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Reader feedback 6.25.03

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'No' to the bus terminal

Many thanks to Mary Anna Towler for not jumping on the RGRTA bandwagon like every other local public commentator ("Buses to the Rescue?," June 18). While it is premature to say what the best approach is to solving Rochester's transit and downtown development needs, it is clear that to proceed full steam ahead on Central Station --- at the expense of other already well-evaluated projects --- borders on the irresponsible.

                  Ms. Towler's comments focus on the operating-costs question --- still unanswered --- but she inadvertently continues the silence on the Sibley Station alternative. All of the supporters of RGRTA's proposal laud the wonderful things it will do, but totally ignore the fact that there is an alternative: an alternative that will accomplish every one of those objectives at one-tenth the projected cost of Central Station and that has merits that go beyond the Central Station proposal.

                  The Sibley Station proposal of the Urban Design Committee of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects lays out a central transfer station that provides greater operating efficiency for the buses, that keeps the buses and pedestrian traffic on the street, that provides shelter, rest rooms, and other amenities, and that is right in the middle of the Main-Clinton area of such concern.

                  But in addition, it makes use of a Rochester landmark (Sibley's) and keeps the buildings on the north side of Main Street intact for facade removal and redevelopment into retail, housing, and ancillary uses that reflect both the scale and architecture of downtown Rochester, features that Central Station does not have.

                  Further, this same AIA committee is preparing an approach to turning the existing Amtrak station into an intercity bus-rail intermodal facility that would serve as a northern anchor to a redeveloped and landscaped North Clinton corridor.

                  No one is denying that Central Station would accomplish some good. But when you have an alternative on the table that does all of this and more for one-tenth the cost, doesn't it at least deserve a look?

                  Nathan L. Jaschik, Planning Associate, Common Good Planning Center, Meigs Street, Rochester




Terminal terminal

Mary Anna Towler focused on a very important issue: the thinking on public projects ("Buses to the Rescue?," June 18). Years ago, city officials were "infatuated" with skyways, building them to encourage more interaction downtown. As with the skyways, the bus terminal will not accomplish its goals.

                  In the fall of 1988, Main Street was ripped apart for an entire year as new sidewalks were installed and new bus shelters built, with computer monitors that displayed automated schedules to hail a new day at RTS. Millions of dollars were spent on that project.

                  Fourteen years later, here we are back at Square One, focusing on the downtown "hub" as the solution to the problem of improving mass transportation in our city.

                  The current routes of the bus system give us no ability to travel cross-town. Then there's the obtrusive nature in which busses travel, impeding the regular flow of traffic. They meander, like pedestrians who use a granny-cart to carry their wares.

                  The bus stop at the Wegmans Pittsford store is an example of solid planning: It separates buses from traffic and provides a stairwell for passengers to gain access to the store.

                  Why would we as a community spend $58 million dollars for Central Station, when for $5 million to $7 million we could transform the Sibley Building and house a bus terminal there?

                  Effective and efficient mass transportation is as important as every other development decision made in our community. We don't need to fight for our future. We need to come together to intelligently discuss and think about the options available to us and reach smart and wise decisions.

                  Elizabeth Serling, Park Avenue, Rochester




Use Sibley's

I would like to commend Roslyn Bakst Goldman for her recent letter in the Democrat and Chronicle concerning the practical use of the magnificent Sibley Building for a downtown bus terminal. The demolition of Main Street's other buildings is not practical. And I think the ownership of other properties should be made known.

                  I don't think we taxpayers should be funding the corporations of Don and Bill.

                  Raymond J. Tierney Jr., Village Lane, Brighton




A Sibley Station would cost much less

I appreciate Mary Anna Towler's position on the question of the bus station (that's really all it is) RGRTA proposes to build downtown for an estimated cost of $58.5 million ("Buses to the Rescue?," June 18). In a decision I believe they will come to regret, the Genesee Transportation Council Policy Committee voted on June 19 to divert more than $30 million from previously approved projects to fund the bus station.

                  I spoke up against diversion of the funds, but I am afraid I was spitting in the wind. The majority of the members, including Mayor Bill Johnson, through his alternate, Commissioner Ed Doherty, and City Council president Lois Giess had already made up their minds to vote "yes." Doherty claimed the City was bound by the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding that the City, RGRTA, and Monroe County signed in 2000.

                  Only Paul Haney, the City's representative-at-large, had the courage to speak up against the terminal.

                  Diversion of the funds leaves the terminal $16 million short of its goal, and after lashing out at Representative Slaughter at the meeting, County Executive Jack Doyle urged that the City put pressure on Slaughter to come up with the balance of the money.

                  Many of us transportation and transit professionals have opposed the proposed terminal for years and have spoken out against it, only to be accused by Bill Nojay of being lackeys of Slaughter, a tactic I believe was calculated to divert attention from weaknesses in his proposal.

