Category Archives: Transportation

The Recipe for BRT

The recipe for good public transportation is simple: (1) run lots of buses (2) in straight lines (3) that connect lots of people (4) to the places where they want to go. Do that, and people will ride.

The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council followed that recipe when it designed two new crosstown bus rapid transit lines (BRT) for Centro. One will run from Eastwood to OCC, and the other will run from Syracuse University to the Regional Transportation Center. Together, these two lines will make Centro much more useful to many more people, and they’ll make Syracuse a better City.

Run lots of buses…

When the bus runs every fifteen minutes, you always know that you won’t have to wait very long for the next one to show up. That’s incredibly freeing because it means you don’t have plan your day around the bus schedule. You can leave the house when you want, and you can head back home when you want. No more worrying about catching the one single bus that can get you where you’re going on time.

Centro’s new BRT lines will run every fifteen minutes minutes all day. It will be a huge improvement over Centro’s current service, and it will make the bus useful for people making all kinds of different trips at all hours of the day.

In Albany, the next Red Line bus is never more than 15 minutes away

…in straight lines…

A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Buses that travel in straight lines get you where you’re going faster. There’s no need to zig and zag your way across the entire City when you’re just trying to get home.

And speaking of speed, BRT lines in other cities use a few more tricks to make their buses go faster: smart traffic lights, bus lanes, level boarding platforms, fewer stops.

All of this is on the table in Syracuse. The more high-tech options—like integrating the buses with City Hall’s streetlight network—will be a big win for the Syracuse Surge. But it’s the low-tech stuff—running straight down James Street without detouring onto Teall, stopping every ¼ mile instead of every block—that will really make these buses go fast.


…that connect lots of people…

If people are willing to walk about 10 minutes to catch the bus, then the number of people who can ride the bus depends on how many people live within a 10 minute walk of a bus stop. In neighborhoods where lots of people live near a bus stop, lots of people ride the bus.

Eastwood, the Northside, University Hill, the Southside—these are some of the most populous neighborhoods between Buffalo and New York City. Centro’s new BRT lines will be accessible to tens of thousands of Central New Yorkers, just a short walk from their front doors.

…to the places where they want to go

People get on the bus to go places. Good bus service has to pass the places that people actually want to go. It also has to serve a variety of different kinds of destinations if it’s going to attract a variety of riders over the course of the entire day.

There are plenty of places worth going in Syracuse, and these new BRT lines hit a lot of them. Whether it’s to get to one of the 50,000 jobs Downtown, at the Mall, or on University Hill, to get to class at OCC or SUNY ESF, to meet someone for drinks Downtown or on North Salina, to buy fresh food at Price Rite or the Farmers Market, to get to church or to see friends or family anywhere in the City, there will be plenty of reasons for people to ride these BRT lines.

This is a good plan to bring better bus service to Syracuse. It will serve a lot of people. It will get people through the City fast. It will take people to the places they need to go. It will make more opportunities more accessible to more people.

Trolley Tracks and Bus Lines

I used to catch the 58 bus at Burnet and Teall. In my head, this was the Burnet Ave bus—Burnet’s a big street, it’s one of the few that stretches from Downtown all the way out to the city line, and the 58 does run straight along its eastern half from Beech Street to Thompson Road. But it’s really not right to call the 58 the “Burnet Ave line” because west of Beech, the bus zigs and zags along a bunch of different Northside streets before making its way Downtown.

Centro’s bus lines in 2018

I had to memorize all those zigs and zags—they were the only part of the line that didn’t make intuitive sense to me—and I recognized them immediately when I saw this 1917 map of Syracuse’s streetcar system.

Syracuse’s streetcar lines in 1917

Back then, the streetcar line to Eastwood didn’t run straight out James Street. Between State and Sedgwick Streets, it detoured along Hawley, Lodi, Oak, Hawley again, and Elm. That was partially to avoid the big hill on James—streetcars couldn’t handle it with their slippery steel wheels—and partially because that section of James Street was populated by gilded-age robber barons who didn’t ride the trolley.

