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390 at 15A Looking EastThe Democrat and Chronicle and USA Today think we have a traffic problem and the solution is more roads and more lanes. In a piece called “America is stuck in traffic,” USA Today wrote, and the D&C adapted for its own paper:

If you struggled in Thanksgiving destination traffic, consider the following: American vehicles currently spend 6.9 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, according to American Society of Civil Engineers.

(snip)

A good bit of that is needed just to fix facilities that have fallen into disrepair. And significant investments in new capacity are needed to keep the U.S. economy from falling behind. These would include expanding roads and constructing highways as well as mass-transit systems.

Here’s what’s wrong with this editorial:

  1. The American Society of Civil Engineers is a special interest group. Engineers only make money if we’re building more roads. Of course, they want us to keep adding highways and lanes.
  2. Choosing the busiest travel weekend of the year to say we need more roads is like choosing Black Friday to say we need more parking at the mall.
  3. No one argues with fixing broken infrastructure. But adding capacity doesn’t reduce congestion. The theory of induced demand says it does the opposite. Drivers who took alternate routes fill in the extra lanes. People who were not driving at all are incentivized to start.
  4. Many Americans are driving less, so there’s no need for more capacity. (Though there are signs driving is again on the upswing.) In Monroe County, the number of licensed drivers dropped by 1 percent between 2007 and 2014, according to the DMV.
  5. Monroe County does not have a traffic problem. Our commutes average 20 minutes, according to the 2015 American Community Survey. The survey also found the percentage of commuters who drive alone in a vehicle dropped from 86 percent in 2005 to 81 percent in 2015. More people are carpooling, walking and biking.
  6. Any transportation plan should make more than a passing reference to mass transit. Calling for more capacity for cars hurts the environment and the poor.
  7. Adding lanes is detrimental to safety. That’s why many roads in Rochester have gone on a “diet.” Two lanes roads are far safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
  8. For many people — not all — being stuck in traffic is a lifestyle choice. I’m not saying people shouldn’t live in car-dependent suburbs. But if they do, they should expect to spend more time in their vehicles. I have been a city dweller my whole life. Even when I worked in Henrietta, I put only 6,000 miles a year on my car.

In summary, building more roads and lanes is the wrong solution to a nonexistent problem. It’s disturbing to see a newspaper that harps on poverty and social justice so entrenched in a car-first mentality. The conclusion is not only wrong, it’s harmful to taxpayers, the climate and the poor.

Update: Original post said D&C wrote editorial. It was adapted from USA Today and republished in D&C.

Links of the Day:

Broad, Casted Update:

Thank you to everyone who has read Broad, Casted! It’s getting some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

charter

Did you hear the good news? Charter Communications, Inc. is opening an headquarters in Henrietta and creating more than 220 jobs! The company, which just purchased Time Warner cable, will invest $2.9 million in the move.

Woohoo!

Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Rochester to make the announcement.

Here’s what was not said.

The state is giving Charter up to $2,5 million in Excelsior Jobs tax credits, meaning the company isn’t investing much at all.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found the Excelsior Jobs program is riddled with problems. Companies collected money without creating the promised jobs. Among them was Xerox, which also got a call center on the taxpayer dime.

Some of these new jobs will be at Charter’s call center. While these jobs are important to individuals, they are bad economic development policy. Call centers notoriously have high turnover and low pay.

The headquarters will be in the Calkins Road area of Henrietta. The first bus doesn’t arrive until around 9 a.m. and the last one leaves before 6 p.m. This means workers will likely have to drive. Transportation is a huge barrier to employment for many people. If we are serious about reducing poverty, we should withhold incentives from firms that do not locate jobs near people or on high service bus lines.

Charter Communications is now the second largest cable provider in the United States. It earned several billion dollars in profits last year. It earns BILLIONS of dollars and wants our help building out an office in Henrietta?

Instead of us helping Charter, the governor should be asking Charter to help us. Hey Charter, will you provide fiber internet, a la carte cable packages and lower charges for equipment rentals?

We need the jobs, especially after Verizon’s announcement is will shut down its Henrietta call center, killing 600 positions. (That’s what’s wrong with the call center economy. There’s no permanency.) But instead of making the business climate better for everyone, the state bribes a select few. The end result is one of the slowest growing economies in the nation. This kind of corporate welfare is not working and it’s not reaching the area’s neediest citizens.

Meanwhile, our cable bills are remain high.

hillaryAfter Hillary Clinton’s loss, women around the country grieved. So did their young daughters. The glass ceiling held.

“To all the little girls watching this, never doubt that you are powerful and valuable and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton said in her concession speech.

Clinton reminded us of the little girls throughout her campaign, even producing an ad showing them looking in the mirror while listening to Donald’s Trump’s put-downs of women. Clinton implored us to remember this election would speak to them.

That’s why Trump’s victory was a crushing, devastating blow to those hoping to send a message that misogyny would no longer be tolerated.

It’s not enough to tell little girls they still matter. It’s not enough to tell little girls they can become anything they want in life. It’s not enough to tell  them they’re equal to little boys.

