Topic: urban issues
Since I wrote the post directly below, questions have surfaced about the difficulty and expense of taking Midtown Plaza down. Who knew? It turns out that demolishing a major complex within an active business district (ca. 50,000 workers Monday through Friday, plus nighttime entertainment seekers and a growing permanent population) is more complicated than, say, smart-bombing an apartment house in Baghdad, where Amerika has been honing its urban policies.
But as the new chapter of Farewell to Midtown is being written - by committee, and with little democratic discussion – there is one word that hasn’t been put on paper: bicycle. Odd, isn’t it? The players, from the too-oft-quoted head of the RDDC to City Hall’s Tom Richards to the new mandarins of Paetec, talk about more than 1,000 new downtown workers, new office towers and even new side streets, and maybe a touch of greenspace, yet nobody has talked about biking as part of the solution. What do they want, a form of transportation that dare not speak its name?
Every city I’m familiar with that has maintained or restored vitality and humanity to its core has been serious about accommodations for cycling - recreational, commuting, and business (restaurant delivery, messenger service, etc.). Some cities in our greater bioregion, like Chicago and Montreal, have worked for years on bike plans and have invested big bucks in implementation. What has Rochester done?
Well, I’m as happy as the next gearhead about the bike racks on RTS buses and the few locking posts installed on some commercial blocks in the ring of so-called urban villages. And as I’ve said many times, this area has a world-class multi-use trail system. But look at downtown: all the millions of dollars that years ago went into new sidewalks and lampposts and benches, and there’s nary a bike facility or amenity in sight. And the planners, movers, shakers, and imploders still won’t say what they’ll do to encourage bicycling.
Bike advocates, though, have plenty of ideas to offer. Here’s a short list: Put post-and-loop locking facilities up and down Main St.; make sure secure bike racks are in place outside every public building, and put them outside major private buildings within the public right-of-way, too, with or without the consent of owners or merchants; try some marked bike lanes on suitable side streets and arterials; plow and sand the Genesee River Trail and maybe other multi-use trails so they, like New York City’s Hudson River Greenway, can be used year-round; restore two-way traffic to downtown streets, with as much curbside parking as necessary; bring back, and expand, the downtown fare-free bus zone to promote intermodal commuting. And when those 8.6 acres that Midtown Plaza now occupies are cleared or reconfigured, make sure you create a biking-and-walking refuge of some kind.
There are bigger ideas that should get attention, too, like the creation of a light-rail system through downtown that would give intermodality a boost. (“People Movers” and other commuter trains, which move on dedicated rights-of-way, beat buses all hollow, especially at rush hour – and you can walk your bike right on board, too.) But many of us would be happy to see some baby steps. The main thing is to get moving without delay. Otherwise we’ll plunge into the era of Peak Oil as just another washed-up Motor City.