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Rochester’s Case for a Streetcar Line

February 16th, 2010

Photo simulation of a new Rochester streetcar on Main Street.

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.

Rochester Deserves Better

Portland Park and Streetcar

Cities across the country from Portland to Denver to Kenosha WI have adopted urban planning strategies that are helping to catapult their towns ahead of the competition. One key lesson we should learn from these places is that it takes a fully integrated transportation strategy to create an environment that is conducive to growth. This strategy should include automobiles, buses, rail transit, bicycles, and pedestrians. For Rochester’s city core these focus areas translate in the following ways:

Issue 1: Roadways and Parking
Rochester drivers usually find little to complain about other than a few potholes in the winter months. Maggie Brooks would even say our roadways are “highly satisfying”. Our biggest problem is that we’ve got too many roads to maintain. And even parking downtown is typically not a problem—especially at night and on weekends.

Issue 2: RTS Buses and the Broken “Hub and Spoke”
A common sight—RTS buses lined up along Main Street.The small segment of the population that ride the bus will tell you it’s an okay system if not for the “hub and spoke” route setup. Just ask travelers who have to transfer downtown to get to locations across town—it’s confusing, a waste of time, and widely unpopular. The hub and spoke system also causes problems for downtown businesses due to the large number of riders waiting on Main Street to make their connections. You’d think crowds of people on Main Street would be a good thing. But not in this case external link.

Issue 3: Cyclists
Area cyclists generally love the Erie Canal bike path. But most will readily testify to the lack of bike lanes external link anywhere in the county—let alone in the city.

Issue 4: Pedestrians
Well, we couldn’t find any pedestrians to ask. And I’m not being facetious. This is a serious problem for Rochester. And it’s become our “chicken and the egg”. How do we attract pedestrians with the few businesses we have downtown? How do we attract businesses to downtown with the little traffic we have?

Fixing downtown will require us to take a hard look at each of these issues. We simply can’t address one without addressing them all. That leads me to…

Issue 5: Rail Transit
Duh, it’s non-existant. Yet there are great rewards that can be attained here. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “OH here we go again, this guy’s going to try and shove another ferry down my throat.” Just hear me out. I’m not lobbying for a giant commuter rail network—Rochester (as it is today) can’t support that. I am advocating for a short streetcar line — 8 to 10 miles — to connect the University of Rochester with Main Street and the East Ave district. That is a very achievable goal for Rochester.

Are Streetcars A Fit For Rochester?

At the turn of the 21st century, Kenosha constructed a modern electric streetcar system utilizing historic PCC streetcars in coordination with the HarborPark development on the shores of Lake Michigan. The line has become a model for urban planning worldwide.When you think of rail transit you probably think of larger cities like Denver or Seattle. But streetcars come in various flavors—making them the ideal solution for nearly any size town. While it doesn’t hurt for us to take pages from the planning playbooks of larger cities, it’s towns like Kenosha Wisconsin external link and Savannah Georgia external link that should get us excited. Both of these cities are smaller than Rochester and have fewer people and thinner population densities—by more than half! Both of these cities have installed heritage streetcar lines within the past 10 years for less than $8 million combined. And both cities are now seeing once abandoned industrial corridors transformed into upscale development. We’ll take a closer look at these and other case-studies in a future post.

Encouraged by a few key signs, I think it’s very reasonable to assume streetcars can be a viable asset for our community over the long haul. First, RTS ridership continues to increase. According to Authority CEO Mark Aesch, ridership was up by ten percent from 2008 to 2009—while the national average was 4 percent. 1,700,000 more people got on an RTS bus in 2009 than did the year before—over 46,000 per day on average. Second, several large businesses have moved or are currently making plans to move into downtown. In addition, the residential market has shown signs of life over the past few years and additional developments are planned (including Midtown and Main & Gibbs). Downtown is ready for development to take off but there needs to be more incentive—a catalyst. Now consider this—new streetcar lines always, always, get more passengers than the bus routes they replace. Not only that, they attract development and businesses because investors like the permanence of streetcar lines. Bus routes come and go, but rails rarely pick up and move.

