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[PHOTO: Robert Torzynski]

Reconnect Rochester is a group of transportation advocates calling for the creation of a fully integrated multi-modal transportation network for our region. We believe the next Mayor has the opportunity to champion a dramatic shift in our transportation infrastructure. The transit system this city and region needs will require dedication of time, staff and resources.

We urge all candidates to pledge their commitment to this vision as part of their platform for candidacy.

Read what each candidate had to say about this document and the future of Rochester’s transit system below.

What follows is our reasoning and recommendations for the future Mayor to incorporate into his or her platform.

An improved transit system must be an integral component in the planning of Rochester’s future. Enhanced transit will:

  • Drive dense, walkable, pedestrian-oriented development
  • Improve Rochester’s economic viability and competitiveness among other progressive U.S. cities
  • Reduce our carbon footprint and expand our environmental sustainability
  • Increase equity of access to mobility for all citizens

At one time Rochester had an outstanding, diverse transportation system with streetcars, a trolley subway, inter-urban passenger railroads, bicycles, and provisions for pedestrians. This was a key factor in establishing the city’s economic and cultural vitality. But with road-oriented development and the subsequent sprawl of the region’s population, our transportation options have been reduced to: bus and car.

As we plan for our future transportation requirements, we must not allow the automobile to continue to be our top priority. Our transit system, beginning with buses and in the near future, rail, can provide a high level of mobility. Walking and bicycling can also increase accessibility within transit-connected neighborhoods.

Our new Mayor must lead us in planning a more viable, sustainable transportation system that supports urban development. We all know there are many benefits of a true regional inter-modal transportation system. Conversely, there are many serious risks to not planning a more modern system–and these dangers become more damaging to our economy and environment–and more unjust to our citizens–every day we ignore them.

Which is why it is imperative our next Mayor pursue the following strategies to foster the development of a broader multi-modal transportation network right away–beginning with his or her platform for candidacy.

Pedestrians

[PHOTO: Rich Evenhouse]

Safe conditions for pedestrians (young, old, able, or disabled) are crucial for a city to work and function effectively. Cities at their best are oriented to the scale and function of pedestrians–and their accessibility remains a fundamental priority.

The next Mayor of Rochester should:

  1. Consider pedestrian access and safety first in transportation and development plans.
  2. Encourage developments that are oriented toward the street/sidewalk rather than toward parking lots.
  3. Improve public safety in our neighborhoods to enable safe pedestrian travel.
  4. Create zones that enhance the pedestrian environment–including quality sidewalk design, benches, and public art–especially in historic, shopping, and cultural districts.
  5. Utilize traffic-calming methods where the design of streets and driveways promotes safe speeds and interaction with pedestrians.
  6. Improve snow removal strategies and enforcement of sidewalk shoveling to facilitate year-round pedestrian travel.
  7. Enforce fines for illegal parking across sidewalks and other obstructions to pedestrians.
  8. Ensure new pedestrian trails do not endanger the preservation of key rights of way for rail transit.

Bicyclists

[PHOTO: Paul Krueger]

Increasing the use of bicycles is one of the most affordable and practical ways to promote accessibility for local and even longer-distance trips.

The next Mayor of Rochester should:

  1. Implement the recommendations made in the City’s Bicycle Master Planexternal link, build on the goals set forth by that document, and ensure bicycle trails don’t endanger the preservation of rights of way for rail transit.
  2. Utilize traffic-calming methods where the design of streets promotes safe speeds and interaction with cyclists.
  3. Develop bikeways and bicycle lanes that are connected to regional bikeways and public transit modes.
  4. Provide adequate secure parking facilities for cyclists at public buildings and facilities where there is currently free automobile parking.
  5. Continue positive and effective outreach with the Rochester Cycling Allianceexternal link and other members of the bicycling community
  6. Establish free community bicycle fleets or contribute funding to the implementation of a bike-sharing system.

Public Transportation

[PHOTO: Andy Delcambre]

An over-reliance on auto travel is a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution—and a major cause of the decline of our cities. Suburban jobs are often inaccessible to inner city residents, which contributes to mounting social disparities. And parking issues limit the development potential of downtown and major activity centers.

Cities throughout the country have found rail transit–light rail, streetcars, and regional rail–provides major advantages over an all-bus transit system.

Rail transit:

  • Attracts more riders
  • Costs less to operate
  • Delivers riders to their destination quickly
  • Results in more development

Electric light rail/streetcars are smooth, quiet, have zero emissions on the street, and are very compatible with city streets. We believe rail transit is the most strategic transportation investment our region can make to revitalize our city.

