Downtown Rochester in 2005. Have a parking space.
Like most American cities, our city has been very badly damaged by the car. Not only do we have a wickedly unhelpful transit system, but we have the Inner Loop, half of downtown is used for parking lots, we have expressways all over the place throughout the region, we tore out our streetcars in the 1940s, we abandoned our subway system in the 50s, and the population of the city proper has dropped by one-third since its peak in 1950. As I have said here over and over, car mobility has come at an almost incalculable price.
Downtown in 1956. Have a parking space.
The car has proven to be Rochester’s iceberg, and we are taking on cold sea water at an alarming rate. Strike up the band.
So has this blatantly obvious circumstance led to progressive thinking about our urban future? Has city and county leadership decided to act quickly to construct a regional network of multiple modes of mobility to minimize car use? Are we facing huge increases in downtown parking rates (now averaging only $5.77 a day) to discourage cars?
Nope. This city doesn’t even have a bike plan, much less any sense about what we need to do to construct and inhabit a useable, durable urban future. In fact, the City has just embarked on a truly groundbreaking study aimed at answering a burning question in our region: how can we make it even easier to use our cars to get downtown.
Mayday, Mayday! We’re going down!
Here’s some facts. In 2008, the City of Rochester did a study of downtown parking capacity. The results: 26,306 parking spaces downtown (about 200 acres of parking). During the week, this massive amount of parking is 57% occupied. On the weekend, this parking is 43% occupied. But the fact that the city is undertaking a study aimed at improving downtown parking must mean there’s a problem.
There is. Not all of the 55,000 or so downtown workers can park within 50 yards of their places of employment. So this new study is aimed at creating a downtown circulator of some kind – bus, van, jitney – even the “S” word has been used (yes, streetcar), that will shuttle from parking lot to parking lot, passing by major employment spots on its path. So now you will be able to even more easily use your car – leave it in one corner of the giant sea of parking, catch the ferry to the office, and avoid walking more than 2 minutes to and from work. Just great.
Downtown is circumscribed by the Inner Loop. And downtown is roughly a mile wide and a mile long – a little less, but let’s not quibble. Walk about 15 minutes in any direction and you will have walked out of downtown. As it is today, you could park at the always-empty-except-game-days surface parking at Frontier Field, where our minor league baseball team holds court, and walk smack into the middle of downtown in about 10 minutes.
Parking, the stadium, and downtown. Have a parking space.
But the car has a strong grip on us here. Sadly, most Rochesterians seem content to continue to allow the automobile to define our urban life. So let’s do the study, let’s get the shuttle, let’s keep the price of parking as low as we can, let’s continue to see 86% of all downtown workers drive alone to the office, let’s continue to have 73% of all employers offer no incentives for using a car alternate. Just great.
I guess I’ll head to the pool – sounds like I better get in shape for a long, cold swim.