Wednesday, September 17, 2008

2007 Downtown Charrette Report Vol. 9

Let's not waste any time getting back to basics. On the east side of the river, at Main and St. Paul, the lengthy parking structure for the Clarion Riverside Hotel deadens an entire block of St. Paul and creates a more untenable bus wait than at other downtown shelter. The limited retail component on the corner is unsuccessful due to its separation from Main by a wall and and a level change. Sadly, this scene is across the street from our convention center and its hotel base. Visitors' opinions of our city are largely formed by the urbanism, or lack thereof, at Main and St. Paul.

Acknowledging the current requirement for hotel-site parking, it is proposed to selectively demolish the corner retail parcel, replacing it with a new multi-story building featuring more successfully integrated retail in style that would complement the excellent Granite Building across St. Paul.

Main Street Bridge recommendations focus not so much on the bridge itself, but on the possibility of riverside pedestrian routes eminating from each corner. It appears that elevated or cantilevered walkways lining all sides with the exception of the northwest walkway along the First Federal Building and Crossroads Park.

Chase Tower Plaza is an interesting subject for redesign. What could function as a public plaza doesn't due to fencing, grade separations and and underground set of concourse shops which have largely gone the way of Midtown (and may repeat the process with former Midtown tenants). Reconfiguration would be extremely costly, but could be accomplished by removing the concourse level space, retaining the trees and green space at the corner, and a small addition to the Alliance Building to add a retail component to an enormous blank wall with a rooftop restaurant that utilizes the Alliance Building's large second floor former banking hall space.

The northeast quadrant between Main and University is touched on as a street grid restoration project as well as a potential area for additional quality housing. Chestnut Street is described as an urban fabric that encourages automobile traffic to simply pass through. Remedying this would act as a catalyst for new mixed-use structures by invigorating the remaining significant archtecture no longer facing city streets. Scio Street housing would include townhouses and apartment buildings, closing in the awkward backside of the Grove Place neighborhood currently visible, but originally designed as a functional alley.

An eastern gateway, complete with complementary triangular parks is largely contingent on removal of the southeast portion of the Inner Loop. The entrance to the rest of the Inner Loop would become much less dominant and the gateway would serve other adjacent neighborhoods such as Marketview Heights and the Neighborhood of the Arts.

Finally, a streetcar network is an essential piece in the discussion of a comprehensive plan for Main Street. I couldn't agree more with the content of page 110 in the Charrette Report and attempts to condense it would not touch on all important points. Here is that excerpt:

"Places like Portland, Tampa, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Little Rock, and Memphis are enjoying the economic development benefits of their trolley systems—even the small city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, operates a trolley line, clearly suggesting that one in Rochester is within the realm of feasibility.

If Rochester intends to become a competitive 21st century city, it will need to seriously consider light rail transit in its revitalization efforts with a streetcar system as just one of the components. Planning for the future should also include light rail vehicles running on their own dedicated rights of way to areas such as Charlotte, RIT, and the outlying suburbs. Another transit mode, commuter rail, using heavier railroad-grade cars might also be considered.

For the immediate future, though, the simple beginning of a streetcar layout on Main Street could be a huge catalytic benefit for sustainable economic development in the downtown. At the east and west end loops (Southeast Loop and Cascade District) the proposed trolley would attract more interest for dense residential development along with new parking structures. At the nodes along the trolley route there would be increased commercial incentives and activity. A trolley system will make downtown Rochester more pedestrian friendly and will greatly increase connectivity between venues, offices, downtown residences, and retail across the entire width of Center City. The lines could be extended in the future to High Falls, East End, Bulls Head (via the Susan B. Anthony area), Public Market, Amtrak Station, Corn Hill, University of Rochester, etc.

The addition of a trolley system would begin a new era for Rochester. The system itself would initially be a tourist and regional attraction helping to increase downtown vitality. As ridership increased due to rising gas prices and accelerated downtown residential development, the system would help replace automobile usage. The clean, green character of the system would help improve air quality. Eventually, as the system grew to outlying destinations, all of the benefits stated above would dramatically increase the economic fortunes of downtown as well as of the city and region.

According to the Reconnecting America publication Street Smart there are over 300 cities across
the globe that have working light rail transit service. There are over 80 cities in the US alone
that are either operating, planning for, or exploring the possibility of a trolley or LRT system. Again, for Rochester to be a first class, world class city, it needs to begin exploring a system for itself.

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