Other Key Benefits to Streetcars

  1. Rochester once had one of the most extensive streetcar networks in the world. For 50 years Rochester streetcars were widely used. They were privately owned & operated and were profitable. We know they can work here. They are tested and proven.
  2. Streetcars are generally much less expensive to install and maintain than any other form of rail. The cars themselves are smaller and the right-of-ways are already available to us.
  3. Streetcars are versatile and they are designed to fit in with their surroundings. They have the ability to operate along side vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and on many different types of alignments including city streets, residential streets, walkways, and green-ways.
  4. Streetcars are typically electric and are extremely quiet and clean (no more stinky buses on Main Street). And because they run on electricity they can be powered with domestic energy supplies and not foreign oil.
  5. Streetcars are not subways that hide underground, nor are they commuter trains that race through the countryside. Streetcars are highly visible and a very attractive amenity for potential city residents and businesses. They would become a symbol of Rochester and another selling point for our area.
  6. Streetcar lines are being built again all over the country and work just as well now as they did in the 1950’s when the federal government pulled the rug out from under them. Streetcars are not a new idea. People are familiar with them and they are commonly associated with “better places to live”.
  7. Streetcars appeal to middle and upper-middle-class people who have money to spend in stores, restaurants, and area businesses. Buses don’t attract many riders of choice.
  8. Developers are attracted to areas with streetcars because those streetcar lines represent a commitment to lasting, high quality transit service that they can count on for years to come. A bus route can disappear over night.
  9. A streetcar will never ship people to Toronto for them to spend money outside of Rochester. It would strictly serve the people and businesses in our area.
  10. We can start small and expand later. We’re not commitment to building something based on pure speculation **COUGH**FAST FERRY*. A streetcar line can start small and expand as it proves itself with ridership and private investment.

And the benefits go on and on. This one key investment could change everything for Rochester.

My proposal is this… A streetcar line should run east/west through the center of downtown Rochester connecting some of the most vibrant and vital areas of Rochester’s core with the areas that are primed and ready to benefit the most.

Proposed Initial Streetcar Route (click to open in Google Maps)
Proposed Rochester Streetcar Route

An initial 5 mile route (9.5 track miles) could connect an amazing array of neighborhoods and assets including:
• University of Rochester
• 19th Ward neighborhood
• Cornhill neighborhood
• Monroe County Civic Center
• War Memorial Arena
• Main Street Four Corners
• Riverside Convention Center
• Main Street & Clinton
• Midtown Plaza & Business District (Xerox, B&L, Paetec, etc.)
• Eastman Theater
• Museums and Art Gallery District
• Park Ave neighborhood

Possible Streetcar Extensions (click to open in Google Maps)
Proposed Rochester Streetcar Route with extension to train station and airport.

With an additional 5.2 track miles (above) we could eventually extended service to include:
• Greater Rochester International Airport
• Amtrak Rail Station

The key to this idea would be getting RTS on board. Because overlapping a streetcar with bus routes doesn’t make much sense. Streetcars and buses need to work in tandem. That is, the streetcar line should cut thru downtown via Main Street, allowing north/south bus routes to feed into it at multiple points along its east/west route. The streetcar line would essentially become the “spine” of a modified RTS network… replacing the “hub and spoke” system and doing away with the pile of bus traffic at Main and Clinton. Bus transfers would still be made downtown but the streetcar would serve as a circulator. This would probably require 3-5 streetcars to be running simultaneously in order to provide a short enough headway for riders to make their connections easily. Here’s a look at how RTS bus routes would feed into this initial streetcar line…

Proposed Rochester Streetcar Route with RTS bus routes.

*Thanks to Bob at urbanchamp.blogspot.com external link for his work on these bus routes. See his Toronto streetcar case-study external link.

If you have an opinion or questions please leave a comment
or contact me.

Envisioning Streetcars in Rochester

Rochester Streetcars on Main Street circa 1905.

Imagining a streetcar in downtown Rochester is not a difficult thing to do. During the first half of the twentieth century local companies built and operated one of the largest streetcar networks in the world—right here in Rochester. It almost didn’t matter where you lived or what street you worked on—most people could hop on a trolley in front of their home and ride it downtown. These beautiful workhorses helped build this town—their removal from our landscape left Rochester with a scar that has never fully healed. The picture above is painful for many of us. It’s a look at what we had and have lost. But the amazing thing about this photo is that it can also be a blueprint for our future.

