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Old 07-26-2010, 08:22 PM
Location: CNY
161 posts, read 319,825 times
Reputation: 48


Originally Posted by phaelon56 View Post
Rte 481 already provides a bypass and it is underutilized. I disagree with the people who insist the the introduction of Rte 81 somehow hastened the decline of downtown Syracuse, and I'm a bit skeptical about the prospect that removal of the highway would cause sudden economic rejuvenation of the areas under and adjacent to the existing roadway.
Its not that simple, and I definitely don't think it will have some giant positive economic impact. I-81 was symptomatic of a broader shift in how people interact with the city, but did not single handedly cause its decline. I wish I had a link, but we studied similar phenomena about Boston's West End in college. The current arguments as to why these sorts of freeway systems turned out to be bad can be summed up as follows (whether they are true or not is always debatable):

-The placement of freeways into city centers means that people can very easily live far away from the center and commute by car. Since in the '50s and '60s cities were far more polluted than they are now, and because of the post-war suburban dream, everyone who could afford it left for the 'burbs. When they did that, they took with them their educations, their affluent communities, their social networks, their property tax payments, and their ability to run for office and use their backgrounds for the city's benefit. Once they got tired of the commute, their jobs moved to the suburbs with them (think office parks). What remains behind is an overbuilt, expensive to maintain city with a largely poor population and a depleted and often incapable leadership, since only people who live in the city can hold office there..... [as a side note the best thing anyone can do to help this area is move back into the city and become a civic participant].

- The other argument, which is basically the Jane Jacobs argument, is that pre-WWII urban communities had strong social networks even at lower socio-economic groups due to the proximity in which they lived and their often ethnic ties. Her argument was that human society functions best when people live at medium densities (ie 3-4 storey apartments and townhouses with shops in walking distance) because they form strong local networks, local economies, and because they meet enough people different from them to have some social sympathy. This was the predominant living environment for urban Americans (anyone who lived in a place above like 20k people) before 1950 and is still the norm throughout the world. Where this ties into the I-81 issue, and the decline of the city, is that the midcentury "urban renewal" people (who were mostly misreading Le Corbusier's Ville Radeuse) saw those areas as blighted. They also were also caught up in the mid-century push for the MODERN WORLD and so they rammed these highways across the denser, more ethnic neighborhoods and replaced them with housing projects. In doing so they did cause a social dislocation which caused a lot of the current urban social problems and fragmentation (known nicely as "antisocial behaviour" in Britain). Removing I-81 won't undo any of that, but its a big piece of the argument of why the elevated motorways are seen as failures in the urban design community. .....I hope that's in any way coherent, I tried to condense a lot into a paragraph....

The economic benefit of removing these arteries is largely psychological. There isn't much physical advantage to removing them, nor is there the vast downside that a lot of people imagine. The reality is, a surface road is dirt cheap and will probably have minimal impact on anything. Imagine Erie Blvd with trees down the middle and 6-storey buildings on either side... its neither great nor terrible. The only thing you will lose are people taking a shortcut from 690 to 81 who aren't going to get off in the city anyway.

Another thing to keep in mind is something a transportation planner once told me. He said the best solution to lots of traffic is lots of little roads, traffic seems to disperse itself into urban grids very gently except for worst case scenarios like crosstown traffic in NYC. I dunno how right he was but he was a damn good engineer.

Some links I dug up that may or may not be interesting and may or may not be relevant:
Learning from Lerner | Metropolis Magazine
urbanism.org Ľ Highways urban news [almost] daily.
Oklahoma City swaps highway for park - USATODAY.com

As a side note, re-routing this thing over where the old OnTrack line runs would be another possibility, since it at least that is a pre-existing viaduct. Another idea would be to split Northbound and Southbound into two smaller aerteries far apart, in order to reduce the amount of highway a pedestrian needs to go under at a time. My only concerns with the "Trench" concept are 1)snow removal and 2) the onramps to 690 would have to be twice as long to accomodate the height difference.

Ok... pontification over...
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Old 07-26-2010, 08:25 PM
Location: CNY
161 posts, read 319,825 times
Reputation: 48
Originally Posted by proulxfamily View Post
A sloping arch walkway wouldn't comply with the AWDA?
It can comply with the ADA, but only if there are landings at a certain interval and a host of other BS. It would be easier to push the road further below grade and have flat crossings.
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Old 07-27-2010, 10:05 AM
1,544 posts, read 3,067,413 times
Reputation: 1605
I agree with many others that some politicians, academics, community stakeholders are billing the removal of I-81 as a panacea that will lift up the "disenfranchised" communities and blighted neighborhoods on the near south side. Some have even turned this into a social justice issue as if the anti-social behavior that permeates from some of the residents of the Pioneer Homes and neighboring areas is directly attributable to I-81. While few would argue that the old 15th ward, a rough and tumble community that was largely black and jewish was uprooted to pave way for the construction of I-81, the population loss, blight, social decline and economic devastation that ensued in the following years and decades would have occurred anyway for a myriad of reasons, some of which were brought on by developments and trends originating far outside of CNY including changing social norms (ie suburbanization), global forces (ie. decline of US manufacturing), and the inhospitable business and regulatory environment of New York state.. I agree that I-81 is an unsightly highway and needs to be replaced. I would personally prefer and underground tunnel similiar to the one in downtown Hartford. My only concern about an open, below grade highway would be the prospect that local kids would drop rocks and other items at cars from street level or above.

On a side note, the decision by SUNY Upstate to purchase two vacant, high rise apartment towers is excellent news for the east side of Downtown and will certainly provide a new mix of customers for businesses. While 350 additional residents will not materially change the face of downtown, it will hopefully usher in more redevelopment and demand for services on the east side of downtown which lacks the relative population density and concentration of viable businesses found in districts like Armory Square, Hanover Square and the central portions of the CBD. The upcoming $5 million conversion of the Renaissance Hotel into a Crowne Plaza will add additional exterior lighting and hopefully compliment SUNY Upstate's initiatives which also include the CNY Biotech Center.
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