Little girls should know they may be in for a different ride in life. When they show leadership, they may be told they’re bossy, attention-seeking and annoying. They may not get the same kind of praise for a job well done. They may not get the same raises. They may not get the same promotions. They may be told they’re not likable. They may be told they’re too ambitious. They may be told to wait their turn. When they wait their turn, they may be told they’re entitled.

No one wants to have that conversation with little girls. We don’t want to admit this stuff still happens. We don’t want to expose them to these unpleasant realities. We don’t want to confront our own biases and our own complicity.

Many people say Clinton didn’t lose because she’s a woman. Even if that’s true, we can’t deny she’s been held to a different standard her whole career. We can’t deny Trump’s misogyny didn’t prevent him from winning an election.

I have no doubt there will one day be a woman president. Maybe it will be more likely if we confront what often happens to women when they strive for success. Maybe women would be more prepared for these obstacles if they were warned — when they were little girls.

My book, Broad, Casted explores the role of gender in my journalism career and campaign for state assembly. It is available in print and digital editions. There will be a book signing at the Little Theatre Cafe on November 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. Coffee and cookies provided.

 

Links of the Day:

graveThe annual Election Day tradition of posting stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Rochester, N.Y. gained international attention this year. After all, this was the year we were supposed to elect our first female president. People lined up for hours to pay tribute to our hometown hero who helped secure women’s right to vote. This was a special, long-awaited moment.

Something didn’t feel right. I tweeted my misgivings about the massive celebration at Mt. Hope Cemetery. There was no joy in my heart about going to the polls the next day.

Maybe Clinton lost because she’s a woman. Maybe she didn’t. We all know she was a flawed candidate. That’s not the point. The point is that during this campaign, Clinton faced the same sexism women face every day in America.

A Clinton win wouldn’t have erased what happened during the campaign. A Clinton win wouldn’t have prevented other women from enduring sexism when they jump into politics or seek a promotion. Just as Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t end racism, a Clinton presidency wouldn’t have ended sexism.

In America, it’s okay to demean women candidates. Republicans and Democrats engage in this behavior. Men and women are guilty.

“Trump that bitch.”

“Such a nasty woman.”

“She’s likable enough.”

Entitled. Power-hungry. Ambitious. Corrupt. Controlled. Bitch.

We don’t question the motivations of men who seek political office. But we pick apart women. It doesn’t seem natural for women to seek power, so she must be up to no good. Women are held to a different standard. Women pay a heavier price when they’re attacked or they falter.

The worst part of this kind of sexism is it’s not always easy to see. Good people who believe in equality can be guilty of devaluing women — myself included. Gender tropes are insidious in our culture.

susanbI’m enormously proud to live in a city that cherishes a feminist icon. There’s no doubt Anthony would have loved to see all those women lined up at her grave. But Anthony would have been the first person to tell the hopeful throngs that their work is not done.

Anthony said in 1893, “It is because women have been taught always to work for something else than their own personal freedom; and the hardest thing in the world is to organize women for the one purpose of securing their political liberty and political equality.”

Use those stickers to stick together.

My book, Broad, Casted explores the role of gender in my journalism career and campaign for state assembly. It is available in print and digital editions.

resizedA local newspaper reporter asked on Twitter if I would be “nice” while campaigning.

A man posted on Facebook that I’m a “pretty puppet.”

A woman asked what I had done in my journalism career besides “just talk.”

Someone told me I should go back to reading the TelePrompter.

A mailer to voters called me a “flashy TV personality.”

An anonymous website popped up called “Rachel Barnhart for Prom Queen.”

An email chastised me for trying further my “ambition” and feed my “ego.”

An alt-weekly editorial said I’m a person who likes “drawing and demanding attention.”

A social media post called me “entitled” and an “opportunist.”

During a televised debate, a panelist asked if I knew how to craft legislation that wouldn’t fit into a tweet.

The day I lost, a man posted on my website, “The public recognized a dilettante when it saw one.”

No one wanted to talk about issues during the Democratic primary for the 138th District New York Assembly seat. They wanted to talk about me.

Losing was hard. Losing publicly is very hard. It was a horrible feeling to watch people cheer your failure.

Harder than losing was being subjected to misogyny and lies. Harder than losing was not being able to fight back and tell my own story — because we ran out of money.

I had spent nearly two decades on television. I had lived a public life. But I was unprepared for the torrent of attacks, many based on my gender. Few people outside of my circle came to my defense. Few people recognized the attacks as misogyny. Being a woman and running for office, particularly against the machine, is an isolating, terrifying, and even traumatizing experience.

I was taken back to that feeling little more than a month after losing the primary. I was watching the final presidential debate. When Republican Donald Trump called Democrat Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” it felt like a punch to the gut. Maybe this is going to come across to the casual observer as an extreme reaction, but I started to feel anxiety. For three months, I was a “nasty woman,” repeatedly called “negative” for discussing issues and my opponent’s record. For the first time since the primary, I didn’t feel alone. Women all over the country were proclaiming themselves “nasty.”

How did an Ivy League graduate who was valedictorian of her high school class get reduced to an egomaniacal flake? How did a woman who spent 17 years doing serious investigative and public interest reporting become a talking head? How did a woman who made a sacrifice by quitting her job to serve her community become entitled?