'A Vision for the Future' is a community-based vision plan for downtown Rochester. It was developed and presented to the City of Rochester in 2007/2008 by the Rochester Regional Community Design Center. The plan outlines a detailed improvement plan for Main Street that includes a heritage streetcar line.Rochester has a vision plan for its future…it’s true. “A Vision for the Future” external link is a community-based vision plan for downtown Rochester. It was developed and presented to the City of Rochester in 2007/2008 by the Rochester Regional Community Design Center external link. A few of the recommendations made in this plan have been studied and are being implemented (i.e. Way-finding signage and landscaping improvements throughout the city). This is a good start but as time goes by and City leaders come and go, much of this vision plan may never get the attention it deserves. In my opinion there is one recommendation in this plan that has the ability to jump-start development throughout the core of the city and ignite economic growth. A trolley system. See page 109 of the report external link.

Proposed changes to Main Street as shown in the 2008 Vision Plan. Trolley rails would be located in the in the travel lane closest to the curb and would be shared with vehicular traffic. Transit shelters and boarding areas should be accommodated in curb extensions at designated intersections. Existing shelters could be used and relocated if necessary.

The report focuses on Main Street as the obvious route for a contemporary streetcar line, citing the “physical majesty” of the area and its potential for becoming a “vibrant and symbolic heart of the community” as it once was. The plan also calls for many other aesthetic and functional improvements to Main Street such as giant planters that would separate pedestrian areas from traffic and curb extensions at all intersections. But the crown jewel would be the trolley line running east and west on both sides of the street—sharing the traffic lane closest to the curb with vehicular traffic. Transit shelters would be accommodated at intersections in the new curb extensions. It suggests contemporary-looking trolley cars, reflective of historic streetcars but not copies, distinct in color and pedestrian-friendly in appearance. It goes on to mention state-of-the-art electronic schedule/arrival announcement systems—but those are window dressings and we haven’t built anything yet. After all, a report is just a report if no one is willing to do anything with it. My intention is to take this ball and run with it.

Almost forgot, the video below will give you an idea for how streetcars operate in city streets and what they’re like on the inside. Although nothing is quite like the experience of actually riding in one.

If you like this idea and want to get involved please leave a comment
or contact me.

Not With My Tax Dollars

New ideas will always have opponents. That's part of living in a democracy. For many people fear of the unknown is enough of a reason to object. Remember Christine?No doubt the main argument against this idea will be “This is NOT Denver or Portland. Rochester is small, and we’ve got bigger problems for our tax dollars to solve.”

Well guess what. I agree—sort of. While I do agree that Rochester has very pressing needs that must be addressed immediately such as schools and public safety, I also know this: Any good business person will tell you if you’re not investing in your business it will fail. Rochester can be thought of as a business—and we are in direct competition with other small and midsize cities in NY and across the country. We compete with other cities for development and investment dollars. We compete with other communities for businesses and the tax dollars they provide. And we compete for population—which in return provides a work force as well as consumers who feed new development and businesses. As a community we need to make sure we’re continually investing in our schools and improving public safety while SIMULTANEOUSLY planning for long-term improvements in other things like infrastructure. If we can bring more people downtown, our schools benefit.

Rochester is small but our city is filled with smart, creative people and has access to incredible resources. With the right group of people and the right plan we can design and build a streetcar line that will drive development, create jobs, improve quality-of-life, and come to symbolize the spirit of this city—without diverting county or city tax dollars from other areas.

If you have a strong opinion for or against this idea please
leave a comment.

Uh, Just How We Gonna Pay For This?

Obviously costs would vary based on a number of things—project length, type of cars (modern vs retro), streetcar stops (simple or elaborate) and on and on. Streetcar lines are generally a third of the cost of light rail (per track mile) and a starter line can range anywhere from $2.6 million per mile for a retro trolley line in Kenosha WI, to $30 million per mile for an ultra-modern system in Tacoma WA with several intermodal connections. We’ll look at case-studies from other cities at a later date.

