Category Archives: Transportation

Bike Lanes in Winter

A lot of people are concerned that Syracuse is wasting its time making the streets safe for bikes. ‘It snows here,’ they say, ‘three months of the year no one’s going to be on a bike.’ This do-nothing stance treats bikes as recreation, and it treats all the people who ride them as fitness buffs. It fails to address the reality in Syracuse, which is a lot of people don’t have access to a car, and bikes can and should be a safe, convenient way for them to get around town.

First, let’s get over this ‘no biking in winter’ thing. If we all just stopped using a transportation option because snow made it harder, then no one would drive in the winter either. The slick roads, white outs, and potholes make driving in the winter miserable, but people keep on doing it anyway. It’s not so fun biking in that weather either, but if that’s how you get to work, then you’re going to keep on biking regardless of the weather. Plenty of people on bikes aren’t out there for fun—they ride because it’s the most practical economical way to get around town. It’s more dangerous for them to do that in winter, sure, but that’s exactly why Syracuse needs more bike lanes to keep them safe.

There are people who won’t bike in winter—they weigh all their options and decide that it’s not worth the extra danger to keep biking through winter with all that snow, ice, and all those lousy drivers. How do they get around town during the winter? Not in their own personal cars, that’s for sure. If these people had a spare car lying around, it’s how they’d travel all year. No, they’ve either got to walk or ride the bus when they put the bike up.

But if there are so many bike riders making this decision, then how come we’re not doing more to make walking or riding the bus safer and more convenient in winter? Why did it take so long to plow even a few sidewalks? Why aren’t there more buses? Why aren’t the people so concerned that we not waste money on bike lanes because of ‘winter’ asking these same questions too?

It’s because they don’t really see who uses bikes and what for. These people are car drivers who might understand the idea of taking a Saturday bike ride for fun or whatever, but they’d never mix that up with the real business of getting to work or buying groceries or taking a child to school. They think Syracuse is for people in cars because everybody has one.

But plenty of people don’t have a car, and Syracuse is for them too. Those people need wider sidewalks, they need better bus service, and they also need more bike lanes—especially in the winter

The Promise of the 20-Minute City

Ask some people, and they’ll tell you that the best thing about Syracuse is that it’s a ‘20-Minute City.’ They mean that you can get between any two points in Onondaga County—from Fayetteville to Fairmount, from Liverpool to Lafayette—in 20 minutes or less. This was part of Syracuse’s pitch to get Amazon’s HQ2, it’s part of how the City’s suburbs keep making ‘Best Places to Live’ lists, it’s a big part of the debate around the Downtown I81 viaduct.

Because it’s quick and easy to get to anywhere from anywhere, the 20-Minute City provides people with opportunity. No matter where you work, you can choose to live in any neighborhood. No matter where your live, you can attend any church, your kids can go to any school that will take them, you can visit any attraction. In the 20-Minute City, distance can’t constrain people making those kinds of decisions.

But—and this rarely ever gets acknowledged—all of that is only true if you own a car. Syracuse has been sprawling out for decades, and now everything is so spread out that a lot of people travel twenty or thirty miles just to run their daily errands. No one could reasonably walk or bike those distances, and buses don’t even run to much of the County. In the 20-minute City, opportunity requires a car.

And that means that the 20-minute City doesn’t offer equal access to opportunity. Kids don’t own cars, and as a result are totally dependent on their parents for rides to school, practice, friends’ houses. Plenty of adults don’t own cars either—they don’t have a license, they don’t want the expense, they can’t drive. There are thousands of people in Syracuse in the same situation for all kinds of different reasons, and none of them are free to fully participate in the 20-minute City.

For years, local government has responded to this problem in two different ways. The first—and most direct—response has been to get those people into cars. Onondaga County’s Rides-to-Work program subsidized cab fare for people commuting to work, and its Wheels-for-Work program actually bought cars for people who couldn’t bus, bike, or walk to work in the 20-Minute City. The same idea motivated the County’s support for Providence Services, it inspired a pilot program to subsidize Lyft rides for certain commuters, and it lurks behind the Post-Standard’s position that app-taxis should replace Centro.

