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New crosswalk in Syracuse helps bridge the divide between downtown and west side neighborhoods

Ellen Abbott
A new crosswalk on Syracuse's Near Westside helps bridge the divide between downtown and west side neighborhoods

As the city of Syracuse moves ahead with one of its biggest transportation projects in decades with the redesign of Interstate 81, a small project on the city’s west side provides a glimpse into how the community can work together, when confronting a transportation problem. 

Neighbors have a name for the highway that divides downtown Syracuse from neighborhoods on the city’s west side.

“West Street used to be referred to as the ‘nine lanes of fury,’” said Maarten Jacobs, of the Near Westside Initiative.

Jacobs was one of the people celebrating a new crosswalk and streetscape that guides pedestrians across the busy nine-lane road.  West Street was originally meant to be part of an arterial around the city, as the post war suburban population grew.  But the project ended with only the West Street portion of the plan complete.   And that divide, also called the “Berlin Wall” at times, became a physical barrier between downtown and a neighborhood in decline. But after years of complaining about a lack of a crosswalk, that’s changed.

The plan for a high-tech cross walk, new sidewalks, bike lanes and fences  took two years to complete. It was a collaboration between the neighborhood, City Hall, and the State Department of Transportation. George Doucette, regional design engineer for the regional office of the state Department of Transportation says this shows how pedestrians and cars can live together.

“We can have a facility that does serve both motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Doucette. “Now there are challenges with that, but we’ve shown that it is possible on West Street.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner attended the dedication for the new crosswalk last week.

A Dixieland-type jazz band led neighbors, students from local schools and state and city officials across the busy street for the first time recently. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner says it reflects a new vision for a city, that has for the most part, seen its population steadily decline since 1950.

“This is a huge milestone, in that we’re making decisions thinking about people, not cars,” said Miner

And making it easier to get from the near west side to downtown also does something for a neighborhood, that is one of the poorest in the city.  Rick Destito is a businessman who lives in the area and walks and bikes all over the neighborhood. He says making it easier for people to get around will lead to a rebirth of the Near Westside, as well as the whole city.

“Around the neighborhood to you see boards coming off the windows,” said Destito. “And it’s a great time to be here.  It feels like cities all over the country have been in this 50 year storm, and now it’s okay to open the shutters, and come out again."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.