracuse neighborhoods, and the City’s new zoning ordinance needs to help do something about it. Between 2000 and 2016, in 18 census tracts containing ⅓ of the City’s population, the number of people looking for a place to live increased faster than did the total number of apartments and houses. In those neighborhoods, the housing shortage caused depopulation, high rents, and gentrification. ReZone can alleviate some of that stress by allowing more housing construction in those neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods where growth in the number of households outpaced growth in housing supply from 2000 to 2016

These are the neighborhoods where the housing shortage has gotten worse since 2000. They are all places where, relative to the rest of Syracuse, more families are moving in, but there are fewer apartments and houses for those new families to move in to.

Even though new people moved into all of these neighborhoods, population actually decreased in some of them (red in the map on the left). That’s because the average size of the families living in many of these neighborhoods decreased (yellow in the map on the right).

The housing shortage is pushing up rents (orange in the map on the left) in Downtown, Franklin Square, Westcott, Eastwood, Salt Springs, the Northside and the Valley. Housing costs are becoming unaffordable (brown in the map on the right) for more people living in most of these neighborhoods, and even in some other neighborhoods where rents are going down like parts of the Northside, Tipp Hill, Eastwood, the Valley, and the West End.

The two neighborhoods with housing shortages where rents are going up but people are more able to afford them are Franklin Square and Downtown. This is gentrification, and more housing is the only way to give more people access to all of the benefits that come from living in these two increasingly wealthy neighborhoods.

In Westcott, the Northside, and parts of the Valley, rents are going up, people are less able to afford them, and households are growing. These are neighborhoods where people want to be, but high housing costs are forcing them to find more roommates to share resources and split the rent. Something similar is happening in Hawley-Green as well. More, smaller, cheaper apartments could relieve pressure on the people living in those neighborhoods and better match the types of housing available to what people need.

In Tipp Hill, the West End, and Eastwood south of James, rents are falling but people are still increasingly unable to afford them, and the population overall is falling because households are shrinking. These are also places where more, smaller, cheaper apartments would give people living options better suited to their changing financial and living situations.

In parts of the Southside, Near Westside, Nob Hill, and Skunk City, rents are falling and becoming more affordable for the people who live in those neighborhoods, but overall population is falling because households are getting smaller. In these places, it should be legal to subdivide existing houses into smaller apartments in order to make more room for people who want to take advantage of the increasingly affordable housing.


New housing of different kinds would be so helpful in all of these neighborhoods, ReZone’s new zoning map will determine whether or not it’s legal to build new housing in any of them.

City Hall has released four drafts of that map in the last three years. The current December 2019 draft, on the right, addresses the housing shortage in some neighborhoods, but not others. It will allow new apartments across Downtown, Franklin Square, lower James Street, Nob Hill, and the Southside.

The map also allows 1-family houses to be converted to 2-(or more)-family houses in all of Tipp Hill, Skunk City, the Near Westside, Hawley-Green, and the Northside. But the most recent draft is worse than City Hall’s first map from February 2017 (above on the left). That earlier map allowed more housing with looser parking and setback restrictions in the MX (blue) zoning districts in these neighborhoods, but each successive draft has reduced MX zoning in all of them.

The new map also preserves the ban on multi-family housing, a ban that can only make the housing shortage worse, in most of Westcott, the West End, the Valley, and Eastwood. In those neighborhoods, big 1-family houses are either filling up with young people squeezing in to save on rent, or they’re emptying out as smaller families struggle to afford apartments too big for their needs.

The housing shortage in Syracuse is pushing up rents, emptying out some neighborhoods, and making it too difficult to move into others. It’s causing depopulation and gentrification. It’s bad, and one part of fixing it is removing City Hall’s purely administrative ban on new housing. ReZone is a chance to do that.

Big Demographic Trends, part 3

Big demographic trends are bringing equally big changes to Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse. Two weeks ago we looked at where those changes are happening. Last week we tried to figure out who is driving them. This week we’re asking why we should care.

