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Onondaga Creekwalk Existing Use and Conditions Study

Syracuse, New York

Topic Areas: Post-occupancy evaluation; Intermodal transportation; Urban Trail Systems; Greenways

Project Scale: 2.6 mile trail corridor

Accomplished by: Maren King, Project Director & Kyle Volz, Research Assistant

The Onondaga Creekwalk is a trail system envisioned as an "intermodal transportation spine through which pedestrians and bicyclists will be transported from various origins to many destinations in a safe, efficient and aesthetically pleasing manner" (Syracuse Creekwalk Phase II Feasibility Study, 2008). The route will generally follow Onondaga Creek, which originates about 27 miles south of the city of Syracuse and empties into Onondaga Lake just north of the city. The city's intention is to have a continuous path that extends from the southern border to Onondaga Lake, with the potential to connect to other trail systems within and beyond the city's boundaries.

At the time of this study in summer 2015, the Creekwalk Phase I was approximately 2.6 miles in length, running between Armory Square in downtown Syracuse and Onondaga Lake. Creekwalk Phase II is proposed to run between Armory Square and Kirk Park in the city's southwest neighborhood. A third phase of the Creekwalk would run between Kirk Park and the city's southern border at Dorwin Springs.

The purpose of the study was to investigate and document the existing use and conditions of the Onondaga Creekwalk, including patterns of use, what is working well and what are the challenges and opportunities. The intention was to provide information that can be used to inform design, management and maintenance decisions to help ensure that the Creekwalk provides positive community impacts.

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    Small plaza at West Genesee and South Franklin Street as one of six observations sites.

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    The existing Creekwalk is used primarily for walking, running and bicycling.

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    A popular secondary activity is fishing at the Inner Harbor and along Onondaga Creek.

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    A number of respondents noted that overgrown vegetation blocks views and limits visibility in some sections of the Creekwalk.

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    The Creekwalk segment adjacent to Hiawatha Blvd. was identified as feeling unsafe due to the narrow sidewalk and proximity to fast moving vehicles.

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    Trash and debris in Onondaga Creek was identified as a concern.

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    There were six sites for unobtrusive observation along the 2.6 mile route of Creekwalk Phase I.

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    Amount of use of the Creekwalk drops off significantly at Hiawatha Blvd and north to Onondaga Lake.

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    Amount of use by women is lower in the sections from the Inner Harbor to Onondaga Lake.

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Questions explored:

  • What are methods that can be used to gather information about the experience and conditions for a 2.6 mile trail system?
  • What are the characteristics that are influencing user experience and preferences on the existing Creekwalk?
  • How can the existing Creekwalk be improved and what lessons learned can be applied to Phase II of the Creekwalk to improve the experience and address concerns?

Project Description

The project took place over summer 2015. Data were collected using three primary methods: unobtrusive observations, questionnaires and interviews. These methods allowed collection of a range of information, and for some questions allowed triangulation of data and cross checking results. In addition to people using the Creekwalk, interviews were conducted with business owners, representatives of non-profit organizations representing refugees and homeless or indigent people, and representatives of city departments.

Analysis and synthesis of the data show that the existing Creekwalk is well used and is generally viewed as an asset by those who currently use it. There are many reasons why people enjoy the Creekwalk; most highly mentioned are its convenience, its connectivity, the relationship to Onondaga Creek and the Inner Harbor, and its landscape characteristics. It offers a setting for exercise and recreation, socializing and contact with nature. Desired changes or improvements are related to the connectivity and engagement with the water, design continuity, tree and vegetation maintenance, coordinated wayfinding system, and sense of safety.

The findings and recommendations are organized into four categories of Design, Information, Maintenance and Management, and Social Interactions.