Category Archives: Planning

Food Deserts and Parking Lots

Too many people living in too many neighborhoods have too hard a time getting fresh food. In part, this problem has to do with the fact that grocery stores won’t open in poor neighborhoods—so-called ‘food deserts.’ But, because food deserts are only ‘deserts’ for people without cars, it also has to do with how accessible  grocery stores are to pedestrians.

If food deserts were just about the presence or absence of a grocery store in any particular neighborhood, then just about every suburban subdivision would warrant the name. Fairway East in Clay is not a food desert even though the nearest grocery store is 2 miles away because the people who live in Fairway East have easy access to food. They own cars and can easily drive to any number of grocery stores.

A food desert isn’t just a neighborhood without a grocery store. It’s also a neighborhood where people don’t have cars. That’s why, last summer, Last Chance For Change walked to Green Hills Grocery to show how hard it is for a lot of people on the Southside to get to fresh food. Driving from the Southside to Green Hills (or to the Nottingham Tops, or to the Western Lights Wegmans, or to the South Ave Price Rite, etc) is easy—walking there is hard, and that’s what matters.

And if the goal is to get more grocery stores within walking distance of more people, then not all grocery stores are created equal. Some—like the Route 31 Wegmans out near Fairway East—are designed to be driven to. They’re huge buildings that sit back behind huge parking lots, and they have to draw a huge number of customers from a huge area in order to survive.

This kind of design is bad for pedestrians because it’s unpleasant to walk across parking lots, but it’s also bad for food deserts because those huge parking lots could be full of housing for people who need to live within easy walking distance of a grocery store.

Take the Pond Street Tops on the Northside. It’s a 32,000 square foot store with a 85,000 square foot parking lot. Its front door is about 50 feet from the sidewalk on Pond Street and about 500 feet from the sidewalk on 1st North. That means the closest houses are actually pretty far away from the front door, and it means that fewer houses are within walking distance of the fresh food for sale in this store.

Compare that to the Co-op in Westcott. It has no parking lot, and it’s front door is right at the sidewalk. The nearest houses are just next door. In fact, if you tally up all of the street frontage around these two stores, the Co-op is within walking distance of 22% more land than is the Pond Street Tops.

Neighborhood-scale grocery stores—like the Co-op or Dominick’s in Hawley-Green—are highly accessible to people who get around on foot. That makes them really effective at putting fresh food within walking distance of lots of people. If more grocery stores in Syracuse were like them—if less land around the grocery stores we already have was wasted on parking—more people in more neighborhoods would have an easier time getting fresh food.

The mechanics of exclusion

Syracuse’s zoning ordinance makes most buildings illegal. Before anyone can build almost any new building or put an old one to almost any new use, they have to get a special exemption from the zoning code in the form of a variance or permit. This seemingly bureaucratic process is actually intensely political—the zoning appeals board and planning commission have discretion to approve or deny these permits and applications, and they can be influenced by well-connected people, businesses, organizations, and politicians. Vocal interest groups disrupt the hearings, political allies call in favors, campaign contributors air their concerns over lunch with the mayor.

This is how zoning actually works—the mechanics behind the ordinance that determine what gets built and in what neighborhoods. It exposes almost all new building—from high-priced apartments to emergency shelters—to political interference, and its practical effect is to decrease housing opportunity, drive up rents, and perpetuate exclusion across the City.

Take the apartment building planned for the Temple Concord site at the corner of University and Madison. Syracuse’s antiquated zoning code still considers that to be a semi-suburban residential area, so—among other onerous restrictions—it requires new buildings to have a 77’ rear setback. That’s just not practical for the kind of land use the neighborhood needs now, so the developer is requesting a variance to build closer to the property line.

The landlord next door doesn’t like that. Sure, his building is also ‘too close’ to the property line and would require a variance to get built today, but that’s not the point. The point is that incumbent landlords don’t like competition because it puts downward pressure on rents, and so he’s using a clearly outdated zoning ordinance to try and deny alternative housing options to his potential future tenants.

It’s hard to worry too much about two landlords fighting over tenants on University Hill, but these same bureaucratic mechanics also operate in other neighborhoods where they contribute to exclusion and segregation.

That’s what happened in Westcott two years ago when Syracuse’s overly restrictive zoning ordinance kept a developer from building 32 new apartments in a neighborhood with an acute housing shortage. Household sizes are shrinking in Westcott, but the century-old housing stock is mostly homes with 3 or more bedrooms, so rents are going up and people crowd together with roommates to afford this high-opportunity neighborhood.