The Old Growth

outer ring
Areas that were farmland in 2000 gained population as they were suburbanized. Those that were already villages in 2000 lost population. Almost all were much richer in 2016 than in 2000.

The dominant demographic trend in Onondaga County is the wave of older wealthier people migrating away from the City along major highway routes.

Over the first 16 years of the 21st century that wave crossed Rt 31 in the northern part of the County, it mounted Onondaga Hill in the South, and it passed old Camillus in the west and Manlius in the East. In all of those places, it has spurred the subdivision of thousands of acres of farmland into tract housing, filling previously rural areas with new, older, richer residents. In the existing villages where political and bureaucratic pressures prohibited developers from building much new housing, this wave made the population older and richer, but also smaller. Altogether, that outer ring of suburbs grew by 13,200 people between 2000 and 2016.

Older suburbs had trouble attracting new residents between 2000 and 2016. They became smaller, poorer, and older.

That huge growth at the leading edge of Onondaga County’s suburban development obscures the very different conditions left in its wake. The older suburbs slightly closer to the City are almost all aging faster than the rest of the County too, but they’re also losing population and getting poorer. When the main thing is to have the newest house as close to the country as possible, then every new subdivision outmodes the last one. Since the County as a whole is only growing by a very small amount, a bigger and richer population in Van Buren necessarily means a smaller and poorer population in Lakeland. That inner ring of older suburbs lost 6,555 people between 2000 and 2016.

The County can maintain its overall stability as long as new growth at its edge outweighs the decline towards its center. So much of what makes the outer suburbs attractive places to live—the schools, the roads, the sewers—requires constant new investment and repair, and it’s the new tax revenue generated by new suburban development that pays for all of it.

The very bad news for the County is that, in several directions, the wave of wealthy, populous, tax-generating suburban growth is about to cross the County line. When that happens—when older richer people are more likely to commute to Syracuse from Cazenovia than from Manlius, or from Central Square instead of Cicero—the population growth, new development, and tax revenues that have made Onondaga County pleasant and prosperous will all go to other municipalities. All of a sudden it’ll be Oswego and Madison Counties enjoying those benefits while Onondaga is stuck with the costs of maintaining the infrastructure that makes them possible—a neat inversion of Onondaga County’s current relationship with the City of Syracuse.

The New Growth

The suburbs closest to the City, as well as several City neighborhoods gained population and got younger between 2000 and 2016.

The good news is that there is new growth in the City and its immediate suburbs that could save the County. That growth is driven by people who are generally younger and more likely to have children than those moving to its outskirts, and it’s driven by people who want access to the benefits that come from living in the middle of the metropolitan area rather than at its farthest edges.

From the middle of Downtown to just inside the wake of the Old Growth wave, much of the County is growing, and it’s getting younger. This central area includes early post-war suburbs like Mattydale and Nedrow, pre-war suburbs like Eastwood and Salt Springs, 19th century neighborhoods like Westcott and the Northside, a large part of Dewitt right on the City line, and new development at the very center of the City Downtown and in Franklin Square.

This area includes all of the central suburbs where people are taking advantage of shorter commutes and cheaper housing. It includes City neighborhoods where there are a variety of housing options that can accommodate people living a variety of lives. It includes the only places in the entire County where adequate bus service and walking neighborhoods make life without a car possible. Altogether, this part of the County gained 11,745 people between 2000 and 2016. If it continues to grow, that may offset the loss of that Old Growth wave when the metro area’s outermost suburban development moves into Oswego and Madison Counties.

Many City neighborhoods are losing population but getting younger.

In order for that to happen, more of the middle of the County needs to start growing. That should happen in those City neighborhoods that are still losing population overall, but gaining younger residents and becoming more likely to include households with children. This greening City lost 5,875 people between 2000 and 2016, but it is poised for future growth if it just gets the necessary support. That means addressing the acute pressures on family life—things like lead paint, schools, jobs, and safety—that are currently keeping potential residents from moving in or pushing existing residents to try and move out.

Some City neighborhoods are losing population and getting older.

