By Arian Horbovetz
I’m an enormous supporter of the Inner Loop East Transformation Project in Rochester, and have been since the idea’s inception. Despite my enthusiasm, almost nobody I talk to in our city quite understands what’s happening with this endeavor and why this enormous project is even taking place.
By no means am I a civil engineer or an urban planner. I like to think of these as sort of hobbies of mine (borderline geeky-obsessions, just ask my friends). For whatever reason, I really enjoy reading books, blogs and articles written by some of the greatest minds in these fields. The truth is, projects like the Inner Loop East have been happening all over the country with tremendous success… Rochester is simply following a model that has a high rate of return on investment.
To best explain the what, why and how, I’ll try my best to answer some questions and comments I’ve heard from fellow Rochestarians regarding the project.
“So what exactly are they doing?”
The City of Rochester is filling in the eastern section of the Inner Loop, which used to be below city level. The project will basically bring this portion of the former expressway up to the height of the rest of the city. After they the bring the area up to “grade,” they will create what’s called a “complete street,” giving convenient and safe access to cars, bicycles and pedestrians while creating up to 800,000 square feet of mixed use development space in Rochester’s popular East End.
“Why are they doing it?”
OK here’s the tough one to swallow. I know you like to get places fast. I mean, who doesn’t love Rochester’s driver-friendly network of high-speed roads and highways?
But what if I told you that we have definitive data to show that easy-access highways like the Inner Loop have actually caused the demise of urban areas across the country? Yes that’s right, our desire to get to work 4 minutes faster is a huge reason for the downfall of urban America, including downtown Rochester, for the last several decades.
It’s a simple concept, though not always obvious. When you’re driving around the Inner Loop, or any major expressway for that matter, do you see that new restaurant or shop that opened? Do you notice the beautiful neighborhoods of our city, or experience the energy of your community? Of course not… because your only goal is to get to work on time, so you’re taking the Inner Loop, bypassing the heart of Rochester as you speed toward your workday.
What countless studies have shown is that highways like the Inner Loop have strangled the life out of our urban areas. Think of the Inner Loop as a sort of moat around the castle that is Rochester, hindering anyone from entering and experiencing all that our city has to offer. Maybe it gets you to where you need to go a bit faster, but the damage it has done to the prosperity of the city as a whole far outweighs the benefit of a few extra minutes of morning sleep.
Bringing the east side of the Inner Loop up to street level and reducing traffic speed to 30mph creates a much richer environment for urban commercial and residential growth. Again, this is not an opinion, this model has been almost universally effective in stimulating economic resurgence in cities all over the country.
“What’s a Complete Street?”
The Inner Loop East will be replaced by a complete street, which means 30mph roads and parallel parking for cars, bike lanes and bike infrastructure for cyclists (even if you aren’t a cyclist, these amenities are seen as inviting and almost universally usher an increase in foot traffic and economic growth) and plenty of sidewalk space for pedestrians to safely and comfortably move about. Complete streets have been shown to dramatically increase economic prosperity in urban areas, with the side benefit of making streets safer for cars, bikes and pedestrians. They tend to be much more visually attractive as well, another huge reason complete streets are becoming increasingly popular in cities looking to improve their downtowns.
The idea is this… back in the day, city streets used to be for everyone, not just cars. Folks who wanted cruise the area on foot and cyclists who wanted to get to their destination blended with cars and public transportation in a safe, convenient fashion. Over time, streets and roads became completely dominated by the automobile. What research has found is that going back to the “old days” of mixed-use city streets makes our urban areas more vibrant and inviting, raising the quality of life in our downtown!
“Isn’t this just a waste of taxpayer money?”
Actually it’s going to save money! This is the best part. See, maintaining a highway with bridges and roads that have to handle high-speed traffic is super expensive. It would have cost the City of Rochester more money to fix the aging infrastructure of the Inner Loop East than to bring it up to street level. So if you’re a person that freaks out because a project that could greatly benefit Rochester as a whole costs you an extra $7.35 in taxes, fear not, you can put that Extra Value Meal-equivalent back in your pocket and then some!
“It’s the Fast Ferry all over again.”
It’s not. Please stop talking.
“Why don’t they turn part of it into parking?”
Because whether you’re from the city or you’re visiting, nobody comes to downtown Rochester to see parking.
The truth is, Rochester has lots of parking compared to most cities. There are many convenient garages, paid parking lots and of course, parallel parking spaces all over this city. Are you always going to park right where you need to be? No. But you (most of you… no disrespect to our disabled community, we need to make sure we have access for everyone!) have legs. If you can’t walk 1/8 of a mile from your parking space to where you need to go, you really need to hit the gym a bit more. Would you rather have tons of parking or more space for cool shops, bars, restaurants and destinations? And fear not, parking will no doubt be built into the new commercial and residential space that the project will create.
Parking is an issue in every city, but Rochester has plenty of places to park your car, you just might have to walk a few tenths of a mile on weekends, God forbid. In the meantime, enjoy the stroll through your beautiful city! 🙂
“I don’t get it… how do slower roads and bike lanes make things better?”
I know it sounds really strange, but for the most part, cities prosper when people slow down and have the opportunity to appreciate their surroundings. The faster we move, the less we have the chance to relate to our city for what it is… a living, breathing entity where quality of life, economic success and efficient transportation grow out of our connection with our urban environment. So I ask you this… would you rather get to work a few minutes faster, or would you rather see Rochester take steps to increase economic prosperity, beautification and a better way of life for all of us? Again, this isn’t my opinion, this entire project is based on hard data, research and already existing models.
We are headed in a positive direction… thank you for taking the time to learn the facts about why the Inner Loop Transformation Project is just the beginning in a long line of smart improvements the City of Rochester is making to lead us into the future.