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In her State of the City address Wednesday night, Mayor Lovely Warren said she wants to study filling in the northern portion of the Inner Loop. It’s not clear if she means from E. Main to N. Clinton or St. Paul or State St. It’s possible a study would explore each alternative.

There’s a reason the city decided to only fill in the eastern portion, at a cost of nearly $30 million. Traffic volumes were low between E. Main and Monroe. The cost of repairs and maintenance roughly equaled removing the highway. Land would be created in a very desirable area of the city.

The northern area of the Inner Loop is different. It’s got on and off-ramps to 490W. Many of those cars enter or leave the system at East Main St. The E. Main St. intersection has to be solved before such a project can even get off the ground.

In 2001, the city studied filling in both the eastern and northern portion of the Inner Loop. The biggest challenge to making the northern portion an at-grade boulevard was:

“…to develop an alternative that will balance the combined needs of the transportation system and the local neighborhoods. The segment of the Inner Loop from E. Main Street to North Street services a high volume of traffic and is considered a major link in the overall mobility of the area…Alternatives that consider an at-grade facility within this segment will add additional travel time and inconvenience to the existing and future users of this segment…In conclusion, the traffic analysis completed as part of the study supports an at-grade facility from Monroe Avenue to East Main Street. Based on the projected future operations from E. Main Street to North Clinton Avenue, this study suggests a grade separated facility will best accommodated the volumes within this segment.”

The recommendation was to raise the northern part of the Inner Loop, getting rid of those sloping walls that fill with trash, but keep it walled off as a highway.

In 2009, the city studied the idea again, hiring Stantec as its consultant. Here’s what filling in a part of the northern section could look like, using Scio St. as the main entry point for the Inner Loop. Stantec found there would be major traffic backups with this scenario:

 

Inner Loop Concept

 

Another option considered in 2009 was to drop E. Main St. below the new Union St. boulevard that is replacing the eastern part of the Inner Loop. But that would be ridiculously complicated and expensive:

 

Inner Loop

 

Anytime you have multiple intersections like this, it’s wise to consider roundabouts. The 2009 study found you would need some double-lane roundabouts. (Rochesterians’ heads would collectively explode.) The consultants also found there isn’t enough space between roundabouts. Roundabouts also require a lot of land and there would be significant impacts on adjacent properties. The consultants also didn’t think the roundabouts could sufficiently handle traffic flow. Here’s what the roundabout solution would look like:

 

Inner Loop

 

Stantec found the simplest thing to do to improve that E. Main St. corridor is to ‘T” University Ave., reducing the number of lights and improving flow:

inner loop

 

The bottom line is the area is super challenging. It has a ton of traffic and physical constraints. The state agreed. A state transportation official wrote in 2009:

 

Inner Loop

In point number 4, state suggested adding MORE lanes to an area that’s already a nightmare for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. That defeats the entire purpose of getting rid of the highway. <EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me traffic volume models have changed since 2009. Induced demand is gaining more acceptance. People will just find another way to go someplace if traffic is heavy. If more capacity is added, they’ll fill it up, which doesn’t alleviate the problem. But even if you take out the issue of traffic volume, I still suspect this project will be far more costly and complex than the eastern side.)

Before we discuss whether the Inner Loop could be raised all the way to State St. (New bridge over the Genesee River, anyone?), we haven’t traveled past E. Main St. I fear this project could be $50 million to $100 million to do correctly and get any real benefits.

There’s no question our city forefathers really screwed up when they built the Inner Loop. They destroyed perfectly good neighborhoods, parks and streets. They left an ugly, trash-strewn highway in its wake. They gutted the core of our city.

We’re fixing the eastern side. But the northern side may be a lost cause. I hope I’m wrong. It’s probably worth a study that’s far more in-depth than anything done to date to find out.

