Note: Audio available for this story
With small modifications, a proposed “Access 390” highway project could bind Rochester’s three major universities with several multi-use trails and bikeways and move us toward a future that is more ecological, economical, healthful and energy-independent. It could really happen—but we have to ask for it!
The New York State Department of Transportation is accepting written comments from the public until Jan. 31 (see below), and officials at a Jan. 17 meeting seemed genuinely receptive to constructive suggestions backed up by citizen support.
This is a big opportunity!
Here’s what we need to keep in mind. New York state is preparing to spend $65 million on highway interchanges for Interstate 390 between Monroe Community College and the University of Rochester. UR might spend an additional $140 million on parking garages. Pretty soon, you're talking real money: on cars, ramps and parking. Let’s think carefully about this.
At last week’s well-attended public hearing, the DOT indicated that the project would have litte impact on the environment and on bicycle and pedestrian transportation. But we can do much better than that, for mere pennies on the dollar. And given the benefits—transportation alternatives, parking mitigation, less dependence on foreign oil, less climate change and addressing the “bright flight” of young people from our community—it would be irresponsible not to do more.
MCC and the University of Rochester are connected (almost!) via the historic Erie Canalway. RIT and the University of Rochester are connected (almost!) via the Lehigh Valley North Trail. And proceeding north from the intersection of the canalway and the Lehigh Valley trail, we already have a straight shot to downtown Rochester—and (soon) to MCC’s new downtown campus.
By tying these pieces together, we could link the three largest schools in the “Rochester Multiversity” and set the stage for further development that could eventually embrace and augment Rochester’s growing network of bike lanes and trails, the Town of Brighton’s emerging Bicycle Master Plan, and planned developments at College Town near UR and City Gate (a planned residential and commercial development at East Henrietta and Westfall roads, straddling Brighton and Rochester)—and include many other schools and universities in the region.
Two modifications to the proposed project would make all this possible.
Link MCC to Brighton and UR. The Erie Canal defines the northern border of the MCC campus and the southern border of UR to the west. But you have to bike south (to Brighton Henrietta Townline Road), then east (to Clinton Avenue), and then north to cross the canal (via Clinton) before heading west on the Erie Canalway Trail. It’s an indirect, awkward and automobile-heavy route. And yet, there is already a hikeable but unused trail from the north side of MCC to the southern bank of the canal.
Modification 1. Turn the hikeable trail from MCC to the canal into a legitmate multi-use hiking and biking trail going west to Clinton and east to the East Henrietta Road bridge, and include ramps from the canalway to bike lanes that will allow riders to cross and go north to the city or west along the canalway to UR, the city’s western wards and the county’s western suburbs. (One might alternatively consider bike/pedestrian crossings built under or beside massive bridge infrastructures—as illustrated here.) Now MCC cyclists would be able to bike tens of miles to the east and west (and UR) on the car-free canalway, encountering automobiles ony at bridge crossings.
Link UR to RIT. It’s hard for automobile drivers to believe, and hard for casual cyclists to discover, but a beautiful trail connects the Erie Canalway at UR to Brighton Henrietta Townline Road (across the street from Park Point). The Lehigh Valley North Trail is a scenic 2.1-mile ride through woods and past ponds. It has some rough spots and it’s poorly marked, but that’s easy to fix.
Modification 2. Resurface and improve the Lehigh Valley North Trail, fix the curb cuts at East River Road, put up a few signs and declare victory. The result: a car-free multi-use trail that connects RIT to UR and MCC!
And then, celebrate the synergies! All three schools would now have scenic and car-free routes to downtown Rochester and would benefit from a further bit of good fortune. When the Erie Lackawanna Bridge reopens this fall as a bike/pedestrian bridge, cyclists will be able to proceed north from the Lehigh Valley trail and the canalway, through Genesee Valley Park or the UR campus, and along either side of the river—along scenic and strategic bikeways that will rejuvenate neighborhoods and also mitigate parking pressures on our campuses and downtown.
Rochester’s destiny is tied to its universities. Bike friendly cities such as Portland, Ore.; Minneapolis; and Milwaukee have demonstrated, and last spring’s Greater Rochester Active Transportation Symposium indicated, that modest investments in active transportation infrastructures bring spectacular economic and social payoffs. Let’s use the 390 interchange project to turn such insights into action.
Done right, this project can make our region proud, our nation strong and our children healthy.
As mentioned, the state DOT is accepting public comment on the project until Jan. 30, and all the project documentation is online. They need to hear from us! Please send your comments about PIN-439017 by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via the NYSDOT webpage.
One more note: The plans presented at the public meeting include an at-grade intersection—a potential accident zone—where a new looping ramp at West Henrietta Road would cross the bike access trail coming up from the Erie Canalway. This problem can be avoided by re-routing the bike-access trail around the outside of the looping ramp, or by creating a new exit from the canalway into a low-traffic parking area at Monroe Community Hospital.
Jon Schull is interim director of the Center for Student Innovation and co-founder of the Rochester Cycling Alliance. “Viewpoints” presents insight and opinions on issues of relevance to RIT or higher education generally. To suggest a topic for a future essay, contact email@example.com.