“Rethinking I-81″: OCL’s Study Blog

May 27, 2009

No ‘Carmageddon’ in Times Square

In a move to create a smoother traffic flow and more pedestrian-friendly environment, the NYC Department of Transportation shut down parts of Times Square to traffic.  On Tuesday, two days after Broadway was closed to traffic between 42nd and 47th Streets, cars, trucks, taxis and other vehicles still flowed as usual on Seventh Avenue.  The city closed sections of Broadway on Sunday, creating a pedestrian mall that extends to Herald Square.  

The bottlenecks and ‘Carmageddon’ that were predicted failed to materialize, not even on Tuesday, the first workday without cars.   Even 48th Street, “where cars now have their last chance to jog over to Seventh Avenue before reaching Times Square” …. “appeared largely trouble-free”.   (While midtown workers and pedestrians are pleased, delivery truck drivers are not happy with the experiment that requires them to park farther from their destination).

The experiment is part of the plan of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner to ease dangerous traffic congestion in the area. Whether the Mayor decides to suspend the traffic rerouting or to continue or even extend it farther along Broadway, for now it is another example of the adaptability of drivers and the power of the street grid to absorb traffic.


“Rethinking I-81″: OCL’s Study Blog

May 20, 2009

Stent (or Dagger?) in the Heart of Town: Urban Freeways in Syracuse, 1944-1967

The 1961 Decisions in Syracuse, by SU political scientists Guthrie Birkhead, Roscoe Martin, and others, explored a series of case studies of metropolitan action in Syracuse in the Post–World War II era. The study focused on public decision-making and the relative influence of various interest groups in the power structure at a time of emerging demographic change and suburbanization.  The case studies are fascinating glimpses at how important metropolitan issues, from sewage treatment and water district  to government reorganization and real estate development were approached in a regional context. 

Although it occurred in the same time period, the I-81 construction was not a subject of the book. Creation of the highway system in and around Syracuse was much less a local, or metropolitan, process than a process in which federal and state plans, and dollars, determined transportation developments.  The recent study, Stent (or Dagger?) in the Heart of Town: Urban Freeways in Syracuse, 1944-1967, published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Planning History, takes a look at decision-making on the urban freeways in Syracuse. 

Author Joseph F. C. Di Mento, a professor of Law and of Planning Policy and Design at the University of California Irvine, concludes that the timing of transportation decisions in Syracuse was important.  Before the evolution of environmental law, and at a time when the urban renewal goals of “slum clearance” and redevelopment converged with the funding opportunities of the federal highway fund, the fiscally conservative city administration deferred to state highway plans.  A relatively weak city planning function and a “strong engineering-driven state highway bureaucracy and gubernatorial positions” influencing choices Syracuse made, “ …led to an outcome different from what city fathers and officials had envisioned…”.

The approaching need to reconstruct parts of the freeway through the city gives Syracuse an opportunity to develop a new vision for the community.


“Rethinking I-81″ – OCL’s Study Blog

May 7, 2009

Building Infrastructure-Building Experience

This week’s Citiwire.net columns by Neal Peirce and Alex Marshall focus on the promise of high speed rail as the “New Deal” for transportation.  “My high-speed rail proposal,” President Obama is quoted as saying, “will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come.”

Certainly, the costs of the projects will be challenging, but more than that, “America’s become tortuously slow, way behind world standards, in building any kind of infrastructure,” according to Peirce. “Some states spend years just adding HOV or exclusive bus lanes to existing highways.”

Marshall reports that former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, a big rail booster, says that over-budget, drawn-out infrastructure construction has become the norm.  State and local governments tolerate huge multi-year delays.  “The cure, says Dukakis is competence: to learn to undertake great projects again, and to value quality government.”

The I-81 corridor project, whatever form it takes, will be of a scale not experienced in Syracuse since the viaducts were originally planned and constructed.  Our elected officials and transportation authorities will have to exhibit the scale of leadership and guidance that a project of its magnitude requires.


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