<See the city’s Inner Loop documents page for source material.>

18 Responses to Northern Inner Loop’s Problem

  1. April 14, 2016 at 11:27 pm Nick R responds:

    I think another way to look at the problem would be to reduce the dependence on the Inner Loop as THE means of conveyance to work and culture in the city… Once the eastern boulevard is built, could it be encouraged as a sink for some of the traffic that is trying to get in/out of the CBD? The good thing about loops is that they can take you to the same place no matter which direction you go, so the new boulevard would still funnel drivers to 490, just clockwise rather than counterclockwise. Better yet, as more residents move to the center city, the need to commute using the Inner Loop might be reduced as people start living closer to workplaces (that’s the bittersweet part about Five Star Bank moving downtown: how many drivers will that bring?). Rather than worrying about traffic volumes choking Inner Loop North/ E Main, why not reduce the traffic volumes instead?

    • April 15, 2016 at 4:53 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      I agree with you. Someone pointed out on Twitter traffic models have changed since 2009 and induced demand is taken into account.

      However, I still fear the price tag on this will come in at a point where everyone gets scared off and we’ll be studying it for years.

  2. April 15, 2016 at 7:02 am Carl Binger responds:

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for posting about this. I haven’t been to your site for a while but I miss hearing about your passion for the city. This is by far one of my favorite topics when it comes to city development. I hope we can get it right this time. Keep up the great work!

  3. “THEY left an ugly trash strewn highway in its wake”? Lets not forget who contributes to the “trash look”. It isn’t the infrastructure, its people. The trash and the upcoming weeds will once again, this season, welcome visitors and resident alike to our down town area. Why can’t we keep the trash and weeds under control? Why does trash have to lay there, trapped in the weeds and grass, for weeks without any cleanup? Who is responsible for this effort? I know one thing, we are paying for the cleanup, it just aint getting done. That effort would be noticeable and would give the city a whole new appearance.

  4. April 15, 2016 at 9:37 am Adrian Martin responds:

    Reminds me of DC where you have a grid layout, plus a bunch of avenues running at crazy angles creating all sorts of problems. DC deals with it by having giant rotaries, and also occasional triangle-shaped pieces of unusable land stranded in the middle of roads (for instance https://goo.gl/maps/445uXbsAq4C2).

  5. April 15, 2016 at 10:24 am Daggar responds:

    So the idea is that we leave the Inner Scythe cutting the north half of the city in two for the benefit of… cutting down a few minutes of travel time?

    This isn’t the New York Thruway. It’s a two-mile leg of asphalt that provides a slightly more direct route in a part of the city that’s choked with nothing but parking lots and surface streets.

    Lose the loop. Let traffic happen.

  6. April 15, 2016 at 10:31 am RaChaCha responds:

    The city took right approach by doing SE section first, which will allow people to wrap their heads around the idea that removing an urban expressway isn’t the end of the civilization as we know it. Also, to show that the real estate freed up will attract good development. And to create a showcase for the look-and-feel improvements to the urban, pedestrian environment.

    All that will help the city make the hard decisions that will have to be made with the northern section. In the end, I think the best approach there may be a to-the-greatest-degree-possible restoration of the street grid. You could argue for not even replacing that section of the Inner Loop with a surface boulevard there, or even a street. In fact, you could even convert the “trench” to a couple of levels of underground parking, with very walkable and urban mixed-use development on top.

    Although roundabouts are all the rage, like the study above I have reservations about how well they would work there, and whether they are really a good solution. Think about the alternative of a full restoration of the street grid there: that would create lots of angular parcels, which would be the opportunity to create unique architecture and an interesting and attractive walkable environment. Also, roundabouts create unusable green space, whereas a restoration of the street grid would create some triangular parcels too small to be developed, that could be attractive and seamlessly accessible green spaces.

    The good news is that there’s plenty of time to create 3-D electronic models of these alternatives that people can look at to see what kind of “look and feel” the community could get with each one. That could make the ultimate decision much easier to make, and the preferred alternative much easier to sell.

