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Inner Loop Redevelopment Recommendations

A recent report from Stantec outlines recommendations and suggestions for the redevelopment of Union Street after the Inner Loop is filled. [IMAGE: Philip Michael Brown Studio / City of Rochester]
By Mike Governale

Yesterday we took a bike ride down inside the Inner Loop with Matthew Ehlers to see how Rochester’s “big fill” was progressing. Quite nicely I’d say. But once filled, the next question becomes, what will fill the void.

RocSubway reader Ben Voellinger pointed us to a recent document external link posted to the City’s website that outlines recommendations for future development(s) along the new Union Street. Thanks Ben! Let’s take a look…

Could East Ave. and Union really look like this one day? [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
We all know how lovely architectural concept renderings can be. My mouth is watering just looking at these images by Philip Michael Brown Studio. I see a cycle track in this one!

Could East Ave. and Union really look like this one day? I’m not sure how the green grassy wall will look after one Rochester winter, but besides that, I’d say we have a good shot. The cycle track is a sure thing anyway. However…

What you see here are concepts based on the City's master plan, vision/goals, and the realities & context of the surrounding area. [IMAGE: Philip Michael Brown Studio / City of Rochester]
…it’s important to mention here that this presentation external link is only a recommendation. What you see here are concepts based on the City’s master plan, vision/goals, and the realities & context of the surrounding area.

I just want to point out a few of the most interesting ideas mentioned and offer my usual (and quite useless) color commentary for your enjoyment.

First, to help ground us, we’re talking mainly about the strip of land which will run along the west side of the new Union Boulevard (formerly the Inner Loop). The map below is turned 90º clockwise. The Strong National Museum of Play is on the left. Main Street is on the right. And Downtown is up top. Shown in purple, pink, orange, and green is the new developable land that will be created once the Inner Loop is filled.

The City must understand the limitations and the potential for each section of land before it seeks proposals from developers. This is the reason for the study. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
The City is looking at this strip of land as a clean slate, but there are four very distinct sub-sections. Each section will be impacted differently by various factors including the geography, adjacent neighbors, traffic, parking demands, etc. So the City must understand the limitations and the potential for each section before it seeks proposals from developers. And this is the reason for the study.

Section 1 (orange) will be offered up through the typical open RFP process.

Section 2 (pink) will be offered up to The Strong Museum first because of it’s close proximity and somewhat awkward footprint, wedged between Union and The Strong parking lot. The hope is that something more could be done with this land in combination with the existing Strong Museum parking lot. We’ll take a closer look at these first two sections in a moment.

Section 3 (purple) could be sold to adjacent property owners or held on to by the City for future development.

And Section 4 (green) is the odd man out for now. The City is waiting to see if traffic volume decreases at the intersection of Main & University before they decide what do to with this section. For example, the Inner Loop ramp may be moved to the north side of Main Street, allowing this green land to be developed.

Alright, back to Section 1 and the dirty “P” word: PARKING. The City wants to avoid having this valuable land turned into surface parking lots. And here is a perfect example of why the future of our city needs to emphasize walking, biking, and transit.

Parking—paying for it and making space for it—is a complex issue. Look at the number of alternatives the planning team had to consider just to find a balance between A) satisfying parking demands, and B) having enough space to actually build something…

The City wants to avoid having this valuable land turned into surface parking lots. So planners explored a variety of possible building/parking configurations. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
To avoid surface parking, the team figures we can get 225 parking spaces on-site if we build them beneath the buildings. If we only build 55,000 sq. ft. at ground level, we might be okay with 225 underground spaces, plus on-street spaces. But this is a CITY goddammit. One-story buildings ain’t gonna cut it.

If we want 3- and 4-story buildings (and we really do), then at 200,000 sq. ft. our planner says we're gonna need 575 additional off-site spaces. Ugh. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
If we want 3- and 4-story buildings (and we really do), then at 200,000 sq. ft. our experts say we’re gonna need 575 additional off-site spaces. Ugh.

What if we concede a tiny bit and remove one floor? STILL we need an extra 300 spaces.  [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
What if we concede a tiny bit and remove one floor? STILL we need an extra 300 spaces. Dang it. Designing a city is hard.

Ok, what if we go back to 3- and 4-stories, but we bite our tongues and add a little bit of surface parking? Still no good. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
Ok, what if we go back to 3- and 4-stories, but we bite our tongues and add a little bit of surface parking? Still no good. These stinking city parcels are too dang small.