At the same time, Syracuse needs to take a hard look at the City neighborhoods that are shrinking, aging, and losing children despite all of their natural advantages—the neighborhoods that are trending in the same direction as the shrinking suburbs. The South Avenue corridor is one. There, decades of racism and disinvestment have taken their toll and need to be rectified.

Winkworth, Meadowbrook, and Eastwood south of James are all also shrinking and aging. Those neighborhoods—ones that appear to be some of the ‘best’ in the City, but are trending in the same direction as the ‘worst’—share too much in common with suburban villages like Baldwinsville where bans on new construction crowd out potential new residents. All need zoning reform to allow for smaller lots and more apartments in order to make enough room for the people who want to move to those neighborhoods.

Altogether, these nine census tracts lost 4,474 people between 2000 and 2016.

So why do we care?

Onondaga County is a demographic time bomb. The County has always relied on suburban growth driven by older richer residents moving into new housing built on farmland at the edge of the metropolitan area, but that wave of prosperity will soon cross the line into Oswego and Madison Counties, leaving Onondaga County behind. If current trends hold, then at that point Onondaga’s suburbs will be smaller, older, and poorer, and unable to afford basic maintenance on their most basic infrastructure.

To thrive after that shift, the City and County have to encourage the new growth that’s already happening at their center now. That’s going to require a new way of thinking about the metropolitan area’s future. Young people are moving to its middle for entirely different reasons than old people are moving to its edges. Syracuse can’t succeed by trying to imitate the suburbs that it sometimes envies. Winkworth, Meadowbrook, and Eastwood south of James are all evidence of that.

Instead, Syracuse and Onondaga County need to focus on the natural advantages that are already drawing people to the center of the metropolitan area. Lots of housing, a variety of housing, short trips to work that people can make by bus, bike, foot, or car, neighborhoods where things like groceries, libraries, doctors, and schools are easily accessible. These are what differentiate Syracuse and its central suburbs from so much of the rest of the County, and they are the future of the entire community.

Big Demographic Trends, part 2

From 2000 to 2016, the different neighborhoods, villages, and towns that make up the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County saw huge swings in population while the County and City as a whole held steady. Those neighborhood fluctuations reveal big demographic trends that point to a very different future for the City and County.

Last week we looked at where those changes are happening. This week we’ll try and figure out who is driving them.

To do that, we’ll compare population change to two other major demographic trends—change in median age and change in median income. We’ll examine these three trends in individual census tracts as deviations from Onondaga County’s overall trend. In tract 3, for instance, median income rose by $20,208 between 2000 and 2016, but what really matters is that median income rose by $5,338 more than median income in the County as a whole.

We’ll also confine our focus to census tracts where more than 3 people live on every 2 acres of land. As we saw last week, the effects of population change are concentrated in the more densely populated areas at the center of the County, but small changes can appear exaggerated in the large, outlying, sparsely populated towns at the County’s edge. It’s the same with changes to median age and income, and it’s easier to discern these trends by focusing on their effects in the City and its more established suburbs.

Change in median age, 2000-2016

In Onondaga County, the median resident was about 2.5 years older in 2016 than the median resident in 2000. The outer suburbs drove that trend, aging significantly between 2000 and 2016 (orange). Meanwhile, most of the City and inner suburbs actually got younger (purple) over that same time. The notable exceptions were Meadowbrook, the South and West sides, and tracts like 16 and 61.01 that contain large senior living facilities.

Change in median income, 2000-2016

The median household in Onondaga County made about $15,000 more in 2016 than it did in 2000. In general, the neighborhoods that aged also got richer (green), and the neighborhoods that got younger also got poorer (red). That trend was reversed in some City neighborhoods like Downtown, Franklin Square, Strathmore, and Sedgwick, which got both younger and richer. On the other side, inner suburbs like Geddes and the southern part of Clay were both older and poorer in 2016 than they were in 2000.

Who is Driving Population Change?

