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Reader Opinion Regarding Broad St.

December 18th, 2009

I recently invited my readers to attend a public meeting held by the City of Rochester and to make their voices heard. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the public about the Broad Street Tunnel Improvement Project which is slated to begin this Spring. The meeting was tonight and turnout was fair—not great, but I did get to meet a few RochesterSubway.com followers which was very encouraging!

Anyway, I wanted to share one opinion we got from a subscriber, Tim L., in response to our meeting announcement in which I pissed and moaned that the city failed to consider rail transit options for Broad Street. I don’t disagree with all of what Tim has to say, but I do want to hear more of your opinions on this, which is why I’m posting it here…

Reader Opinion…

Tim L.
Tim L.

“The potential of a canal project is one of the best ideas that has been proposed in many many years. in my opinion. At least if it is the one that I am familiar with, which involves opening that subway tunnel back up (removing Broad Street completely) and filling it with water again and making a canal, with shops and restaurants, etc. Like the super successful Riverwalk in San Antonio.

Do you really believe that there is a need or any value from having a rail system in downtown Rochester again? Didn’t they try that in Buffalo and it did nothing to improve downtown or the city?

Another mode of transportation is not really what is needed to get downtown happening. There is already buses and that stupid new bus station going in. An actual REASON to go downtown is what is needed, not another way to get around it. Once the area is established again as an actual destination of value, then rail could be considered to bring people from the suburbs into the city and back. But a small rail system that just circles around downtown adds what value to the city? Even if the downtown areas is reestablished, a circling line doesn’t really add much value does it? Doesn’t it make more sense to have straight lines going from the suburbs into the city and back? To re-establish a connection between the two again.
Just some thoughts.”

-Tim L.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 1:17 am and is filed under Opinion, Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “Reader Opinion Regarding Broad St.”

  1. Alex says:

    I agree with Tim’s final paragraph, that we need to concentrate efforts in establishing connection between the suburbs and the city center, possibly through light rail, or in my opinion, a bus system similar to that of Curitiba, Brazil, which can be implemented incrementally, lowering initial costs and possibility of overall failure.

    I think we need to be weary of large scale ideas that are based on little more than hope, or even logic, instead of statistical facts and financial reality. Case in point: the fast ferry. I sincerely believe it was an excellent idea, and still believe in ideas that promote better connection between the two metropolises, but unfortunately the project was created far to large for existing demand. We were excessively optimistic and because of this lost the connection, the boat, and millions of dollars.

    The proposed canal system has potential, but once again I think it is based on little more than hope. I agree that we need to establish more reasons for people to go downtown, or better yet, LIVE downtown. What we do not need to do is dig up an entire street and fill it with water on a whim. We need to concentrate our efforts on incremental changes, such as creating better connections between already successful districts such as East/Alexander, High Falls, and The South Wedge. If people want a nice waterfront why not proposed development of the Genesee river?

    My apologies for the length of this diatribe, I will stop there, and look forward to reading everyone else’s opinions. Fantastic blog, keep it up!

  2. An actual REASON to go downtown is what is needed

    Even though I’m not a Rochester resident any more I am still interested in the city. In my trips to Rochester I had no reason to go downtown. Restaurants, shops, etc. on the NEW canal would certainly change my mind.

  3. Tim says:

    @Alex – we already have buses that travel between the suburbs and downtown. The link already exists and has for many years. The problem is that there is no REASON to go downtown.

    Comparing this idea to the fast ferry is as big a mistake as the fast ferry was. I knew the moment they announced the fast ferry that it would be a miserable failure. I’m not a shaman, but I did live in Toronto for 2 years. And I can tell you that there is absolutely no good reason for anyone from Toronto to hop on that boat and come here, which was exactly the result.

    Who’s fault is that? Ours!! You build the reason first, THEN you provide the transportation to get there.

    On top of that, where were they going? To Charlotte? Perhaps to visit the Penny Arcade?? The boat dropped people off 15 miles from the city in a suburb with nothing in it. So anyone from Toronto that did actually choose to go to Rochester, they were dropped off in Charlotte and sent on their way.

    It doesn’t appear that there was any real world research that went into the decision of that ferry or that anyone visited Toronto and asked people if they would actually come here. And then it doesn’t appear that anyone actually put any thought into how visitors were going to go from Charlotte to anywhere else (unless they brought their own car with them).