How about surface parking AND reduce the number of floors? Nope. 125 spaces short. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
How about surface parking AND reduce the number of floors? Nope. 125 spaces short.

What if move our buildings to the corners and put lots of surface parking in between? STILL NO! 223 spaces short. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
What if move our buildings to the corners and put lots of surface parking in between? Who’s going to notice we cut out some buildings anyway? STILL NO! 223 spaces short. Getting angry!

Let's spend some serious money and build a 5-level parking garage. Boom. 300 on-site parking spaces. Hmmm. Still not quite enough. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
Time to bring out the big guns. Let’s spend some serious money and build a 5-level parking garage. Boom. 300 on-site parking spaces. Hmmm. Still not quite enough to eliminate the need for some surface parking. And the garage comes at the expense of some developable land.

HEY, we could use part of the old Inner Loop to build 600 parking spots on two levels underground!! [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
**LIGHT BULB** HEY, we could use part of the old Inner Loop to build 600 parking spots on two levels underground!!

Seriously, that’s what it says in the presentation. I’m not making this up.

Of course, parking structures—above or below ground—come at a higher cost. But with this solution, on paper anyway, we've got our best of both worlds – suburban and urban. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
Of course, parking structures—above or below ground—come at a higher cost. But with this solution, on paper anyway, we’ve got the best of both worlds – suburban and urban.

Here's a cut-away view of our buildings with underground parking. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
Alrighty, so here’s a cut-away view of our buildings with underground parking (above).

A plan view of Union at Charlotte Street. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
And a plan view of Union at Charlotte Street (above).

And again with rear parking access from Pitkin Street (or Pitkin Alley). [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
And a look at the parking with rear access from Pitkin Street (or Pitkin Alley).

The presentation also applies themes to the different sections of Union Street. [IMAGE: Stantec / City of Rochester]
The presentation also applies themes to the different sections of Union Street. The section closest to Main Street is dubbed “The Gateway”. As mentioned earlier, if traffic volume allows the plan would be to create a gateway park here where Main and University come together. (Gee, maybe Anderson Park external link?) The park would be surrounded by new retail and residential development.

The segment around Union and East Ave. would be given a “Jazz theme.” The street would have music piped in, restaurants and entertainment venues, “animated & public first floors”, and lots of pedestrian amenities.

Finally, the segment nearest The Strong would focus on “Play”. I know, like duh. But check this out… someone sees a ton of potential in what is now Strong Museum’s giant surface parking lot. The plan calls for a “destination attraction” area with the following potential developments:

  • Expansion of The Strong Museum
  • Visitor Infrastructure (hotel, restaurant, themed & specialty retail, entertainment, etc.)
  • Potential Vertical/Iconic Element
  • Covered & 3-Season Spaces
  • Potential Jazz Festival Venue
  • A Park or Parks Potentially Connecting to MLK Jr. Park (Manhattan Square Park)

Recommended attractions include family adventure parks (i.e. Great Wolf Lodge) and urban/extreme sports parks. [IMAGE: Gizmag.com]
Recommended attractions include family adventure parks (i.e. Great Wolf Lodge) and urban/extreme sports parks such as this one external link being built in Rotterdam.

I don’t know what I think about a Great Wolf Lodge. Those things are giant money sucking black holes. Families check in but they don’t generally venture outside until they’re penniless and ready to leave town. I’m speaking from experience. But I digress. Surfing could be cool though.

In this illustration we see how The Strong parking lot could literally be buried beneath itself to make way for these
One thing’s for sure, if any of these suggested developments come true, we’re going to need a whole lot more underground parking. In the illustration above (click for larger view) shows how The Strong parking lot could literally be buried beneath itself to make way for these “family adventure” attractions. Plus, burying the parking would provide space for a great lawn and a park plaza which would provide connectivity from Union Boulevard to Manhattan Square Drive and MLK Jr. Park.

So what do we think of all these ideas? Personally I’m glad the City did this exercise. I’d like to see it all happen. But now we shall see which dreams become reality, and which ones get crushed beneath the weight of our own insatiable appetite for parking spaces.

• • •

Speak Up

YOUR input will be very important as the City prepares to issue requests for development proposals. If you would like to provide comments, suggestions or have any questions about the project, please contact Steve Golding, Manager of Downtown Development at 585-428-6895 or golds@cityofrochester.gov. And as always, you can drop a comment below let us know what you think.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 at 11:48 pm and is filed under Architecture, Rochester Destinations, 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.

33 Responses to “Inner Loop Redevelopment Recommendations”

  1. Jim Fraser says:

    How could transit options (bus, biking, walking) impact the parking issue? Is it time for a downtown circulator?