Compare change in median age to change in median income and population change, and each census tract falls into one of 8 different categories:

Growing, Younger, Richer:

Well-off young people are moving into city-center neighborhoods like Franklin Square and Downtown, or they’re moving into the near-in suburbs in Dewitt. Interestingly, the decision to pick the City or the County doesn’t seem to depend on whether or not these people have children—the percentage of households with children increased roughly equally in both areas between 2000 and 2016.

Growing, Younger, Poorer:

Households in all of these neighborhoods are getting bigger, but for different reasons. In the suburbs and on the Northside, bigger, poorer, younger households correlate with increases in the number of children in a household. On the Northside specifically, immigrants are driving this change—the percentage of immigrants living in census tracts 4, 6, 14, and 15 rose by more than 10 points between 2000 and 2016.

In the other City tracts—in the area around Teall Ave south of James, the foot of Tipp Hill and in Westcott—bigger households correlate with decreasing rates of children, suggesting that young people are moving in together to save on expenses.

Growing, Older, Richer:

These outer areas—not one census tract in the City displays all three of these trends—are quickly transitioning from rural to suburban development. They are places with lots of new housing that have attracted older people with above average incomes.

Growing, Older, Poorer:

In the City, these are tracts with big senior housing complexes.

The suburban tracts are less straightforward. Tract 135 in Salina has added almost 700 households between 2000 and 2016, and the proportion of households with children held steady over that time, but the neighborhood still aged by almost 6.5 years. In 2016 the median resident was 48.4—10 years older than the media resident of the County.

Shrinking, Younger, Richer:

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.39.36 PM

In the City, these are neighborhoods like Sedgwick, Strathmore, Tipp Hill, and the University Area where older residents have moved away and been replaced by new young families. Despite the new well-off residents—or maybe because of them—these neighborhoods are still shrinking because those new families are smaller than the households they replaced. That’s even true in several tracts where families were more likely to have children in 2016 than in 2000.

In the County, these are some of the very oldest post-war suburbs like Bayberry and Westvale. The households moving into these neighborhoods are younger, richer, and smaller, but they’re also less likely to have children. If these couples start having kids and raising families, then these neighborhoods might start growing in the near future.

Shrinking, Younger, Poorer:

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.41.30 PM

This trends typify a huge swath of the City, stretching from the Eastside to the Southside in a continuous arc. This is the blackest part of the City (and County), and it has suffered decades of targeted racist disinvestment and oppression.

Something similar is happening in suburban spots like Mattydale and the G streets in Clay.

Shrinking, Older, Richer:

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.42.53 PM

In City neighborhoods like Meadowbrook and Winkworth, and in suburban villages like Baldwinsville, Liverpool, and Manlius, an aging population, declining number of children, high housing costs, and restrictions on new construction have combined to bring the population down, while the residents that remain are increasingly richer and older than the rest of the County.

Shrinking, Older, Poorer:

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.43.50 PM

These trends typify another huge swatch of the City, stretching from Solvay through the Westside down along the South Ave Corridor. This part of the City, too, has suffered from decades of disinvestment and neglect, particularly around Onondaga Creek where the frequent flooding and federal policies have contributed to housing instability.

This pattern repeats in the suburbs in parts of Camillus, Clay, and Dewitt, but primarily along the 690 corridor from the City line all the way to Baldwinsville through Lakeland, Seneca Knolls, and Village Green.


Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.20.03 PM

Put all of that together and you get a pretty good picture of who is driving population change in Onondaga County. This map shows the area’s population radiating from the City along six major highways: Interstates 81 and 690, and Routes 5, 11, 57, and 92. The metro area is growing in a classic donut pattern, with the most intense population increases occurring in the outer suburbs and the city center. Older people are driving that growth at the outer ring, while younger families are driving it in the inner core. Wealth is also either moving out to the County’s edge or concentrating in a few spots at its center. Many areas in the middle are getting smaller, and most all are getting poorer.

Next week, we’ll suss out why all of this matters for the City and the County’s future.

