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Toilet Paper and Rochester’s Center City Master Plan

January 17th, 2013

Rochester aims to update its Center City Master Plan. It was last updated in 2003.
Last night the City of Rochester held the first of two informational/public input sessions for the new Center City Master Plan external link. This meeting was primarily intended for residents of downtown, although many people who work or live outside the inner loop also gave input.

I listened for about an hour as many great ideas were put on the table… “Plant trees down the middle of Main Street to make it nicer for pedestrians.” “Make people feel safer about walking downtown.” “Stop demolishing older and historic buildings.”

Then one resident announced, “Sometimes I go to the bathroom and I need toilet paper, but the only place to find toilet paper is Wegmans or Tops which are too far to walk to.” So, simply put, downtown could use more retailers and small grocers – for life’s little necessities (i.e. T.P.). Brilliant!

Why is MOBILITY so far down the list of objectives?
Now can somebody please explain something to me… On the meeting handout entitled “Center City Objectives,” why is MOBILITY way down the list at #7 – right behind enhancing and expanding public spaces? Before I can enjoy all those beautiful public spaces, don’t I need to GET THERE first? Oh, sure, I could drive there. Duh.

Here’s the deal; downtown Rochester has an identity crisis. We want it to be a “real city,” with shop-lined streets and people-jammed sidewalks. We ask it to be urban. But at the same time we also ask it to be drivable, and SUB-urban. Let’s look at the facts:

Big box stores like this new Wegmans on East Avenue push out smaller grocers for miles around. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
To entice businesses to locate jobs downtown we allow historic buildings external link to become parking lots.

To make people “feel safe” we spend millions to move all the RTS buses (and “those transit people”) off Main Street.

To give people access to the little stuff, like toilet paper, we practically beg Wegman’s to build one of the largest single big-box stores any city anywhere has ever seen.

And after all this, downtown residents still cannot get to the toilet paper?!

More than half of what could be developable land in downtown Rochester is currently locked up under parking lots. [IMAGE: RochesterSubway.com]
Rochester has tried to make peace with the automobile. Yet businesses are still moving employees out of downtown external link because, they say, parking is difficult to find. And people still feel unsafe walking more than a few blocks downtown because vast expanses of parking lots (and garages) create dead zones where even the homeless don’t dare roam. And even if we could convince a developer to put a shovel in the ground, sixty-percent of our downtown surface area is undevelopable because it might mean parking spaces would be lost.

Before any master plan can begin to help Rochester, Rochester needs to decide what it wants to be. We can be urban. Or we can be sub-urban. We cannot be both at the same time. And we cannot weave a walker’s paradise through a maze of parking lots.

Okay, good. So we’ve decided to be urban. Next, we must deal with MOBILITY. Surprisingly, much of the thinking has already been laid out for us in dozens of previous studies, plans and reports…

  • Let’s work with RGRTA and neighboring communities to enhance regional transit corridors external link and to entice more people to come downtown – without a car.
  • Let’s move faster on that Bike Master Plan. Finish connecting all those broken bike routes. And let’s get a bike sharing system on the ground, NOW.
  • Let’s take the Circulator Study off the back burner and let’s give people a way to move across downtown free-ly and quickly – without a car.
  • And for Pete’s sake… let’s enforce all the stuff about “walkability” and “designing streets for pedestrians” that we put in the LAST Center City Master Plan external link ten years ago!

You may be asking yourself, “How will we ever afford all of these dreamy things like bikes and circulators and good urban design?” And to that I ask, how will we ever afford more of the same old same old? Our downtown is dying for some toilet paper!

Get Involved:

Attend the next public input session:
DATE: Wednesday, Jan. 23
TIME: 5:30- 7 p.m.
LOCATION: City Council Chambers, City Hall, 30 Church St.

And send your suggestions to:
centercity@cityofrochester.gov

Center City Master Plan
Bureau of Planning and Zoning
City Hall Room 125B
30 Church Street
Rochester, NY 14614

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2013 at 8:06 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 skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Toilet Paper and Rochester’s Center City Master Plan”

  1. Zack says:

    Awesome Post Mike.

  2. Zack, your points were excellent last night as well. Good to see you there.

  3. Anthony says:

    Great post – you should make your Parking Map of downtown Rochester the header for your Facebook page. More people need to see this and understand what’s going on.

  4. That’s not a bad idea Anthony. Although, I typically try to avoid negative imagery up top. That space is reserved for happy thoughts :-)

    You have to scroll down down down for my darker, scarier side.