All of these ideas have had some success—some people did get to own a car, some people do ride to work with Providence Services, and some people do use Uber to get around town—but none of them has ever been able to provide everybody with the car-dependent-opportunity that the 20-minute City promises. Onondaga County cancelled it’s direct car-subsidy programs because of cost, Providence Services gives rides to 45 people, and Uber is simply too expensive for the poorest people to use everyday (even with billions of dollars of private subsidy from venture capitalists).

The second and more widespread response has been to shoehorn pedestrians, bikes, and buses into spaces designed exclusively for cars. That’s how you get a new crosswalk at the intersection of 57 and John Glenn, bike lanes on the shoulders of the Onondaga Lake Parkway, and buses that loop through the parking lots of strip malls in the suburbs.

 

None of the new pedestrian or bike infrastructure is any good. That John Glenn crosswalk doesn’t connect to a sidewalk on one side, and bikers on the Parkway have no real protection from speeding cars.

More to the point, that infrastructure does nothing to change the land-use patterns that make life so difficult for people who get around without a car. In the 20-Minute City, homes, schools, churches, and workplaces in a community can all be miles away from each other—separated by distances that no person could cover on a bike, much less on foot, even with the very best bike lane or sidewalk.

It’s not any better for buses. Centro’s system map makes it seem like just about the whole County is accessible by bus, but just try to actually get to Jordan, or Central Square, or Lafayette. Those places only see a couple of buses a day, so it’s not actually practical to reach them except at a few very specific times. That constraint means that people often can’t actually get to work from those places, and so they don’t really have the opportunity to live in those places.

 

At the same time, the very fact that Centro is running buses all the way out to those little villages means that there are fewer buses running on the lines where people could actually use them. Even Centro’s best bus lines stop running for about an hour during the middle of the day. The vast majority see that kind of service gap all the time. Centro’s existing insufficient budget just can’t buy enough vehicles and pay enough operators to run buses all over the County and to provide quality service in the neighborhoods where lots of people really do ride the bus. People rely on this barely passable service, and starving it of resources robs them of opportunity.

The 20-minute City fails to actually provide the opportunity that it promises. Opportunity, but only if you own a car. Anybody who can’t or won’t accept that ridiculous condition is stuck in a city that ignores their needs, that treats them like a problem to be fixed, that asks why they can’t just get with the program and start driving around like everybody else.

Syracuse needs a better idea of what opportunity should look like and what that means for the 20-minute city. Instead of a place that can get a car anywhere in the county in 20 minutes or less, Syracuse needs to be a place where everybody is within 20 minutes of all their daily needs, no matter how they choose to travel.

This new orientation emphasizes location, distance, and variety where the current 20-minute city ignores all of that in favor of parking lots and wide roads. It’s the difference between a neighborhood like Eastwood where people can walk to the drug store, post-office, and library, bike to the grocery store and school, and catch a bus to work, and a neighborhood like Radisson where all of those same things are perfectly accessible, but only after a 5, 10, or 20 minute drive.

If Syracuse is really going to be a City where everybody has equal opportunity, then it needs more neighborhoods like Eastwood and fewer like Radisson. More neighborhoods where businesses mix with homes, more neighborhoods where small lots and apartment buildings make it so lots of people can live within walking distance of those businesses and the bus stop, more neighborhoods where lots of buses actually serve that bus stop all day, and more neighborhoods where it’s safe, convenient, and pleasant to walk or bike around at all.

 

None of this should be controversial. It’s what so many people want for their neighborhoods already. We just have to actually make it happen. That means zoning reform, road redesign, and better bus service in those neighborhoods where the new 20-minute City is possible. It also means that when Syracuse builds new neighborhoods—like it’s trying to do at the Inner Harbor, under the viaduct, and at Pioneer Homes—those places need to be places of opportunity for all people from the very beginning.