Big Demographic Trends, part 1

After decades of massive gains and losses, the populations of both the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County have held steady in the 21st century. But that broad stability masks huge changes in the neighborhoods, villages, and towns that make up the City and County. Look at them more closely, and those neighborhood fluctuations reveal demographic trends that complicate our understanding of the present and point towards a very different future.

Through the end of the year, let’s take that closer look in order to get a clearer picture of where we are and where we’re going.


Where is population rising, and where is it falling?

About 10,000 more people lived in Onondaga County in 2016 than did in 2000. This map shows which parts of the County gained people (in blue) and which parts lost them (in red) over that time.

Change in population, 2000-2016

Lysander, Clay, and Cicero on the County’s northern edge all gained a lot of people. So did parts of the more central towns of Camillus, Onondaga, Dewitt, and Pompey. These are all places where new suburbs meet the countryside.

Older suburban communities in Salina, Geddes, and the southern parts of Clay and Cicero, on the other hand, lost population. The county’s villages are also losing people—even those like Baldwinsville that are surrounded by new booming suburban development.

The City’s success stories—Downtown, Franklin Square, and Westcott—all gained a few people since 2000. So did outer streetcar suburbs like Eastwood, the far Northside, Salt Springs, and Nedrow. The real boom, though, was on the Northside around Butternut and Lodi where thousands of new people now live in one of the County’s oldest neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, people moved away from the South and West sides—particularly around Gifford Street and the flood-prone areas near Onondaga Creek. Population also fell on the parts of the Northside, Near Eastside, and University Hill where major institutions like St Joseph’s, SHA, and SU demolished housing. The City’s richest neighborhoods—Strathmore, Bradford Hills, Meadowbrook, and Sedgwick—all also lost people since 2000.

% change in population, 2000-2016

Some trends are even more pronounced when you compare an area’s population gains or losses to its starting population. This map, which shows population change as a percentage of the population of each census tract in 2000, highlights the suburban boom along the County’s northern border. For example, tract 113—the part of the Town of Clay north of Rt 31—gained 680 people between 2000 and 2016. That was the 17th largest increase of any census tract over that time, but because so few people lived in that part of the County in 2000, 680 new people represented a 27% increase in tract 113’s population—the 10th largest percentage jump for any tract.

Something similar happened in Franklin Square and the Inner Harbor where a seemingly modest 270 person increase in population—only the 34th largest jump—meant that census tract 1 grew by 67%—the 2nd largest percentage increase in the entire County.

Change in population density, 2000-2016

However, both of these maps obscure the intensity of these changes in population because neither accounts for the amount of space in which they occur. The populations of both Fabius and Hawley-Green rose by just over 300 people (or about 16%) between 2000 and 2016, but in Fabius those 314 new people could spread out over an area more than 250 times as large as Hawley-Green. The new people in Hawley-Green made a more concentrated impact than did those in Fabius.

This map of the change in population density in each census tract shows that the changes in population have been much more acute in City neighborhoods than in the rest of the County. Parts of the Northside have gained more than 10 people per acre, while in almost all of the outer suburbs—even places like tract 113 where population soared—any gains were spread out over such a large area that population increased by less than 1/20th of a person per acre.

The total number of people living in both Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse has remained stable since 2000. But over that same period of time the populations of individual neighborhoods, villages, and towns have been anything but stable. Broadly speaking, outer suburbs are growing while inner suburbs are shrinking. In Syracuse, Downtown and the Northside are growing, while the South and West sides are shrinking. Some areas where very few people lived in 2000—places like Franklin Square and the northern part of the Town of Clay—have seen huge increases in population. At the same time, the only places where changes in total population have resulted in significant changes in population density have been in City neighborhoods.

Next week, we’ll unpack these numbers to try and figure out who is driving these changes to the City and County’s populations.

Buses for the Suburbs

Route 31 is going to need better bus service. That was obvious in May when Centro had to change its coach service to Oswego after so many people demanded stops at the apartments, businesses, and schools on 31 near 481, and it’s only going to be more true if County Executive Ryan McMahon actually manages to get businesses to move into the empty business park near Clay.

