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Does Rochester Have a Parking Problem?

February 20th, 2012

Downtown Rochester, N.Y. Parking Map.
Yes, we have a parking problem. Quite simply, there’s too much of it. It’s EVERWHERE. No rhyme or reason or method to the madness. We lost control of this problem decades ago when we bulldozed half of our downtown in the name of urban renewal, and to this very day we continue to allow our few urban spaces and historic buildings to be paved over.

At its best, this is land that’s not being used for any productive purpose but to store our cars on. More than that, these ugly gray patches of land create voids in our community; Dead-zones where no one wants to be for any length of time. These are places not worth caring about. And our city is literally covered with them…

Downtown Rochester, N.Y. satellite view of parking areas.
The process I used to mark up this satellite image was simple:

  • RED: Any off-street area (public or private) that faces the street and is used exclusively to park motor vehicles on. Private residential parking areas, or lots that do not face the street (ie: hidden from public view, accessible only via driveway, etc.) are not marked.
  • DARK RED: Multi-level parking garages. Garages that have office or livable space above them are not marked. Only areas that exclusively used for parking will be marked. The one exception is the Genesee Crossroads Garage which has a seldom used urban green space on top of it.
  • BROKEN RED (HATCH-LINES): Grassy or gravel (unpaved) areas that had vehicles parked on them at the time this satellite image was taken, or are known to be used primarily for parking. It should be noted that these grassy lots had buildings on them at one point – they are not “green” fields.

You know, I actually had second thoughts about posting this image of our city. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. But the first step in getting over a problem is admitting we have one and I’m most embarrassed to say that we still don’t get it. So let this image serve as our medical evidence. This is evidence of a disease. A merciless, vicious disease; eating away at what’s left of our city’s flesh. We need to find a cure—and fast.

So, if this image embarrasses you as much as it does me, please share it with your regional planners external link, your City Council member external link, your Mayor external link… and ask them, “Why?” If they don’t answer you, ask them again. Ask what is being done to reverse this.

Better still, ask them to help get the City Circulator up and running. An idea which would help convince many poeple to leave their cars at home when travelling downtown, but an idea which nonetheless is sitting on the drawing board somewhere in City Hall collecting dust.

Ask the Zoning Board external link why they voted to allow North American Breweries, Inc. to demolish the historic brewhouse at 13 Cataract Street, for 27 additional parking spaces.

Then ask yourself, “Why do I drive alone to work everyday when I can carpool, bike, or take the bus?” I promise to do the same.

And if you’re wondering how Rochester stacks up against other cities, here’s one from Portland, Oregon…
Downtown Portland, O.R. Parking Map.
(See more at UrbanIndy.com external link)

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 20th, 2012 at 11:34 pm and is filed under 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 “Does Rochester Have a Parking Problem?”

  1. Jason Haremza says:

    A sad, sad, story. Great work though. Government policy and land use regulations can only get us so far. To me, the real core of the problem is a combination of a shrinking population, a weak real estate market, no regional planning, and an ineffective property tax system that creates the reality where parking is, often times, the most economically rational and profitable use for downtown parcels.

  2. Dan Palmer says:

    You probably could have used the Civic Center garage as it is topped by a plaza that, new “greening” of it aside, is rarely used by anyone – even the scores of people in the surrounding municipal buildings.

  3. Julia says:

    I don’t recall where I saw the article/post, but I think there was a similar map done of downtown Buffalo that exposed the glut of surface lots/parking facilities. Wonder how common this is in rust belt/Upstate cities that are trying to find ways to get people downtown?

  4. Renee says:

    Thanks for the work on this. Wow. This makes me want to weep. We moved here from a big city a few years ago and are accustomed to not using our car much. We still marvel at how much people talk about not enough parking when new projects are proposed. And we get frustrated when people say they don’t want to frequent cool city retail and restaurants because they can’t park right out front. Park and walk. Enjoy your urban surroundings. I’m going to keep this map handy for our neighborhood meetings.

  5. Brian M. says:

    Amazing. Thanks for creating the graphical representation. I just added a link to this to https://rocwiki.org/Automobile_Problem … feel free to add more if you want.

  6. Richard says:

    We need all the parking places or else we will need to walk a few feet to our destination.

  7. kwandell peterson says:

    It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into this.

    Could each category be labelled with a more distinct coloring? It’s difficult for my eyes to distinguish red from dark-red.

    Thanks for sharing this with the community!

  8. Brian says:

    @Renee – I completely agree. People will park just as far or farther away from a retail store in a busy mall parking lot and it doesn’t bother them.

    Coming from a suburb of Syracuse, I know there are deep-seated feelings in the ‘burbs that the roads in the “big city” are too crowded to drive (The real issue is that they’re unfamiliar,) anywhere within the city limits is “ghetto,” and that it’s dangerous to be outside your car or a building for any length of time, day or night (including walking in a parking garage.)

  9. @Jason, I agree, it’s all of those things. But I’m not afraid to say more stringent land use policies may be necessary to begin to reign this in. After all, which came first; the shrinking population and weak real estate market, or the conversion of urban properties into mass quantities of parking? If I’m a business owner, I say, who knows and who cares? All I know is my customers want a place to park and I’m going to give it to them. So I ask, who’s going to lead this great turn around before the problem gets worse?

    @Kwandell, I’ll work on making the colors a bit more distinct. I’m thinking of printing this graphic as a large poster which would make it much easier to see all the individual lots. But the point is, there’s way too much red!

  10. Erik Stoneham says:

    Sad. As a resident of Downtown I hate seeing all the lots and wasted space. Corner of Water Street and Andrews is the one that bothers me the most ( as it is close to my apartment ) I would like to see a multi use garage apartment building placed there. It would help with the parking in our neighbourhood and add more business / residential space. Much to the same that they did at East and Scio in the East End Garage. I know garages are needed and I hope for a day when they become obsolete but I think if we have to have them, make them useful on several level. A plain-jane skeleton is horrible. Rochester Subway – Pave it forwards and thanks!

  11. Nathan Beach says:

    Is there a way to highlight public parking spots a different color? Lots like Time Warner or Rhino’s Stadium are private lots. It would be interesting to compare private and public lots.

  12. [...] made a point at the TEDxRochester event the other day in which he showed us that more than a good portion of Rochester is dedicated to parking. As we become more and more dependent of our automobiles, we become more dependent on the space to [...]


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