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Comp plan's parking idea: a serious error

Regarding Rochester 2034, the city's proposed new comprehensive plan: The plan recommends removing parking requirements for commercial, mixed-use, and large-scale housing development in mixed-use areas.

Neighborhood mixed-use areas are not like downtown Rochester, where public parking garages and commercial lots provide dependable parking availability, and street parking is more a matter of luck or timing. In neighborhood mixed-use areas, the obvious parking space – on the main thoroughfare and in very small lots attached to some of the businesses – fills up rapidly during business hours.

Residential side streets – where apartment dwellers park on the street – start filling up with business customers next. At peak times, you have to be savvy about a given area to know where you might find a spot on these streets.

Most of these types of mixed-use areas were built before the current age of the dominant automobile, and there hasn't been sufficient parking space at the business locations for half a century. Some parking lots have been added over time, but these are usually small and, collectively, quite inadequate. This is why businesses have no choice but to rely heavily on side-street parking that is already in use by residents.

PHOTO BY RENÉE HEININGER
  • PHOTO BY RENÉE HEININGER

Eliminating all parking requirements would very soon create an insupportable scenario that would depress these areas. Opportunism is a given. There will be – while the parking situation is still not impossible – a wave of commercial operators and housing developers who exploit, as a windfall cost-saving measure, this newly granted freedom. Over just a few years, parking availability through a given area will become glutted as a result.

The effect on neighborhoods: Opportunistic landlords on residential streets will be motivated to acquire additional properties to subdivide. As homeowners see their neighborhoods devolve from bastions of single-family dwellings (the celebrated stalwarts of city living) to the car-clogged ranks of tenant housing, they will be motivated to move out – fueling the cycle.

The effect on businesses: There are still very small, highly localized businesses, but the economic reality today is that most businesses need the widest geographical draw they can get, and most of their customers are coming by car. Existing businesses relying on the previous parking will find themselves squeezed – some of them desperately – by shrinking availability as their customer base reacts to the increasing difficulty of patronizing them.

The notion that would-be customers will always find a way is the kind of wishful assertion that should never see the light of day in a professional city plan. Deploying as "proof" a few examples of hot spots demonstrates an ignorance of the economic realities that most businesses face. (Not to mention that one of those examples has a parking garage pretty much kitty-corner to it. And if every business in every commercial section were as big a draw as this cited hot spot, Rochester would be the greatest urban environment in the world!)

Most businesses are somewhere in the middle rank, and this blithe idea – that they would be just fine no matter how hard you make what their customers are most dependent upon – is really pretty shameless.

Finally, a fact from a major parking study of the Monroe Avenue area, which the city recently commissioned: Over 40 percent of customer respondents stated that on occasion they had come to the area to patronize a business, failed to find a parking spot, and just left.

Count on alternative transport to relieve the parking nightmare? You only change the car culture in this spread-out city and greater Rochester area by a massive transition to light rail coupled with a bus service that is at least triple the convenience of the present one. You say, "bicycles"? We say, "Rochester winters." Other cited alternatives are so low-percentage they should be cited only in a footnote.

We consider the recommendation to remove required parking on commercial, mixed-use, and large-scale housing development in mixed-use areas to be a serious mistake – representing an imported concept that is not just ill-suited to the particular nature of the City of Rochester, but thoroughly contradicted by the realities on the ground. We are formally putting the Monroe Avenue Merchants Association on record as being unalterably opposed to it.

Our research shows that the hardly anyone knows about this extreme transformation hanging over their heads. We call on the City of Rochester to allow for this situation to be properly publicized so that an informed debate can finally happen. 

MOIRA LEMPERLE, ROCHESTER

Lemperle's commentary is made on behalf of the Monroe Avenue Merchants Association

The plusses of neighborhood schools

Regarding Urban Journal's "Neighborhood Schools: Popular but Impossible?": The elimination of neighborhood schools was the downfall of the city. The loss of pride for your neighborhood is gone. People just move and lose all the connection to neighbors.

I grew up in the city myself and went to School 43. We all knew each other because we walked to school together. Now you don't spend time with the kids in your neighborhood. The bus pulls up in front of the house, children run out, and they're gone.

One way to get the kids back to neighborhood schools is to figure out how much it is costing to send children across town and add that to the neighborhood school budget to purchase things that would add to that school: computers, playground equipment, after-school or before-school programs, maybe an extra teaching assistant. This should involve the parents of that school.

I also realize that there would have to be special school programs for children with special needs. (As a grandfather of one and a member of Starbridge, I can't say enough praising Mary McLeod Bethune School 45 for its Autism Spectrum Disorder program).

One way to promote this is to educate parents on the advantages of neighborhood schools: children are closer to home in emergency situations, less time on a bus, knowing kids who live near you, investing in your child by saving transportation money.

ART YOCKEL, ROCHESTER