Category Archives: Urban Planning

“Rethinking I-81”: OCL’s Study Blog

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

“You Don’t Build a Church for Easter Sunday”
What is the obvious solution to traffic congestion? “Build more roads!”  “But more roads bring more traffic!” “Then build even more roads!”
     Tom Vanderbilt’s new book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), is a highly readable examination of some very interesting and significant statistical and behavioral data about driving, traffic and safety.  In Chapter Six, “Why More Roads Lead to More Traffic (and What to Do About It)”, Vanderbilt explains why more roads create more traffic: when new lanes are added to a highway, congestion drops, encouraging more drivers onto the highway, which creates more traffic, resulting in congestion possibly even higher than before.
      Vanderbilt tells the story of I-710 in southern California.  A labor dispute at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles kept nine thousand trucks off the interstate for several days.  As though sucked into a vacuum, other drivers, learning that the road was now uncongested, took to the route, filling in the void left by the trucks.  But the highway authority did not notice a similar drop in traffic on parallel roads – the drivers seems to have “materialized out of nowhere” to take advantage of the opportunity provided by nine thousand fewer trucks.  When the labor dispute ended and the trucks returned to the road, traffic was worse than ever and the new cars left 710.
     In an interview on Vanderbilt talked about suggestions for making roads safer and traffic less maddening.  Here is a snippet:
     “We can’t build our way out of traffic, but we can think our way out. Building more roads when they’re already under-funded doesn’t seem workable, and given that most roads are only congested part of the time, it’s not really the most efficient solution anyway, for loads of reasons. As a former Disney engineer told me when I asked why they didn’t just build more rides instead of worrying about new ways to manage the long queues, ‘you don’t build a church for Easter Sunday’.”
     When it comes to managing traffic, there are numerous technological, economic, sociological and psychological solutions that are already working on highways and in cities – from feedback sensors that detect traffic jams and reroute cars, to traffic lights that adapt to changing demand – or no traffic lights at all, roundabouts in place of intersections, and traffic calming techniques such as roadside plantings and changes in pavement color and texture.
     The message here is that as we examine the state of our transportation infrastructure and plan for its future, we should be careful of the assumptions we make about highways, traffic congestion, and the drivers whose behaviors are at the heart of the matter.
     Listen to an interview with Tom Vanderbilt on NPR.

“Rethinking I-81” – OCL’s Study Blog

Post #4


The issue of the redesign of the Route 81-Almond Street corridor is especially important because of its potential to strengthen the connection between downtown and the University Hill area, where the educational and medical institutions are expanding and planning further growth. These institutions will not only transform the Hill, they have the potential to transform downtown, and with downtown, form the thriving nucleus of a newly robust regional economy.

When the Onondaga Citizens League opted to “rethink I-81” as its study topic, it based the decision in part on the importance of improving the visual and physical connection between downtown and the Hill, as well as the knowledge that the deteriorating I-81 bridges will have to be rebuilt, not just repaired, in a few years.

Another critical factor in the decision to study the impacts of I-81 alternatives was the preliminary conclusion of a nationally recognized engineering and design firm, a finding that made it possible to think realistically about the possibility of removing interstate traffic from the middle of the city.

Growth in the Hill area had prompted a study of transportation needs of the area bounded by I-81, I-690, Thornden Park, and the southern boundary of the SUNY ESF campus. Recognizing that traffic congestion and parking problems on the Hill required more than just a study of vehicle use and parking space, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC) undertook a comprehensive University Hill Transportation Study. The SMTC study findings form an important blueprint for growth in the coming decades.

Completed in 2007, in partnership with the engineering and design firm Edwards and Kelcey, the Hill Study includes land use projections based on the planned visions of the major institutions and property owners in the area, an analysis of the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, an overall mobility needs assessment, examination of a variety of case studies, and the beginning of a brainstorming process that outlines some forward-thinking possibilities for consideration, including an integrated transit network, parking strategy, and bicycle boulevard network, as well as a mixed use development plan to create a walkable, vibrant neighborhood.

Among the Emerging Concepts presented by the consultants was an analysis that showed that removal of the I-81 viaduct might be feasible with an enhanced surface-level Almond Street – Urban Boulevard and relocation of the I-81 through traffic to I-481, with corresponding improvements to the merges of those routes. While a boulevard in place of the I-81 viaduct is a long-term project requiring extensive study, among the Final Recommendations of the Hill Transportation Study report is reconfiguration of the Almond Street corridor, including fewer lanes, modern roundabouts, and streetscape improvements in order to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, improve traffic operations and increase the incentive to walk between downtown and the Hill.

The transportation study is based on the assumption that a comprehensive strategy has to focus on the movement of goods and people – not just cars – and that good land-use planning can alleviate traffic congestion, reduce the need for parking, and support transit, biking and walking. Even apart from the I-81 issue, SMTC’s University Hill Transportation study and its recommendations represent an exhilarating departure from the traditional approach to problem-solving. It offers the Syracuse metropolitan area a way to incorporate the community’s goals for quality of life, economic viability and environmental sustainability into the transportation planning process.

Very soon, SMTC will launch a public participation project on behalf of the NYS Department of Transportation on the history, role, functions, and condition of I-81, to create awareness of DOT’s I-81 Corridor Study and to gather public input on issues and concerns related to I-81 and its environs. Ultimately SMTC, and DOT, hope to engage the community in the decision-making process related to future of I-81. OCL’s “Rethinking I-81” study and this weblog are meant to inform and contribute to that process.