None of that matters anymore—buses can handle hills, and huge apartment buildings replaced the mansions, making lower James Street one of the heaviest transit corridors in the entire City—so now all the Eastwood buses run James Street’s entire length.

But at the same time, the very fact that a streetcar used to run along Hawley, Oak, Lodi, and Elm means that there’s a lot of housing in that part of the Northside. It’s a far walk from there to Downtown, so the people who moved to that neighborhood 100 years ago clustered along the streetcar line. That housing still exists, people still live in it, many of them chose to live in it because of the existing bus line, and that makes the neighborhood a good place to run a bus.

Look at the rest of Centro’s system map, and you can find similar patterns. The 52’s jagged path up Salina, James, Townsend, Butternut, and Park echoes another long gone Northside streetcar line. The 64 and 74 are almost perfect images of old Westside lines. The South Ave bus’ periodic detours along Bellevue are a vestige of the line that ran out to Strathmore. The streetcar companies often laid those lines for reasons that don’t matter anymore—to avoid hills, to use existing track, to compete with rival transit companies. But the very fact that streetcars did run along those lines has built enough inertia to keep Centro’s buses running along the same streets.

So when the 58 bus took that weird detour, it was bringing me into a complex relationship with the City’s past. That’s not where I had intended to go when I paid the fare, but I can appreciate the journey.

Coronavirus and the Bus

Crises reveal what really matters. Work that used to be forgotten is now understood to be essential. Workers who used to be taken for granted are now recognized as heroes—fighting on the frontlines against this global pandemic—the hospitals, the nursing homes, the garbage routes, the checkout counters.

Renewed appreciation for these people and the work that they do is shaking up Syracuse’s ideas about what makes the City work. When Syracuse started social distancing, a lot of people expected Centro to cut its service. After all, demand was bound to go down, and anyways, no one really rides the bus, right?

Instead, the entire community is learning just how much Syracuse needs the bus. While big cities like Chicago and Boston have seen 75% drops in transit use, Centro’s ridership has only dropped 55%. And the people who are still on the bus are the ones getting Syracuse through this crisis. As Centro spokesman Steve Koegel pointed out, the remaining bus riders are often in uniform: “A lot of people are wearing hospital garb. It’s visible those are the people using our service. They are critical-need workers.”

So while the buses remained full of heroes riding to work in the hospitals, and highway interchanges went empty, our transportation priorities shifted. The federal stimulus included $21.5 million for Centro, a necessary lifeline for a perennially underfunded service. After years of getting cut out of budget deals, left to languish with declining local, state, and federal support, this crisis shook people up and made them realize that Syracuse needs a functioning public transportation system to survive.

But the risk is that once this crisis is over, once we’ve moved from dealing with a global pandemic to managing its economic aftershock, the people in power will forget that lesson and go back to business as usual—back to neglecting the basic necessities that made it possible for the City to get through this, back to starving the bus.

We can’t let it happen. We need to come out of this smarter than when we went in, with a greater appreciation for what makes life in Syracuse livable. That means a new commitment to the services that support the people who do Syracuse’s most essential work—it means better bus service.

The Captive Rider Myth

Centro likes to divide its riders into two groups—‘captive’ riders that have to use the bus because it’s their only option, and ‘choice’ that choose to use the bus because it’s the best option available to them.

But the idea that anybody has to ride the bus—that people are ‘captive’ to transit—is a myth. It’s a myth because people always have options, and it’s a myth because bus riders choose to build their life in such a way that the bus is their best option.

A couple weeks ago I was waiting at a bus stop with seven other people. I had my bike, but it was cold, the bus was due, and I wanted to ride home in heated comfort.

We waited, fidgeting with impatience and to stay warm, making halting small talk—mostly grumbling about the bus—as the scheduled arrival time came and went. My phone was dead so I asked a kid to check when the next bus was due. He did, and we found out that our bus wasn’t coming at all, and we’d have to wait for the next run. One man called a cab, the kid called his Mom for a ride, and I got on my bike and left. Just like that, three people without ready access to a car found another way to get around when the bus became a worse option.