    Of course a canal project should be carefully planned and all pros and cons weighed. And the city also needs to make the resulting waterfront property EASY for entrepreneurs to lease/use. Without the proper incentives for entrepreneurs and businesses, it will surely fail. A “build it and they will come” approach will not work without proper incentive to the business owners. High Falls is a grand testament to that.

    The city wanted High Falls, the entrepreneurs chose East End – guess who won?! And the city went out of their way to try to squash East End while that was happening and drive people to High Falls, instead of seeing the opportunity and understanding the motivations of the business owners and entrepreneurs.

    Entrepreneurs and small business owners need a small amount of infrastructure and a large amount of incentive. Those incentives include tax breaks, grants, low interest loans, great lease deals, REAL promotion and public relations of an area provided by the city, and accessibility, safety, and convenience for their customers.

    It seems that downtown has been operated in this backwards fashion for a very long time and unless some serious rethinking of how we, well, think, than nothing is going to change.

    By the way, I agree that a proper Genesee riverfront development could be an alternative answer, although that still wouldn’t be actually in Downtown – it would be outside the Inner Loop.

  4. Scott says:

    Are we really talking about “another way to get around downtown”. No. The edge that commuter rail would give to Rochester is broader than just getting around and bigger than just downtown. So you don’t think there’s a reason to go downtown but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people who *do* have reasons to go downtown. 50,000 people (I’d estimate) drive into the city everyday to work and probably just as many travel away from the city to work in the suburbs. Not to mention the thousands of people who travel from one side of town to the other on weekends to visit various attractions many of which could be served by rail. Gradually expanding to points outside Rochester opens up even more possibilities.

    A well-placed rail line could potentially convince 20-30% of those drivers to leave their cars behind-especially if it were properly served by RTS bus routes.

    Also metro rail networks attract more people than just those who currently ride the bus. Studies across the country have shown that while bus passengers tend to be from low to middle income groups, light rail riders tend to be more middle and upper-middle class who were previously dependent on their cars. We have a great bus system in Rochester but buses don’t attract businesses or residents the way rail does. And buses certainly don’t increase property value.

    It’s laughable to me that people point to the fast ferry as an argument against advancing this city in other ways. It’s not the same thing AT ALL. It’s also funny that no one bats an eyelash when the government shells out billions to subsidize roads and highways every year but when new mass transit options are mentioned the pitchforks come out. When was the last time a highway turned a profit? It’s never happened. But we all continue to pay for a terribly inefficient highway system that serves relatively few. There are a million reasons we should be studying rail options. What is it that you’re afraid of losing?

  5. Andrew says:

    Another reason that no one uses the busses: they suck. If any money were actually put into the bus system to improve the way it runs and where it goes, more people might actually ride it. Thus providing traffic to downtown, and in turn putting interest in development downtown.

    I guess it’s a chicken-egg thing, really. Are any businesses going to be interested in developing in an area that no one goes to? On the other side of that, is anyone going to go there if no one is developing?

    I think the first step to obtaining new developers is to provide good public transportation to the area you want developed. A new bus station is certainly not going to improve the entire system and I’ve thought it a bad idea from the start.

    Maybe rail would work, maybe this canal thing will do the trick. But if the people of Rochester want something to happen with their downtown, something SMART has to be done. We can’t just throw money at things. Money only works when there’s a good idea behind it.

  6. DeWain F. says:

    Rail transit gets to the very heart of what ails downtown Rochester. Successful cities are not filled with surface parking lots… they use a strong transit system to allow more people to enter downtown without parking. Cities that have successfully built a vibrant downtown have used transit to enable private development. Rochester has seen a limited amount of scattered infill development in recent years, but we cannot have a truly vibrant downtown until we reduce the dependency on parking. Consider that the study of the proposed redevelopment of Midtown caps the amount of new square footage at a much lower level than the prior Midtown configuration because parking was considered to be the limiting factor.

    There will be much more about the benefits of a modern transit system in Rochester on this web site in the coming weeks, but let me hit upon a few highlights. Cities that have a rail component to their transit system (including cities the same size as Rochester) have much higher per capita ridership than system that rely entirely on buses. Rail transit is proven to attract more riders. It is faster, smoother, quieter, and it has a better image.

    Another critical benefit of light rail transit is that it costs only 60% as much to operate as bus transit. Cities that have a rail component simply have much more efficient transit operation than comparable cities with all-bus systems.

    The permanency of rail (coupled with rail’s higher ridership levels) has been proven to encourage more development than bus transit.

