Friday, September 12, 2008

Broad Street Aqueduct Information Workshop

I went to the Gleason Auditorium at the Central Library Monday night expecting to see at some of what our charrette group had proposed, integrated into a presentation of a single master plan. Instead, the informational meeting was more of a gallery in function where canal proponents could cheerlead for one of three seemingly congruent ‘options.’

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. At times in this busy week, I thought about ways to approach my disenchantment on this blog. For a while I figured a dispassionate textbook style approach details what I consider to be lost opportunities with regard to urbanism seemed most prudent. In the end I’ve decided to mesh this with a tempered version of my Kunstler-esque rants so as to still be taken seriously as I blast the bourgeoisie of Pittsford and their efforts to build an urban playground for grown-ups with power boats.

Bearing in mind that all of the ‘options’ are general disappointments, a couple of nice things can be said about Option 1. The first is that unlike Options 2 and 3, no historic structures will be DEMOLISHED. That’s right, 2 and 3 would demolish the original Nick Tahoes, and everything else between West Main and West Broad (so much for staying in the focus area) to construct a freaking retail-only plaza (so much for mixed-use) that is still car-centric (so much for reducing car-dependence).

Back from that tangent (we were talking about Option 1, weren’t we?), the other aspect of Option 1 that shows some amount of forethought on the designers (because the public obviously didn’t have much of a hand in this beyond the owners of the solitary vessel that plies the Genesee) is the retention of Broad Street, albeit with a water moat median. This new Broad Street manages to eliminate the confusion of the West Main/West Broad junction near the inner loop by turning Broad Street into a direct feed for Ford Street. This development would reduce the number of East-West streets traversing the entire downtown to ONE.

There is absolutely no differentiation between Options 1, 2, and 3 in the infill, green space, and Civic Center Plaza reconfiguration schemes. Option 2 obliterates Broad Street completely (to create a full-width canal) and allows river-to-canal boat access via some sort of future lock (I’m not exactly sure how the boats get into the canal in the other options, can you imagine boaters bringing their SUVs downtown with trailer attached for a launch!?). Option 3 is some sort of ‘compromise’ choice where select portions of Broad Street downtown would be retained (but don’t actually connect to anything), still allowing for wholesale destruction in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.

It’s obvious from this choice between Pepsi, Caffeine-free Pepsi, and Wild Cherry Pepsi, that the urbanism aspect of this design is second fiddle to the ½ mile stretch of commercially useless pleasure pond that will be in use about 5 months of the year and an enormous liability to maintain throughout the other 7 when freezing is a concern. The urbanism that is included contains an excess of green space in the southwest corner as opposed to a restoration of a more usable urban street grid, likely because people have no idea what they are really asking for when they ask for ‘more green space’ (what they really mean is my own personal yard downtown).

This leads me to the biggest disappointment inherent in these designs. Leaving the input session, it seemed that light rail was on equal footing for consideration by Cooper Carry’s planners and architects. I was forewarned the day before this latest meeting that City Project Manager Tom Hack had been in favor of a canal all along, belying his public face of neutrality in the rail vs. canal debate. Sure enough, as you can see on the final drawings, light rail as well as the streetcar are given token treatment, some dots and dashes symbolic of both their importance to the biased shotcallers and the amount of ink used compared to the rest of the drawing.

Nowhere is there a proposed station or boarding area, destination information, or an integrated traffic diagram. All you get is Light Rail – Plymouth Avenue, which on its own is really only useful for about 100 people 72 times a year to get to a ballgame. As DeWain Feller of the Rochester Rail Transit Committee stated in my presence, most downtown destinations, especially offices and entertainment, are on the EAST side of the river. There are rules of thumb involving the radius that transportation nodes can draw on, greater than one-half mile is not among them! This was a shameful effort on the part of any transportation planner who contributed to these ‘options.’

I’ll finish by simply stating that these options completely deny the need to conserve energy for projects based on their contribution to the public good. The second and third make a mockery of the building conservation principles of embodied energy in their thirst for suburban outlet retail (which UNDERMINES urbanism!). This is an absurd attempt to create a Disneyland-style ‘attraction’ like those fabricated in places such as San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the heels of false historic preservation pretenses. This country as a whole still doesn’t get the fact that the cheap oil age is drawing to an end. You will not need gimmicks to bring regional residents downtown and tourism will largely cease to be a revenue ‘industry.’ The trends of downtown repopulation and altered vacation plans are already upon us, yet city leaders are choosing to spend money that could pay for an entire regional rail system and serve a meaningful purpose for the community in an era of recentralized living and commuting, but will instead piss it away to extend the canal by half a mile for those who A) don’t live in the city, and B) don’t need a government subsidized waterpark.

This is two straight posts that have come off as lengthy rants. It’s high time that I get back to my mission of pointing up optimism regarding urban living and redensification.


Anonymous said...

One east-west street, eh? Wouldn't that increase dependency of the inner loop?

Anonymous said...

I mean _on_ the inner loop.