We made that decision in the moment, but thousands of other people make similar decisions every single day—they decide to walk, or bike, or hail a cab, or bum a ride to get around town. When SMTC asked how people on the Northside get to work, they learned that plenty bike as far as Liverpool and Baldwinsville because that’s the best option available to them. If Syracuse had better bus service, any of these people might choose to use public transportation instead, but Centro would call them ‘captive’ riders because they’re poor and don’t own cars. 

But what about those other five people who stayed to wait for the bus even though it wouldn’t show for another 40 minutes? People who simply couldn’t walk to where they were going, didn’t have anyone to give them a ride, and couldn’t afford cab fare. Weren’t they truly captive?

Maybe. Maybe the only reason they were at that bus stop was because none of them owned a car, maybe none of them could afford to fill up a gas tank, and maybe terrible experiences like that have convinced them that the second they get enough money they’ll spend it on a car.

But there are plenty of people who put up with situations like that on a regular basis, who wouldn’t mind having a car, and who can technically afford a to buy one, but still choose to ride the bus.

Think of it this way: you may want a car, but it’s not at the top of your list of best ways to use your money. Maybe it matters less to you than buying healthy food, than living in the right neighborhood, than paying medical bills, than sending money to your mother, than saving up for your son’s college tuition. Maybe you would buy a car if you made more money, but you don’t, and right now a car just isn’t the best use of what money you’ve got.

In a City where the median household income is about $35,000, this is the situation that a lot of people find themselves in. There are many pressing needs competing for that finite amount of money, and the $9,282 a year it costs to own a car just isn’t worth it when Centro provides a viable alternative for getting around town. People in that situation have made an informed decision not to waste their money on a car, and so they appear dependent on the bus—‘captive’ riders—but in fact the bus has enabled them to set their minds on more important things by freeing them from dependence on a car.

The caricature of the captive rider is someone who rides the bus, but only under duress—a person who doesn’t own a car, but desperately wants one and would buy one the minute that was possible—a person who can’t afford to take a cab everywhere, but would if they had the money.

There may be some riders like that, but they are not the majority. Most people ride the bus because it’s the best option for them to get around. They complain about the service, wish it went more places, wish the buses came more often, wish they didn’t get stuck in traffic, but they choose to ride because the bus makes their lives better.

Free to Choose the Bus

People ride Centro when it’s the most practical option for getting where they want to go. Problem is, Centro’s not a very practical option for getting to work in a lot of the County, so a lot of people who don’t own cars miss out on a lot of opportunities for employment.

Instead of just making Centro better so that it’s a more practical option for more people to go more places, Onondaga County, Centerstate CEO and New York State are teaming up to offer yet another commuter/vanpool program. Like the Rides-to-Work, Wheels-for-Work, Providence, Lyft programs that came before it, this program is designed to allow employers who are nowhere near a bus stop to hire people who don’t own cars so that those workers can make enough money to purchase a car and keep that job. It’s not a program to help people get to work without a car—it’s a program to get people to buy more cars.


The thinking behind these programs goes something like this: people are poor because they don’t have jobs, unemployed people can’t get jobs because they don’t have cars, and people don’t have cars because they’re poor. In this vicious circle, poverty, unemployment, and bus ridership all hang together, and the solution is to break that circle by giving people a ride to work just long enough so that they can save up to buy a car. At that point, the car enables employment which creates wealth—the virtuous circle of middle class car-ownership.

But you can’t turn a man from a poor-unemployed-bus-rider into a middle class-working-car-owner just by giving him a ride to work for a few weeks. There just are no necessary connections between class, employment, and transportation. Plenty of employed workers are still poor and still ride the bus (for that matter, a good number of rich workers do too). Buying a car is an economic decision that rational people make after weighing the upfront cost and $3000 annual expense against the opportunities the car can provide. A lot of people in Syracuse have decided that there are better uses for their paychecks than paying down the interest on a car loan.

These programs that give people a ride “until they’re up on their feet” all ultimately fail because they deny working people that choice. They try to make car ownership the only option for full participation in Syracuse’s economic and cultural life—to put a $3000 tax on getting a job in this town. They mistake people’s rational decision to ride the bus for a mark of deviance that has to be removed.