32 new 1-bedroom apartments would have helped the neighborhood adjust to this changing demographic reality, but Syracuse’s zoning ordinance doesn’t really account for that kind of construction outside of a few very select areas, so the project required a variance. In a politically powerful neighborhood where the loudest voices often oppose new rental housing, the project was rejected out of hand, and 32 people who could have lived in Westcott have had to find alternative housing elsewhere.

But some people can’t just find housing elsewhere. The men who stay at the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter don’t really have anywhere else to go, and now that shelter itself is struggling to find a place to operate. It had intended to relocate to an abandoned building on West Genesee in the shadow of the West Street expressway, but an influential political donor with nearby real estate interests has run the shelter off with threats of frivolous litigation.

Now, those same anti-housing forces are trying to make sure their task is easier next time by amending the zoning ordinance to require a permit for any new ‘care home’ anywhere in the City. This legislation would require the planning commission to approve each individual emergency shelter, group home, and assisted living facility, and it would open all of these different kinds of housing arrangements to the same kinds of bad faith opposition that have made new housing so hard to build in any high-opportunity neighborhood in this City.

This is how zoning really works in Syracuse today. The zoning code is intentionally restrictive so that almost all new housing has to be approved on a case-by-case basis. That opens each project to obstruction from well-connected developers, politically powerful interest groups, and campaign contributors. All too often, these actors find their interests in opposition to the City’s least politically connected residents—renters, low-income families, people with disabilities, the unhoused—and they use the zoning ordinance to perpetuate systems of exclusion and segregation that make it so hard for so many to find a decent place to live in this City.

To begin to unmake those inequitable systems, City Hall first needs to reject this care homes zoning amendment. It’s practical effect will be to ban emergency housing from politically connected neighborhoods and concentrate it—along with so many other social services—in the places where no deep-pocketed donors live.

And then, City Hall needs to pass a new zoning ordinance that does away with all of this nonsense. ReZone—City Hall’s delayed plan to modernize the zoning ordinance—needs to be amended so that it doesn’t just reinstate these existing inequalities, and then it needs to be put into law so that everybody in this City can get the housing they need.

What to do with Shoppingtown

After losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue and spending millions more in bankruptcy court, Onondaga County has gotten legal control of Shoppingtown Mall. Now the County’s just got to figure out what to do with that 70 acre property. Given the geographic location of the site and the demographic trends in the immediate area, the best thing to do with this property is to redevelop it as a residential neighborhood.

The Shoppingtown property (in red) sits at the center of census tract 146 (in blue)

The Shoppingtown property sits in Dewitt near the eastern end of Erie Boulevard. This part of Dewitt is booming. Between 2000 and 2014, the population of census tract 146 grew by 31%, and median household income rose by 12% more than in the county as a whole.

The Town of Dewitt is also a major employment center. One out of every six jobs in Onondaga County is in Dewitt, and more than one out of every five jobs in Dewitt is in census tract 146.  19% of workers who live in the town also work there—only the Town of Skaneateles and the City of Syracuse employ a greater share of their local population.

All of this indicates that Dewitt is a good place to live and that lots of people really do want to live there.

But Dewitt also has some real problems. The relatively low ratio of workers to jobs means that 19 of every 20 people who work in Dewitt commute from outside the town. That’s the highest ratio of any town in the County, and it means that tens of thousands of people are bringing their cars into Dewitt every day. All those people driving all those cars leads to traffic congestion and air and noise pollution—concerns that loom large as NYSDOT prepares to remove the Downtown 81 viaduct.

And at the same time, Dewitt’s population growth is stagnating. Since 2014, census tract 146’s population has actually dropped by 9%, and median household income has barely kept pace with the rest of the County. Over that same period the tract saw almost no new housing construction, and median rent increased by about 7% or $50 a month.

Dewitt is a good place to live, so people want to move there. There isn’t enough housing, so that demand translates to higher prices and a stagnant population. Combine that stagnant population with a robust job market, and you get lots of people commuting into the town, bringing traffic and pollution.

The solution is to build more housing, and that’s what should happen on the Shoppingtown parcel.

The town government already has a plan to do this. They recently created a zoning overlay that designated this parcel as ‘mixed-use village.’ That designation allows for the construction of housing, retail, and park space all in the same area.

