Posted by: Bob Williams, VP of Advocacy

Inner Loop East Reconstruction Project
After tasting some success during the last round of the USDOT’s TIGER grant program ($15 Million was awarded for Rochester’s intermodal station), the city has jumped back into the aptly named moat with another application that we at Reconnect Rochester are extremely excited about. There is a very conscious effort afoot on the part of city staff to rid us once and for all of a sizable portion of the Inner Loop, that underutilized sunken ring road and choker of downtown connectivity.

While the Intermodal Station took precedence in the 2012 fight for funds, this most recent expressway removal proposal is the best we’ve seen yet. A financial winner just on its face, in terms of reducing future maintenance burden, the latest from city hall is very serious about reconnection and reintegration. Take a look at the latest design draft…

Inner Loop East Reconstruction Project
Reimagining Union Street as a “complete street” offers more bang for the buck in a myriad of areas – not only in terms of development potential, but also mobility.

Inspiring aspects of the new design are seen right away in the width of the proposed new Union Street. With the appropriate number of two travel lanes, parking lanes, and pedestrian protection, immediately more development potential is realized. This treatment has also been extended to long-forlorn Howell Street as well, which can only serve to better connect the new Union Street district to the eclectic Monroe Avenue. The general straightness and adherence to the grid is vastly improved compared to a previous draft, but what this really lends itself to, and what has us most enthusiastic, is the possibility of Montréal-style two-way cycle tracks as seen in the description and rendering on pages 6 and 7.

Two-way cycle track at sidewalk level. Cross-section.
The potential to create enticing developable and taxable land is a well known aspect of the proposal, but in terms of eliminating future infrastructure liability, this project pays for itself. According to the application document, the money needed to maintain four expressway lane miles, three multi-span (and structurally deficient) bridges, 16,000 square feet of retaining walls, and other accessories such as guard rails, traffic signals, etc. will no longer be the responsibility of the State of New York and can be utilized to address more pressing needs. Lifecycle costs to maintain a state of good repair of the existing 1960’s-era infrastructure are estimated between $19.1 and $26 million.

Roundabout Fever?
One tiny nit-pick: it is possible that we may have a case of “roundabout fever.” While the Howell/Union roundabout seems like a reasonable response to the complexity of the intersection and an opportunity for a district gateway, the Charlotte Street roundabout may have the opposite of intended effects.

This installation, as shown in the preliminary design drawing, does a number of deleterious things. First, the Union Street dynamic is undermined by steering the lanes and sidewalk away from the existing frontage. Second, the roundabout is seriously land-intensive, cutting into a solid connection both West and North. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is an inability to extend the cycle track from end to end of this new priority corridor.

But hey, we’re understanding people, and if the roundabouts are a “must” we’ll take what we can get.

Now, before we give this plan our kiss of approval, we wouldn’t be Reconnect Rochester if we didn’t advocate for absolute greatness. So let’s take the City’s draft design one step further by removing the Inner Loop all the way up to Main Street…

Reconnect Rochester suggests removing the inner loop all the way to Main Street, and removing the Main Street bridge.
Rather than terminate ramps into the Charlotte Street roundabout, a true restoration of Union Street would consolidate the Main Street entrance/exit into a single terminus. A noteworthy aspect of this revision from Albany’s budgetary point of view, would be the removal of the Main Street overpass. This bridge would now be unnecessary.

Anderson Park, c1913. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
And a fun side benefit for Rochester would be the reconstitution of Anderson Park. This is where the city once gathered to light its communal Christmas pine! …Of course we’d also add a Menorah and Kinara 😉


Purpose: to discuss the Inner Loop reconstruction project and solicit feedback on design alternatives.
When: Wednesday, August 28, 6:00 – 8:00pm
Where: Council Chambers, City Hall, 30 Church St.


  1. I’m not involved in the design process at all, but my guess as to the Charlotte St circle is to force traffic to slow down coming off of the inner loop before entering Union St. With the current design, a 4 way intersection would allow drivers to fly through a green light at highway speeds.

    Of course, if they change the design to meet your suggestions (which I agree improves the plan) a circle would no longer be necessary to slow the on Union.

  2. Now all they need to do is make East Main St safe for bicyclists, and you could greatly improve bike travel in the city.

  3. I agree with Bob on the roundabouts. In additon to the issues of land consumption, the jury still seems to be out as to how pedestrian friendly/unfriendly. At singlaized intersections, pedestrians can cross under the protection of the signal light blocking auto traffic. Auto traffic moves continuously through a roundabout. Worse yet, drivers entering roundabouts naturally focus to the left to observe for cars on the roundabout. Drivers are much less focused on looking toward pedestrians crossing the sidewalk on their right.

    I’m not convinced that the Howell/ Union intersection really needs a roundabout. A simple “T” intersection should suffice.

    Highway planners love roundabouts because they keep vehicular traffic moving, and they avoid the cost of signals. Time will tell how pedestrian-friendly they are.

  4. I attended last night’s meeting at City Hall and asked specifically about the need for the roundabouts. Representatives on hand said they had considered replacing the roundabouts with traditional signalized intersections. They stressed that this plan is not set in stone, and that it is still a possibility those could go away in future drafts. NYSDOT may have another opinion, I don’t know.

  5. It’s also very much worth nothing that since I worked on and wrote this story in early August, the preferred conceptual design (the one on easels and in videos shown at yesterday’s meeting) has already changed compared to the 2nd image in the above article.

    Found on the 5th page of the pdf linked below, this routing has shrunk the roundabouts, creating better continuity along Union and especially Charlotte Street at the northern end of the focus area. Size and shape of developable parcels make more sense as well in this configuration.


  6. I agree that it should be filled in to include Main St. In phase two, they should do 490 as well.

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