Right now, no bus really serves 31. The 246 hits a few stops between Route 57 and 481, but it’s really a bus for going North and South—between Syracuse and Oswego—and that keeps it from being useful for getting between all of the old villages and new housing and shopping centers that have sprung up in an East-West line along 31. When Centro added that service to the Rt 31 Wegmans, it had to cut service to Great Northern Mall because there just wasn’t enough time to serve many stops on 31 and get back Downtown in time for the 246’s scheduled lineup.

In that way, Rt 31 is a lot like Teall Ave, Geddes Street, and Grant Boulevard in Syracuse—they all need better bus service, but Centro struggles to provide it because all of its buses start and end their runs at the Hub, and those streets don’t lead there.

The solution to this problem is the same on Rt 31 as it is on Teall: Centro needs to get comfortable designing bus lines that never actually do get to the Hub, but that allow people to travel between the other major destinations  that exist outside of Downtown. These lines can still be useful for getting Downtown if they’re scheduled to meet up with Hub-bound service at major transfer points, and they’ll save the 246’s riders from a 20 minute detour along Rt 31 when they’re really just trying to get Downtown.

It’s not hard to imagine what this would mean on the County’s northern border. A new bus line running every 20 minutes along Rt 31 from Baldwinsville, past the Budweiser Plant, past Radisson, linking with the 246 at Rt 57, connecting to all the housing and jobs near 481, serving Clay’s town seat at Euclid (no one could ride a bus to attend the Town hearings on the big new warehouse, and wouldn’t it have been a good thing to have bus riders in that room), the hamlet of Clay, White Pine Commerce Park (once it has tenants), linking with the N. Syracuse/Central Square buses at Rt 11, and ending at CNS High School.

Proposed Rt 31 bus line in Orange, with existing Centro lines in Red, Yellow, and Blue. The green lines are railroads that could be part of a regional rail network.

There are plenty of other places that a line like this could fill a hole in Centro’s suburban service—Taft Rd from Liverpool to Hancock Airpark, for instance. These are the kinds of bus lines that Centro has to offer as the suburbs continue to grow and car ownership in them continues to decline. Head out to Clay, and you’ll see people walking on the shoulder of 5-lane roads as cars roar past at 50 miles an hour. Talk to people looking for work, and they’ll tell you they can’t get the jobs they’re qualified to do because there aren’t enough buses serving suburban employers. People need better options.

Trains Handle Snow Better Than Cars Do

This snow storm kept people off the highways and local roads, it grounded planes at the airport, and it stopped all Greyhound buses from coming Upstate, but Amtrak kept its schedule just fine.

Trains can handle snow. Their steel wheels cut through ice and slush, so trains can keep chugging even when winter weather makes cars, trucks, and buses useless. Back in November 2014 when Buffalo got 5 feet of snow in 3 days, almost nobody could get anywhere, but the Metro Light Rail—”old reliable”—ran on schedule.

Syracuse would handle winter better with if it had more trains. When snow blocks roads, people could still get where they’re going safely without having to dig their car out or crawl along slick roads with their hazards blinking. While buses have to detour around steep hills, and they often get stuck when people park on both sides of the street, trains can keep running on a level unobstructed right of way in all but the worst snow storms.

New passenger rail service could take many different forms, from a single local line, to a metro system, to a regional intercity service, to nationwide high-speed rail. Anything, though, is better than what Syracuse has now—near total reliance on rubber tires in a part of the country where the weather reliably renders them useless for several months a year. Trains can do better.

Affordable Housing and the City Line

Matthew Paulus, one of several developers with plans to build new housing at the eastern edge of Downtown, is trying to get goodwill and tax breaks by putting ‘affordable’ apartments in his newest project, but the rents don’t match the rhetoric—tenants will pay $1,050 a month, not including utilities. This is clearly not a good faith effort to engage with poverty or housing as those crises actually exist in the City, and it shows the need for City Hall to take a more active role in securing meaningfully affordable housing in Syracuse.