The next Mayor of Rochester should:

Leverage existing programs and funding

  1. Coordinate with RGRTA to ensure the preservation of the current level of service and frequency of bus routes within the City of Rochester.
  2. Ensure the final design of the RTS Transfer Centerexternal link meets the riding public’s needs and concerns expressed through public involvement prior to final approval and construction.

Preserve irreplaceable assets

  1. Maintain right of ways for potential future rail transit use including several former railroad rights of way, the Broad Street tunnel, and the Erie-Lackawanna Bridge near University of Rochester.
  2. Help secure adequate space for additional RTS Satellite Transfer Centers within future redevelopment projects.

Collaborate with regional transportation agencies

  1. Use seat on the Genesee Transportation Councilexternal link to advocate for policies that strengthen the city of Rochester, minimize sprawl, and reduce pollution including greenhouse gases.
  2. Advocate that the GTC’s Long Range Transportation Planexternal link (LRTP) and the Transportation Improvement Planexternal link (TIP) reflect urban- and environment-friendly policies.
  3. Use the city’s positions on RGRTA’s board to advocate for RGRTA policy that incorporates the city’s transit policies.

Plan for the improvements

  1. Study light rail/streetcar routes, leverage off of prior studies that concluded rail transit would be viable in Rochester.  Identify the corridors that have the greatest ridership potential and impact on connecting key activity centers. Use available Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding, including section 5307external link, to finance the study.
  2. Work with GTC to adopt a centers-focused approach for its upcoming Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that prioritize the future funding for projects that emphasize in-fill growth and redevelopment through transit and alternative transportation investment.
  3. Incorporate land use impacts in all City of Rochester transportation planning and funding decisions.
  4. Develop standards for minimum levels of transit service, such as frequency of service on core routes and on secondary routes and maximum walking distances to routes.
  5. Incorporate transit facilities and amenities—including improved transit stops and dedicated transit lanes—in street reconstruction and enhancement projects.

Implement improvements

  1. Ensure that GTC establishes set-asides of future Surface Transportation Programexternal link (STP) and other discretionary program funding to support the LRTP centers-based concept.
  2. Increase bus service frequencies.
  3. Work with GTC to fund the proposed downtown circulatorexternal link service and/or provide reduced/free RTS fare passes.
  4. Advocate for the early adoption of at least one starter light rail/streetcar project using available funding sources such as Section 5309 New Starts/Small Startexternal link, flexible Surface Transportation Programexternal link (STP), Congestion Mitigation and Air Qualityexternal link (CMAQ).
  5. Restructure our transit system with light rail/streetcars forming the core of an integrated bus-rail transit system. Redeploy current radial bus routes replaced by light rail/streetcars to form new cross-town routes.
  6. Establish satellite transit centers to enable transfers in city neighborhoods and suburbs. The combination of satellite transit centers and rail transit trunk lines will allow us to transition from a radial system to a hybrid (radial and grid) system with multiple transfer points.

Intercity Transportation

[PHOTO: litaliamal @ Flickr]

Leverage Rochester’s proximity to regional and international metropolitan areas by developing high-speed rail, increased inter-city bus service and a high quality inter-modal facility that promotes a positive image of Rochester and provides accessible transit options throughout the city and region.

The next Mayor of Rochester should:

  1. Take a leadership role in planning and developing an inter-city inter-modal transportation center at the Central Avenue Amtrak station. A new facility should offer improved amenities for passengers, act as an attractive gateway to our city, facilitate transfers between modes, and encourage greater usage of intercity bus and rail.
  2. Ensure the coordination of multiple transit connections to the intermodal center (both buses and future rail) and the improvement of bicycle and pedestrian connections between the intermodal center and downtown.
  3. Champion improvements to the Empire Corridor at the local, state, and federal levels to promote the prioritization of high-speed rail funding from Albany to Niagara Falls and Toronto.
  4. Study a regional passenger rail service that connects surrounding communities along the Empire Corridor from Lyons to Batavia through Rochester.  This service would leverage infrastructure planned for high speed rail improvements.

Automobiles

[PHOTO: Richard Masoner]

By adopting strategies that lessen the need for car ownership and discourage unnecessary auto use, we can increase public transit ridership, reduce our CO2 emissions, and enjoy a cleaner, safer and more livable urban environment.

The next Mayor of Rochester should:

Leverage Road Financing

  1. Champion the use of federal and state funding to provide for a maximum share of transit capital and operations rather than roadway projects.
  2. Work with GTC to shift more funding from road capacity projects to road maintenance and rehabilitation.

Re-evaluate Parking

  1. Discourage unnecessary auto use by reducing subsidies to parking in non-residential areas well served by mass transit, and establish preferential parking rates for High-Occupancy Vehicles (HOV).
  2. Eliminate minimum parking requirements for all new development.
  3. Establish maximum parking allowance for all new development within the Center City and areas adjacent to the primary transit corridors.
  4. Increase impervious cover limits to minimize storm water runoff from road and parking surfaces into watersheds.