When too many people can’t find work without a car, when there are too many gaps in bus service, and when too many jobs hide in those gaps, the best way to fix the problem fast is to invest in Centro. Running buses to more of the County and running more buses running on the lines that already exist—making the bus a more practical option for more people to get more places—would expand economic opportunity immediately. In the long term, a County Executive who’s interested in this kind of thing would steer economic development to those places where lots of buses already run—not to an empty business park on Route 31.

Better bus service is the real key to making more jobs more accessible to more people while preserving the freedom of choice that enables people to live car-free. And, by expanding economic opportunity and increasing access to employment, better bus service also gives more people the option to buy their own cars if they want. People in Syracuse need more options so that they can choose for themselves how to get around town, and the bus is best way to provide that freedom.

The Case for Regional Rail

Central New York’s villages and cities are all places where people can live cheaply and easily without the need for a car. They are places where daily necessities are within walking distance, places with a variety of kinds of housing, places where full participation in the community’s economic and social life is possible for people who get around by rolling, walking, biking, or riding the bus.

But all these places—Cortland, Liverpool, Fulton, Auburn, Baldwinsville, Oswego, Oneida, Phoenix, Syracuse—are disconnected. Long distances and infrequent (or nonexistent) transit prevent people from travelling between them without a car, making it impossible for a car-free resident of Cortland to take a job in Auburn, or for a plant in Syracuse to hire someone living car-free in Oneida. The result is that the places with the most jobs are also home to most of the region’s jobless workers.

Better intercity public transportation would right this wrong, linking Central New York’s urban centers, connecting people to jobs, and uniting a 5-county 800,000 person region.

Density of car-free households by census tract

Car-free households cluster in Central New York’s cities and villages. Syracuse, Cortland, Auburn, Fulton, Oswego, and Oneida are home to many people who live car-free. So are smaller villages like Phoenix, Baldwinsville, and Liverpool. These are all places where people can meet their daily needs—buying groceries, attending school, getting to work—on foot, bike, or bus.

Density of jobs by census tract

These are all also places where there are lots of jobs. The shaded areas on this map contain 86% of all jobs in Central New York. They’re heavily concentrated in Downtown Syracuse and on University Hill, but many jobs are available across the rest of the city and its suburbs. Outside of Syracuse, jobs cluster around smaller cities like Oswego, Auburn, Fulton, Cortland, and Oneida, and around villages like Canastota, Oneida, Skaneateles, and Chittenango.

But even though all of these job opportunities are accessible to many people who get around without a car, any given person living car-free can only access a small fraction of the total. People living in Downtown Syracuse can walk to the jobs available there, but not to any of those available in Downtown Cortland or Oneida. Some people heroically bike from the Northside to work in Salina, but they can’t very well ride all the way to Fulton. Centro runs limited service between Oswego, Syracuse, and Auburn, but it’s barely adequate for making jobs in any of those urban centers accessible to people living in any other.

Compare that limited situation to the options available to a car-owner in Clay. The region’s multi-billion dollar highway network puts every single job within an hour’s drive of that remote location—bringing economic opportunity to the relatively affluent residents of a sparsely populated area while that same level of choice is denied to those who for whatever reason do not own a car.

Density of unemployed workers by census tract

The result is that urban centers like Oswego, Phoenix, Syracuse, Auburn, Liverpool, and Cortland—places that account for just third of the region’s workforce but 88% of its car-free households—are home to more than half of all unemployed workers in Central New York.

But what if each urban center was not just the place where nearby car-free households could find work, but also a portal to every other urban center in the region? A person could walk from Syracuse’s Westside to a transit station and ride to work in Canastota. Someone else could bike to the Fulton station and access opportunities to work in any one of Central New York’s major employment centers.

Here are those same maps—car-free households, jobs, and people looking for work—overlaid with blue lines showing some of the rail lines that already run across Central New York. Trains running on these tracks could open new opportunities to the Central New Yorkers who need them most. Or forget rail—buses running on the interstates could do the same thing. The kind of vehicle doesn’t really matter so long as the service connects these places and runs fast enough and often enough to make it a real option for daily commuting.