The promise of the old 20-minute City dominates a lot of people’s hopes for Syracuse. It’s a place where people enjoy boundless opportunity, boundless choice—where no one decision about where to live or where to work or where to shop has any effect on any other decision because all things and all places are equally accessible from anywhere. But that version of the 20-minute City is, at its root, exclusionary. It only works for people who have achieved or accepted car-dependency, and so it only works for some of the people who actually live in Syracuse. The new 20-minute City modifies that promise and makes it equally accessible to all people—no matter where you are and no matter how you get around, you will have the opportunity to make a full life in Syracuse.

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.

OnTrack’s Shadow

Sometimes it feels like this City can’t get past OnTrack. When Centro is working to run better bus service, people just say ‘bring back OnTrack.’ When I81 is making Syracuse totally rethink what kind of city it wants to be and what that means for public transportation, people just say ‘bring back OnTrack.’ That rail service was a great experiment, but Syracuse needs to move on if public transportation is ever going to do what it needs to do in this town.
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Syracuse needs better public transportation between the University, Downtown, and the Mall. That’s common sense, and it’s one of the big recommendations from the Syracuse Transit System Analysis. After weighing all the options, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council drew up a plan to serve that corridor with a new high-frequency bus line.

OnTrack used to do that same job, but a bus could do it better for the simple reason that a bus could do it faster. OnTrack ran on rails that zigged and zagged through the City, tracing a 4.5-mile squiggle from the University to the Mall. Trains took 20 minutes to make that trip. That’s no faster than what Centro’s buses already do running on 3.75 miles of city streets, and SMTC’s plan includes a few tricks that will make those buses go even faster.

Despite that simple fact, people still ask why Syracuse should settle for a fast bus when it could have a slow train instead. That mindset—trains or nothing—deprives bus service of its natural political allies, and it keeps Centro from making even incremental changes to improve the state of public transportation in Syracuse.

At the same time, OnTrack is a poor model if you’re trying to imagine what a truly transformational transit system would look like. It was a half-hearted budget-minded proposal that barely even tried to improve the lives of people who actually rely on public transportation.

Train tracks criss cross Syracuse and its suburbs. The rail lines left over from the City’s pre-car period still run through the walkable villages and neighborhoods where public transit works best, and they extend to major regional population centers like Oswego, Auburn, and Cortland. A true regional rail service could connect all those places, making it possible to get around the entire metropolitan area quickly and conveniently without ever having to step foot in a car.

Existing rail infrastructure

And that’s not the only way to liberate people from automotive dependency. Syracuse has ceded its streets entirely to cars. Take just a fraction of that space back, and the City could have a true rapid transit network with buses running in dedicated transitways through villages and neighborhoods, and in separated lanes on the highways that connect those population centers.

Despite these possibilities, too many ideas about what’s possible in this town start and end with OnTrack—a solitary, short, single-tracked rail line that served too few destinations too slowly and too infrequently. If Syracuse ever builds the political will to spend the money necessary to build a transformational public transportation system, we’ll need to think bigger than that.

OnTrack was a bold experiment. The City needed better public transportation, and instead of tinkering with bus routes Syracuse went big and built an El. As a passenger train service OnTrack failed, but as an experiment it succeeded in showing the City what wouldn’t work and in suggesting new possibilities that could work. That should be OnTrack’s legacy—a visionary investment in public transportation that points the way towards a better future Syracuse.

Buses Without Traffic

You’re riding the bus when a mother with her two kids rings the bell. The bus pulls over, they get off, and the operator waits for a few cars to pass before he can get back into the travel lane. During those few seconds the light turns yellow and then red. The bus rolls up to the light, and then you sit there, waiting for it to turn green, hoping to avoid a similar delay at the next intersection.

