On a cold, dreary spring Saturday afternoon, a yellow-and-blue Connective Corridor bus pulls away the Irving Avenue edge of the Syracuse University campus. It bears six passengers – all arts students headed for the University’s downtown Warehouse of offices, studios and classrooms.
For freshman interior design major Joan Kao, it’s a usual trip. She takes the Connective Corridor bus to the Warehouse every day. But she rarely takes the bus anywhere else downtown. Still, said Kao, she believes the University is still accomplishing its goal of better connecting the students and the city.
“I do see a lot of people taking it for shopping,” said Kao, “so it’s not just for students.”
That’s good news to the supporters of the 10-year-old Connective Corridor as it goes into the final two phases of construction.
“The goal was to literally extend the University into the community,” said Marilyn Higgins, vice president of community engagement and economic development at Syracuse University, “and to have a livelier, more prosperous, more activated city.”
The Connective Corridor is the legacy of former SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor. It has a free bus service for the public, provided by Centro and Syracuse University for $850,000 per year, according to Centro officials. Its routes weave through University Hill, downtown Syracuse and the Near West Side. New green-painted bike lanes, solar-powered lighting, bright red metal benches are transforming the streetscape from The Hill through, eventually, downtown to the Near West Side.
All of that will cost about $47 million — mostly from taxpayers — by the end of the work in the summer of 2015.
Norm Swanson, owner of the Woodbine Group, is among the business people who praise the investment as worthwhile. He is the developer of the Copper Beech Commons apartments on University Avenue as well as the Parkview Hotel, Genesee Grande and Hotel Skyler in the SU neighborhood.
“The streetscape has had a positive effect on our hotel guests,” Swanson said. “Guests are inquisitive about what the Connective Corridor is and what it represents.”
He has also noticed a significant increase in bicyclists over the past few years in the neighborhood, Swanson said. “We had never seen anyone on a bicycle before and we see them all the time now,” he said.
The Corridor’s buses and the SU Warehouse also get credit for bringing more students downtown, said Lisa Romeo, communications director for the Downtown Committee of Syracuse. “I think anything that strengthens the physical connection between downtown Syracuse and University Hill is a positive thing,” said Romeo.
As of late April, the Connective Corridor was already expanding its renovations from the opposite end of the bus route, the Near West Side, toward downtown, according to Connective Corridor officials.
The renovations will continue down East Genesee Street across Townsend Street to Fayette Street, running downtown to West Street, said Owen Kerney, assistant director of city planning for the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency. The entire roadway will be excavated for the addition of new sidewalks, bike lanes, lighting, curbing, parking lanes and trees, he said.
The county’s Save the Rain program will add “green infrastructure” to improve the drainage system, Kerney said. Instead of going to treatment plants, rainwater will go directly to the trees on the street or into the soil, he said.
The money for all this comes mostly from different taxpayers’ pockets:
- $22 million from the federal government, in the form of grants like the TIGER grant, which are received by the city
- $20 million from state grants that take the place of University funding
- $5 million from the county
The city chipped in $400,000 for early parts of the project, said Kerney, the assistant director of city planning. And, he said, “considerable time and effort” has been put in by “dozens of city staffers.” National Grid is also contributing $1 million to the project.
As of late April, about the Connective Corridor buses have about 200,000 riders per year, according to Steve Koegel, Centro’s communications director. Centro runs two or three buses on the route on weekdays and one on weekends, he said. Almost all of the riders, Koegel said, are SU students.
Among those students is freshman Seth Singer, who is with two of his friends on a Saturday evening bus leaving SU around 6 p.m. They are on their way to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que downtown. About half of the 27 passengers get off at the Syracuse Stage. Many are buzzing about seeing a performance of “Spring Awakening.”
For Singer, it’s an unusual trip. But in the fall, he said, he will need the Connective Corridor to commute to his internship downtown with the Secret Service. So it will become a routine trip for Singer, just as it is for arts student Joan Kao.
Kao describes the Connective Corridor as a necessity. “I take it just about every day,” Kao said.
(Kristen Eskow is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism.)