The goal of this new zoning overlay is to “encourage the adaptive reuse of aging commercial strip developments” by creating “village centers” that provide both “a high level of amenities that creates a comfortable environment for pedestrians, bicyclists and other users” and “a sufficient density of employees, residents and recreational users to support public transit.”

In other words, exactly what the Town of Dewitt needs. 

Redeveloped this way, Shoppingtown could become a desirable neighborhood like so many others in this part of the County. It could allow more people to move into this attractive area in order to access all of the amenities and opportunities that already exist there. It could reduce traffic congestion and pollution by letting more people live close to the places where they work by letting them get to work on foot, on bike, and on public transportation. It’s would bring new life to this dead mall.

A greenway for the Westside

Soon, the Eastside, Southside, and Northside will all have access to a cross-county network of greenways running through two of the three big valleys that intersect at Downtown Syracuse. That third valley—stretching from the City Center to Split Rock through Syracuse’s Westside—should have it’s own greenway too.

Existing network in dark green, proposed Westside Greenway in light green

Abandoned train bridges, a channelized creek, and public parks all link up to provide a largely level and car-free route through the City’s Westside. Beginning at Fay Road on the northern edge of the Geddes athletic fields, the greenway would run east past Bishop Ludden, the Centers at St. Camillus, and Westhill High School. It would follow Harbor Brook along the north side of Grand Avenue to the back entrance to Western Lights Plaza. There it would cross Grand to continue following Harbor Brook across Velasko Road, past Providence House and the Harbor Brook Wetlands Project, and into the City.

Harbor Brook as it enters Skunk City from the west

The greenway would cut through Skunk City to Grand Avenue, run along the edge of Burnet Park, and link back up with Harbor Brook where it crosses under Grand between Lydell and Herriman Streets. It would follow the brook and Amy Street to Seymour Street and then run across Fowler’s campus all the way to Fayette Street. It would cross Fayette on the existing abandoned train bridges, follow the County-owned abandoned railroad property to Geddes Street, cross that dangerous road on another abandoned train bridge, and then run along the north side of Fayette through Lipe Art Park.

A signalized crosswalk at Oswego Street—like the one on West Street at Otisco—would allow people to access the greenway from the Near Westside. The path would cross Fayette and West Streets with the existing rail viaduct and then come back down to street level on the existing rail siding that leads down into the parking lot behind the MOST. There, the greenway would link up with the Creekwalk and the rest of the metro area’s regional biking/walking network.

This greenway would connect major job centers, populous neighborhoods, three high schools, and three public parks. It would be almost entirely free from cars and almost perfectly level along its entire route. It would pass through one of the region’s most dynamic and least celebrated landscapes. It would be a very good addition to both Syracuse’s park system and its transportation network.

Will the Inner Harbor become the new Central Business District?

White collar companies are building new office space at the Inner Harbor instead of Downtown. This could be the start of a tectonic shift that remakes the City’s economic and social geography.

Equitable’s plan to move from its landmark office building on Madison to a brand new building on Clinton Street is just the most recent (and most dramatic) example of this trend. BHG is building a brand new office to consolidate its workers in one facility at the Inner Harbor. Rapid Response Monitoring built a $22 million addition to its Inner Harbor office in 2018.

This is not what City Hall had planned when it hired Cor to redevelop the Inner Harbor. The plan was for a totally new neighborhood of mixed use buildings with retail at street level and apartments above, densely built townhomes, a college satellite campus—a ‘24-hour neighborhood.’ Instead, the Inner Harbor is getting huge office buildings sharing their enormous parcels with gigantic surface parking lots while Cor plans to build even more surface parking and even fewer apartments on the land that it controls.

Syracuse has realized City Hall’s 1965 vision for a Downtown ringed by surface parking lots

In some ways, this is a real triumph for Syracuse. For 70 years, City Hall has been trying to figure out how to get companies that want new buildings and huge parking lots to stay Downtown. For most of that time, the plan has been to demolish enough of Downtown to provide parking spaces for everybody whose building was left standing. That policy failed to retain office jobs, and it turned a lot of Downtown into a moonscape. It was also one of the longer strands in the tangle of public policies that have made Syracuse one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the nation.

In the Inner Harbor, City Hall has found a collection of empty building sites that it can pitch to companies like Equitable that might otherwise move to the suburbs and to those like BHG who might never consider moving Downtown. This is a good thing because it maintains the City’s property tax base while also keeping thousands of opportunities for employment centrally located where they are more accessible to more people.

