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Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Civilization and its discontents
Topic: environment

I had a great ride through Scottsville, Rush, and Henrietta yesterday. It was almost as if my bike took over and was steering me down the Genesee Valley Greenway and then over to the Lehigh Valley Trail; but if that’s so, it’s because the bicycle is the kind of natural machine that seems animated, in the most basic sense of the word – ensouled, if I may take back a word from the perverted vocabulary of the anti-abortionists. Yes, there’s some element of soul-force, to borrow a word from Gandhi, that is translated into pure motion.

Not that my ride was totally transcendent. I found challenges to the spirit here and there. First, the Greenway is still suffering from an “improvement” made some time ago: the surface, an old cinder railbed from which the rails and ties had been removed many years ago, was scraped down to remove a shallow accumulation of dirt, grass and weeds. The scraping not only removed some soft material that cushioned the ride; it also dislodged many clinkers that had been long buried. The latter, some of them big as a fist, now litter several miles of the trail south of Ballantyne Road. And this makes for a bouncy ride, even if you’re using wide tires.

I’m not complaining too much. I understand that the Greenway depends on volunteers and member donations, and it’s tough for even the best organization to keep up with the demands of a 90-mile trail. But I wonder about transportation priorities. For state and local government, trail maintenance and upgrade costs would be a drop in the bucket, compared to what’s spent on highways and streets – yet it’s like pulling teeth to get adequate funding for trails and other non-motorized facilities. (An egregious example: despite its high reputation, the Greenway still lacks a vital bridge over a railyard just south of the airport. This lack forces riders out onto Scottsville Road, whose heavy truck traffic and general scuzziness will intimidate many inexperienced cyclists.)

Later in my ride, I came to a sign just off Fishell Road that said a central portion of the Lehigh Valley Trail would be closed between late May and early July. Here you have another common predicament: a trail declared off-limits precisely at the time it would draw the most users. Okay, there’s construction going on. But if work gets behind schedule, as frequently happens, the trail could be out of service for practically the whole summer. If situations like this come up on the highways, strings get pulled and things are taken care of fast – but if you’re talking about a trail, like, who cares?

The rest of my day continued these themes. Back in the city at last, I went to a meeting at the Monroe Y about the latest plan to plunk a new Rite-Aid on the corner of Monroe Avenue and South Goodman Street. Somehow the developer has gotten City Hall to cave, and soon we could see the Monroe Theater, all but its façade, get bulldozed, along with the three-dozen-unit apartment building at the corner. And what would we get in partial compensation? Another freakin’ big box drugstore and gobs of parking spaces. Not too long ago, Buckingham Properties, a ubiquitous developer, wanted to restore the theater as a performing arts space and complement it with new residential units and storefronts. The plan had the backing of neighborhood activists, too. Now the city has told the activists and preservationists to get lost. Well, some cities these days are greening; Rochester, under the increasingly dubious Duffy administration, seems to just be courting the green stuff – that is, City Hall now views any investment in urban neighborhoods as inherently good, no matter how dumb or ugly the project, or how much social and financial disinvestment it will ultimately produce.

Speaking of which, did you see that Buckingham Properties, in its new manifestation, tore down the former Raj Mahal building, an 19th century brick and frame structure on the northeast corner of Monroe and Alexander? The screwballs don’t even have a construction plan for this add-on to the Genesee Hospital demolition-derby; they were just clearing the site and are now angling for proposals. The poor corner has lost the last of its urban character. The four corners sport a utilitarian fire station, a Dunkin’ Donuts, an Arby’s, and a pile of rubble. Thanks for nothing, BuckProp.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:00 EDT
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