  7. April 15, 2016 at 10:50 am Some Guy responds:

    Your reliance on total cost-benefit analyses for the situation here is usually something that is sorely lacking in these sorts of discussions, that are all but determined to impose pie-in-the-sky solutions without ever taking the time to consider just how utterly shortsighted the government “urban planning” was that created these situations in the first place.

    Traffic circles work wonders in more affluent communities across New Jersey and throughout Europe, where the demands of daily travel naturally impart skills the typical Rochester-area motorist will simply never attain, but simply don’t work in places where a critical mass of people never learned the right way to drive in the first place.

    But basic infrastructure maintenance, let alone improvement, is going to be a pipe dream so long as most government operations consist of at best, non-value added functions (or more commonly, wealth destroying functions). Just remember every time you fill up your gas tank, Maggie and roughly a dozen of her cronies’ salaries, health care, and pension benefits are underwritten by federal subsidies paid for by fuel excise taxes that are supposed to go to roads and bridges, in what used to be a superb function model where users of services pay for the entirety of those services, and the taxpayers’ pockets are left unpicked by elected officials armed revenue goons.

    Root failure analysis is that basic government functions suffer when corruption cannot be rooted out in government since it is easier for public officials to be corrupt than to act with integrity. So these discussions on improving public infrastructure will sadly continue to be predominantly academic until the failures of public policy enabled by wealth-destroying monetary policy become so severe that even the typical boobus americanus is unable to ignore them any longer.

  8. April 15, 2016 at 6:09 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    The Inner Loop north of Main Street should become a boulevard from East Main to a new roundabout to connect it and Grape, Maple, and Wilder streets and Jefferson Avenue, while still maintaining its on and off ramps to I-490 by Broad Street and the interchange at State Street and also connecting Front and Mill streets and Brown’s Race street there using the same on and off ramps with State Street. This could also be similar to how the NYSDOT is about to convert Buffalo’s Scajacquada Expressway into a boulevard.

  9. April 15, 2016 at 6:11 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    The two sections of University Avenue should also then be reconnected as should the other streets between University and Charlotte Street and have more of a triangular park between Main, University, and Union.

  10. April 15, 2016 at 7:49 pm Douglas DeForest responds:

    Wouldn’t a better solution be to cover the remainder of the interloop leaving in and out traffic underground and turning the above ground portion into parks and other inner city green space?

  11. I know an easy way to do it. Go dig out the 30s plat map and bring back the street grid we had prior to this asphalt monstrosity. Its not that hard, prior to 1950 our forebearers set up a pretty nice city. Then a generation ruined it with urban renewal.

  12. April 16, 2016 at 1:11 am Orielly responds:

    Well where to begin.
    Fuel taxes don’t support the road infrastructure in the US. Who said they were supposed to? But everthing associated with car and car travel does support the highway infrastructure. Complain all you want to, we live in a car based society and that ain’t going away. DINKS and singles post on here about filling in an inner loop, and neighborhoods and city roundabouts… Woopie! That all effects how many people?
    Meanwhile 10s of 1000s of parents across this county in the Burbs drive their kids to school and sports functions daily. They then drive to the malls and Wegmans. This car centric life style is not going away nor will it decrease. How many families have one car these days? They used to 50 yrs ago, not any more. When the kids get to high school many families add another car or two. More college kids have cars today than ever before. 4 or 5 car families are not uncommon.
    Why does Victor near eastview Mall have over 2000 hotel rooms filled most nights including week nights and weekends with people traveling via cars? Far more hotel rooms in victor than in the city of Rochester. Ever leave the park avenue scene and travel on Route 90, say on a Saturday in the fall from Boston to Chicago? College and high school football fans are everywhere. Making Rochester more appealing to walkers is nice.. … In the scope of things overall it doesn’t move the needle or even make it shake. We are a car based society more so every year, get used to it.

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