Promote Car-Sharing

  1. Provide free and designated parking for Zip Car and future car-sharing services.
  2. Contract with car-sharing services to reduce the City’s need for fleet vehicles and increase the number of shared vehicles on public streets.

Transition to Alternative Fuel Vehicles

  1. Adopt policies to facilitate the transition to hybrid and electric vehicles.
  2. Install electric charging stations for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in City-owned parking facilities and other locations. Provide power to those vehicles using renewable energy sources.

Each candidate was sent a printed copy of this policy statement from Reconnect Rochester. We then followed up with a phone call to ask for each candidates support for these policies. The results are posted below*…

*Reconnect Rochester will not endorse or reject any candidate. Our goal is only to get these policies in front of each candidate and relay their positions back to you the public. Candidate responses are listed below in alphabetical order…

Harry Davis (party: TBD) Harry Davis
Political Party: n/aStatus:
Details: “I have adopted the policy ideas outlined in this document by Reconnect Rochester AND will make them part of my transportation platform for Mayor.”

Harry Davis (via Facebook, 2/12/2011 at 5:29pm)

William A. Johnson (party: Independence, Working Families) William A. Johnson
Political Party: Independence, Working FamiliesStatus:
On Planning: “If you don’t at least put on the table that there are other future possibilities you do preclude future developments. The U.S. population since 1950 has more than doubled and projections over the next 50 years are another 50 million people. Why can’t we make our goal to try to catch some of the growth? We’re not going to get there by saying ‘we’re going to put a department store or a grocery store downtown’. We need to change the dynamics of this community and that’s why I think that things like this cannot be ignored. If we’re talking about attracting young families and attracting them to live in the City, we have to really change the dynamic of this community and I think things like this cannot be ignored because people say something is impractical. I think we really need to go back around and say ‘where are our opportunities?’. We could have solved our downtown development problem a long time ago with our Center City Master Plan but we couldn’t persuade some people with some of the money that any of this stuff was practical—but I think we have a second shot at doing that.”

On Resources and Making It Happen: “I’m a big believer in citizen engagement. If you give people an opportunity to participate and give input into how to improve a community, you’ll have a much easier time selling those ideas. This city has begun to shrink that kind of engagement. But I think it’s invaluable. In that type of environment though, I would never say something is impractical or impossible. The people who take ownership of an idea should also take some responsibility to identify some practical ways and some resources to help make it happen.”

“When I look at your [transportation] plan here and you talk about pedestrian and bicycle transportation I think these are not pie-in the sky kind of things. And as we did with the Genesee River corridor when worked and we put 3 or 4 million dollars into that we created a pretty nice trail system as a result. Now nobody has let me inspect the books, so l don’t know exactly what constitutes our current 52 million dollar deficit…but I do know the City will still be spending $450 million and it would seem to me based on my experience there still may be some opportunities for us to create investment funds to put into ideas that are really going to help revitalize and transform this city. That’s what I’m committed to do with my two years and nine months in office.”

“I do see in here some opportunities that would fulfill my vision of how we transform this city, how we make it a place where young people and families want to live. And we need to distinguish ourselves—we don’t need to be doing things everyone else is doing because we need to really market ourselves as a unique city that offers unique experiences and I think some of this in here gets us down that path. So that’s the broad commitment I will make.”

On the RTS Transit Center: I think this is not a done deal. I battled this project right from the beginning when Bill Nojay and his generation were determined to put it where ever they wanted to put it without any consideration for the City. We slowly chipped away and got them to put it underground. That didn’t work. They keep moving it. It’s inching closer to Clinton Avenue. And I don’t know what it will take but I never really favored this project. I think there are more practical ways to do what they want to do than to spend $52 million dollars building a new center…If there’s a way to take the $52 million and do something better with it I’d like to reopen that conversation. Now look, because they [RGRTA] are a public authority, they’re autonomous, they have the right of eminent domain, they can bond and raise their own money, really don’t have to. But my hope is that with new leadership there we might be able to regenerate that conversation. And I would certainly put effort into that.

On High Speed Rail: “I love trains and truly hope the high speed rail idea catches on. I thought that not enough money was appropriated for upstate in the first round. But I do think that for a variety of reasons, job creation, environmental impact, connectivity, that is a project that makes tremendously good sense for upstate. These are things we need to be putting our energy into.”

