Recently I published a post about a 90-day complete streets trial in downtown Utica, New York. In this piece, I talked about how Genesee Street, the small city’s four-lane “Main Street,” was re-striped for two lanes with a turning lane and bike lanes with parallel parking. No physical amount of drivable pavement was lost in this transaction, and no parallel parking for downtown businesses were given away.
In the post, I touched on the aggressive outcry by public leaders who believe this will inevitably lead to blacktop mayhem and apocalyptic traffic congestion. This sort of reaction is typical of a community that has grown accustomed to a car-first downtown that impedes small business growth, walkability and livability.
According to the New York State Traffic Viewer, Genesee Street in downtown Utica plays host to an estimated 9,329 cars per day. The typical justification for four lanes of traffic is in the 15,000-25,000 range, far greater than Genesee’s daily patronage. But tell this to the average Utica metro resident who simply wants to drive through the city as quickly as possible and you’ll likely get a skeptical response to a traffic lane reduction.
With this in mind, I’d like to offer several examples of two-lane streets in my city of Rochester, New York that have far higher traffic counts than Genesee Street and have little issue with regard to traffic flow.
South Avenue – 9,716 cars per day
As the main artery of The South Wedge neighborhood, South Ave supports parallel parking, bike lanes and two lanes of traffic, all while facilitating automobile and pedestrian patronage of small businesses, grocers and local housing. All of this, with a similar daily traffic count of Utica’s Genesee Street.
Alexander Street – 11,969 cars per day
Alexander Street in Rochester would never be confused with a major thoroughfare, but as a street that connects The South Wedge neighborhood with Upper Monroe and the Western portion of Rochester’s NOTA neighborhood, the two-lane street with parallel parking welcomes 2,000 more cars per day than Genesee Street in Utica.
Monroe Avenue – 12,234 cars per day
One of Rochester’s most vibrant, diverse and approachable urban hot spots is Upper Monroe, serviced by Monroe Avenue. The fact that this street is only two lanes with an occasional turning lane, bike lanes on on-street parking that minimizes traffic speeds and allows local small businesses and restaurants to flourish shows precisely how narrow streets can have a powerful impact on local commerce. This street outperforms Utica’s Genesee Street with regard to small business density AND residential capacity, and welcomes nearly 3,000 more cars per day, all with two lanes of traffic.
University Avenue – 12,882 cars per day
The Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA) plays host to Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery, The Flatiron Building, beautifully historic houses, and artist lofts in Village Gate and The Hungerford Building. This two-lane street with parallel parking connects the east side of Downtown Rochester to NOTA and I-490, carrying nearly 13,000 cars per day.
East Avenue – 14,606 cars per day
One of Rochester’s most iconic and historic streets, East Avenue emanates from Downtown Rochester and services the the core of the city’s nightlife, as well as Eastman School of Music, The Little Theater, The Rochester Museum and Science Center, The George Eastman House, and many of the most iconic homes and mansions in Western New York. Once a four-lane thoroughfare itself, East Ave was re-striped for two lanes and parking nearly a decade ago and is better for it.
No one would confuse any of the streets mentioned above with expedited automobile access. These 30mph streets restrict traffic speed, which has been shown to create an environment of economic growth rather than stagnation. But in my personal experience, none of the streets mentioned above face the kind of infuriating traffic we see in many of our suburban collector roads.
This is not a “my city is better than your city” commentary. Every city of every size has a unique lifeblood that fuels its appeal. But when it comes to automobile traffic, cities all function pretty much the same. If Rochester, a city with more than three times the population of Utica can function with major thoroughfares of just two lanes is making it work, Utica can too.