I’m stunned this happened — even more stunned the attacks came from fellow Democrats. The hypocrisy was astounding. Anything goes when it comes to maintaining the current power structure. I’m not sure everyone who engaged in this behavior knew what they were doing, as these gender tropes are so ingrained in our psyche.

There was overt sexism in the campaign. But there was also subtle sexism. Much of it focused on my motives for running for office.

“It’s normal for men to seek political power. It’s considered part of their nature. Being competitive is considered part of their nature. We don’t consider it normal for women to seek it. So she must be up to something,” said Hilary Shroyer, a campaign volunteer, attorney and feminist.

Many people told me I was running for office to seek attention. Feminist author Laurie Penney wrote in Cybersexim: Gender and Power on the Internet, “One of the most common insults flung at women who speak or write in public is ‘attention-seeking’ — a classic way of silencing us, particularly if we are political. The fact that ‘attention-seeking’ is still considered a slur says much about the role of women in public life, on every scale. From the moment we can speak, young women are ordered not to do so.”

My qualifications were attacked and ignored. Studies show voters treat male and female candidates the same, but when a candidate is called incompetent, women pay a higher penalty. Studies also show when gendered stereotypes are activated by the press or campaigns, they hurt female candidates.

I was constantly told there were not substantial differences between myself and my opponent. I was told I “had no reason to run.” But when I discussed my opponent’s record and my positions on issues, I was called “negative.” If I was quiet and “nice,” there would have been no contest. If I was assertive, I was a bitch.

Georgetown University Linguistics Professor Deborah Tannen says women often have trouble being seen as both likable and strong leaders. She wrote in the Washington Post in February, “Hence the double bind: If a candidate — or manager — talks or acts in ways expected of women, she risks being seen as underconfident or even incompetent. But if she talks or acts in ways expected of leaders, she is likely to be seen as too aggressive and will be subject to innumerable other negative judgments — and epithets — that apply only to women.”

I don’t believe I lost the primary because of sexism. I believe I lost because I didn’t have the money to fight these attacks. We were outspent about four to one.

Some people say, “That’s politics.” It’s not.

This is why women don’t run for office. This is why fewer women hold elected office. The next time a woman runs for office and is called ambitious, entitled, egotistical or unqualified, ask what’s really going on. Ask if a man would be characterized the same way.

On this issue, I’m happy to be “negative” and “attention-seeking.” Women who want to serve their community in elected office deserve better.

I wrote a book about this experience. Broad, Casted is on Kickstarter through November 4 and will be available on my website after the crowdfunding campaign.

GunIn Monroe County, guns recovered by police are more likely to have been bought in New York, rather than from out of state.

Monroe County stands out in a report created by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman based on gun-tracing figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. <Check out this interactive mapping tool.>

Statewide, 74 percent of the 52,915 guns recovered by police between 2010 and 2015 came from out of state. The top states where trafficked guns originated were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

But in Monroe County, only 44 percent of the 4,536 crime guns came from out of state, the lowest rate among urban counties. The in-state guns recovered by police in Monroe County accounted for 18 percent of all of the in-state guns recovered in the entire state.

What does this tell us? Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli has said the community has a problem with guns that originate close to home. Legal guns are stolen from cars and houses. Drug addicts sell their legal weapons for cash. Family members steal legal weapons to sell on the street. These guns end up in the hands of criminals. In some cases,people can lose their permits if they’re found to have sold their weapons illegally or stored them carelessly.

We’ve had terrible tragedies as a result of stolen guns, including the 2009 shooting of Officer Anthony DiPonzio and the 2015 Genesee St. mass shooting.

The city has a safe storage law, requiring weapons to be secured. County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell is pushing for a countywide measure.

An additional proposal is to run public education campaigns. That wouldn’t require a new law or new penalties. Remind gun owners they don’t want to become a victim of a crime that leads to another victim. It would be a common-sense way to raise awareness and my guess is it would have bipartisan support, as well as support from law enforcement.

 

Links of the Day:

 

 

Broad, Casted

You may have noticed, I haven’t been here in a while. I took the summer off to run for office. I wrote a book about the experience. It’s been fully-funded on Kickstarter and will be out by November 4! More details here. 

Alain Kaloyeros

Alain Kaloyeros

University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and Assemblyman Joe Morelle are probably sitting back and saying, “I told you so.”

The pair was concerned about SUNY Polytechnic wielding too much power over the Rochester photonics initiative. Yes, it’s a federal program, but the state is kicking in $250 million and is a major stakeholder. Seligman and Morelle unsuccessfully fought SUNY Polytechnic and its powerful leader, Alain Kaloyeros, over where the headquarters would be located. The governor clearly sided with Kaloyeros, who enlisted Bob Duffy’s help in the fight. ( I explained the dynamic of this power struggle here, one that was mischaracterized by local media as local leaders infighting. It was always Rochester v. Albany.) The dispute may have cost Seligman his co-chairmanship of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council.

Now there are new questions about whether SUNY Polytechnic should control photonics.

That’s because SUNY Polytechnic may have done shady things in its stewardship of the Buffalo Billion project. The program is under federal investigation for bid-rigging and conflicts of interest among lobbyists and others involved in the project. SUNY Polytechnic used nonprofits to issue contracts and these contracts were not open to public scrutiny. For months, reporters had been questioning the total lack of transparency involved in Buffalo Billion.

