What makes a walkable city?


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Scroll around that map up there a bit. You see the "A" in a balloon? That sits outside a Barnes & Noble store in Syracuse (if you know the area, it's on Erie Boulevard East).

Across the street from that book behemoth you'll find Honeybaked Ham (a sort-of deli), a Subway, a Panera, a Best Buy, an Office Max, a K-Mart, and Fleet Feet (a runner's shop), among other things. If you spent some time scrolling around the map – which is zoomed in enough for you to tell – you won't see a crosswalk anywhere close to that Barnes & Noble.

I know firsthand, because if I leave my office and cut across the parking lots behind buildings and sneak by the cell phone store, I can walk directly across Erie to the bookstore. It winds up being about an 8 minute walk.

And to get across the high-traffic Erie Boulevard, you pretty much say a prayer and run (even if you're not religious – it's amazing how a 4,000-pound steel box at 45 miles an hour will help you find G-d). I've only made the walk a couple of times, and usually in early spring, the first time it gets warm enough to take a nice walk on lunch.

Joel Kidder apparently preferred walking to and from the Barnes & Noble as well, and on December 4 he was almost across Erie, having left the store, when he was hit by a car and died.

He was a lifelong learner, a professor emeritus in philosophy, and, it seems, an all-around nice guy.

This isn't just a problem for those of us who prefer to walk. If you take the bus around town, you have to cross Erie one way or the other to complete your round trip.

Kidder's unfortunate accident appears to be spawning a discussion about the days when there was a bookstore in downtown Syracuse.

If you put a bookstore there, it's on a bus route, it's safe and walkable, and people would go. There are also two nice book shops on James Street, in another wonderfully walkable neighborhood.

But I would love for the Erie East area to be walkable, as well. I live nearby, I work nearby. If you make only part of the city walkable, you still lose.

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7 Comments

  1. As someone who is car free, walking and taking the bus are my main two ways of getting around the city. While the older parts of Syracuse are walkable. Nice large sidewalks, crosswalks, many with lights, wide enough shoulders on the road so if you have to walk on the road you are not centimeters away from the cars.

    The newer parts, ie. the sprawl areas, are not safe for anyone who is not in a car. We go to that Kmart. Just walking from the bus to the store can be an adventure in dodging traffic. With too many drivers distracted with cell phones, watching other drivers, yelling at their kids, etc. And then you have roads that make it impossible for anyone in a car to use safely. Accidents are going to and have happened.

    And unfortunately too many people now blame the walker. Blaming them for being in the road, or not watching.

    Make the roads safe for walkers, bikers, and drivers and we won’t be pointing the fingers at the people that have no choice, but to put themselves in a dangerous situation just to get to one point to another.

  2. Ironically I was at this Barnes and Noble a week earlier, and saw someone walk across the street and thought “That’s awful dangerous.” There really is no good way to cross Erie Blvd, is there?

  3. Hey I sent your post along to my friend Mark. I also shared it on
    SeeClickFix.

    you should totally sign up for this site!

    Nice post!

  4. This is so sad. I understand your frustration about the lack of sidewalks along Erie Blvd. Last week, I took my car to Firestone at the corner of Erie and Genesee St. I had a few hours to kill as mechanics worked on it, so I decided to walk to Barne & Noble. What a challenge! Piles of snow, no sidewalk, lots of traffic. Often, I had to walk along the edge of Erie Blvd., which was unsafe, but there was nothing else I could do.

    Later, I crossed the street about where the man died. Crossing it at Erie Blvd. and Kinne Rd. should be safer, but there’s lots of traffic exiting Shoppingtown Mall or making a u-turn.

    I always knew Erie Blvd. was ugly; now I see it’s unsafe.

  5. M – There’s a long history with blame around here, and not enough cooperation. It happens at every level, with everything, from road safety to bridge repair to keeping a small business going to major enterprise, there’s a historical pattern of tunnel vision. It’s really frustrating.

    Rachel – The only safe way to get across Erie Boulevard is in a car. I know these strip mall areas across smaller cities in the Northeast are major pedestrian hazards. I’ve seen the problem in Hartford, Conn., Springfield, Mass., and suburbs of Boston (though the city itself handles commercial areas well). Does Cleveland have these as well?

    Libby – I’ve had a dialogue with SeeClickFix as well as discussions with some of their media clients in cities like Boston and Dallas. Without buy-in from, in this case, the city and in other cases, the county and state, it becomes merely a place to whine. We have enough of those, and in Syracuse, our local columnists and editorial pages happen to be a more powerful channel.

    Maybe that will change with time, but right now, there would need to be an intermediary between a site like SCF and the people who could actually effect some change.

    Bob – You’ve seen first-hand the dangers over there. And if you take a look at Sean’s stories, there’s no comment from anybody in power. The DeWitt police were mum until they “gather all their information,” which, it appears, is composed of “guy crosses street, gets hit by car.” There’s no safe place for him to cross, there’s no way for him to not cross (he does have to get to the other side), and he’s not the cartoon Inspector Gadget with a helicopter blade he can pull out of his hat and fly across.

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  7. What about the people who work at one of the stores and restaurants on Erie Blvd…..who do not have cars. I have no choice but to walk in the road, be it a blizzard, raining, or dark. Use your heads folks. Most of those same stores and restaurants hire low payed workers who often can’t afford ac.ar. and must walk or take a bus. No matter what coming or going you have to walk in the lane. In winter , because of the snow banks… there is no where to even jump out of the way. I am afraid every single day I go to work that it might be my last.

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