  2. Jim Fraser says:

    Also, what uses and connections could be built into this project to improve walkability (ie, less driving)? Just for example, what happens when connections between SouthWedge, East End and downtown are improved, and what uses in the project area can build on them?

    In the planning of this project, are connections and uses being neglected, or just under-reported?

    For extra credit, how could the planned intermodal transit station (and surrounding area on the north end) eventually tie into this?

    FWIW, I reject tourism, suburban stay-cations or any direct appeal to outsiders as a best use. Prioritize making the city work best for those who use it most. All else will follow.

  3. Jay says:

    Has anyone discussed re-linking University where the Inner Loop currently cuts it off? It’s clear they were connected at one point, and this would do quite a bit to reconnect two estranged neighborhoods, as well as make it safer for bike and pedestrian traffic in the area. Wasn’t that the point of the project anyway – to reconnect downtown with the rest of the city?

  4. Barbra Ann says:

    I agree that “Strong Museum’s giant surface parking lot” calls for a rethink . . . I would suggest creating a natural play space [park or parks potentially connecting to MLK Jr. Park (Manhattan Square Park) [1] to increase city walkability; [2] to allow children outside to play — like a ‘Central Park’ feeling; [3] to link the Genesee River walk, Corn Hill, High Falls, Cobbs Hill, SBA neighborhood, Highland Park, etc. etc. in a bicycle, walking trail.

  5. Ben says:

    In regards to comment number 3, if you jump to page 22 on the city’s PDF presentation, they mention the possibility of continuing Richmond and University through the new Union Street if that block is available for development.

    Personally I don’t see the need for two Inner Loop exits within a block of each other and wondered from the beginning of this project why the loop doesn’t just end right at Main Street. Hoping they end up going that direction with it.

  6. Powers says:

    That Strong concept makes me salivate.

  7. Chris Stone says:

    According to what I heard at public open houses for the Inner Loop project, the state and county DOT felt that ending the Inner Loop at Main Street, without keeping the underpass and alternate exit to Union Street, would make that intersection “fail.” By which they mean, fail for cars. Never mind that right now, it fails pretty badly for bikes and pedestrians.

    So, for now, the two access points to the remainder of Inner Loop will be Union Street and East Main. But I also heard, as some have already noted, that future phases include seriously looking at reconnecting University Avenue.

  8. Chris Stone says:

    The Strong Museum is not particularly looking for kids to play outside; certainly not interact with the city at large. During busy times (i.e. school break weeks), the Strong actually buses visitors from the East End garage because, you know, the two block walk is too scary and/or too taxing for the little tykes.

    The museum is great, but let’s face it, it is a casino for kids: get them inside and keep them and their parents inside and spending money onsite as long as possible.

  9. Regarding the possibility of tying University Ave back to Main Street (as it did pre-1960) Chris Stone is exactly right.

    From what I understand, this was studied and is still a real possibility – just not in this phase.

    When NYSDOT looked at how a Main & University intersection would work, they estimated traffic volume based on current (Inner Loop) traffic levels. Of course, when they ran simulated traffic tests (using super-computers or whatever) their software told them this was too much traffic volume for a traditional intersection to handle. To further complicate matters, this wouldn’t be a typical 4-corner intersection as you’d have Union, University and Main all intersecting at acute angles making certain turning movements difficult. Plus, traffic from the northern section of Inner Loop would terminate at Main & Union, which no doubt added to their inflated traffic estimate.

    So for now, this section is being tabled. When Union Boulevard is complete and some of the street grid restored, they will count the actual traffic and have better data from which to determine next steps. It is thought that volume will be lower and then that funky little Inner Loop entrance can be removed in a future phase. This is why the presentation indicates that section 4 is being “held”.

  10. Chris Stone says:

    Let us just remember that “too much traffic to handle” is a subjective value judgement, not a scientific fact. Roads are not pipes and human motorists are not water molecules. If a particular road or intersection gets congested, people, possessing free will, can decide to take an alternate route, leave at a different time, or take an alternate means of transportation.

    Traffic engineers have perpetrated this fallacy of “failure” for decades now and it’s time to call them on it.