For now let’s use the 5 mile (end-to-end) route we talked about earlier. As a loop that route would be about 9.5 track miles. With a cost per track mile of, say, $5 million (assuming minimal road work) that’s about $50 million. Add 3 LRV cars at $2.2 million each (like the Portland example shown above) and that takes us to $56.6 million. Then we’d need a trolley barn/maintenance facility—let’s call it $60 million. Now keep in mind, we could reduce that 9.5 miles of track if we needed to for Phase 1. And it’s also important to consider that streetcars typically hold 2-3 times the number of riders and last at least twice as long as a transit bus. With all that in mind, funding could come from a combination of federal and/or local sources…

Federal Assistance

Federal funding such as the Small Starts program, SAFETEA-LU, and grants could account for up to 50% of initial costs. The good news is that in January, the Department of Transportation announced a major transportation policy shift. The D.O.T. indicated that “new funding guidelines for major transit projects would be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which were previously the primary criteria.” This means the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community, and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, not just congestion relief benefits. This change opens up new possibilities if we were to consider applying for federal assistance. The downside to federal assistance, however, is in the red tape. The required environmental studies and approval process add years to the length of any project. Not a deal-breaker, but we all saw what happened with Renaissance Square external link.

Local Ownership

There are plenty of local funding options to explore. Many streetcar lines across the country are supported by public-private partnerships, since the benefits of streetcars on development and redevelopment efforts include: reduced parking requirements, an additional amenity for visitors, and an increased market area as other visitors and transit riders are drawn to the line. Rochester has seen no shortage of community involvement from its business community. Think of how many local businesses and institutions would benefit from a line that runs from the University of Rochester, thru Corn Hill to the Four Corners, down Main Street, and up the East End to Museum Row. A project that is built as a local partnership will increases the community’s sense of ownership and will be more likely to succeed. Other funding options might include state infrastructure bank loans, city bonds, parking revenue, tax-break agreements, and private donations.

Fiscal Sustainability

Once the line is built revenue can be generated from fares and a variety of other ways. For example, advertising (inside and outside the cars), and naming rights. The city of Tampa FL sold naming rights to its entire system for $1 million and even sold naming rights to each of its cars and stations. Patrons can also buy name plaques for streetcar benches. And something else to think about, over time as streetcar ridership increases, RTS/bus ridership would probably increase as well resulting in increased fare revenue.

But I don’t want us to assume that a streetcar line will be profitable right out of the gate. An initiative that serves the public requires some level of commitment from the public. Mark Aesch, CEO of RGRTA said it himself, “Any operation that is focused on moving people around will lose money.” Thanks to decades of Federal investment in the automobile-driven economy, this is generally true. RTS is subsidized, Amtrak is subsidized, all our roads and highways are subsidized, airports and even the airlines themselves are subsidized.

The “bottom-line” for a project like this is not entirely black and white. The value of these systems can only really be calculated over time and by looking at the overall growth of an entire region. Think about it—you wouldn’t argue that all the sidewalks in the city should be torn up because they’re costing us money and we can drive everywhere we need to go.

If you have expertise in business development or ideas on how this project could be financed please leave a comment or contact me.

Next Steps

This proposal is only a rough draft of an idea. My next goal is to build a team of creative and business-minded people who can move this idea forward. What I don’t want to do point to another city and say “let’s build that”. Rochester needs a tailored solution that leverages our unique set of assets—an idea that the people of Rochester can get behind.

If you have expertise or connections in any of the following areas and would like to help, please leave a comment or contact me:
Rochester/Monroe County Government
Transportation (especially rail transit)
Urban Planning
Business Development/Finance

I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation and hearing your opinion. If you have ideas and would like to help or know someone else who can help please leave a comment or contact me.

Without you, this is just a dream.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 at 8:02 pm and is filed under Opinion, Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure, Video. 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.

38 Responses to “Rochester’s Case for a Streetcar Line”

  1. Phill says:

    I like the idea and look forward to seeing more about it.
    I think with enough publicity streetcars could be in our future. The city seems to be dancing or hinting at the possibility of streetcars but no substantial commitment. I doubt the city will make any kind of commitment until some these current projects progress further along. Mean time creating buzz beyond the blogging will start to grease the wheel.

  2. Bob says:

    While I am an engineer, unless you want the signaling and control systems developed, I’m not the kind you are looking for at this point. You can certainly count on me for any other type of help, be it bus system expertise or research assistance.