It takes some slick thinking to claim that $1,050 is an affordable rent in a city this poor. The first step is to side-step the City by talking about the Syracuse Area. Median household income in Onondaga County is about $55,000. These apartments are supposed to be affordable for households making “no greater than 80%” of that number, so $44,000. ‘Affordable’ housing shouldn’t take up more than 30% of a family’s income, so a family making $44,000 a year could ‘afford’ pay as much as $1,100 a month in rent.

But if Paulus ran those same calculations with the City’s median household income (about $35,000) instead of the County’s, then he’d get a definition of ‘affordable’ that would require him to set the monthly rent at something more like $650—that sounds a lot more like what someone might expect to pay live in Syracuse. Paulus can only claim that $1,050 a month is ‘affordable’ if he ignores the stark disparity between the economic situation on either side of the City line.

So the City line disappeared when Paulus was figuring out what is means for one of his apartments to be ‘affordable,’ but it will snap back into focus if he gets the tax breaks he’s asking for. If SIDA grants them, then that municipal boundary will shield suburban schools from the cost of that lost tax revenue, and it will put that burden on City kids.

City Hall has the power to flip this dynamic on its head and make the City line work for people living in the City. Developers want to build in Syracuse after all, and the Common Council has the power to enact affordable housing legislation that could apply to any development in Syracuse. City Hall also has control over permitting, zoning, tax assessments, and SIDA—an entire regulatory apparatus that can determine the success of failure of any given development. Syracuse’s government needs to use all of these tools to make sure that new housing is affordable in a way that really means something to the people living in the City now.

There’s going to be a lot of new housing built in the next few years. Developers, non-profits, and state and local governments are all looking to rebuild the eastern and southern edges of Downtown once I81 comes down. They’re all going to pay lip service to ‘affordability’ and ‘inclusion,’ but, if this project is any indication, it will just be empty talk. That’s not good enough. We need to be clear about what words like ‘affordable’ really mean for people living in Syracuse, and we need a City Hall willing to use its power to enforce those definitions and secure a better future for the entire City.

Safe Streets without Traffic Law Enforcement

Car-drivers break the law all the time. They speed, they roll through stop signs, they run red lights, they drive over crosswalks while people are trying to cross them on foot. They do all that because it’s accepted and expected behavior, even though it’s also dangerous and illegal behavior.

In a better world, this is a problem the police could solve by enforcing existing laws more strictly. If police actually ticketed anyone who broke one of those laws, people would break them less often, and the City would be safer for everyone.

But in the world as it is, we know that the police won’t ticket just anyone for breaking these laws. Traffic enforcement often falls hardest in certain neighborhoods on certain kinds of people, and it often results in gross injustice. This Summer the police beat Shaolin Moore after accosting him because his car stereo was too loud. In October 2017, the police sexually assaulted Torrence Jackson after stopping him because he signaled a turn in his car too close to the intersection. Pretext stops like these make Syracuse more dangerous and unjust, and we can’t give the police even more latitude to perpetrate that injustice.

What the City needs instead is to make its streets into places where people don’t want to break the traffic laws—places where it’s hard drive recklessly.

Right now, the travel lanes on most streets are 10’ wide even though a Honda CRV is only 6’ wide. All that extra room means that someone driving an SUV can go real fast without worrying too much about hitting any other cars. Narrow those lanes, and car-drivers will take notice and slow down all on their own without the need for police officers with speed cameras.

Right now, street corners are curved so that cars can round them without slowing down much at all. This lets car-drivers turn at speed, so they rarely slow down enough to notice if someone’s trying to walk across the street. Straighten those corners out, and car-drivers will have to turn more slowly, giving people on foot a better chance to actually cross the street.

The City’s streets aren’t safe because people drive on them recklessly and illegally. Too often, when the police do actually enforce basic traffic laws, it has nothing to do with safety and it leads to injustice. A better way to make Syracuse safer is to reconstruct the streets themselves so that people choose to drive more carefully all on their own.