The problem is traffic. The cars running parallel to the bus keep it from pulling away from the curb, and the cars running on the cross street keep it stuck at the intersection. The only sure way for the bus to avoid that kind of delay is to get it out of traffic.

Bus lanes can fix half the problem. They clear a straight path down the street so that buses can pickup, transport, and drop off passengers in a single unobstructed line.

Transit signal priority deals with the other half of the traffic problem. Smart stop lights sense approaching buses, holding a green or shortening a red so that all those riders can get through the intersection quickly.

Bus lanes Downtown and signal priority at key intersections like Park and Harborside Drive would immediately relieve choke points where buses get slowed down now. Expanding those smart technologies throughout the City would improve service across the system, allowing for faster frequent service everywhere.

Eventually, Centro could build a true bus rapid transit line of crosstown bus-only streets with transit signal priority. Imagine riding Downtown on a street reserved for buses. There aren’t any cars, so the lanes are narrower, the sidewalks are wider, and the bus runs right at the curb. When someone has to get off, the bus only pauses long enough for them to step out before it continues down the block, and you never get stuck at a red light.

How to Get More Bike Lanes

City Hall is trying to make it easier for more people to get around by bike. Great. Now only if they’d make it safer for more people bike in the City too.

There is very little dedicated space to bike on Syracuse’s streets. What space has been carved out—a protected track on part of University Ave, unprotected lanes on a few other streets—is disconnected and half-hearted. It’s definitely not the full bike network that City Hall drew up in its comprehensive plan.bikeplanmap

But City Hall isn’t doing a whole lot to make that network a reality. Even when DPW repaves a street that’s part of the Bike Plan, they’re not painting bike lanes. Amazingly, according to transportation planner Neil Burke, that’s on purpose:

“If we are doing one block of a street, and it’s on the bicycle master plan, we’re not going to roll-out full-fledged bike lanes just for one block. What we like to do is take more of a corridor approach connecting destinations instead of one block at a time. It can be slow to materialize, but what it does give us is usable infrastructure instead of just checking a box.”

That would make some sense if City Hall was actively working to build those corridors and connect those destinations, but they’re not. They’ve left it up to other institutions—normally New York State or Syracuse University—to decide where the City’s bike lanes will run, and that’s left Syracuse with bike infrastructure that’s helpful to get from Albany to Buffalo or from Westcott to the University, but not much of anywhere else.

There are two obvious ways for City Hall to build a bike network that works for the whole City. First is to start building the Comprehensive Plan’s bike network whenever possible. DPW is repaving Brighton Ave between Thurber and State Streets. The Comprehensive Plan says that spot should have bike lanes, so DPW should paint them on once it’s done with the paving. It’d only be a few blocks of bike lanes, but those few blocks would get people biking on Brighton, raise awareness of City Hall’s stated intention to paint lanes all the way from South Ave to Seneca Turnpike, and build the political support that City Hall needs in order to make that full buildout a priority.

Second, there should be bike lanes on every single street that has a bikeshare station. It’s insane to provide people with bikes to ride without a safe place to ride them. Those streets are all already part of the comprehensive plan, and the bikeshare stations’ very existence proves the need, so just go out and paint the lanes.

It’s great that Syracuse has a bike share. It’s great that there’s a new way for people to get around the City without a car. But a pushing bikes without building bike lanes is asking for trouble. People need to be able to use that bikeshare—and they need to be able to ride their own bikes—safely, separated from cars. The comprehensive plan already shows what that would look like. Now City Hall has to actually make it happen.

Sync Makes Biking More Possible for More People

Sync—the new bikeshare network that launches on Tuesday—tackles three barriers to biking in Syracuse.