    As such, I’ll stick to doing the thing I’m ‘unqualified’ for by simply making some comments about alignment (you’ve done an excellent job with this eloquent and nuanced post). I fully realize its awfully early to be splitting hairs about alignment, but that’s what gets my creative juices flowing.

    On the eastside, something to consider would be using Park Ave and a short stretch of Alexander instead of East Avenue. While East, like Main, is an ideal boulevard style right-of-way, something from the Kenosha story on LightRailNow stuck with me in that operation is essentially bi-directional since the loop is separated by two blocks. Many apartment dwellers live on Park and its side streets. Museums would only be one block from either side of the loop. George Eastman House would be best served from the University side and the RMSC has parklike access from Park. This would also allow for the elimination of the 1 Park bus line as the 17 East or a revised 18/19 crescent shaped route would pick up the slack for the East Avenue Wegmans patrons.

    Likewise I worry about the diameter of the southwestern loop, though I love the treatment of Genesee Street, an area that would stand to benefit a lot from this proposal. If this portion were to be one-way, travel time between Arnett, for instance, and downtown could be quite long though I don’t know which way you intended this loop to run. People living in the vicinity of McCree and Reynolds would be in an effective no man’s land. One last note, Exchange below Corn Hill Landing is a poor example of a 60’s era boulevard where wholesale clearance resulted in a road that nobody actually lives or works on, a car mover first and foremost. The street called Frederick Douglass today was once part of contiguous Plymouth Avenue and a sidewalk cut through still exists. Using this, Greig, and a subsequent southern cut through to Ford would enhance service greatly to that poorly designed neighborhood where even pedestrian connnectivity is extremely poor.

    Like I said, this is jumping the gun a bit, but I like to talk concepts and am more than willing to help you in any way you need.


  3. Bob says:

    At the risk of offending some people, I want to add that this is infinitely more worthwhile than the insanity that is taking place on Broad Street regarding creating a 1-mile canal that isn’t connected to anything, will be empty/frozen five months of the year, and will cost an absolute fortune to maintain.

    Speaking of ‘not with my tax dollars,’ I wonder what Christine would like to say about the proposed canal project. While I have backed away from pushing light rail at this time, I consider the canal project a tremendous waste of money that compromises the future of layered comprehensive transit offerings.

  4. Dan says:

    I think this is a fantastic case. It’s well put together, thought out and makes sense – unlike many projects we have seen from the city & county as of late. As a city resident, I would fully support this project at every level. The proposed initial system doesn’t come into my neighborhood (Southwedge) it comes close and that works for me! And perhaps a future extension would include reaching Highland Park (possibly a great way to help shuttle people for the Lilac Festival?).

    I wish I could be of more assistance for this. But I will do my part to spread the word from your blog and make sure people I know are updated.

  5. Phill says:

    I know I’m echoing on a comment I made earlier, but this project needs public support to go anywhere.
    I think a website solely dedicated to the project will help spread the word. It would be easy to direct people to the website and in case promotion goes to another level like canvasing, petitioning, and even advertising the website would supplement additional information the promotions did not provide.
    I think I should say that this website is a great forum for community participation on the project but its lacking in community outreach and education. A website like midtownrochesterrising.com, or Buffalo’s eriecanalharbor.com would meet the outreach and education need for the project.
    Also, I hinted at this on The Moderate Urban Champion’s posting on this project; I strongly believe that this project should be in collaboration with RRTC.

  6. Mark N says:

    It seems to me like it would be a natural fit to extend the railway to the Public Market even though that area of main isn’t in the greatest shape these days.

  7. admin says:

    @Dan, Obviously my route is meant to be a conversation starter. But I believe that route #1 should connect (at the very least) UofR, Four Corners and East End. I believe this route has the most potential to win the widest support both from city residents and businesses. A possible future #2 route might run North/South, down Lake Avenue and into the Southwedge — possibly via South Ave.

    @Mark, I don’t disagree that the Public Market should be included. However, I chose to loop around the museum/gallery district instead because this area has wider appeal especially to out of town visitors. Running into North Marketview Heights would’ve added another 2.5 or so of track and it became a matter of weighing the benefits against cost, AND doing what I think will give this plan the best chance to win support.