  11. Amen.

    BTW, it’s interesting to keep up on similar issues in other cities. Last week Rochester was visited by delegations from NYC, Syracuse, Albany, and Buffalo who were interested to learn from our Inner Loop reconstruction project. We don’t realize how lucky we are to have the team of engineers we have in the City of Rochester right now, but there are places all across NY state (and beyond) that are fighting to remove urban highways and reconnect their neighborhoods like we are now doing. Here’s a good article about New York Route 198 in Buffalo and the struggles going on there. Check out the park-in protest that the neighbors organized to get traffic to slow down. For one evening they turned a four lane highway into a two-lane street by “illegally” parking their cars on either side of the road. Did it cause a traffic jam? No. Did it improve the neighborhood vibe almost immediately? Yes.

  12. Ben says:

    Also probably doesn’t account for that fact that as it currently stands both directions of traffic going to Main right now narrow to one lane then spread back out again, because it’s really more of an on/off ramp currently. No reason that area couldn’t be properly rebuilt to have 3 lanes each direction and easily handle the traffic.

  13. Chris Stone says:

    Hear, hear! Jim McIntosh, the City Engineer, and his crew do a great job designing streets for all users. Now if only Monroe County DOT and NYSDOT were more supportive. So much street policy, even local street policy, is determined at county and state levels.

  14. Adrian Martin says:

    If we’re looking to put something where the Museum of Play’s giant surface parking lot is, why don’t we put Rochester’s answer to St Louis’s City Museum? Basically a Museum of Play for adults.
    http://www.citymuseum.org/

  15. Barbra Ann says:

    Instead of more adult play, let’s let the national/international status of the “Strong Museum of Play” actually stand for kids doing it: http://playrochesternow.blogspot.com

  16. kmannkoopa says:

    When it comes to traffic concerns, the City has completely bought into complete streets for all users.

    Look at Collegetown. The improvements made traffic worse along Mt. Hope Ave in order to provide a better pedestrian experience. I have no worries about them willing to reduce vehicle traffic to improve pedestrian traffic here.

    I was at Pizzeria Uno in Henrietta last night and remarked to my Wife that Hylan Drive is just as wide and likely similar traffic amounts to Mt. Hope Ave, yet Mt. Hope Ave is built in a way where you can feel comfortable at a sidewalk cafe.

  17. Brian M. says:

    Is the public not allowed to use Washington Square Garage and the Rochester Parking Garage (I think that’s what it’s called – the one abutting Broad St)? I’ve went up both of these after normal work hours, on a bicycle, and they were vastly empty. Shouldn’t Rochester be seeking to make them usable for evenings and weekends, and thus, maximizing space? Or are they entirely off-limits?

  18. Clem Chung says:

    My son LOVES Great Wolf Lodge – the one in Niagara Falls – so it looks like this will be our vacation destination for years to come. From what I can tell, it’s located in an old industrial district that hasn’t been redeveloped in any meaningful way, so the “recreation island” kind of works there (not to mention the downtown area is a vomit-inducing tourist hellhole, so there ISN’T much of a reason to venture out). Having it in the heart of a city with access to a mixture of existing retail and recreation outlets is a different animal. Maybe the Great Wolf Lodge brand isn’t the right one here, but I’m sure the comments RocCity Coalition received through our recent survey are reflective of a wider desire to add more year-round recreational facilities downtown as a way of attracting and retaining more young professionals in Rochester.

  19. GZ says:

    Level of service calculations are hardly subjective value judgements.

  20. Martin Edic says:

    The commenter who called the Great Wolf Lodge concept a casino is exactly right. These kinds of attractions are useless from an economic development perspective. And Strong is known for not caring a whit about downtown- they are an insular organization that only cares about their own goals.
    As for parking, please don’t leave out that ramp garages make money. They cost much less to maintain than buildings and the going rate for a spot that is about 150 sq ft is about $65 monthly, I’m a pedestrian/cyclist and live in the neighborhood but realistically to bring companies downtown we need parking solutions.
    This whole development process is going to be fascinating to watch. I give the city credit for taking time to consider the options (unlike a place like Henrietta that lets anyone build anything they want). And kudos to Mike for posting these comprehensive pieces- next time you and Matt go for a ride let me know!

  21. GZ,
    You’re right, Levels Of Service are tied to predetermined indicators and the calculations are not subjective. However, the final decision on what do to in the case of a LOS of C, D, E, etc. really does depend on the agency that’s making the final call.

    In Rochester we have NYSDOT, MCDOT, and the City. If you give each of them the same roadway (with an automobile LOS of E for example) they will each handle it differently. The State might repave it and make the lanes wider. The County will undoubtedly make the lanes wider and probably remove the shoulder or bike lane to add an extra car lane. And the City might say, you know what, if we repave, add bike lanes, and enhance the pedestrian connections in the area, then we will accept a LOS of E for this street because: A) there are a lot of pedestrians in the area, B) we’re making improvements to parallel streets, C) cars are only getting backed up during rush hours or certain times of day.