Bill Johnson (at Reconnect Rochester meeting, 2/22/2011)

Ann Lewis (party: Independent) Ann Lewis
Political Party: IndependentStatus:
Details: Document received. Although she did agree to meet with us, we were unable to sync our schedule with Ms. Lewis before March 29.
Thomas S. Richards (party: Democrat) Thomas S. Richards
Political Party: DemocratStatus:
Details: Document received. Unfortunately the Richards campaign team never agreed to meet with us.
Alex White (party: Green) Alex White
Political Party: GreenStatus:
General Comments: “I have read it and my first thought was DUH, of course we should do this. The question is HOW do we do this. What’s the next step? …Presently our city is focused entirely on roads…we should be focusing on walking, and then because there will be places too far away to walk we should be focusing on transit… this will help ease parking problems, take cars off the street and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I’m with the Green Party…These are things we care about.”

On the RTS Transit Center: Believes the current concept of the downtown Transit Center is wrong… but supports the jobs that the project will bring. Would like to see alternatives to “build what’s right rather than what we currently have funding for”. But does not want to lose the money for the project.

On Light Rail: “Love the idea of light rail… but the specifics of any rail project need to be ‘sold’ to a car-driving public and the business community. …A streetcar circulator that moves people around downtown seems like a fine way to start.”

On High Speed Rail and the Amtrak Station: “We’re presently not using our rail lines to their full potential and I like to take the train. The upgrade to high speed rail will be a fine addition. The problem with our Amtrak station is that it is disconnected to other modes. Getting to our airport and train station currently means you really do have to rent a car. If we’re going to build a bus terminal we really should put it with high speed rail so people can go from house to terminal to another city all without having to drive and park. If we put it all together we can really feature development around that (Amtrak station) area—and I’m talking about small business development. This is also a neighborhood that could stand to see some development and it would be nice to see.”

Alex White (at Reconnect Rochester meeting, 2/15/2011)

To the Public: Please leave a comment below to show YOUR support for A New Future for Transit in Rochester

— 12 Comments —

  1. I fully support the policies and ideas in this document! I’ll personally do everything I can to support Rochester in its move to enhance our transit system.

    Who’s with me?

  2. I’m with you! There are way too many benefits to enhancing the transit system that it cannot be ignored. We can no longer live in the status quo.

  3. I fully support the policies in this document, and I encourage all Mayoral candidates to endorse it as well. A strong public transit system is a prerequisite for a revitalized city. Dozens of cities, including some smaller than Rochester, are implementing and planning rail transit, and Rochester needs to begin taking rail transit seriously.

  4. Of course I support these concepts as someone who dedicates himself to urbanism, conservation, and social justice.

    I sincerely hope that any or all of the candidates in this special election are prepared to enter office with the political will to enact these progressive reforms as their benefit to the health of the city is immeasurable.

  5. I’m with you, Mike and Reconnect Rochester–and I hope the next mayor will also support the ideas presented in the document. If we adopt even a small number of the policies, we will take big steps towards revitalizing our City–and the larger world community too.

  6. A robust, diverse transit system is essential to the future health of our city, and our region. Leadership in achieving this goal is necessary to forging new kinds of mobility in our community. Candidates: we urge you to adopt these policies, and to ask Reconnect Rochester to help you in crafting real transit tools in this place.

  7. It is important for those who would lead us to recognize that cities work best when the pedestrian is King and public transportation is to extend the range of the pedestrian to other parts of the city and region. Autos are subordinate to public transportation, bicycles, and pedestrians as they work best in the lowest density suburbs and rural areas. Transit Oriented Development is something that follows the implementation of fixed-guideway (i.e., rail) transit. Let’s hope that these candidates understand what other cities have learned and from which they have benefitted. Good job on the Statement!!!

  8. Excellent work! The steps outlined in this document are essential to creating an equitable and livable city – and one that is a desirable destination as well. City leaders need to have these issues on their minds at every decision-making moment and I hope that ALL of the candidates both understand the value of a truly functional inter-modal transportation system and commit to the policies outlined above. Rochester needs this.

  9. Rochester definitely needs to take steps to be ready for when the oil runs out. I just read an interesting, scary, but all-too-believable, article saying that oil reserves aren’t what we’ve been led to believe, and that they’re going to start running out in as little as FOUR YEARS. Do everything possible to promote biking, walking, and other non-oil-dependent modes of transport — but, more than that, take steps to make it UNNECESSARY to travel miles and miles for work, services (medical, dental, etc.), and necessities (food (groceries and restaurants), clothing (and other shopping) and shelter). The whole “urban sprawl” thing is about to reverse, suddenly and dramatically, and it would be smart to be prepared.

  10. Chris,

    Here’s a great book for you to check out by Christopher B. Leinberger… The Option of Urbanism (http://tinyurl.com/5t9kcrz). He argues that the pendulum is beginning to swing away from “sub-urbanism” in a big way. The outer suburbs might just become the next great slum.

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