    Again, the route is open for debate. In fact, Bob (the urbanchamp) explores the possibility of connecting the Public Market in his post… http://urbanchamp.blogspot.com/2010/02/case-study-toronto-on-canada-vol-3.html

  8. Matthew Denker says:

    While I think all these plans are really great, I think starting with something much smaller and planning for simple expansions would be much more fiscally doable. The per mile costs for all of the lines discussed above (and in general), are 2 way costs. Let us, for a moment, imagine building a 1.6 mile line that runs from Chestnut and East (with the car barn on part of the for sale parking lot on Chestnut), down East to Alexander, south to Park, and then east to Berkley. This route would connect one of the most affluent neighborhoods (Park/East) with some of the most attractive downtown amenities (Bars on Alexander, Little Theater, and Eastman Theater, amongst others). A route such as this would reduce drunk driving on the weekends, and while supplanting the #1 Bus, would greatly increase ridership. Such a route could be serviced with 10-15 headways with no more than 4 cars, and possibly 3. The entire RGRTA system averages 1.7riders/vehicle mile. If we ran 15 minute headways 18hrs a day 7 days a week at that rate, you are looking at about 200 passengers a day. Most rail ridership exceeds similar bus routes by something on the order of 50%. Based on this adjustment, we’re looking at no less than 300 riders a day with a route like this. While small, this is still an annual ridership of 110,000 or so. I also believe this is an incredibly low estimate. In any event, if we built such a route for $3m a mile + 4 $1m rebuilt cars + $500k for a barn, we’re looking at under $10m of cost. Imagine we go the Dallas route and run the system with volunteers. If we set fares at a dollar, we are looking at approximately $10k/mo. in income. That would service a little less than $2m in debt (if we were to go the debt route). Alternately, if we could get some combination of grants/donations/etc, we would instead be able to cover most of the operations from fare revenue. The biggest issue with this, or any other operation that is independent of RGRTA would be how they might feel about competition. Even so, our route would not even completely supplant theirs, so it may not make a difference. A variety of expansions could be paid for from fare revenue later. If we run at even 25% of capacity (say 50ppl/train) we’re looking at actually having ridership of 900/day, or 3 times my very low estimate already. Building with the Portland methodology of 3 week segments is also an excellent idea. Build out of the line would not take terribly long depending on any utility relocation on Park. Anyway, there’s a few back of the envelope calculations about the whole thing. I do think the best bet for all of this is to go the non-profit route, though.

  9. admin says:

    @Matthew, I agree with many of your points. I recognize that the route I’ve outlined may be optimistic in scale, but I’d rather start with a broad brush and scale back as needed. This allowed me to show the big picture “desired state”. I believe this is what we should shoot for.

    However, I’m not really convinced that a line from Park Ave to the East End would win as much support as a line that connects the museums with downtown or UofR with downtown. I think this system should be accessible to the widest segment of the population as possible. Park Avenue and the East End are very attractive but that’s a very narrow slice of the community.

    Although I’m not sure where you were thinking of making your loops (or if you’re proposing bi-directional cars? Rather than running track in 2 directions on one narrow street, I was able to serve a much broader area by running down East Ave in one direction and all the way back to downtown on University—without adding much length to the system.

    I also gave more weight to areas that have the most potential for new development or high-density re-development. That’s what made the river corridor so attractive. There’s not much growth opportunity for Park Avenue unless some rezoning happens and existing buildings come down—which I’d hate to see.

    As far as RTS is concerned, a streetcar shouldn’t be looked at as competition, rather an enhancement to the RTS network. RTS would certainly see an increase in ridership as more people choose to leave their cars in the garage. I’m hoping RTS would see the opportunity in this.

  10. Phill says:

    I keep on waiting for an update on this. What is the next step in the process? how can people help out? etc.
    For the route discussion I say pick a couple of routes that will grab the attention of the community and political leaders. I doubt the routes if made would be exactly as they are drawn up here.
    I don’t have any real expertise on this topic but I would like to help out.
    I have a couple of suggestions:
    1) a refined proposal to present to the public (something that resembles a business plan)
    2) a website for the public to access (I’ve already mentioned)
    3) create a 501c non-for-profit organization, this way you can fund raise and reap whatever other tax benefits there are
    4) a monthly/ weekly meeting at a restaurant or bar (church, where ever) to organize, hammer out ideas, establish priorities and a mission statement, and what not

  11. admin says:

    @Phill, I love the enthusiasm. You’re on the team!

