I'm sure everyone has had the mind-altering experience of one day looking at something very familiar and suddenly seeing it in a whole new way. Something you might have previously taken for granted, or totally ignored, one day really bugs the crap out of you and there's no looking back. For me this week, it's the Route 5/West Genesee Street medians near Wegmans Fairmount.
These are some ugly, ugly medians. They are about 10 feet wide -- perhaps more than 20 feet wide in spots -- and I can't ever remember a time when they weren't shabby-looking and overgrown with weeds, or when the asphalt wasn't deteriorating. They remind me of footage I've seen of Russian cities where nobody much cares about weed control along the streets, or of depressed neighborhoods in American inner cities. I wonder... did these things ever look nice?
The very worst parts of it are right by the end of Route 695 -- adjacent to the Off-Ramp to Nowhere, a now-deserted mesa where human sacrifices to the Snow God were performed by the local high priests in ancient times. (The Off-Ramp to Nowhere is, in itself, a mildly interesting story of a neighborhood-slicing bypass that never got built, but let's leave that for another day.)
This partial aerial view doesn't really convey what it's like to drive past these things every day, so I took a movie of the drive instead.
A couple of notes about my little Zapruder film. It starts at the Terry Road intersection and proceeds west past three of the four medians (seen on the left), coming to a stop in front of the fourth and final one (which is about 20 feet wide, if not more). The picture quality isn't that great, but hopefully you can observe the lovely fringe of weed and the weary asphalt surfaces.
Also, note the white blobs on the ground next to Median #3. When I first really noticed them, I was confused because I knew it wasn't crabapple blossom time -- and in any case, there are no crabapples along the road there. No, those are cigarette butts, piles of them, shifting like sand or snowdrifts. Yes, as people wait at the light to turn left into Wegmans, they toss their ciggies right there. (Either that, or there is a weird traffic-turbulence current that is piling them all there.) It was realizing for the first time what this white pile was made of, that made me grossed out enough to write about it -- and this video doesn't even convey how thick the drifts sometimes get.
This particular stretch of road is a median in two ways. Not only does it separate two sides of West Genesee Street, but this series of dividers happens to be almost right on the Camillus (Fairmount) and Geddes town border. Unfortunately (in my opinion, anyway), the net effect on the two towns' appearances is not the same. By a slight quirk of topography, you get a different overall effect driving by these medians depending on which direction you are headed. If you are headed toward Geddes, you are going slightly up a hill into a wooded, suburban area, and you might not notice the sorry condition of the dividers that much. However, if you are headed west, toward Fairmount, what you get is totally different. Fairmount being a dense commercial district along West Genesee, the stark, weedy expanse of these dividers just adds significantly to the overall sense of haphazardness, clutter, and anti-greenness. Unless you think the weeds are "green enough" -- but while the common chicory (Cichorium intybus) blossoms in July can be very pretty, I think somehow we could expect a little more than just Mother Nature's bounty.
In starker terms, it makes Fairmount look (even more) like crap -- but these medians appear to be wholly located in Geddes. There may be similarly neglected highway dividers in other burbs around town, but these are probably the ugliest in a highest-trafficked suburban area. Of course, the high traffic is the reason for the dividers, and part of the reason why you can't just plant some petunias there and hope for the best. If you sent out some homing pigeons with miniature pollution detectors in the greater Geddes-Fairmount area, you would probably find lots of air pollution from all those tailpipe emissions -- and just as many of these cars are headed for points west as well as points east.
So why hasn't anyone done anything about this?
First, it's possible that the dividers are trapped within Doug Adams' famous SEP Field ("Somebody Else's Problem" Field). The maintenance of the roadway is possibly under county or even state jurisdiction. I don't know if it's fair to hold the Town of Geddes fully responsible for their appearance, so this post should not be taken as a slam on them. However, that may not get Geddes and/or Camillus town officials -- and ultimately local residents -- off the hook from noticing and tugging on the shirtsleeve of whoever does have the responsibility for upkeep of the dividers.
Second: in an imperfect world of physical and budgetary realities, what to do? I think flowers have already been eliminated as a possibility. But you can at least make a quick list of potential solutions besides flowers, such as: (1) removing the asphalt and replacing it with attractive, weed-resistant pavers or gravel; (2) keeping the asphalt but hiring someone fearless to weed-whack or apply herbicide to the weeds on a regular basis; (3) planting grass; or (4) putting realistic fake turf in. (Ironic that many people don't want fake turf at the baseball stadium in Syracuse -- whereas fake turf might be a terrific, if high-end, solution for this problem. So if there are city officials who are really counting on a sweet deal for their fake-turf-selling friends, maybe they could be directed out our way instead.)
One last thought: If no one wanted to pay for a solution, perhaps Benderson could get involved. Benderson is the company that is planning on revitalizing good old Fairmount Fair (which will start soon with the construction of a new Target) into a nicer shopping destination. Although the worst stretches of Dividerland happen to be closer to Wegmans (which is in Geddes), they are a gateway into the Fairmount Fair area as well (which is in Camillus), and it would only enhance the image that Benderson is trying to create. They haven't got a whole lot of real estate at FF to work with in the first place, so why not "expand" into the road that is going to bring in most of their traffic anyway?