First, Sync makes biking cheaper. Bikes are one of the least expensive ways to get around, but, between the upfront cost and maintenance costs, it’s easy to sink $100 into even a cheap used bike. If that bike gets stolen or damaged, that investment’s gone. Sync will insulate riders from that risk because if a bike gets stolen or damaged, it’s on GotchaBike—the operator—to absorb that cost, not the rider.

Second, Sync makes biking simpler for people who move frequently. Bikes are big and they don’t pack well. Moving them between apartments is a pain, especially if you don’t own enough furniture to justify the cost of renting a moving truck. Frequent moves keep a lot of people from buying a bike at all, and that means that a lot of people in Syracuse—a city where 25% of the population moves at least once a year—don’t ride. Sync will allow people to bike without having to deal with all that.

Third, Sync makes biking easier physically. There are a lot of hills in Syracuse—University Hill, Tipperary Hill, Prospect Hill, and a bunch of others that don’t even have names. Biking across town almost always means going up at least one hill, and that’s pretty hard for a lot of people. Sync’s bikes all have electric motors that will ‘flatten’ those hills, making it easier for everybody to ride up them.

Right now, these different challenges keep different kinds of people from biking in Syracuse. By addressing all of them, Sync is giving a broad group of people access to a new option for getting around the City.

The Emerging Pro-Transit Coalition

In Syracuse, local politicians are doing all they can to expand economic opportunity. At the same time, politicians in the State government are working to eliminate New York’s carbon footprint by 2050. These two groups of politicians—along with the activists and organizations that support them—should partner to advocate for better public transportation in Syracuse. A high-quality regional-wide service would expand economic opportunity by making more jobs more accessible to more people, and it would fight climate change by taking cars off the road. Working together as a pro-transit coalition, groups interested in each of these outcomes would provide Centro with the political support it needs in order to make this kind of service a reality.

 

The Status Quo

As it stands, Centro has very little political support. Nobody at the City, County, State, or Federal level values bus service enough to shift money from highways to public transportation, so every year Centro has to go begging for the money just to keep its buses running. That gets enough people riled up that Albany will push a couple million dollars Centro’s way—just enough to fill the deficit—and then the exact same thing happens all over again the next year

Without the political power to fund service improvements, Centro has crafted its planning process to make them impossible. SMART1—the most recent proposal to improve public transportation in Syracuse—focused almost exclusively on service within the City. That’s because when Centro plans transit service, it uses demand models that look like this:

According to this model, enough people live and work in the blue areas to justify improved transit service. The light blue areas can justify rapid buses, the medium areas can justify light rail, and the dark blue areas can justify heavy rail.

But this demand model assumes that any new transit service has to justify its existence by first attracting a certain number of riders. That means that good service can only run where lots of people already ride the bus, ignoring the fact that people choose to ride the bus in those areas because Centro runs relatively good service there. It also means that the areas where people don’t use public transportation can’t get better service even though low ridership is caused, at least in part, by how bad the service is right now. By ignoring the effect that the quality of service has on ridership, Centro is able to justify its barely passable service, and it avoids politically impossible requests for more funding. The result is too little economic opportunity and too many cars on the road.

A coalition of economic opportunity and environmental advocates could turn that logic on its head. When you recognize transit as a necessary tool in the twin fights against poverty and climate change, low ridership is a challenge to overcome rather than a sign to give up. The emerging pro-transit coalition should respond to low ridership by improving service in order to make more jobs more accessible and to better compete with car travel. Those improvements would attract more ridership, getting more people to work and taking more cars off the road.

 

Transit for the Whole Region

It’s not easy to run attractive transit service in suburbs where people and jobs are spread thinly over a very large area, but in the book Transport for Suburbia, Paul Mees describes how Zurich’s network of city rail lines and suburban bus routes accomplishes the task by making connections between the trains and buses simple, convenient, and cheap. Easy connections integrate each line into the larger network. That allows public transportation to cover the entire metropolitan area, and it gives riders the same freedom that they’d have in a private car.