I asked the governor last week if Kaloyeros and SUNY Polytechnic should remain in charge. He said there’s no proof anyone did anything wrong. But Danny Wegman said the investigation is slowing things down.

There’s a simple solution. Don’t allow SUNY Polytechnic to run photonics, or at least allow the entity to structure deals in the same manner. Even if the probe finds nothing criminal, it’s clear the state erred in the way it manages some of these large economic development contracts. Too much power is in the hands of too few people, who operate behind closed doors. Seligman, Morelle and other local leaders should renew their call for more local control. They should also demand more transparency moving forward.

Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center

 

The Pew Research Center came out with a study showing the American middle class is shrinking. This is true in many metropolitan areas, including Rochester.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Rochester region’s share of lower income people went up from 22.2 to 25.2 percent. The share of middle income people went down from 59.6 to 56.7. The share of upper income people remained the same, down only .2 percent to 18 percent.

Here is how middle class is defined, nationally:

 

pew1

 

In Rochester, as in most Rust Belt cities, middle income people account for a majority. Income inequality is not as pervasive as it is in some major cities.

When you look at household income, you see big losses for Rochester individuals and families. These dollar figures are adjusted for 2014. The median household income for middle class people was $8,000 more in 1999. The median household income for everyone is down nearly $10,000.

Rochester:

 

1999 Median 2014 Median
All Lower Middle Upper All Lower Middle Upper
72,711 26,996 79,587 178,250 63,220 26,016 71,278 159,074

 

The losses in Rochester were worse compared to New York State as a whole:

 

1999 2014
All Lower Middle Upper All Lower Middle Upper
60,868 23,974 76,377 193,166 59,844 21,834 73,227 175,267

 

Rochester is not alone. Pew finds:

The decline in household incomes at the national level reflected nearly universal losses across U.S. metropolitan areas. Middle-income households lost ground financially in 222 of 229 metropolitan areas from 1999 to 2014. Meanwhile, the median income of lower-income households slipped in 221 metropolitan areas and the median for upper-income households fell in 215 areas.

The trends in income point to economic pressures on the middle class, including in areas where it still holds a large share of the population.

Buffalo to Rochester MapHow does the state decide where to lure companies with lavish government grants and tax incentives?

TThe state announced last year it’s spending $55 million to help IBM set up a data center in downtown Buffalo. It’s eventually supposed employ 500 workers. Aside from questions about the contracts awarded to the governor’s donors, there’s another question raised by a recent Buffalo News article. Why on earth did the state pick Buffalo?

“The skills we’re looking for are hard to find anyway. If we were sitting in the Silicon Valley, it still would be very hard to find,” Goodwyn said. A big part of IBM’s workforce development plan is to bring in a sizable number of entry-level workers by building ties with colleges from across upstate, from the University at Buffalo to the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester, to Cornell University and Clarkson University, Goodwyn said. UB lacks a specific data analytics major within its computer science and engineering school, but other schools, like RIT and the University of Rochester, have it.

“That’s part of our business plan: College and university hires,” he said.

 

 

Locating Solar City in Buffalo was also questionable. We have a giant industrial facility called Eastman Business Park that desperately wants to attract solar companies. In fact, Kodak specialized in material science and chemicals, the same stuff needed to innovate in solar. But the state chose to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build on a brand new site.

Locating photonics in Rochester made sense. We already have a lot of photonics companies, university programs and talent.

I’m not suggesting Buffalo doesn’t deserve nice things. I’m suggesting when the state uses carrots to attract companies, it should put some analysis into where these companies would be a good fit. I’m sure there are things more suited to Buffalo than Rochester. But Albany doesn’t seem to care.

Side note on high-speed rail:

Couldn’t people commute between Rochester and Buffalo? Unless Rep. Louise Slaughter gets her wish on high speed rail, we don’t have a mega-region. There’s no way to regularly commute between Rochester and Buffalo unless you have a car. Even if high speed rail becomes a reality, the last mile is a problem. How do people get to where they’re going when they get off the train? Inter-city buses would also be an issue. Jobs are no longer concentrated in downtowns. Right now, fewer than 2,500 people commute between Erie and Monroe counties. It’s possible that number could grow as transit and job opportunities grow. Any high speed rail or inter-city transit project must consider STAMP in Genesee County, a 100 percent car-dependent project. The bottom line is our regions are not connected via transit or economic development. They probably should be. I’m skeptical we’ll see a mega-region, as described in this New York Times op-ed, in our lifetimes.

In early 2012, I wrote about the enormous government help Xerox received to open a call center at its Webster campus. The incentives were so generous, Xerox essentially didn’t pay for the retrofit of one of its buildings. Taxpayers subsidized Xerox so it could offer low-wage jobs.

Now, Xerox is getting help again. The state is kicking in money to help RTS get workers to the remote facility. RTS is reinstating a late night line, as well as weekend service.