  5. Jory says:

    Yeah, we had to beg Wegmans to build the new east ave store. But the new store is still 10 minutes away from city center by car, probably 30 minutes by bus, and nearly *one hour* by walking. So practically useless for center city residents, especially those without a car.

    I don’t know if there were ever talks about moving the location to center city, but if not I’d really like to know what the barriers were.

  6. Martin Edic says:

    Back in the seventies we had a city councilman named Charles Schiano who was a bit of a maverick. He seriously proposed something that I thought was a great idea: Downtown has parking garages all around its perimeter (seriously, mark them on a map). Why not connect all of them and the central city with a monorail (I know, I’m a Simpsons fan…)? Change ‘monorail’ to ‘air train’ and you’re there in terms people can understand. Or use some kind of surface shuttle system.
    Then use an app that tells incoming drivers where spaces are available. This does load balancing on parking availability, reducing the total need for additional parking.
    A bike rental system could also be a component of this. And I believe it would encourage walking- all of downtown is ten minutes to anywhere.

  7. jimmy says:

    The reason why no one uses the east portion of the inner loop is because nobody is coming from the North down St. Paul, N. Clinton, Joseph Ave, Hudson, North St., Portland. It’s because the people in the northeast section of rochester can’t afford cars, and people in irondequiot don’t feel safe driving down that way. The Inner Loop also seems flawed to me. If they made an entrance ramp coming off of Main St. heading south down the inner loop, traffic would increase in that direction. Looking at a map it seems like adding that ramp would be easy. Pitkin St. is also much wider than it needs to be. If the get rid of the inner loop, they better make union St. 4 lanes

  8. @Jimmy, good insights. I guess I would just ask, why do we need the inner loop in it’s current, 12-lane configuration? Building on ramps and off ramps makes sense when you’re trying to expedite the flow of hundreds of thousands of vehicles per day. But as you point out, that traffic isn’t there. Furthermore, I’m not hearing many city residents asking to revive the inner loop.

    I do happen to drive (and take the bus) up and down Saint Paul, N. Clinton, Joseph, and Hudson regularly between downtown and Irondequoit. I can understand why some people would not feel safe there… but it’s actually one of the most exciting (and friendly) areas of the city.

  9. Martin Edic says:

    I ride those buses myself. These neighborhoods need to be seen by more people. It is a part of our town that needs a lot of work. As for the loop, the city concept video shows how much land it frees up- a huge amount. And it totally changes the street dynamic. I live on East and walk across this empty chasm every day. Downtown would seem much more connected without it, an integral part of the whole urban environment.

  10. Martin Edic says:

    And I assume you all know that the loop was not built as a transportation corridor. It was built as defensive perimeter for downtown after the race riots in the early sixties. In addition to building what is essentially a dry moat, they also cleared large portions of land along the north side of the Loop and in Corn Hill (hundreds of mansions were torn down), both the epicenters of the riots. That land was kept vacant for many years.
    As good a reason as any to fill it in.

  11. jimmy says:

    Martin, The inner loop does not disrupt Corn Hill at all. That is 490. and I don’t see how 490 has anything to do with Race riots. But back to the eastern portion of the inner loop, I worry that too much road will be sacrificed for new land development. Union St. should be 4 lanes most of the way in between Monroe Ave and Main St. It also should have bike lanes and street parking. Street parking should make the road more pedestrian friendly (creates a buffer), slow down the people who drive too fast and street parking just creates that city feeling. Its too bad they got rid of some street parking on University Ave. near the Art Gallery.

  12. jimmy says:

    Also this is random but who else thinks it would make perfect sense to have a street car run the length of Alexander street?

  13. Martin Edic says:

    Jimmy, the traffic studies done on that portion of the Inner Loop don’t support the notion of a four lane road. Very few cars actually use it. Right now it is eight lanes when you add in the access roads (Union, etc.) I don’t have the link but there is a very interesting animated concept film done by the city showing what it might look like. I think it might change your perspective.
    Even East Avenue is now only two lanes plus bike/parking strips and it is high traffic during rush hours.

  14. jimmy says:

    Martin, I have already seen the simulation and it looks absolutely amazing. The thing about it though, is that the buildings on the left side are fantasy. Sure they could be built, but who is going to develop that land? It won’t happen right away. Plus round-abouts are not the answer -Looking at the new center city master plan it looks like they got rid of them. But i still really think union street should be 4 lanes.

