Welcome readers. I’m going on a slight deviation from my usual “Filling In” article to talk about the mean streets of Rochester. Let’s take a look at, eh, Main St. Yeah, Main St. What’s that looks like? Ok, well, there’s some tall(ish) buildings built to the street. There’s sidewalk, theoretically two driving lanes in each direction, and (supposedly) some street trees. If I were to give this street a grade, it would get an “in-complete.”
Oy, how I wish I could reconfigure things! Just pick stuff up and move it around. Maybe add a cycle track or a tree-lined median. Heh heh… can you say, STREET REMIX?!
Howard Decker is new to Rochester. He moved here last Fall after spending much of his professional life designing transit systems from Chicago to Houston to Washington DC. He is a lifelong historic preservationist, an FAIA, architect, urban designer, and former Chief Curator of the National Building Museum. As a self-proclaimed “transit-geek” he is now spending time familiarizing himself with, and blogging about Rochester and working with groups such as the RRCDC and Reconnect Rochester . Last week Howard attended the public input meeting on RGRTA’s planned transit center on Mortimer Street. Today he posted his opinion on the whole thing. Read his article (below). And please attend the final public input meeting tomorrow night (May 5).
Buses and Subways and Trains, Oh My
A Town Square (May 4, 2010) — Our home place here is in the midst of considering a change to its transit system. As usual, Rochester is the perfect case study of how cities can screw themselves up with the greatest of ease. My newly adopted city, like so many of its sister places, has made a vast litany of urban gaffes over the last century, and we are about to see yet another. Let me explain.
In the early 20th century, Rochester had a system of streetcars and interurbans and even a subway, all of which provided transit options to citizens. In those days, say the 1920s, the population of the city was quite a bit larger than today, though the region was much smaller – sprawl was only just getting started.
By the mid 1950s, everything was gone. Streetcars gone. Interurbans gone. Subway gone. Left on the roads? Cars, and buses. Retail was headed out of town, following all those who began to sprawl. Downtown’s fate was sealed…
…Okay great, now here’s an update. Since that article, traffic to RochesterSubway.com has doubled, our Facebook fan club has grown from 100 to over 400 (and counting), and my inbox hasn’t had a moments rest. This is all very encouraging and a sure sign that the people of Rochester really want to see their city thrive. The big question is; do the people of Rochester care enough to make an effort? All signs point to yes. So far we’ve got 12 people (including myself) who have risen to the challenge. Together we will lead a city wide movement to Reconnect Rochester.
About a year ago I had the awesome pleasure of riding Seattle’s new South Lake Union Streetcar—a 1.3 mile line that opened in December 2007. Peep this video from Streetfilms.org. Seattle’s state-of-the-art streetcar line features real time arrival message boards, solar-powered ticket vending machines, and human-activated doors to save energy while the train is in layover mode. And check this out, you can find out the next arrival time and actually watch the streetcars moving via GPS trackers all from the Seattle Streetcar web site.
But what has this hi-tech investment done for the South Lake Union neighborhood? For one thing, a Whole Foods Market moved in—downtown Seattle’s first full service supermarket in decades. Plus, new condos, mixed-use development, and Amazon.com’s brand new world headquarters. That’s impressive.
Oh and while I was there I made sure to ride the monorail ! You know I love you Rochester, but I had some serious reservations about returning fromthat trip.
America seems to have taken a renewed interest in mobility. Maybe due to President Obama’s recent commitment to high speed rail—or perhaps the positive results seen in towns like Portland and Denver have caught our collective attention. Whatever the reason, from the top down, people are rethinking our automobile-oriented culture—and getting excited about the possibilities.
There’s also good reason to focus on transportation as a way of jump-starting economic development. Industry requires access to people. And people need to have easy access to centers of employment. Continually improving access makes further development possible. Interrupting access will have the opposite effect. Likewise, doing nothing or simply maintaining existing infrastructure for an extended period of time will also hinder development.
For 30+ years Rochester has relied on the infrastructure choices it made in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. At that time we made development choices that encouraged our population to emigrate from the downtown core. We scrapped our extensive streetcar system, choked off downtown with the construction of the inner-loop, and paved super highways to take us from the city to the NY State Thruway and beyond. Since then that’s exactly where our money, our workforce, and our future have gone—down I-490 and out of state.
After receiving rave reviews for his 2008 lecture on global rail travel, “Wish You Were Here” series sponsor Thomas N. Tischer has agreed to present again at the Dryden Theater — this time to discuss the role streetcars and trolleys played in the development of U.S. cities and their European counterparts.
If I said Rochester may one day have a rapid transportation system linking RIT to downtown Rochester and beyond, you might automatically think ‘light rail’. Think again. RochesterSubway.com recently discussed the future of Rochester’s transportation infrastructure with Richard Perrin, Executive Director of the Genesee Transportation Council and an AICP certified city planner.
NOTE: If you’ve got a question that we didn’t ask in our interview, please leave a comment at the end of this post and we’ll pass it along to Mr. Perrin who will do his best to answer it as time permits.
After the Erie Canal was rerouted south of downtown Rochester, the Rochester
Industrial & Rapid Transit Railway (the subway) was built in
its place as a link between the five different railroads and interurban trolley
lines that served the Rochester area. As the industrial landscape of Rochester
changed, and highways replaced the railroads, the Rochester subway gradually
became a relic of a bygone era. In 1956 the subway was abandoned and much of
its route was converted into Interstate 490 built to connect Rochester
with the New York State Thruway (I-90). Read more about the history of the Rochester Subway.
RochesterSubway.com exists to help spark
public dialogue around how we can better connect the neighborhoods of Rochester
NY, surrounding communities, and their cultural offerings. Rochesters
future is written in her past. Let's rediscover it.