In a press release, Heather L. Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities for Xerox Business Services, said:

“The impact of the bus reinstatement is profound. When we announced this to our employees, we were overcome by their positive and emotional response. Our employees are conscientious and do what it takes to get to work on time. In fact, one woman shared that taking the bus means she will no longer spend $50 a day to get to and from work.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to Xerox it played a role in that poor woman’s plight when it decided to open a call center where few people live, one that’s not regularly serviced by transit, and to which it is nearly impossible to walk or bike.

In the future, companies seeking government help to add jobs should be required to locate those jobs near their employee base. If they choose not to, they should be required to pay RTS for their transportation. (Some companies and nursing homes, including Xerox, already pay RTS to cover some of the cost of getting employees to work.) Xerox got another government handout when it got the state to pay for this bus line.

Here’s why the idea of locating jobs near people is important. The Brookings Institution found only two-thirds of jobs in the Rochester metropolitan region are in places served by buses. Even worse, fewer than one-third of residents can get to a job within 90 minutes on a bus. The study found people have an easier time getting to jobs in the city than in the suburbs. Almost all city residents live super close to a bus stop.

When jobs sprawl, there are costs to infrastructure and the environment. But there are also social costs. Poor people get left behind. The Democrat and Chronicle recently reported in three poor neighborhoods on the east side of the city:

Good luck finding a job in these parts of the city, where fewer than one in 10 residents is employed in the neighborhood where he or she lives. More than half of residents who do have jobs are forced to commute to the suburbs.

It’s great Xerox call center workers can now access transit. But RTS cannot do this for all jobs in the suburbs.  There has to be critical mass for regular routes. Our government leaders must take into account where jobs are located and who is expected to fill those jobs the next time a CEO comes looking for a handout.

 

Provided photo: New employees at the Xerox call center in Webster met today with Mike Zimmer, President of US Large Operations at Xerox, Heather Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities at Xerox, Vincent Esposito, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office, and Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS to say thank you for the new commuter express service.

Provided photo: New employees at the Xerox call center in Webster met today with Mike Zimmer, President of US Large Operations at Xerox, Heather Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities at Xerox, Vincent Esposito, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office, and Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS to say thank you for the new commuter express service.

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.>

NYS Labor Department

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Rochester in early January and held a campaign-style event at Tower280. He talked about how Upstate New York is on the way back and the state has more private sector jobs than ever before.

cuomoAfter his speech, I asked him how he can be so positive when Rochester has 40,000 fewer people working than it did at its peak in the late 1990s. Cuomo called me a cynic and said we’re all going to die one day. The governor was joking, of course. But new data shows the Rochester economy is no laughing matter.

First, census data shows a net loss of 25,000 people in Rochester over the last five years when you add up the number of people who moved in and the number of people who moved out. If it wasn’t for new births and international immigrants, we would be in a population free fall. People blame taxes, the weather and lack of jobs.

Speaking of jobs, data out last week from the New York State Labor Department shows Rochester had the most job losses in the state over the last year. We lost 1 percent of jobs between February 2015 and February 2016. That’s 4,700 jobs.

Meantime, in a Democrat and Chronicle article holding the state accountable about jobs promises, officials say some of their efforts to create jobs are paying off. Others will pay off in the future. And some probably won’t pay off, after all. For now, we wait.

The state’s economic development policy is to throw obnoxious amounts of money at companies and hope they create jobs. The state calls it investment, but it could also be called gambling. Most recently, Cuomo came to Rochester to announce two photonics companies are coming here. He said they would create 1,400 jobs, even though neither company makes anything right now and both have a tiny number of workers. As with other announcements on photonics, the jobs estimates are purely speculative.

As much as I love Rochester, it’s clear there’s something deeply wrong with our economic climate. Instead of focusing on making Rochester a wonderful place for all to do business, the state is focusing on only a few businesses in programs such as Start-Up NY. The big picture has been lost.

It turns out I was right to be cynical. I was also right. The region is not on the upswing, as Cuomo would have us believe.

Update: The state labor department questions its own data. Whatever the case, it’s not a pretty picture. – RB 3/29/16

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Wegmans is once again on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Here’s something you should know: This list is total garbage.

I’ve always wondered how a company with mostly part-time workers who start at minimum wage could rank so highly. Wegmans scored in the high 90’s on every measurement. Really?

 

Great Places to Work Institute

Great Places to Work Institute

 

It turns out, Wegmans pays to be on this list. Fortune doesn’t do the ranking and provides little information about methodology. A company called Great Place to Work Institute conducts the surveys. The minimum price of entry is $995. Companies can choose more expensive packages to become clients of GPWI. Wegmans has been a client, according to a 2011 story in 24/7wallstreet.  This kind of relationship taints the polling process.

What really damns the survey is how it is administered. According to a manual I downloaded from the GPWI site, the surveys are not scientific. Companies like Wegmans select the workers who will take the surveys. Companies administer the surveys themselves. Companies also get to choose when they administer the survey. GPWI says the surveys must be done at random and provides a guide to companies on how to choose a good sample. (Wegmans chose 722 workers, according to GPWI.) There’s no way any reputable polling firm would conduct a survey in this manner.

 

GPWI handbook

Great Places to Work Institute

 

GPWI’s website encourages companies to get on their list to “strengthen your brand.” GPWI will provide winners PR tips for how to maximize the recognition. The profiles of each winning company also have a “how to get hired” section, in which they make a pitch to prospective employees. This shows the list is merely a marketing and recruitment tool.