  15. Matt says:

    While the inner loop should definitely go, pouring more developable land into a pot already full to the brim with the stuff doesn’t seem super useful. Land acquisition costs aren’t the problem (we’re not talking about NYC where one pays 300/buildable sqft). An earlier article pointed out some of the problem, though. The fact that you need to sell at $100 a sq/ft or rent at $1/sqft that makes development challenging. Even then, it’s more an issue of the lack of desirability/demand then this being a ridiculous price. Then there’s the whole issue of bank support, etc etc. I’m getting off on a tangent. The inner loop might make a better transit right of way than just being filled in and developed around. I don’t hear that idea very often.

  16. jimmy says:

    Thank you Matt. Sorry everyone but I need to make another argument defending the Inner loop east section. Ever wonder if it would be possible to travel around the inner loop counter- clockwise from 490 East? (probably not). Well it’s not possible. It’s the reason why the inner loop west is busy and the east portion isn’t. Given the present day infrastructure, it wouldn’t be that difficult to do. Just look at South Clinton Ave as it passes over 490 and then the innerloop using google maps. Notice the empty lot to the east and south of Howell st. That’s where the entrance ramp could go and it would have to tunnel underneath Howell Street. Lets say the innerloop is filled in and it’s a tremendous win for the city all the land gets developed. If thats the case, it would then make sense to have a Union St. exit from 490 east (it makes sense now actually). But doing this would increase the traffic on Union St. would it not? This is why if the inner loop is filled in, Union St. should be 4 lanes or at least 3 in the area of interest.

  17. Matt says:

    I’ll try and diagram what I think an inner loop fill in should actually look like. It’s not this plan. I think it should also be cut back at least to North Clinton, with the restoration of Schiller Park and it’s surrounding environs a keystone of the effort. One of the things Rochester will have to do going forward is pick some winners and losers. Pick a place to invest, and do so heavily. The rest of the city will benefit in the long run. Spreading a little bit of urbanism here and there throughout the city will leave every neighborhood unable to cross the threshold and ignite a spark.

  18. Carlos Mercado says:

    To understand a few things about the Inner Loop today – NYSDOT and City Engineering studies show that about 8,000 cars/day use this portion of express highway vs. 11,000 on East Avenue. The road is nearing the point at which it will have to have a major rebuild. The most expensive option for the taxpayers is a below-grade highway or a tunnel. The least costly option is to raise it to the surface as a four lane boulevard with a capacity equivalent to East Avenue. The new road will co-opt both Union and Pitkin Streets. There are plans on the City’s web site and probably in the archives of this site.

  19. jimmy says:

    A more important issue I think is the N. Chestnut street disaster. Get rid of it and bring back the old street grid. There is even more potential there for development then Union street I think.

  20. Lexy says:

    I use the inner loop each and everyday and I think it is a great way to get to anywhere you want to be in the city. I also use it to get to St. Paul from the North. It is quick and easy. Everyone I know uses it. I dont think things are so bad as people are making them out to be.

  21. It certainly is a great way to get where you need to go. I also use it everyday. But then again, I only have to look at it when I’m driving on it.

    The problem is, for those who live next to it, or have to traverse it to get between downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, it’s an eyesore, an inconvenience, a drag on property values, you name it. Not to mention it will cost more to bring it up to a state of good repair as it will to turn it into an at-grade boulevard (as Carlos pointed out). If you’ve driven under those bridges then I’m sure you’ve seen the condition they are in.

    The traffic counts have been done and a super freeway just isn’t necessary anymore. And keep in mind, the plan is not to get rid of it as a roadway. Just to reduce its scale and the negative impact on the neighborhood.

    I’d encourage everyone to watch the video fly-thru to get a better idea of the plan.

  22. john says:

    I get the argument about adding more developable land to a pot that is already full, but the area the eastern part of the inner loop is in seems to be a hot area. I think people will be more apt to build there than in other parts of downtown. I don’t think wed have to try hard to get rid of the new developable land. Id personally like to see us get as close to the old street grid as possible. Maybe throw in a few pedestrian streets too.

  23. Gary says:

    I moved away from the area 30ish years ago and see several issues with the master plan and yet see several opportunities now that I am trying to return. I Personally I compare Rochester to other very familiar urban areas like Baltimore and DC. What they all have in common is urban blight but where Rochester falls behind is that the later two have utilized features that make them famous and attracts tourists and investors. Baltimore has the Inner Harbor and DC has the Potomac River and all the well known memorials and government buildings. If Rochester is to rebound it has to make a firm commitment as to what it wants to be when it grows up! Sorry to say but the Genesee River isnt much to look at and would be horribly difficult to take advantage of. What else is there? Music, arts, regional wine and beer! Maybe Rochester needs more festivals? Just thoughts but lastly the City and State need to reconsider their taxes to provide better incentives! Dont wait for the big box but offer it to the little guys!


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