                  It is frustrating that the media, especially the television stations in their coverage of the Policy Committee meeting, appeared to politicize the issue. They portrayed Slaughter as the culprit who is standing in the way of a $58.5 million terminal and ignored the fact that professional transportation and transit planners find many problems with the proposal and that there is an alternative proposal on the table that will accomplish the same objectives for approximately 10 percent of that amount.

Most recently, our cause has been taken up by the Urban Design Committee of the local branch of the American Institute of Architects. Founded in 1999, the local Urban Design Committee is one of many such groups in the country. It is a group of volunteer design professionals and citizens that acts as a resource for the City of Rochester and surrounding towns and villages, offering design guidance and recommendations through participatory planning. It is strictly non-partisan, beholden to no group or individual.

                  The Urban Design Committee's work is grounded in the time-tested principles of urban design, reaffirmed by the AIA's "Livable Communities Initiative Resolution," which was adopted at the National Convention of the AIA in 2000, and the Charter of the New Urbanism adopted by the Congress for the New Urbanism.

                  Examples of the committee's work is the creation of design ideas for the award-winning Artwalk on Rochester's University Avenue, the Pittsford Village Comprehensive Plan, the Brooks Avenue-Genesee Street neighborhood, the St. Paul Street Corridor, the East Avenue-Winton Road urban village, and the Commercial Street gateway in East Rochester.

                  The UDC has come up with the Sibley Center alternative to RGRTA's proposed terminal. The estimated cost of Sibley Center ranges from $5 to $7 million, which is approximately 10 percent of the estimated $58.5 million for the RGRTA proposal. Sibley Center would accomplish RGRTA's objectives by providing shelter and other amenities to transferring city bus passengers, for much less cost.

But cost comparison alone doesn't do the question justice, when there are so many other problems associated with the RGRTA proposal, such as:

                  • The unknown costs of an underground terminal;

                  • The added transit time for the buses to tortuously navigate from the street to the underground parking spot for transfer of passengers and then return to the surface to resume their journey, adding a minimum of 10 minutes if not more to every bus route in the city;

                  • The creation of a glut of office space in an area where there is already much excess rental capacity, with the latest vacancy rate at 26 percent.

                  • The hazard of carcinogenic diesel fumes in the underground space, which would require a substantial ventilating system that may never be adequate to remedy the problem;

                  • The illogical idea of a day-care center, when current day-care centers in the city are having to close because of lack of financial support;

                  • The touting of creating new retail space when Midtown across the street has plenty of space and is seeing an exodus of retail establishments;

                  • The idea of a restaurant in the terminal, promoted as a nice place to dine, when in fact most bus patrons couldn't afford fine dining and would be satisfied with a fast-food item until they could get home (and in the Sibley Center proposal, buses would be just an escalator ride away from an existing food court);

                  • Building a terminal that would require the demolition of old and sound buildings that, in addition to classic beauty, may have mixed-use potential, and replacing them with a massive public building that would add to the loneliness of Main Street at night.

In addition, and quite critical to the overall transit planning for Rochester, there is the need to use the current Amtrak site in a more productive manner. Studies show a stronger relationship between rail and regional bus transportation modes than a regional bus and local bus combination. That demonstrates the need for an intermodal terminal similar to the terminal built in Syracuse.

                  Instead of spending $58.5 million on a terminal of doubtful value, the UDC proposes that the money could be better spent on the alternate city bus terminal in the Sibley Center and, with the money saved, construct an intermodal rail/regional bus center on the site of the present Amtrak Station.

                  This would afford the opportunity to create a true "gateway building" of significant architectural design, to welcome travelers to the city, making it a dominant public asset that would be truly a fitting gateway to the community.

                  Doug Midkiff, Fifth Avenue, Fairport (Midkiff is a longtime transportation consultant.)




Notes from the Central Station vote

I read with interest your article about the proposed Bus Terminal that the Transit Authority wants to build on Main Street ("Buses to the Rescue?," June 18). I was a participant in the June 19 meeting that approved the project. It was quite an affair.

                  I was appointed earlier this month ago as a City citizen-representative to the Genesee Transportation Council, which basically has the power to determine how hundreds of millions of dollars of federal transportation money are spent in the nine-county Rochester area. I have long opposed the bus-terminal project as a foolish waste of taxpayer money and not a real solution to improving public transit in Rochester. What transpired at the meeting was amazing.

                  I attempted to ask a series of questions about the proposal.

                  The proposal calls for $5.28 million of "Local Share." I wanted to know where the local share was coming from. Bill Nojay, chair of the Transit Authority, refused to address any questions or concerns, and County Executive Jack Doyle became the point man.

                  After hemming and hawing, it was conceded that the $5.28 million would come from Transit Authority funds. How the Authority has amassed $5.28 million of "extra" money is a bit of a mystery. In reality, this money could be used to reduce bus fares.

                  Last year, Mr. Nojay thought he would be running for Congress against Louise Slaughter and he proposed lowering bus fares 25 cents. Well, the State Legislature gerrymandered the Congressional Districts, Mr. Nojay was no longer a candidate, cutting the bus fares was quickly forgotten, and now the Authority has $5.28 million for the bus station.

