In Syracuse, NY, why do we accept mediocrity?

A busy intersection in Syracuse, NY. Faded pavement stripes and signage lead to driver confusion -- and frustration.

BEFORE: Faded pavement stripes led to driver confusion — and anger — for years.

It took way too long for a frustrating, often dangerous traffic situation in Syracuse, NY, to be remedied.

What did it take?

Two e-mail exchanges, three years apart.

How the solution came about is not as important as what the long-standing problem really symbolizes — a struggling city’s low self-esteem, pervasive apathy and chronic acceptance of mediocrity.

For the past seven years I’ve driven through and walked across a particularly busy intersection a dozen times a week. Harrison-at-Almond is a major connector to hospitals and universities, and is at the foot of a ramp to a highway.

The striping on the pavement of the five northbound lanes faded at least three years ago.

I saw regular incidents of driver confusion, frustration and road rage. Because of ambiguous overhead signs and a lack of paint to clarify lanes and directions, some drivers in the middle lane who had a green light thought the adjacent red turn signal was for them.

So they sat there. And held people up behind them, resulting in horns, shouts and dangerous maneuvering to get around them.

This went on for years, until last week when . . . an e-mail was forwarded.

In 2012, I wrote to the state transportation department about the intersection. The overhead signs and signal heads had recently been re-positioned, but the problem persisted because the lanes weren’t clearly striped. There was a misunderstanding over whose responsibility it was to paint the lanes. Nothing was done.

After that, I did what everyone else did — nothing — except shake my head every time I saw the same scenario of frustration unfold.

Two weeks ago, I decided to revisit the issue and e-mailed the state. A state traffic engineer wrote back and copied a city traffic engineer on the e-mail. After a followup from me, the city acknowledged it was responsible for striping the lanes.

The work was done in less than a day. (The “after” photo is below.)

I’m not pointing the finger at government entities as much as I am at those who live, work, drive and walk near that intersection. I include myself among those I’m disappointed in, since I gave up in 2012 after just one inquiry.

Thousands of other motorists and pedestrians endured that potentially dangerous situation for 1,000 days or more. (The crosswalk paint was basically invisible, and that’s been re-striped as well.)

Unless someone can show me that the city or state ignored years’ worth of complaints about this intersection, I’ll assume no one else bothered to say anything.

Sure, Syracuse has more important things to worry about (see the New York Times “Spike Nation” story about our synthetic marijuana problem). And yes, there are bright spots, energetic residents and business owners who are doing their best to revive a once-thriving place to live and work.

But the Harrison-at-Almond intersection is a clear example that we’ve come to accept here as the norm — an inconvenient, frustrating and unsafe situation that’s easily remedied.

So look around where you live. Are there teeth-rattling potholes, eyesore buildings, litter-strewn roads? Are you dealing with sleazy slumlords, surly parking lot attendants, incompetent contractors?

Don’t expect anything to change on its own. Call or write whoever you have to. And don’t wait three years to follow up, as I did.

The same intersection in Syracuse, re-striped.

AFTER: The same intersection in Syracuse, re-striped.


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in driving, Irish Investigations and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to In Syracuse, NY, why do we accept mediocrity?

  1. Amy says:

    What a great lesson.


  2. reocochran says:

    Sometimes we think surely SOMEONE has reported it. My parents like to write letters to the paper and their words to the editor may or may not have made a difference 🙂


  3. Amy BL says:

    Now all I need is for people in the left-most turn lane to stop veering over/changing lanes to the right left-turn lane as we are all turning and nearly hitting me every morning. Thanks for your work!


  4. mwallinger says:

    Good citizenship requires involvement. Engage. It’s your government. Yours. Faults and all. Not perfect, but a great model, sometimes shortchanged by the pure weight of requests, regulations, opinions, parties, politics and … human nature.
    Good thing Mark B is a good citizen. Might just save a life here!
    Nicely played.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thanks, Mark … It does indeed take effort so that we don’t just “settle” for a lower quality of life. Apathy and lack of civic self-respect are contagious. It’s no wonder Syracuse routinely struggles with huge amounts of litter tossed onto its highways and streets. Subconsciously, people figure that if the city and other residents don’t care, why should they? Out the window it goes. When I visit other cities (and yes, that includes Columbus), there’s an overall sense of pride that, yes, is contagious. Not 100 percent, of course, but as you said, nothing’s perfect. Thanks for reading and checking in.


  5. Good for you Jim! I’ll admit that I have ignored things in the past because I think it won’t make a difference, or I’m so busy I just don’t bother, or whatever excuse I happen to come up with… ❤
    Diana xo


  6. markbialczak says:

    Thanks for following up, Jim. I think this is now a safer city thanks to action finally being taken. I hold this between-agency you-do-it as much at fault as anything else. The original recipient with the state should have thought to check to see if the problem had been solved by the city. My take, anyway. In any case, multiply this case by 50 states and 500 cities, and you have our nationwide rage and frustration at government and everyday problems. You solved one, here, in our home city. Great example that we should never shut the hell up.


  7. Well done Jim can’t believe the first picture, and can imagine the confusion. Also can’t believe how long it took to get something done. Good on you, we all need to sit up and pay attention like this.


  8. chmjr2 says:

    The lesson to me is that we are the government. Everything gets done because of our consent or because of our lack of effort.


  9. Thanks, Jim, for stepping up and getting someone’s attention who did wind up doing the right thing. 😉

    When we lived in Syracuse, I thought those reflectors in the road – on the interstate – were a real blessing. Especially in winter. It is confusing when you don’t know which lane you’re in. Here in Florida, when the rain comes pounding down, those reflectors are possibly life saving devices as they do help people figure out – at 70-plus mph – just where the road is.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Very true, Judy … we need all the help we can get on the roads — 33,000 deaths a year, I think I heard yesterday. Something so basic as stripes shouldn’t be so hard to keep track of. Paint is relatively cheap.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Quite an impact…and an encouragement to all to speak up and take action.
    Great post.


  11. I came across this article this AM and thought of Your Intersection:

    All my best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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