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Everyone should read Jeff Speck’s “Walkable Cities: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

Look at the areas of Rochester where homes are most valuable. They’re in walkable neighborhoods including Park Avenue, Corn Hill, Browncroft, Lower East End and Highland. Speck writes there are four things that make a place walkable: The walk has to be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

The problem is we don’t have a lot of walkable places anymore. “In most markets, the demand for walkable urbanism dramatically outpaces the supply…more Americans are desirous of vibrant urban living than are being offered that choice, and those cities that can satisfy that unmet demand will thrive.” That is true in Rochester, where it is expensive to rent or buy in walkable neighborhoods.

Why don’t we have walkable places anymore? We’ve destroyed them with cars. “The car has reshaped our landscape and lifestyles around its own needs. It is an instrument of freedom that has enslaved us.”

Speck is no fan of widening streets and highways. “Traffic studies are bull—-…As long as engineers are in charge of traffic studies, they will predict the need for more engineering…Stop doing traffic studies. Stop trying to improve flow. Stop spending people’s tax dollars giving them false hope that you can cure congestion, while mutilating their cities in the process.” Speck points out induced demand fills up these new lanes quickly, erasing the intended benefit of smoother traffic. He also says people speed on wider streets, no matter the speed limit. Ford and Exchange streets are good examples of downtown Rochester streets built like highways – and that’s how people drive on them.

We’ve allowed cars to ruin our downtown. “In the absence of any larger vision or mandate, city engineers – worshipping the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking – have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to, but not worth arriving at.” Speck says downtowns are vital, because they belong to everyone. Cities are judged based on the viability of their downtowns. “A beautiful and vibrant downotwn…can be the rising tide that lifts all ships.”

Of course, we need cars. But Speck says, “The key is to welcome cars in the proper number at the proper speed.”

He talks a lot about the high cost of free parking. Even your mall parking is not free. You consume gas to drive to the mall. A lot of trees were mowed over for those vast parking lots. Speck writes free parking “worsens air quality and water quality, speeds global warming, increases energy consumption, raises the cost of housing, decreases public revenue, undermines public transportation, increases traffic congestion, damages the quality of the public realm, escalates suburban sprawl, threatens historic buildings, weakens social capital, and worsens public health, to name a few things.”

More than a half billion parking spaces are empty in America at any given time. Does every store and business need their own lot? Can there be more sharing? Think about all of the lots gated after-hours in Rochester. When you visit Next Door Bar & Grill, signs in the empty Pet Smart lot threaten to tow restaurant patrons. We have a lot of asphalt in this region so everyone can have their own parking.

parking - featured 220x165

Downtown Rochester’s many parking lots.

Speck writes a lot about the need to price downtown parking appropriately and hide parking lots and garages as much as possible. Rochester’s downtown has a lot of “missing teeth,” parking lots between buildings that are ugly and break up a pleasant walk. He also writes about the importance of biking and public transit to walkable places.

Speck makes a compelling argument for making places walkable. He says we need to toss tax incentives to lure businesses. You want economic development? Make walkable places. You want healthier people? Make walkable places. You want fewer car crashes? Make walkable places.

Rochester could learn from this book! You won’t think about downtown, driving and parking the same.

Links of the Day:

 

– Hamburg. N.Y. wrested control of its Main Street from the DOT. Instead of widening the road, it was narrowed. A pedestrian-friendly Main St. has led to more development. (Penfield should take note.)

– The crackdown on “left lane hogs” strikes me as encouragement to speeders and road ragers.

– Bicycling takes off in Texas. “People who are trying to attract people and businesses to their cities get it.”

Tom Richards has a huge lead over Lovely Warren, 55-28.

– Trulia says Buffalo and Syracuse are among the safest U.S. cities from natural disasters. Not Rochester?

– A stunning interactive of the way New York City changed during the Bloomberg years is probably a glimpse into the future of digital newspapers.

– Waste some time today watching amazing videos of Serengeti lions.

University of Rochester

 

People who live in the neighborhood surrounding the University of Rochester are fed up with commuters parking along their streets. The Democrat and Chronicle reports:

“It’s kind of a free-for-all over there,” said Bob Good, past president of the neighborhood association and currently a member of the group’s parking committee.

“Certain streets can get very crowded. They will park right up by people’s driveways. It’s difficult for snowplows. It’s difficult for garbage pickup.”