But it can only work so many times. Companies moving to the Inner Harbor are gobbling up land pretty fast. Equitable’s new building and parking lot will occupy 6.9 acres all on their own. Downtown, that company was just one tenant among many in a high-rise tower that sat on a 4.7 acre block. There simply isn’t enough room to give every company a spot in the semi-suburban office park that’s getting built at the Inner Harbor.

It also poses some real challenges to Downtown’s small businesses. Downtown’s residential population is not nearly big enough to support all of the businesses in the neighborhood. Those restaurants and shops thrive because so many non-residents come Downtown every day for work, and while they’re there they eat lunch, buy clothes, grab drinks. Every time a company moves a few hundred employees out of the neighborhood, it reduces that customer base and makes it harder for those small businesses to succeed.

Spreading all of those jobs out over a larger area will also make it harder for people to get to work by bus. Centro’s bus lines are all designed to terminate Downtown so that it never takes more than one bus to get to work there. Only one bus line runs up Solar Street, though, so anybody with a job at the Inner Harbor will have to take two buses to get to work.

BHG’s new building will take up less space than its parking lot, and it won’t have a door facing the sidewalk.

The big question is whether or not continued development will be the result of new jobs moving into Syracuse or existing jobs moving around within the City. BHG is bringing new jobs, but Equitable is just moving them from Downtown. If the Inner Harbor just leeches people and jobs from Downtown, then its development is best understood as more of the same sad story of Syracuse’s decentralization. But if instead it’s all new growth, then the conversion of the Inner Harbor into a sort of urban office park—the ‘Central Business District’ that mid-century city planners tried so hard to build—is a remarkable and welcome innovation in Syracuse’s development.

Neighborhood-Scale Retail

When you’ve already started cooking dinner and realize that you’re out of eggs and that you absolutely have to have eggs for this meal to work, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to just run down the block to buy a dozen without even turning the stove off.

When you don’t own a car and normally have to rely on a bus that only runs every 40 minutes whenever you want to leave the neighborhood, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to just wheel a cart around the corner to make the weekly grocery run.

Living near retail is convenient—especially for people who live car-free—and a lot of city neighborhoods would be a lot better off if they had more of it. More grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies, laundromats, hardware stores, libraries, barbers, and daycares within easy walking distance of more people’s homes.

But it’s a real challenge to make those kinds of businesses ‘fit’ into the neighborhoods that need them. Erie Boulevard has a hardware store, a post office, a pharmacy, a bank, multiple restaurants, three (!) grocery stores, and specialized retail like a local guitar store and bike shop all within a mile’s walk, but most of those businesses are huge, set back behind mammoth parking lots, flanked by and dependent on 690. People in Eastwood might want to be able to walk to the grocery store, but they sure as hell don’t want Price Chopper’s 3.75 acre parking lot with all of that car traffic and those glaring floodlights anywhere near their houses. On the flipside, Erie Boulevard is so choked with asphalt that there isn’t any room for anybody to live nearby all those businesses.

Car dependence and excessive bigness go together. No one is supposed to walk to Price Chopper (although plenty of people do out of necessity)—everyone is supposed to drive there. So the parking lot has to be big enough to store every customer’s car, and the streets leading to it have to be wide enough for all of that traffic. The result is a single store that sits on a property larger than the entire Westcott business district. A business entirely out of scale with the neighborhoods that should benefit from its proximity.

So to get more businesses that people can walk to, Syracuse needs more small stores designed for customers who arrive on foot. Dominick’s market in Hawley-Green is a perfect example. It’s small enough to focus on the immediate neighborhood, so it doesn’t need a big parking lot to get enough customers to support itself. It’s a store that fits into Hawley-Green and makes the neighborhood better for the people who live there.

This kind of neighborhood-scale retail is in short supply in Syracuse, but it’s starting to make a comeback. New small stores are opening up on old neighborhood main streets like North Salina, South Salina, and James Street. New zoning laws will make it easier for businesses to better serve their immediate neighbors. New people are moving into these neighborhoods because they want the convenience the comes from living near businesses. It’s all going to make for a better City.

Multifamily Housing and Neighborhood Character

331 Winton St is a 2-story, 3-unit apartment building on the Northside. Jefferson Tower is a 23-story, 295 unit Downtown high rise. ReZone can’t tell them apart—as far as City Hall’s new zoning ordinance is concerned, both are ‘multifamily’ housing, and both will be banned from most of Syracuse.

