I truly love Utica, New York and its people. After all, the Urban Phoenix began with a trip to this small city of 60,000, where I discovered a culture of residents who were passionate about their urban revival.
The unquestioned “Main Street” in downtown Utica is Genesee Street, a 4-lane super-straight corridor that rips through the heart of the city. After years of laying dormant, businesses, residences and office spaces are beginning to creep in along Genesee as the city’s downtown is slowly becoming the place to be once again.
As our cities begin to unravel the data that contradicts a “car first” approach to downtown vibrancy, more and more cities are taking their four-lane roads down to two-lane streets while adding bike lanes, better pedestrian infrastructure and best of all, slowing traffic for safety. Furthermore, evidence suggests that when cities do this, the economic vitality of the street increases.Genesee Street in Downtown plays host to approximately 8,500 to 10,000 vehicles per day, a far cry from the 18,000 to 20,000 car count benchmark used to justify the need for four lanes. By reducing the number of lanes, Genesee would still be easily navigable by car, but would be much more attractive to those on foot or on bike. While this may seem counter to what we know about how to grow a downtown, it has worked to spur growth in communities large and small all over the county. The one thing we know is that when you minimize the number of wide roads in your downtown, it “paves” the way for greater walkability and more spending in support of our local businesses.While encouraging a stronger walking and biking culture, road diets also make our streets safer by reducing traffic speeds and minimizing the distance pedestrians have to travel when crossing the street. Speed plays a role in over half of the 40,000 traffic fatalities in the United States every year.
It’s simple… results in other cities have shown that when you re-appropriate space for people instead of cars, it creates an atmosphere where people want to “be,” helping to create a fertile environment for growth.
Rochester, an Upstate New York city of over 200,000 recently put their Main Street on a diet, reducing their downtown artery to 2 lanes each way, and a turning lane in some spots. The road diet has also allowed main street to feature bike lanes for the first time, making it far safer for that city’s growing cycling population.If Rochester can do it, Utica can too. In a city that is far behind the curve with respect to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, this project would thoroughly enhance the look and feel of Genesee Street, while making it a better, safer place for pedestrians, cyclists and businesses lining the street. A road diet might just be the key additive to enhance Utica’s future of success.