Monday, July 19, 2010

Urban News Vol. 68

An anonymous commenter linked me to a news piece seen on YNN/RNews Friday evening. To me it highlights individual businesses acting according to their own selfish interests. Their actions regarding convenient at all costs parking will ultimately undermine what has made theirs a quality neighborhood up to this point and will likely ultimately be looked upon as wasteful folly as vehicle miles traveled continue to drop in an age of renewed localism.

The big story in Saturday's Democrat and Chronicle encapsulated the notion that an Inner Loop fill operation, which has been the desire of the urbanist community for some time, would be the MORE finanically prudent path in the long term.

Inner Loop Plan May Save Dollars, Beautify
by Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:

  • Newly completed study by Stantec says filling the loop makes financial sense ($1.8M over 30 years)
  • Initial investment estimated at ~$22 million
  • Would open 460,000-920,000 square feet for other uses
  • Could generate $3.43M to $6.86M annually in property tax
  • Roundabouts at Monroe Avenue and Charlotte Street bound the focus area
  • Inner Loop bridge/wall/pavement maintenance estimated at $23.7M over the next 30 years
  • Bridges scheduled for repair or replacement in 2014
I'm glad Joni Monroe stood up for the north side neighborhoods still impacted by this Futurama-inspired disgrace, as they (especially, oh I don't know, the REGIONAL TRAIN STATION!?) are the ones who could use the connection moreso than Park Avenue, but that isn't the topic on the table.

I was prepared to raise big questions on this course of events based on what I saw in last year's TIGER grant application. I had previously questioned the meandering route taken by the proposed boulevard. Questionable was how it did not properly treat existing buildings along the east side of Union Street and the inherent inefficiencies in reclaiming land for development around an extraneously curved route.

While I don't have access to this new Stantec study (does anyone out there?), the wording of a specific paragraph in the article is cause for optimism:
The preferred alignment of the new boulevard would follow the Union Street corridor, with roundabouts at Monroe Avenue and Charlotte Street. Traffic would be reduced to one or, at times, two through lanes with left turn lanes as needed. Pitkin Street would be retained from East Main Street to East Avenue. Charlotte Street would be reconnected.
I will explain why I consider this a decent, albeit incomplete plan, and answer Jim McIntosh's lengthy line of questioning contained in the article. First, I'd like to take it back to '35 for a little visual history lesson.

Shown above is the southern transistion from downtown to what is now commly referred to as the South Wedge. The old canal bed, easily discerned in this image, says Rapid Transit and Industrial Railway. This was our subway 75 years ago (sigh). Notable things to take away from this map:
  • Union, the last significant diagonal in the upper right, terminates at Pearl, not Broadway
  • Pearl travels between Alexander and Union (obvious to the observer walking southwest on Alexander even today, was co-opted for Sears parking)
  • Monroe pushed through to Washington Square, an appropriate terminating vista
  • Wadsworth Square was the practical center of a real neighborhood
  • South STREET, now St. Mary's, further defined the blocks south of the armory to Griffith

And now, here is roughly the same view of what we actually have to work with. A fellow writer that I know refers to this mess as 'the interchange that destroyed Rochester.' The violations to the urban fabric are pretty obvious. Unfortunately, even in a near-perfect world, I don't see a removal of the Interstate occuring. What I would lobby for is a removal of the redundant 490 East ramp rising above the real South Avenue that was meant to be access to a 'complete' 390 which would have eviscerated Swillburg. The south side of Broadway near Meigs, Averill, and Alexander faced the wrath regardless. A bonus would be removal of the two land-hogging cloverleaf re-route-abouts from the Inner Loop to South Clinton and 490 East respectively.

The near east side.

  • Pitkin historically did not travel south of East Avenue
  • Court Street (no such thing as Broad yet) created an important node at East and Union (would be termed undesirable by traffic engineers of the last 60)
  • Vine Street still exists, hence 2 Vine Restaurant

With all of this in mind my personal incomplete yet modest proposal would see the Inner Loop originate and terminate at Main where University has bisected old Anderson Park (which would be made whole again, see diagram from RRCDC 2007 Center City Charrette Report). In addition to Charlotte, Haags Alley, Richmond Street, Parker Alley, and University Avenue would all be restored. Due to the current ramp configuration at that interchange, the Main Street Bridge would no longer be necessary either.

Union Street needs to be the basis for the 'new' boulevard. It cannot be treated as a frontage road for a surface version of the loop. Simply raising the expressway to the surface, even if speed limits are lowered, does nothing in terms of reducing the pedestrian impediment. For examples look at Martin Luther King Blvd, President Street, portions of South Howard Street, and portions of Light Street in Baltimore.

A restoration of two-way traffic to Union Street, even if it involves widening to 3 total lanes for turning would be acceptable. Nothing more is necessary. I'll give points to what I read in the article regarding discontinuance of Pitkin Street as there is no historic basis for its existence below East Avenue. I would not add any additional punch through between Union and Alexander, but Gardiner Park would be expected to take on added importance in the neighborhood. I would be in favor of allowing 2-way traffic on Howell, but a close to 90 degree angle with Union should be retained to link the revamp to Monroe while not promoting increased speeds.

Infill along Union would closely resemble the lower half of the illustration at left. The mix, of course, would be apartments/condos above retail businesses approximately 3-4 stories in height. As best as could be possibly could possibly be achieved, a restoration of some elements of Savannah Street should be attempted during this infill development. Could a restored George Street line up with the only redeeming Manhattan Square Park programming and miss the tennis bubble while not compromising Strong Museum's precious parking?

To cap off the post, there is nothing earth shattering about my proposal. It is firmly rooted in the tradition of a rich urban fabric. What I will say is that no matter how it finally goes down, we had better get serious about fixing these types of urban vivisection while we still have the wealth and the artificial motive power to do it.

A side note: Howard Decker has done a tremendous job illustrating the efforts of those doing home restoration for the good of the community on the near north side. If anyone would like to volunteer to help expedite the arduous process, I'll be organizing a crew on July 31st. More details to come. Please contact me if interested.

1 comment:

Howard said...

Thanks, Bob.