That will cause 2 huge problems: it will make neighborhoods less able to adapt to change—both population gain and loss, changing family size, climate changeand it threatens neighborhood character because 331 Winton St is part of Lincoln Hill and contributes to its character, so banning that building from that neighborhood necessarily means changing the neighborhood’s character. Fixing the first problem is easy (just add housing), but fixing the second is harder because it means coming up with a definition of ‘multifamily housing’ that can differentiate between 331 Winton St and Jefferson Tower.

The question ReZone needs to answer is this: how many apartments can a building have and still fit in with the rest of the neighborhood? The best way to find out is to just look at which different kinds of housing already are in which neighborhood. This is the only way to describe neighborhood character as it actually exists without resorting to personal opinion.

2-family houses in blue

Here’s a map of all 2-family houses in Syracuse. They’re spread across most of the City and are common in almost every residential neighborhood. The only exceptions are the City’s sparsest neighborhoods—like Sedgwick and the Valley—and it’s most built up areas—like lower James and Downtown.

3- and 4-family houses in red

Here’s a map of the City’s 3- and 4-family houses. 3- and 4-family homes are common in almost every residential neighborhood in the City, and they are absent from Sedgwick, the Valley, lower James, and Downtown.

Here are maps of the geographic areas where you can find these two groups of housing in Syracuse. On the combined map, the blue areas show where you can find 2-family houses, the red areas show where you can find 3- and 4-family houses, and the purple areas show where 2-, 3-, and 4-family houses are all mixed in together. Every single neighborhood that 2-family houses also has 3- and 4-family houses. Every neighborhood that has 3- and 4- family houses also has 2-family houses.

That makes good sense since so many 3-family homes are just modified 2-flats, and it’d be hard for someone to tell exactly how many apartments are in one of these buildings just by looking. They couldn’t have existed anywhere but those neighborhoods that already have 2-family homes, and they fit into those neighborhoods’ character just fine. 

1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-family homes are all part of the character of this Syracuse street

ReZone could (and probably should) make even finer distinctions among multifamily housing—buildings with between 5 and 15 apartments are also common across the City, often look like big houses, and are worth distinguishing from larger apartment complexes—but this is the big one. In any Syracuse neighborhoods where you can find a 2-family house, you can also find 3- and 4-family houses. No neighborhood whose character accepts 2-family houses can reject 3- and 4- family houses. When ReZone acknowledges this, it will make Syracuse more adaptable, more equitable, and more resilient, and it will actually protect and preserve Syracuse’s neighborhood’s character.

Get Rid of ReZone’s Apartment Bans

City Hall’s ReZone project is an opportunity to unmake the mistakes that have made Syracuse into a segregated city. That will require change, though, because the new zoning map is drawn in such a way that it will entrench inequality and exacerbate the disparities between the City’s neighborhoods.

To see how, look at Census Tract 45 on the Eastside. This tract includes most of Westcott—a neighborhood where people want to move, where new businesses are opening, where people are investing. But Westcott is also a neighborhood where there’s not enough housing to accommodate all the people who want to live there, so rents are going up, and more people are having to crowd into what little housing there is.

3,784 people live in 1,649 homes in tract 45. Just over half of those homes are in multifamily buildings (green on the map below). The remainder are 1-family houses (yellow on the map below). Both types of housing are mixed across the tract.

Housing in tract 45. Single family homes in yellow and multifamily homes in green.

ReZone allows single family housing everywhere in the City, but it bans multifamily housing from huge swaths of Syracuse, mostly in high opportunity neighborhoods like Westcott. The most recent draft of the new zoning map bans multifamily housing from most of tract 45. If it had been law when Westcott was originally laid out, less than half of the existing multifamily housing in the neighborhood could ever have been built.

Thankfully, all that existing multifamily housing will be grandfathered into ReZone as ‘noncomformities,’ but that label limits owners’ ability to invest in these homes—they won’t be able to make major renovations or additions—and the lot-by-lot ban on multifamily housing also will limit the opportunity to build enough new housing to relieve the neighborhood’s housing shortage. That will drive up rents even further, leaving Westcott unable to accommodate the people who want to live there and excluding people according to their income and wealth. The predictable result is increased residential segregation and the spread of gentrification to other parts of the City.