Wegmans own data shows issues with employee retention, as nearly one-third of workers have been there less than two years. Only 20 percent have been there more than 10 years. Two-thirds of workers are part-timers, who must work 30 hours a week to be eligible for benefits. The average salary for a full-time customer service worker is $34,000, including overtime. That’s not bad, but it’s not a great living.

I love shopping at Wegmans. I’m sure many employees love working at Wegmans. (I am a Wegmans alumna.) But let’s get real about this list and what it means. Absolutely nothing.

Update: A Wegmans spokesperson took huge issue with my mention of retention. Many of the workers are teenagers and many have just been hired at new stores. That skews the numbers. Totally fair points! But on the methodology, Wegmans didn’t have anything to add, except that it follows Fortune’s protocols. As I’ve pointed out, Fortune’s protocols are not scientific. Wegmans stands by its participation in the survey and notes it’s widely recognized.

Another update: Wegmans followed up again, saying GPWI provides envelopes for workers to send back the surveys. Wegmans emphasizes it’s not doing anything devious here. I hope that’s not what I’m implying. I’m only saying the survey is not independently administered. Wegmans picks the workers. If you really want to find out what employees think, you’ll have an independent firm conduct such a survey from start to finish.
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Rochester Love:

 

Economic Innovation Group

Economic Innovation Group

Many residents of the city of Rochester have been left behind by the economic recovery, according to a report from the Economic Innovation Group. The group looked at seven measurements of a city’s health from 2010 to 2013. Those measurements include adults without a high school degree, income, poverty rate, housing vacancy rate, businesses lost or gained, jobs lost or gained and percentage of adults not working. Distressed cities were given a score, with 100 being the maximum distress level.

In Rochester, most zip codes in the city had a distress score over 90 percent. Consider 14613, which encompasses Maplewood and Edgerton. One out of five adults doesn’t have a high school degree. One out of four homes is vacant. One out of 10 businesses closed. The employment rate fell 9 percent. This zip code is among the 500 most distressed in the entire country. Its distress score is 98.

Go over to 14605, the neighborhood just to the northeast of downtown and you see 60 percent of adults without jobs and half of residents living in poverty. Although employment ticked up 1 percent, incomes remain one-third of the median.

Looking at the map, you see things change dramatically as you cross city lines. The suburbs recovered nicely from the economic downturn. In Brighton, employment increased 11.5 percent. The number of businesses went up 3.5 percent. Residents earn 139 percent of the median income. The poverty rate is 7 percent. Brighton has a distress score of 6.5

In Penfield, employment went up 10.5 percent and the number of businesses increased 5.5 percent. The housing vacancy rate is 3 percent. The community’s distress score is 4.1.

These stark inequalities put Monroe County among the top 20 most unequal counties in the entire country. Erie County is also on this list.

Also of note, Utica is among the country’s 10 most distressed cities and Buffalo is among 10 largest distressed cities. Some rural areas are very distressed, including Albion and Lyons.

The authors of the report write:

“The analysis finds that for those living in distressed zip codes, the years of overall U.S. economic recovery have looked much more like an ongoing downturn. Large swathes of the country are indeed being left behind by economic growth and change. The phenomenon is taking place at many different scales: Well-being diverges between cities and states but even more starkly within cities and at the neighborhood level.”

The New York Times reported:

“It’s almost like you are looking at two different countries,” said Steve Glickman, executive director of the Economic Innovation Group…

“The most prosperous areas have enjoyed rocket-shiplike growth,” said John Lettieri, senior director for policy and strategy at the Economic Innovation Group. “There you are very unlikely to run into someone without a high school diploma, a person living below the poverty line or a vacant house. That is just not part of your experience.”

By contrast, in places the recovery has passed by, things look very different.

Monroe County is trying to tackle these inequities through the anti-poverty initiative. Rochester’s mayor is also exploring worker-owned businesses.

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Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

Every time a new downtown luxury apartment complex is announced, many people wonder, “Where are the people coming from to fill them up?”

There’s a big shift happening in Rochester and around the country. This is a demographic shift. This is a lifestyle shift. This is a shift of expectations when it comes to housing.
Here is why we need more apartments, who is likely filling the units and why downtown is an attractive option.

There are more households without children. In 2000 there were 102,033 homes without kids in Monroe County. In 2014, there were 121,016. That’s a 19 percent increase of childless households. If you don’t have children, you can get by with less space. You don’t have to live in a suburb to access good schools. You may have more disposable income.

The population is aging. Between 2000 and 2014, the median age in Monroe County went from 36.1 to 39 years old. Between 2000 and 2014, the share of the population claimed by people over 65 went from 13 percent to 15.5 percent. Seniors often like to downsize. They often sell their homes for an easier lifestyle. During this time period, the number of seniors in childless homes grew by 8,000. But the number of childless households went up by nearly 20,000. Who is making up the gap?

The Millennials are a force. The percentage of the population between 20 and 34 years old went from 19.8 percent in 2000 to 21.3 percent in 2014. That’s an additional 15,000 young people in Monroe County. Data shows they’re trending toward city living. Although they can afford houses in many cases, they prefer to rent.