    Other major benefits to rail include the fact that rail transit is much more energy efficient than bus transit, and the fact the electrically powered light rail has zero emissions at the vehicle.

    Downtowns prosper when more people work and live there. The “we need to give people a reason to come downtown” approach is the approach that Rochester has been taking for years, and it has failed. While the “attraction” approach (stadiums, High Falls, and now a faux canal) does yield some positive benefit, the economic benefit of occasional visitors (which might increase sales at a few restaurants and stores) is quite small in comparison to the tax base and activity generated by new and renovated office buildings and new residents.

    Consider that the first phase of High Falls development, which showcased our spectacular waterfall, and added attractive streetscaping and a sound and light show, arguably has more “attraction” than the current city Broad Street proposal. However, the current attractions at High Falls were not enough to sustain development. It is the addition of offices that is now enabling High Falls to be successful.

  7. admin says:

    Yes, I should mention that RochesterSubway.com will be working closely with DeWain’s group, the Rochester Rail Transit Committee (RRTC) in 2010 and hopefully beyond. You can read more about the RRTC at: http://www.ggw.org/rrtc/

  8. Harry Davis says:

    CYCLING: Rochester: an emerging world-class cycling spot BUT NO BICYCLE LANES ON NEW ROAD!

    YA GOTTA READ THIS! from city newspaper
    http://www.harry2009.com/node/509

    I am sorry to say but on Dec 17, last Thursday, the “Broad Street Tunnel Improvement Project” held another one of the “open, public discussions” ala ren square style with no real discussion, only a “This Is The Way It Is” presentation to tell us how the tunnel will be filled in. What is completely inappropriate is that they are building a new road WITHOUT informed planning, only engineers & construction people! A whole new road is being built!

    When audience members asked if a bicycle lane will be included on the road that will connect to Main Street downtown, the answer was “NO”!

    No bicycle lanes for a new road in Rochester!

    I asked Mayor Duffy to hire me so that this type of situation can be avoided. We have been having meetings since the election and more will be heard from our group in January

    btw, I ride my bicycle every day.

  9. Bob says:

    This isn’t a reply to anyone in particular, rather my thoughts on the canal project.

    I consider it a tremendous waste of resources that undermines the east-west connectivity of downtown as well as the only chance to reimplement rail travel.

    Nobody is talking about the insane maintenance costs something like this would incur. This is not San Antonio, this is a place with multiple freezing and thawing cycles over the course of the year. There is a reason the current canal is drained for over 5 months of the year.

    A disclaimer to wrap up, my thoughts are colored by a belief that the debate regarding bringing people downtown will be rendered moot by energy and efficiency concerns. Downtowns are naturally focal points. The diaspora of people to the exurbs is an unnatural occurence fed by the availability of cheap oil. Entertainment and leisure time are relatively new concepts.

  10. TocqueVillager says:

    Looks like this train has already left the station, but a few comments nonetheless.

    These are all fine points and contribute something of value to the discussion. It’s clear from the comments that the fast ferry was doomed by a lack of visioning, market research and, well, some common sense. Okay, so let’s not make those mistakes again, right?

    So, should we create destinations first, or provide transit first? Neither. We should plan first. Bob’s concern about the rewatering project’s impact on traffic is shared by many. We need data. But what good is studying congestion without a transit plan that will surely impact the data?

    Then too, consider Mike’s point in “Rochester’s Case for a Streetcar Line”, that fixed rail transit actually attracts investment. We need a rather comprehensive plan upfront, to avoid competing interests, and to get all the data all at once. Otherwise, what’s true today may not be true beyond the next new thing.

    A stepwise, prioritized implementation should be included in the plan.

    Lastly, the plan should be ‘grown’ from the bottom up, not imposed by elected officials and their cronies from the top down.

    But you knew that.

  11. admin says:

    @TocqueVillager, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. This is something that several people tried to point out to City Council during the Mortimer Street bus terminal hearings. Myself included. We keep doing these isolated projects and that’s backwards. Rochester needs a comprehensive transportation plan as a layer to its broader Master Plan. At the time I got little more than blank stares and a few emails from 1 or 2 councilmembers thanking me for my input. So it’s obvious that the people of Rochester will need to be the catalyst for change here. That’s why Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Regional Community Design Center will be partnering to give this idea the public attention it deserves and we will do the leg work necessary to see it thru. Contact me for more info.

  12. Harry Davis says:

    “Stop Mortimer Street Bus Barn/Create Amtrak Inter-Modal”

    http://bit.ly/bgUGuy


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