For Centro, that could start with a fast frequent regional rail system connecting Syracuse to Auburn, Fulton, Oswego, and Cortland. Much of the infrastructure already exists parallel to the slow infrequent coach buses that Centro already runs.

Regional rail lines connecting the cities and suburbs of the metropolitan area

Complemented by well-timed connecting bus lines—extending to Ithaca, say, or linking suburban communities and job centers along major roads like Route 31 and Taft Road—this service would open the entire region to travel without a car, increasing economic opportunity and reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

Political Support is Fundamental

This service—or something like it designed by actual transportation planners—won’t come cheap. It will cost money to acquire new rights of way, to buy new buses and trains, to hire enough operators to run them frequently, to time them precisely.

For Centro’s entire history, that kind of spending has been unthinkable. The money will have to come from the State or from the Federal Government, and that means that it will have to come at the expense of some other government program—highways, maybe. Good public transportation is a political choice, and it can’t come about unless people with power value it more than they value the other things that also require government funding.

That may finally have changed. Now that the environment and economic opportunity have moved up to the top of the agenda in Syracuse and in New York State, there may finally be a coalition broad enough and powerful enough to make public transportation a priority in this City. We can finally stop treating public transportation like a ‘program’ that’s only funded grudgingly, when all other options are exhausted and only at the bare minimum. Can we finally stop spending billions on highway expansion while ignoring million dollar plans for better bus service. We can finally take public transportation seriously as an opportunity to achieve New York’s loftiest goals.

More Buses or More Routes

In Syracuse, people ride the bus to get all over the City for all kinds of reasons. Centro needs to run a service that fits their needs by connecting the entire City. One way to do that would be to run more buses between different neighborhoods, even if that meant running new lines that avoid Downtown altogether. Another option, though, would be to just run more buses more frequently on the lines that already exist.

Right now, to get from the corner of South Ave and Bellevue to Syracuse University, you have to take a bus up into Downtown and then catch a University bus at the Hub. The whole trip covers 2.5 miles, and you spend about 13 minutes on the bus.

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A new crosstown line along Bellevue, MLK, and Euclid would make that trip much more direct. You’d only need one bus, that bus would only travel 1.9 miles, and it’d only take about 10 minutes. That’s 23% less time spent actually riding the bus—not too bad.

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The bulk of a Centro trip isn’t spent riding the bus, though. Just to ride the 15 minutes between any given neighborhood and Downtown, it’s common to have to wait 30 or 40 minutes at the stop. If that Bellevue-MLK-Euclid bus only ran once an hour, the true average trip time would be 40 minutes—10 minutes riding the bus and an average of 30 minutes spent waiting for it to show up in the first place. At that point, it’s just about as fast to cross that distance on foot.

So while it’s good to shave minutes off of the time that riders spend on the bus, the best way to make Centro more convenient is actually to shorten waiting times. That means more buses running on each line with shorter headways.

Centro and SMTC have proposed to do just that. In their SMART1 plan, they talked about crosstown buses running from Eastwood to OCC, and from SU to the RTC every 15 minutes all day. That kind of service is unheard of in Syracuse, and it would do a lot to connect different parts of the City together.

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SMART1 BRT Lines

Those short headways would reduce the average trip from South Ave to SU to 28 minutes—a 7.5 minute wait at Bellevue, a 4.5 minute ride to the Hub, a 7.5 minute wait for the connecting bus, and an 8.5 minute ride to SU. That’s 30% faster than the direct route on the less frequent Bellevue-MLK-Euclid bus would be, even with the extra distance and the need to transfer at the Hub.

Obviously, the best option would be for Centro to offer both. Then, someone waiting at South Ave and Bellevue could just catch whichever bus came first, no matter whether it was headed up South Ave or east on Bellevue.

These two options represent a tradeoff, though. Frequent service is only possible if Centro concentrates its resources on key lines. Every bus running on east on Bellevue is not running north on South Ave, and if Centro were to start running new lines without new money, then it wouldn’t be as able to run frequent service on its major lines. Too many new crosstown routes could, at that point, actually make it more difficult to get across town on a bus.