There are more people not married and living alone. In 2000, 82,042 people, or 11.5 percent of the population, lived alone. In 2014, 99,959 people, or 13.3 percent lived by themselves. On the marriage front, in 2013, 44.2 percent of the population in Monroe County was married. That’s down from 51.3 percent in 2000. If you live alone, you’re less likely to want or need a house.

Home ownership rate is falling. All of the above demographic factors have led to a lower home ownership rate in Monroe County. In 2000, 70 percent of households were owner-occupied. In 2014, 64 percent of households were owner-occupied.

Good apartments in demand: The 2014 Census shows there is a 7.7 rental vacancy rate. But where are these vacant units? I suspect landlords of lower-quality apartments and apartments in less desirable and convenient areas are suffering. Rents are on the rise in Rochester. Downtown’s rental market shows a vacancy rate of 3 percent, which is considered a very healthy market.

But downtown rents are so expensive! Newer downtown units are starting at $1,000 and up. But that’s comparable to some newer suburban apartment complexes. Downtown living is easier for those who will be closer to work and entertainment. That saves time otherwise spent in a car and money on gas. The units coming online downtown are unique and special. You can’t find the views or the ambiance anywhere else.

But a house is an investment! Maybe. Studies show people think their houses appreciate far more than they really do. Some economists think you’re better off putting the money into stocks. Houses also have big upfront costs. The New York Times calculator shows if you buy a $125,000 house with a 20 percent down payment, and spend only $2,000 the first year on fixing the place up, you’re better off renting an apartment that’s $900. This doesn’t include the cost of furniture and ongoing maintenance and home projects. You’re certainly not going to buy a house for that price downtown, in the East End or Park Ave., the most walkable neighborhoods in Rochester. Houses in good shape for that price in Swillburg or South Wedge go very quickly. The bottom line is renting can be a financially attractive option for those wanting a certain lifestyle.

There you have it. All of these things taken together are why we’re seeing more apartment complexes going up in the Rochester area, particularly downtown.

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Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

The Democrat and Chronicle released a poll showing three of four people in the Rochester area don’t know about the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.

Despite the D&C’s constant attention to the RMAPI, few people are interested. In addition, the group has done very little marketing. Actually, RMAPI hasn’t done much.

RMAPI’s goal is to reduce poverty by 15 percent in five years, 30 percent in 10 years and 50 percent in 15 years. The group also wants to increase the number of families that are self-sufficient, though it admits it has no idea how it will measure success.

Already, one full year has been spent assembling numerous committees and sub-committees, developing strategies and simply taking stock of the problem. There’s still no plan to reduce poverty. There’s barely a plan to come up with a plan.

That said, placing special focus on poverty is a very, very good thing. It’s wonderful there are so many stakeholders from all segments of the community at the table. I know many people involved and they are taking this very seriously. They are giving their time and expertise. It’s great people are talking more about poverty. But as the poll showed, no one is listening.

At least not yet.

I’m cautiously optimistic about RMAPI. But I’m also worried this is already a vanity project for politicians including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assemblyman Joe Morelle, Mayor Lovely Warren and everyone involved in the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council. The United Way also stands to benefit, as it’s steering the $500,000 initial grant. There’s already a staff, including the $95,000-a-year director. The city obtained $6.5 million in additional funding to the project. RMAPI could end up being a nice vehicle for officials to say they’re doing something without really doing anything.

There’s reason to be cynical. The governor says he’s duplicating the RMAPI in other areas of the state, using it as a model. That is ridiculous, because RMAPI hasn’t accomplished one stinking thing yet. RMAPI doesn’t even have a road map for tackling poverty, but it’s already a model? This kind of work will take undoubtedly take time.

Here’s what is happening: Elected officials are jumping on the solve poverty train because they think this will make them look good to voters. The D&C poll showed it won’t. DO something to make the lives of poor people better, and they might start paying attention.

 

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SyracuseA commission of community leaders in Syracuse and Onondaga County say it’s time to discuss metropolitan government. It released a report detailing how a merger could save $20 million immediately and taxpayers could save $200 each a year.

The commission wasn’t shy. While it stopped short of making recommendations, it discussed consolidating police, fire, EMS, public works, courts, clerks, code enforcement and governments as a whole. It says $100 million is being spent on duplicated services. The report does make the situation look ridiculous.

The commission avoided the third rail topic of schools, believing there’s no public will on that front.

The commission will now solicit feedback from the community. If Syracuse and Onondaga County were to merge, there would be just under 500,000 residents. Syracuse would be the state’s largest city outside New York City. The commission notes there are advantages beyond cost savings to residents, such as shared planning and elevation in stature.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out in the Syracuse area. Past discussions on metro government in the Rochester area have been met with fierce resistance. Former mayor Bill Johnson loved to talk about metro government, even metro schools. Maggie Brooks used his support for the idea to trounce him in 2003 in the race for county executive. The GOP’s infamous Pac-Man ad showed the city gobbling up all the towns. Needless to say, people like their towns and villages. Many want no part of the city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo loves to talk government consolidation, but I don’t see the will anywhere in this community to even have a discussion. Maybe our friends in Central New York will show us a path.