                  Honestly, which would be better for bus riders and more apt to increase ridership: a 25-cent cut in the fare or an underground downtown station?

                  The total planned cost for the project is reportedly $58.4 million, although we don't know, because no actual plan or cost estimates have ever been released. The budget approved last week is for $37.5 million, although it was noted that including funds already spent, the total is $42,463,800.

                  Even at that level, there is a $17 million gap in the funding. Is it wise to approve and proceed with a project when there is a $17 million gap in the funding?

                  I received no real answer except that the federal government should come up with the money. That's $17 million of federal money over and above the $32.6 million of federal money that the Transportation Council was voting on. The last time I checked, the federal government was running a $400 billion deficit and didn't have enough money to fully fund the "No Child Left Behind" school program, Head Start, a real Medicare prescription drug program, etc., etc.

The approval of the bus-station project was made possible by postponing several other projects, including several transit projects (like buying new busses and building small satellite bus stations in the suburban towns) and highway projects like the reconstruction of Mt. Hope Avenue and East Henrietta Road and East Ridge Road. Why postpone them?

                  Transit officials tried to claim that they weren't being postponed but, under prodding, acknowledged that they could be built sooner if the money weren't diverted to the Bus Station. I believe that more people would derive benefit from these projects than they will from a downtown bus station.

                  I then proceeded to lay out my reasons for opposing the bus station in addition to those cited above. For instance, the station perpetuates the old "hub and spoke" transit system, which was designed in Rochester in the late 19th century when virtually everyone worked downtown or close to downtown. That simply isn't reality today. There are 10,000 fewer people working downtown today than 10 years ago. About 25 percent of downtown office space is reportedly vacant.

                  A transit system needs to move people from where they live to where they work --- and that today is more apt to be Henrietta or Greece or Perinton than downtown Rochester.

                  There are good ways to improve public transit. In 1998, the Transit Authority put a great deal of effort (and I'm sure money) into developing a long-range plan. In a report of about 600 pages, the proposed bus station is discussed on half of the first page and never again.

                  The Report did make a lot of good suggestions, including the small suburban bus stations. For example, we might want to entice Monroe and Wayne County residents along the Route 31 corridor to ride the bus to their jobs (which are much more apt to be in Henrietta, Webster, etc., than in downtown Rochester). But they won't ride the bus all the way into downtown and then all the way back to Webster or Henrietta.

                  But if there were a small transfer station at the Park and Ride lot at the intersection of Routes 490 and 31F, where they could transfer to busses going to Henrietta or Webster, they might ride the bus to work.

                  During that 1998 planning process, the Sutherland Group interviewed 1,124 people for suggestions for improving local public transit, and not one mentioned a downtown bus station. The Sutherland Group convened 10 focus groups to discuss improving public transit, and not one person in the focus groups suggested a new downtown terminal as a transit improvement. There are better ways to improve transit, and the public knows it.

As I reached this point in my discussion at the Transit Council meeting, a fascinating thing happened. One of the County representatives made a motion to "call the question" and end debate. I really must have been getting under their skin, and the truth must have been starting to hurt.

                  Such a motion is not subject to debate, and it passed in a wink of an eye with only the City representatives opposing it. That was too bad, because Council members didn't get to hear my last argument for opposing the bus station: It will make a mess out of downtown traffic, especially at the corner of Main and Clinton, arguably the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city.

                  The proposal requires all busses to leave Main Street, go north on Clinton Avenue, then west at about Mortimer Street into the station, and then exit to St. Paul Street where they will go south back to Main Street.

                  The Sear Brown Group studied this configuration for the Transit Authority in 1998. The report's data on bus trips shows that (using 1998 data) the weekday volume of eastbound busses on Main Street will grow from 351 to 1,016; northbound busses on Clinton Avenue will grow from 154 to 1,351, and southbound busses on St. Paul Street will increase from 160 to 1,357.

                  Why these huge increases? Every bus in the city will have to circle the block! Every eastbound bus on Main Street will go from St. Paul Street to Clinton Avenue twice as they circle the block. The worst problem will occur because 665 busses per day will have to make a left turn from eastbound Main Street onto Clinton Avenue while 414 westbound Main Street busses are turning right onto Clinton.

                  All 1,079 busses will be turning on the green light in competition with pedestrians who are trying to cross Clinton Avenue. In the battle between busses and pedestrians, guess who will win!

                  The bus station is a foolish waste of taxpayer money. There are better ways to improve public transit. The location is bad. Main Street traffic will be a mess. But worst of all, in a total wipeout of democracy and citizen input, the Transit Council terminated debate and refused to hear the truth.

                  The fix was in and the public be damned. Jack Doyle and the treasurer of his campaign funds (Mr. Nojay) had won the day.

                  Paul Haney, Broadway, Rochester (Haney, a member of the Genesee Transportation Council, is a former Rochester City Councilmember and was finance director in the administration of Democratic County Executive Tom Frey.)

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