    I’ve been carrying on conversations about this with many people via email and all over Facebook this week—so while it may seem like not much is happening, we’ve had a great response this week as a result of this post and people are talking. Nearly a thousand people have visited this page since Tuesday.

    Christopher Burns from Rochester Trolley & Rail Corporation contacted me and offered to help.

    In addition Roger Brown at the RRCDC told me his group recently submitted a proposal to the city (Jim McIntosh) about doing research on the economic benefits that light rail and streetcars are having on 20 cities around the country – no response yet.

    Let’s plan to get together for an informal kickoff meeting one night this week. Maybe Thursday? Anyone else? Bob?

  12. admin says:

    I should also mention that this proposal was sent to Mr. McIntosh as well as every member of City Hall and the Mayor’s office.

  13. Bob says:

    I should be good for Thursday night. Let me know the time and place (I know the restaurant in the Radisson downtown is usually uncrowded and quiet if that matters) and if you need to me to bring anything and/or do any specific research ahead of time.

  14. admin says:

    Legends sounds perfect. Yeah, bring your “How to start a streetcar line – for Dummies” book. Does Legends have Wi-Fi? Not imperative but would be nice.

    Phill can you do Thursday @ 5:15pm? We’ll meet at Legends in the Radisson. Purpose will be to meet and discuss a plan of attack.

  15. admin says:

    @Matt, can you join us also? I didn’t mean to leave you out.

    I know a few other people who would want to come—but we may want to start with a small, 4 person group.

  16. Phill says:

    I’m sorry guys Thursday nights are no good for me. :~( ….. I don’t want to ask you to change the night you meet, but if Thursday is inconvenient for others, I’m available on the weekends.
    I’m in law school and it keeps my schedule pretty tight.

  17. admin says:

    @Phill, no problem. We’ll shoot for the weekend. Not to sound like a WWII recruitment poster but We Need You! Pick any time for next weekend and we’ll work something out.

  18. Matt says:

    @admin While I’d love to come, I’m not actually in Rochester anymore. Please tell Chris Burns that Matthew Denker says hi when you see him, though. For what it’s worth, here’s the plan that I think would work best to start, and I’ll delve into why as well. Additionally, yes it would be bidirectional. There would be double diamond crossovers just west of Berkeley and just east of Chestnut allowing for use of the traffic signals to protect the car reversal.


    So here’s the deal. So very many transit proposals are meant to do a number of things: reach the masses, serve students, seniors, and any other number of groups. While all of these are incredibly laudable goals, I believe that a much simpler plan, one which involves getting people with the most money to the places they like to spend it and all for as little money as possible would be the key to proving a system can work.

    For example, running to the ballpark would be awesome, except families go to games more than city goers, and families have a litany of excuses not to take transportation. There’s a reason they buy SUVs they don’t need in the first place.

    Students are another big problem. Many of them fall into 1 of 2 categories: rich enough to have a car and not want to take a train, or so poor that they generally bike. While I am sure they might ride the train in the winter, a system with ridership 3-6 months a year also does not work fiscally.

    Seniors create much the same issue. Bless their hearts for their longevity, but they are, rather reasonably, very price conscious, and we wouldn’t want to price this system out at less than a bus ride.

    The biggest “luxury” I could see spending on this initial piece of system would be tail tracks past the car barn and north and south on Chestnut. I initially envisioned a loop that went the route I have, then down Chestnut and back on Monroe, then up Culver in a loop, but this route would be closer to 3 miles. I really think that if the initial system could be kept under about $15m it would draw far more support. I also think that if the initial focus were kept tight, the justification for a Business Improvement District type setup to fund it would be much more reasonable.

    Anyway, I’ve been speaking with a few designers about what initial research would cost, and I think for an initial push, we’d need somewhere on the order of 100k for initial design and engineering. There would certainly be more later. It’s all something to consider.

  19. admin says:

    @Matt, how do you know Chris Burns? Have you worked with him? It’s unfortunate that he’s had to give up the fight—but I will meet with him this week or next and gather as much background info as I can so we can carry this forward. Also, I will share your ideas with our group when we meet this weekend. Thanks for offering your thoughts and please keep them coming. Everything helps.