    Obviously I just completely made up that scenerio, and I don’t mean to speak for these agencies. But I’ve seen this type of thing play out. Decisions are made based on who the decision-makers are and where they got schooled.

  22. LJKelley says:

    I think the city was short sited. The Inner Loop should have been buried instead of being demolished. The Metro is only growing and if these improvements take off then more traffic. A tunnel for the loop would have solved all concerns about walk ability. Most European cities have seen success with burying their expressways.

  23. I don’t think we understand what “traffic” is in Rochester. I really don’t. There is (or was) no traffic on this section of the loop. Forget tunnels. There’s absolutely zero need for it, now or in the distant future.

  24. Steve says:

    Brian M.-
    The Washington Square Garage is public, and it does get quite full during the work day. I used to park there every day, and the only time I would see people there at night would be for an event at Geva.
    I’m not sure about the one abutting Broad you mention – is it the one on the corner of Broad and Pitkin St that is painted white? If it is, that one is a private lot, I believe it’s owned by M&T Bank just behind it on East Ave (I think that’s still M&T Bank).
    Or are you thinking of the one on Broad and South? That’s the South Ave Garage, and that’s a public garage like Washington Square is.

  25. John says:

    In the presentation, the plan is to sit on the Main St parcel until we see the real world traffic counts with the intent of ending the Inner Loop at Main St.

  26. Jimmy says:

    Great post.

  27. Monty says:

    Immensely good shot.

  28. Mike says:

    Put in an Urban Outfitters

  29. Mike says:

    Bring a Dave and busters. Or bowling alley. Bring in retail stores like urban outfitters or a Club Monoco. Plus good restaurants!

  30. Julia says:

    I think filling in the Inner Loop is a total waste of money. There is so much more work that needs to be done in this city. Now I hear they want to do the other end too. That means anyone needing to get to the Northeast part of the City has to go all the way around the City on 490, making more traffic to that area during peak hours. Once the present work is done, I bet you money it will sit there vacant for years. Downtown Rochester is a total ghost town and this is going to add to the vacancies.

    Our City is a mess with trash all over the expressways etc. Use some of our money for clean up. Our garbage trucks drive down the expressway with garbage flying out all over etc. The City of Cleveland is much bigger than Rochester and so clean. They have people cleaning along the expressways everyday as well as people downtown picking up trash.

  31. I agree with you about the trash. Rochester has a serious litter problem and does not address cleanliness as well as most other cities its size. Completely disagree regarding the urban highway though. It should not be a priority for the city of Rochester to facilitate cars to speed through downtown. The money we’d save maintaining these 8-12 lanes, bridges, walls and other highway infrastructure over the long run far outweigh the additional 2-3 minutes it may take me to drive to 490. Much of the “ghost town” vibe you describe is actually due to the highway itself. Go for a walk in the areas around the northern inner loop and you’ll see what I mean.

  32. Thomas Harvey says:

    I think the inner loop works fine as it is. It provides high speed access from the county to areas into the city without having to navigate city traffic. I use it at least twice a week. Raising the loop to street level is a waste of time and money. The stores along the loop are speciality stores that do not do a walk in business. If the complaint is that the bridges are in disrepair then repair them. The mayor wants to eliminate the loop altogether so that there is no barrier between the slums and the business district. When that misadventure is completed lets see how long the business district lasts.

  33. The inner loop is history. Move on.


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    ¤ RocVille
    ¤ Rust Wire

    Resources...

    ¤ RochesterDowntown.com
    ¤ Rochester's Public Library
    ¤ ROCwiki



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    For questions about the Rochester Subway Poster or about your order, please email info@rochestersubway.com.

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    About the Rochester Subway Poster...

    ¤ Parkleigh [ ...map it ]
    ¤ Poster Art [ ...map it ]
    ¤ Rochester Public Library Store [ ...map it ]

    ¤ Rochester Subway Poster Press Release
    ¤ Article by Otto M. Vondrak
    ¤ Design by Mike Governale

    More About The Rochester Subway

    Help Support...

    ¤ Rochester Subway (Wikipedia)
    ¤ The End of the Line - Rochester's Subway, DVD
    ¤ Abandoned Subway Photos (Opacity.us)
    ¤ Walking the Rails (YouTube Video)

    ¤ Friends of RochesterSubway.com