Syracuse needs better bus service. Syracuse needs bus service that connects different parts of the City, that makes it easier and convenient for people to get around town. There are different ways to do that, but one of the easiest would be to just run more buses more frequently along major lines.

Buses That Don’t Go Downtown

In Syracuse, most major streets lead Downtown. Salina, James, Burnet, Erie, Genesee, Fayette, Onondaga—all of them are good for getting into and out of the city center.

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Most other major streets at least point towards Downtown, even if they don’t reach it. Midland, South Ave, Wolf, Court, and Butternut all end in neighborhoods outside of Downtown, but they all join up with a roughly parallel street that does reach the city center.

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When so many major streets—the ones lined with businesses, the ones running through close-knit neighborhoods—lead Downtown, it makes a lot of sense to run bus lines on all of them and to make all those lines intersect at one spot Downtown at regular intervals. It’s it’s the simplest way to connect all of those different neighborhood main streets, and it’s exactly what Centro does.

But there are plenty of major streets in Syracuse that don’t point towards Downtown at all. Brighton, Geddes, Park, Grant, Oak, Teall, and Westcott are all good streets to run a bus on, but none of them has its own line. Grant Boulevard runs from Eastwood to the train station and Mall, passing through heavily populated parts of the Northside where many people do not own cars. The 80 and 52 buses each run along Grant for a couple of blocks, but it’s impossible to get from one end of that street to the other by bus because Centro won’t run a bus line that doesn’t get its riders to the Downtown Hub.

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The result bad for bus riders in two ways. Buses like the 80 and 52 try to do two contradictory things (go Downtown and serve Grant Boulevard), and they end up doing neither very well. If you’re taking one of these buses to Downtown, then those zigs and zags that it makes on parts of Grant (and also Park Street) are a waste of your time.

The 52 and 80 buses zig and zag across the Northside

At the same time, riders can’t actually use these buses to get along a street like Grant. This makes it really inconvenient to get between two points on one side of town—between Eastwood and Westcott, say, or between Grant Village and the Mall—because you have to go all the way Downtown to make the transfer.

Centro could fix both problems with new bus lines that follow these streets without ever trying to get downtown. Taking Centro’s existing jogs and deviations as a starting point, here are some potential crosstown lines that never go Downtown.

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These bus lines (or ones like them) would make it much easier to get around town. That’s obviously true if you’re traveling along one of these lines (from Skunk City to the Mall, say), but it’s also true for people transferring between two lines. Imagine trying to get from the corner of Colvin and Salina to OCC. Currently, you’d have to ride more than a mile north (away from where you’re going) to connect with the South Ave bus that will take you to OCC. The full trip is 5.5 miles. If there were a bus running East-West on Brighton, though, you could walk ⅓ mile to catch it, ride west to South Ave, connect to the OCC bus there, and reach campus in less than 3.5 miles.

At the same time, these lines would make the Centro’s existing lines more useful by allowing them to run in straight lines. Some James Street buses take an extra 12 minutes to get Downtown because they detour along Teall. A bus running along Teall from Lyncourt to Westcott would eliminate the need for that detour and make Centro’s James Street service faster, more efficient, and more useful to people actually trying to get Downtown.

Right now, Centro is trying to “fill in service gaps” with some money that it just got from New York State. The most egregious gaps in Syracuse’s bus service are temporal—even the busiest lines have service gaps that last more than an hour during the middle of the day—and Centro needs to fill them first.

The next gaps that need filling are the ones on Brighton, Teall, Westcott, Geddes, Grant, Bellevue. Crosstown bus lines on those streets would make it easier, faster, and simpler to get around Syracuse by bus. Combined with the SMTC’s planned BRT service, these new lines would make it easy to live in Syracuse without a car.

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