Westcott is a good neighborhood with access to jobs, businesses, schools and transportation. All of those things attract people looking to make a good life in Syracuse. But legal limits on multifamily housing exclude too many of those people who want to take advantage of all that Westcott and so many other neighborhoods have to offer. This exclusionary zoning is one root of Syracuse’s shameful history of economic and racial segregation, and ReZone is an opportunity to rip it out. The new ordinance must legalize multifamily housing across the entire City if neighborhoods of opportunity are going to be fully accessible to everyone who wants to live in them.

Finding Space for Social Distancing

Coronavirus has put space at a premium. A lot of the places where we gather weren’t set up for people to keep six feet apart from each other. Packing into crowded restaurants, churches, arenas, or malls just won’t work the way it used to, and if those businesses and institutions are going to work at all, they’re going to need more space.

You don’t have to look far to find extra space. Just watch this video from the Post Standard, and you’ll see just how much space Syracuse really has.

Acres and acres of empty streets, freeways, and parking lots. All of that space is up for grabs right now, and all of it could be put to better use.

Let’s put some numbers to that. This picture shows part of Armory Square—a spot where lots of people used to pack into tight spaces. But restaurants, shops, and offices only account for about half of the total space in this picture. Sidewalks and tiny Armory Square Park are another eighth of the space. The rest is parking garages, parking lots, parking lanes, and travel lanes. Fully one third of Armory Square is reserved for the movement and storage of cars.

This is so obviously stupid that people have fought against it for years. New buildings have gone up on parking lots, pop up markets have taken over entire streets, businesses have turned parking lanes into outdoor seating, and City Hall is looking at closing one block of Walton Street to cars for good.

.   .   .

Coronavirus only makes all that even more necessary in every city neighborhood—people need space to meet up, to have church, to pass each other on the sidewalk. Syracuse can’t work the old way—ample room for cars, but not enough for people—when we’re all keeping our distance. If it’s going to work at all, then we’re going to have to make more space for people, and the fastest way to do that is to take it back from cars.

Three Reasons to Free Streets From Cars

As Syracuse plans to reserve more of its streets for buses, bikers, and people on foot, it’s important to be clear about why that’s a good idea. There are at least three different reasons to keep cars off a city street.

To make an intersection safer

Intersections where lots of streets meet at odd angles can be hard to navigate. All the different traffic lights are confusing, and it’s hard to time them well. Traffic backs up, and no one’s sure when they’re supposed to go. People get frustrated, and that’s dangerous when so many of them are operating 2-ton steel motor vehicles.

Sometimes, cities can make these kinds of intersections simpler—and safer—by closing part of a street to car traffic. That’s what New York City did at Times Square, it’s what Boston has proposed for Kenmore Square, and it’s what Syracuse has done at Onondaga Circle, Columbus Circle, and is planning to do at Butternut Circle.

To create a destination

New York City’s Times Square redo also created a brand new public space in the middle of Manhattan—a place where people came to hang out, rest, and enjoy the city.

Plenty of other cities have closed small sections of central streets to create similar destinations: Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, Ithaca’s Commons, Boston’s Faneuil Hall. These ‘pedestrian malls’ are all at the center of their Downtowns—they’re all designed to draw people from across the metropolitan area, to act as commercial/cultural hubs for their regions.

But many tried to do this and failed. For every Ithaca Commons there’s a lifeless Buffalo Main Street. Arian Horbovetz recently argued that pedestrian malls are likely to fail in smaller cities, and that traffic calming is a better option. The reason is that, in Upstate’s car-dominated cities, most people could only reach these car-free destinations by car. Pedestrian malls will only work when people can walk, or bike, or bus to them.

To make it easier to get around

Cities can make it a lot easier for people to walk, bike, or bus by setting aside entire streets for those means of transportation. That was the idea behind taking cars off 14th Street in New York City and Market Street in San Francisco—buses running on those streets are now free from car traffic, and bikers on those streets don’t have to worry about getting run over anymore.

Syracuse can do the same. It was built to house and move a much higher mid-century population, and now it’s got plenty of extra streets that cars don’t need. Already, Onondaga Creek Boulevard is just for bikes and walkers. City Hall should do the same thing on Water Street between Erie Boulevard and Townsend Street, creating a safe, convenient, flat connection between Downtown and the Eastside.

The good news is that Syracuse doesn’t have to pick just one of these reasons for keeping cars off some of its streets. Simplifying an intersection can create a new public square where people can sit and enjoy the city. Turning a regular street into a bikeway can bring more people to a city’s public squares. Reserving one street for buses can simplify a whole bunch of intersections. All of these different reasons can work together to create a safer, simpler, happier city.