Rochester has the dubious distinction of being one of the most sprawling metropolitan areas in the country.
Smart Growth America released a 2014 sprawl index. Rochester was in the top 10 most sprawling large metro areas, places with more than 1 million people. Out of all 221 metro areas with at least 200,000 people, Rochester ranked 189th in terms of sprawl.
Rochester also ranked very poorly in 2002, the last time Smart Growth America did this study. We can’t compare scores, because the group changed some methodology. However, Rochester was ranked the 12th most sprawling metro of 83 studied.
In 2014, Rochester’s overall score was 74.5. An average score is 100, so a higher score means less sprawl and a lower score means more sprawl. Researchers measured sprawl using four factors, each given equal weight:
1. Development Density: This looks at the concentration of homes and businesses, including the percentage of people who live in low-density suburban tracts and how much density there is around downtown.
Rochester scored a 96.2 on Development Density, just about average.
2. Land Use Mix: This looks at how far people are away from their jobs, the types of jobs and the number of jobs. Land use also looks at the walkability of each census tract.
Rochester scored a 103.86 on Land Use Mix. Again this is about average.
3. Activity Centering: This measures the proportion of people and businesses located near each other. How quickly does population density decline outside of downtown? How many jobs are located downtown?
Rochester scored 96.77. Another average score.
4. Street accessibility: This accounts for street connectivity, including average block size; number of intersections, number of four-way intersections.
Rochester scored 62. That’s where we messed up.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Rochester has many cul de sacs, wide roads, long non-rural roads without frequent intersections and mega-blocks.
Why do we care?
Smart Growth America found:
• People have greater economic opportunity in compact and connected metro areas.
• People spend less of their household income on the combined cost of housing and transportation in these areas.
• People have a greater number of transportation options available to them.
• And people in compact, connected metro areas tend to be safer, healthier and live longer than their peers in more sprawling metro areas. (They walk more and don’t get into as many car accidents.)
It’s worth noting that if you just look at Monroe County, we’re closer to average. The county’s sprawl score was 114.04, with street connectivity again being the lowest component (93.28). Surrounding counties do horribly on the sprawl index. Ontario was rated 84.03, Livingston was rated 77.11, Orleans got a 75.78 and Wayne scored 74.62. (The index does take an area’s rural nature into account when figuring out scores. There are other rural counties in New York that scored way better.)
The bottom line is the Rochester remains a Sprawl Queen, impacting us in various ways every day.