I grew up on the south shore of Long Island — about a half-mile walk from a Long Island Railroad station. As a teenager without a car I could leave my sheltered suburban Cape Cod style house, and in less than an hour be smack dab in the center of Manhattan. Not only that, but for just a dollar extra I could reach just about any corner of New York City’s five bouroughs by hopping on a subway car. Can you imagine if New York City had scrapped it’s subway in favor of a highway?!
Today I’m thirty-something. I live in Rochester NY. And I just spent $284 in an effort to help keep my beatup car on the road thru the winter. It’s not that I haven’t fantasized about trading it in for a bus pass, but that would mean a 20 minute commute to my office in downtown Rochester would be replaced by an ice cold bus-stop bench, a gauntlet of tricky bus transfers, and 40 minutes to an hour later I just might make it to work on-time. And what if I had a meeting in Greece (the exotically named suburb known for not much other than strip malls and car dealerships)? Without my car I’d be looking at a sarcastically “enjoyable” 4 hour round-trip bus ride.
But I digress. Rochester may be vast and sprawling, but I can’t dump the blame on the bus company (at least not all of it). Truth is, Rochester used to share many of the same characteristics of much more densely populated cities like New York or Chicago. I might not have believed it, but I’ve seen the old news reel footage of crowded city sidewalks spilling over into streets crammed with horse-drawn carriages and electric trolley cars.
After the turn of the 20th century, city planners anticipated Rochester’s population to exceed two million people. And that prediction might have come true, had it not been for the invention of the automobile, which would eventually drive people out to the suburbs — permanently. In the meantime, to serve the growing urban population and to ease street traffic, the city proposed the construction of a subway line — arguably the most ambitious public works project in Rochester’s history to this day. [ Read more about the Rochester Subway ]
Unfortunately, I arrived on Rochester’s doorstep forty years too late. The last passenger run on the Subway was Saturday, June 30, 1956. The Subway exists today, in part as I-490. And while I sit in traffic on my way back from a good shearing by my mechanic, I daydream about a time when I could have boarded a train under Elmwood Avenue and popped up out of a stairwell in the middle of downtown Rochester. What if I could even catch a transfer up to Ontario Beach?
Did I just dream that out-loud?
Well yes. Yes I did. And I’m not embarassed to say I think Rochester needs, and deserves to have it’s Subway back! For all you dreamers out there (and I know you’re out there because you’re still reading) I designed this 2008 Rochester Subway map. It’s the closest thing we Rochestarians may ever have to real mass transportation.
Tags: automobile, bus, bus-stop, car, city planning, commute, Elmwood Ave, I-490, Long Island Railroad, New York City, Ontario Beach, railroad, Rochester History, sprawl, suburbs, subway, traffic
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 10th, 2009 at 12:27 am and is filed under Opinion. 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.