(snip)

“It’s not going to get easier,” (City Engineer Jim) McIntosh said, given the growth of UR, the area’s largest employer. “(And) I think they realize they can’t build garages to get themselves out of this problem. They are going to have to get people to think of using other modes of transportation.”

Here are reasons more garages and parking lots will not and should not solve UR’s parking crunch:

1. They’re ugly.

2. They take up valuable land, which drives up the price of surrounding land. They limit the college’s land use options.

3. Garages are very expensive to build and maintain. Some studies estimate one space costs $10,000 to $25,000.

4. They encourage driving to work, which only makes the congestion and parking crunch worse.

5. Encouraging more cars means more headaches for bicyclists and pedestrians.

What should be done instead?

Make as many UR workers as possible leave their cars at home. This can be done by designing convenient bus routes and making them free to riders. RGRTA and the college are already working on such a design, but the UR should be taking a much more active leadership role.

(It’s a shame College Town scrapped a bus station and will include a massive garage. It’s also a shame the UR has been a chief proponent of the 390 redesign, which will create a special university exit that will only serve to bring more cars to campus.)

Other things that can be done to alleviate the demand for cars is build more dense housing in the vicinity of the college and improve the city’s bike infrastructure. The UR already utilizes off-site shuttle bus services and encourages carpooling.

Finally, the city can restrict parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

But I live in the suburbs and need to be able to drive to my job at the college!

There will (should?) come a point where the UR says, “I’m sorry, but you cannot have a space on campus.”

That puts the burden on the worker to either find another job or find another way to get to work. Maybe the worker will discover a park and ride that’s convenient. Maybe RGRTA will design a route that frequently comes up a main thoroughfare in his town. Maybe the worker will decide he has to move closer to his employer because his car-dependent life isn’t sustainable anymore.

In cities across the country, taking alternate transportation to work is a way of life. The workers don’t have a choice. Driving to work isn’t a right. And in UR’s case, which keeps adding to its 20,000-strong workforce, it might not be the right thing to do for much longer.

West side of downtown Rochester is mostly parking lots.

West side of downtown Rochester is mostly parking lots. Building more parking lots created excess supply, marred the landscape and did not create development.

 

Links of the Day:

– Neighbors worry about the impact of a proposed apartment complex on Park Avenue on parking. Their concerns are debunked in this blog post.

– A Boston developer wants approval to build apartment housing without parking.

– University of Rochester researchers figured out a way to make mice smarter. They injected them with human brain cells, which raises some ethical issues.

– Rochester has one of the lowest percentages of federal workers in the country.

– Got caught? Charges are pending in Western New York’s first criminal prosecution of milk smashing.

When the city jacked up the parking meter rates, some downtown business owners wondered why other districts are not metered. They believe it gives their crosstown competitors an advantage.

The short answer is, there aren’t meters in the South Wedge or Park Avenue because it’s always been that way. The longer answer is to get meters on main thoroughfares in those districts, you would need to petition the City Traffic Control Board. The board has to approve any proposals for meter installation or removal.

Would meters hurt or help shop-lined streets like Park Ave. and South Ave.? If you want to make it easier for your customers to find parking, meters help. They ensure turnover. Parking meter systems in some cities allow for pricing based on demand, which also helps keep parking available. Xerox made a video about the concept.

On the other hand, there’s a perception people will avoid an area if they have to pay to park. Meters could also push people to side streets where residents might not be so welcoming.

One way to make it easier for businesses along metered strips is to allow grace periods, something suggested in a 2008 Rochester downtown parking survey. That could include programming meters to allow the first 20 minutes for free, allowing people to do quick errands or pick up takeout lunches. Another idea is first-hour-free programs at downtown garages. The study also suggested token or sticker programs in which businesses would offer returning customers free parking.

Links of the Day:

– Darien Lake concert goers describe a “nightmare” traffic experience at a weekend concert.

– Attendance in the Rochester City School District is probably much worse than data indicates. A flawed record-keeping system has been exposed, revealing extremely troubling information. Truancy is a problem even in elementary schools. Can schools truly be blamed?

– Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will feel the heat over his handling of sexual harassment complaints against a powerful lawmaker.

– A Tioga County judge accidentally fired his gun in chambers. Whoops.

– As Los Angeles assesses its prospects for getting an NFL team, the Buffalo Bills do not appear to be in the mix.