  20. Matthew Denker says:

    @Admin – He’s also an alum of Simon (UR), so we met through a number of school functions. We had a variety of common interests at the time, although we haven’t really been able to stay in touch (surely my fault!). You’re very welcome for the help. I’d love to do more, although I think it’d be tough without being in Rochester. Keep me in the loop, though, as I’d be happy to at least try contributing as time goes on. I’m trying to think of what sort of forward thinking construction company would take on the challenge of building a condo/car barn on East, maybe even before the rest of the line. Anyway, let me know how things go when you get together with everyone else this week. Thanks!

  21. Andrew says:

    Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes. I would gladly move back to Rochester to live out the rest of my life if something like this were put into place.

  22. admin says:

    @Andrew, where’d you move to? Get your butt back here and help us!


  23. Andrew says:

    I live in Albany at the moment. It sucks!

  24. admin says:

    Yeah… we gotta get you out of there before it’s too late.

  25. Andrew says:

    I’m not ready to move back to Rochester quite yet, but I don’t plan on staying here lol

  26. […] by now you’ve read Rochester’s Case for a Streetcar Line. If you haven’t, go read it. Go on, I’ll […]

  27. Dan says:

    A subway or light rail system won’t work unless it encompasses the entire region. And it should also be noted the LACK of comprehensive mass transit in metro Rochester actually contributes to drunk driving.

  28. Ben says:

    The Newdigs crew loves your site, and your cause! If you would like to get some more exposure, you are welcome to guest blog each of your entries on Newdigs.com. We are a Rochester based apartment listing website with a blog going live in October. We’d love to see your content on there and drive some traffic to you.

  29. admin says:

    @Ben, no thanks. But if you want to help us improve Rochester’s public transit feel free to drop me a line and I’ll tell you how you can get involved!

  30. jay says:

    I think rochester deserves a light rail system the city is big enough,and I get tired of people when they say that city is small it has an population of over one million in the metro area to me that sounds like a city that’s dying for a rapid transit plan of some sort and not RTS express lol.

  31. mg says:

    This is an awesome, inspiring post. Rochester would do so nicely with a streetcar system in town.

  32. Krista Kouri says:

    So very very cool! I am very happy I found your site! Most points I completely agree with and knew about, but a few ideas I had not thought about! Thanks!

  33. maryland mover says:

    Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve really loved browsing your weblog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  34. discgolfer1138 says:

    What a fantastic idea. I was born and raised in Rochester and now live in Denver, CO. I must say the light rail here is freaking awesome! My wife and I live less than a block from a new station that will be opening in the spring and will allow us to go directly downtown (and eventually to the airport in 2015). I am delighted to see that something like this is even being considered in Rochester. I think a short heritage line would be a great start. Admittedly, I am a huge railfan and to hear of even the possibility of something like this in my hometown gives me goosebumps. As a kid, I was constantly asking my grandparents to tell me stories about the old streetcars and subways. I look forward to following this project and hope that it becomes a reality!

  35. @discgolfer, thank you for the encouraging thoughts. The effort is underway! You can help. Visit… http://ReconnectRochester.org

    Maybe send us some of your stories and photos from Denver.

  36. chase tyler says:

    I agree fully with the idea of Rochester as a business. The problem with the city is that work is not getting done. This would keep people in Rochester. Although there are other things that need to be one, transit is a good place to start.

  37. Jesse says:

    Love the conversation here. I just finished Eric Sanderson’s Terra Nova book, which I’d highly recommend.

    I’ve lately given up pouring money into one of our cars in order to take the bus downtown, which has been very satisfying. Rochester is an ideal spot for such a streetcar experiment.

    The ROC Transit day was phenomenal and got me started.

  38. Ruth Nederlk says:

    Reading all the comments about having a subway. I feel so fortunate to have lived in the time when we had one and fortunate that it was in our area where I would only have to walk a couple of blocks to use it . I thought it was the most wonderful way to travel downtown and back home again. The only thing is Down town was the only place to shop and have entertainment then. Today the lines would have to go a greater distance in more directions. I still think it would be a wonderful idea. It is to bad they didn’t continue the lines back then to go further in all directions . By now it would have grown tremendestly.

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