 

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refugeeIn 1938, a poll showed two-thirds of Americans believed the country should not admit Jews fleeing the Nazis. Fewer than 5 percent believed immigration quotas should be raised to help those fleeing persecution.

There was at least one place in the country where that poll would likely have produced different results: Rochester, New York.

In 2012, Mary Posman detailed our community’s remarkable interfaith and cross-cultural efforts to help Jewish refugees before and after World War II. She writes:

At a time when the nation seemed generally unmoved (at best) or anti-Semitic (at worst), supporters here pulled together to form a variety of organizations to combat hatred, advocate for changes in immigration policy, and ease the assimilation of refugees. During the 1930s and 1940s, the concern and activism of the Rochester community facilitated the successful immigration of nearly 1,000 Jews escaping Nazi tyranny. Although this number may seem small for a city whose population averaged over 300,000, it reflects a substantial effort from Rochesterians on behalf of Europe’s Jews, belying the claim that Americans were largely indifferent to their plight.

Why was Rochester different? In addition to having a long history of progressiveness and a strong tradition of helping immigrants, Rochesterians were better informed about the atrocities in Europe. That’s thanks to Rabbi Philip Bernstein, as well as the Jewish Ledger newspaper.

Rabbi Bernstein photographing children at a displaced persons camp in Europe.

Rabbi Bernstein photographing children at a displaced persons camp in Europe.

Rabbi Bernstein was the son of Lithuanian immigrants who settled in Rochester. He became chief rabbi at Temple B’Roth Kodesh. He was extremely active in current events and civil rights, and advocated for Jewish causes in Rochester and around the world. He traveled to Germany multiple times in the run-up to the war and brought home horror stories of what was happening to Jews. He launched a campaign to get Rochester and the nation to listen.

Posman writes:

Rabbi Bernstein understood people’s doubts and acknowledged his own initial disbelief at the hateful turn that the culturally rich nation of Germany had taken. “I could not believe it,” he admitted in a sermon, “for I did not want to believe it.”

Rabbi Bernstein found an engaged audience in Rochester. Posner writes:

…members of the Rochester community, both Jews and non-Jews alike, contacted him to discover ways they could support his efforts in Europe. For example the Purdys, a local Christian family, wrote to Bernstein in the spring of 1946, hoping he could connect them with a European Jewish family that they could help. “The fact that a specific family in America wishes the Jewish family well,” they hoped, “could help a little to restore their faith in humanity.”

In the 1930s, the United States had a policy that required refugees to prove they had a way to make a living. The only way to get around this requirement was to have friends or family to say they would support them. Rochester became one of the first cities in the country to come up with an ingenious plan: An entire community –  backed by the Jewish Welfare Council – would pledge to financially support the applicants. Once here, numerous interfaith groups helped the refugees get on their feet.

Posman writes that Rochester was not immune from anti-Semitism. The University of Rochester had quotas on Jewish students. Kodak was suspected of discriminating against Jewish applicants, as it had no Jews on the payroll until the late 1920s. There were anti-Semitic pamphlets that were:

…spreading derogatory lies about Jews and encouraging non-Jews to unite against the threat they allegedly posed. One such pamphlet was entitled “Why are Jews Persecuted for their Religion?” This document, the origins of which remain mysterious, pulled passages of Jewish scriptures out of context, twisted them, and then used them to “prove” that “Jewish people are not to be trusted” and should be denied the ability to become citizens or hold public office.

Posman’s summary is very relevant to the debate over refugees entering America today:

Within this context of national hostility to Jewish immigrants, Rochester serves as an example of how a community can pull together to overcome adversity. In a time of isolationism and hyper-nationalism, it is indeed impressive that so many Rochesterians were able to look beyond their city’s limits and reach out to those in need. Led in large part by Rabbi Philip Bernstein, the community proved its ability to work within the limitations of federal policy to facilitate the arrival and assimilation of hundreds of Jewish refugees. If nothing else, this effort illustrates how in a dark moment of terror, apathy, and accusations, there was still light, hope, and people willing to help one another.

 

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WarrenOnly 22 percent of voters in the City of Rochester came out on Election Day. That compares to 29 percent in 2011, the last race for county executive. That’s about 6,400 fewer voters, an astonishing drop.

Can’t blame the weather. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

The county executive contest was the main reason for city Democrats to go to the polls. The citywide races were won in the primary, as Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 6 to 1.

Maybe Sandy Frankel wasn’t the most exciting candidate, but she suffered from a weak party. The local Democrats are deeply divided. The party has a limited get-out-the-vote operation and limited funds. Mayor Lovely Warren does have a get-out-the-vote operation and a huge campaign account. But she won’t lift a finger to help. She let Sandy Frankel twist in the wind.

Doing the math, if city voters turned out at the same rate as the towns, another 8,200 people would have voted. That’s not enough to have changed the outcome in the county executive race, even if all voted for Frankel. But city voters can make a difference in countywide elections. Rep. Louise Slaughter lost the suburbs, but won the city and was able to keep her seat.

The following is a post-election Twitter exchange with several local journalists.  It discusses whether the state of the local party is to blame for Democratic losses and whether Mayor Warren is obligated to help right the ship.

 

 

 

What accounts for the horrible showing on Election Day?