Central New Yorkers who live car-free cluster in urban centers. These places are also where most of the region’s jobs are. But because there are no reliable connections between those centers, people who do not own cars can only apply to work at a very small percentage of the jobs available to car-owners. Better intercity transit service could be that reliable connection between employment and population centers—it could make the economic opportunity that already exists in Central New York more equally accessible to everybody who lives here, whether or not they own a car.

Getting to the Train Station

You arrive in Syracuse on a brand new high speed train. The trip back from Buffalo was less than 90 minutes—way faster than the 2 and a quarter hours it used to take before New York State built high speed rail. You caught up on some tv on the ride and are ready to get home for dinner.

Getting home’s the problem though. Obviously, you don’t live within walking distance of the train station—no one does. The woman next to you is waving down a cab, the student visiting home from UB is waiting for his Mom to come pick him up from Auburn, and you’re staring down a 45 minute bus ride with transfer. The three mile trip to your house will take half as long at the 150 trip from Buffalo.

High speed rail could transform intercity transportation in New York, giving people a faster, more comfortable, and more frequent option to get across the State. But for people to actually ride those trains, it’s going to have to be a whole lot easier to get to the station in the first place. Right now, too many Upstate Amtrak stations are in no-man’s land, surrounded by acres of asphalt and empty lots. At the same time, too few Amtrak stations are connected to the cities they serve by robust public transportation. New York State and its cities have to fix both problems if high speed rail is really going to live up to its promise.


More Housing around Stations

Syracuse’s Amtrak station is in the middle of a sea of asphalt, under the shadow of a highway, next to a cold storage warehouse, and half a mile from the nearest house. The situation’s not much better at any of Upstate’s other train stations: rivers separate Albany and Rome from their stations, Buffalo’s is underneath 190, and Amsterdam’s is almost in the country. Only Rochester, Utica, and Schenectady have stations within walking distance of a lot of people’s homes.

These maps (from UVA's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service) show people's homes as black dots and Amtrak stations as red dots. Too many stations are in places where no one lives.

Since every single train trip starts and ends on foot, it would be better if more people could live within walking distance of all of these train stations. Syracuse’s City Hall thinks so too, which is why the 2012 Land Use & Development Plan cited the potential for high speed rail as a reason to encourage development on all the “vacant or underutilized property” around the train station, and it’s why the ReZone project is going to allow new housing to be built in that area.

In other cities, Amtrak could accomplish the same thing by just moving its stations to places where people already live. In Amsterdam, shifting the station about a mile East would put it in the middle of town instead of the City’s outskirts. In Albany, a similarly short move would get the station across the Hudson River and within walking distance of downtown.

Proposal to move Amsterdam’s train station downtown


Better Public Transportation at Stations

But not every place worth going can be within walking distance of a train station, so people arriving in any city by train will also need options to get around the city itself. Mainly, they need high quality public transportation.

Every Upstate train station (except Amsterdam) is served by passable public transportation. It’s not frequent enough, not connected enough, and not fast enough, and it needs to be better. At the very least, that means actually linking the new Amtrak station to Metro Rail in Buffalo, adopting something like the Reimagine RTS plan in Rochester, building the three proposed bus rapid transit lines in Syracuse, and building the Blue and Purple BusPlus lines in Albany.

But why settle for the very least? Every single city in New York—from NYC to Buffalo—needs better public transportation. They all need more buses and more drivers serving more riders in more neighborhoods, some cities even need more trains, and that simply means that the State needs to put more money into the STOA and MTOA. It’s one of the most effective things that the Governor could do to make high speed rail successful, and it’s one of the best things that he could do to make New York State a better place to live. 

When people travel between Upstate’s cities, they’re going home, or visiting a friend, or getting to work—no one is just trying to get between train stations. So while faster, more frequent, more reliable rail service would make it a lot easier for people to travel between Upstate’s cities, we also need to make sure that it’s easy to get from any train station to all the different places that those people actually want to go. That means more housing and more destinations within walking distance of those stations, and it means better local transit service connecting entire cities to their train stations.

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.

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.