Tag Archives: Centro

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.

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.

Transit is not a Tool of Social Control

At its best, public transportation expands access to opportunity, but recent local examples show how it can also be used to do the exact opposite. Instead of creating a transit system that gives its riders more choices, options, and freedom, people with power have tried to use transit as a tool of social control.

Take the video that just came out of kids fighting at the Hub. After it made the news, Centro CEO Rick Lee promised to “put and end to this.” His simplest option is to run more buses. All those kids end up stuck at the Hub at the same time because they all have to wait a pretty long time between each run. If buses left the Hub more often, fewer kids would be there at any given time, and they wouldn’t have to waste so much time just waiting around bored.

And this wouldn’t just solve the ‘problem’ of having so many high school students at the Hub at any time—it would actually make the bus work better for those students and for everybody else who rides it.

But that’s not what anybody’s talking about doing. Instead, Centro is looking to run buses directly to the schools without ever going through the Hub. Never mind that this would cut students off from the rest of Centro’s network and limit their opportunities to work, participate in community activities, or access childcare after school. Concerns like that don’t matter when what you really want is to use the buses to make kids behave.

Or look at the perennial problem of the spatial mismatch—the fact that many employers looking to hire are only accessible by car while many people looking to work don’t own cars.

The most obvious solution is to run better bus service. In the short run, that’d make more jobs accessible by bus. In the long run, it would build Centro’s ridership and attract more employers to the places with the best bus service where they’d be accessible to all those potential bus-riding customers and employees.

The County could also use its economic development powers to encourage employers to locate along bus lines or within walking distance of communities with low rates of car ownership.

Instead, Onondaga County came up with a plan to subsidize Lyft rides for people who find work through a specific employment agency, don’t have access to a car, and can’t get to their jobs on the bus. The workers themselves will have no control over their rides—the employment agency “will monitor employees’ work schedules and pay Lyft each month for the transportation.” Eventually the County hopes that employers themselves will pay Lyft directly, giving managers direct control over workers’ transportation to and from work.

That will give employers just one more piece of leverage over their workers, one more pressure point to press, one more method of exploitation. But of course none of that matters when you think, like a manager, that workers should just be happy to have any job at all and you can’t imagine how it would be a good thing for them to have the ability to travel to places other than the worksite at sometime other than the beginning of the shift.

The proposed solutions in both cases use transportation to constrain people’s choices so that they do what they’re supposed to and nothing else. Students are supposed to just go directly home at the end of the school day—they’re not supposed to hang out somewhere they could get into trouble. Workers are supposed to just travel between their homes and their current jobs—they’re not supposed to have the opportunity to travel to some other job that might offer better pay or working conditions.

Transit should do the exact opposite. It should expand people’s choices. It should give them the ability to go where they want when they want. It should make people more free.

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.

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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Centro and I81

At the March 22 hearing on public transportation in Syracuse, State officials asked Centro CEO Rick Lee why more people don’t ride the bus. Lee responded that Syracuse is a 20-minute city—overbuilt car-infrastructure and a spread-out population mean that there’s very little traffic, so people who can afford to own a car choose to drive. Magnarelli immediately interjected with “I hope it stays that way.” Rick Lee laughed kind of nervously and muttered ‘no comment.’

This exchange laid bare the absurdity of Centro’s public stance on I81. Centro has refused to take a position on the biggest transportation project that its service area has seen in 50 years, pretending that no matter what happens, Syracuse’s bus service will chug right along. That’s a nice thought, but it’s stupid. The viaduct is an impediment to bus service now, and replacing it with the Grid will make Centro more useful to more people.

Currently, the 30, 58, 62, 68, 76, and Connective Corridor buses all run in the area around the 81/690 interchange. That’s 40 acres of barren land where very few people (often no people at all) get on or off the bus.

 

Running a bus through the I81 dead zone is a lot like running a bus along an unpopulated stretch of rural road—it adds expense without making the bus more useful to anybody. Centro can’t avoid the I81 dead zone—like it could shorten a rural route—since people need to cross it to get between Downtown and the Eastside.

So the dead zone needs to disappear. That means making it into a place where people live and work—where people will get on and off of all those buses that already run on its streets.

The Grid is Syracuse’s best chance to get rid of the I81 dead zone. The Gifford Foundation envisions new housing, businesses, and institutions in that area, and the Allyn Foundation is working with City Hall on a project that could bring all of those things into that space. ReZone will help by allowing more homes and businesses on those blocks, but it needs to go further by eliminating parking requirements there (and, really, across the entire City).

All of that new building will allow more people to live and work in a part of the City that already has pretty good bus service (and could get even better service), so the bus will be a good option for more people in Onondaga County to get around. That’s how Centro can benefit from the I81 project, and that’s why Centro needs the Grid.