My bright idea to solve the “parking problem” in Rochester? The Jazz Festival.

I can hear the collective groan from here. Our floundering Mayor, already on the hunt for someone who can do government, now seeks “input” on how to solve this most pressing of issues: parking.

Most of the groaning comes from people already sick of Amateur Hour at City Hall. But the other half comes from people tired of the conversation about “lack of parking” in Downtown Rochester. It is, after all, demonstrably untrue as indeed Rochester Subway has pointed out many times.

But as a country kid who lived in Rochester for ten years, learning its byways, who then left to start a family, I can actually see where people who complain about parking downtown are coming from. Or rather, I can see that they’re misdiagnosing a real issue. Rochester is a very driveable city, it’s just not a very stoppable one.

Our Drivable Downtown

Main Street is a four lane highway, built to be traversed. Downtown is bookended by the Chestnut St and Plymouth Ave deadzones, where speeds easily top 40 mph. Confused visitors are overtaken by commuters for whom Downtown is an afterthought. If they blink, they’ve overshot their mark. Our poor confused visitor will have to turn around and try again.

And as RocSub notes, who the hell wants to park their car on Plymouth and take their chances walking into Downtown? It’s cold, windy, potentially dangerous (who knows, if you’re not from around here?) and oh, shit! What if you were wrong and have to walk back?

So you can park where you damned-sure don’t want to stop, and you want to stop in places where there really is no apparent place to park. Or you can just leave. And many people choose to just leave. Because there’s “no place to park.”

What, then, is the answer? I don’t recommend more parking downtown and don’t hold much hope for deadzones and parking lot landscape transformation. Part of the solution might be to adopt the same shuttle lines that the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival employs during it’s brief two week stay.

No, I don’t mean the Resurrection of the EZ Rider.

EZ Rider was a lot like many of the big projects under Mayor Johnson: a great idea – maybe even the right idea – but terrible execution. EZ suffered from two principle flaws that the XRIJF shuttles did not: first, that it was one continuous circuit and second that it billed itself as a way to get around to see night life, then shut service down at 11pm.

It was great that one continuous loop of busses went around Rochester if you were waiting for the bus: one would be by in the next twenty minutes or less. But once you were on the bus, you weren’t getting off any time soon, depending on what side of the loop you were on. The Jazz Fest bus routes were split into two separate routes, which meant that you didn’t have to sit on a bus all night long to go home.

I can certainly understand the City not wishing to take on the extra liability of driving drunkards to their cars. But the EZ Rider made a specific claim about being able to go see shows, then shut down at 11pm. That left a whole lot of stranded, confused party-goers in it’s wake. If a Downtown shuttle system was implemented, it wouldn’t need to be associated with night life. The focus would be on daytime park-and-ride access to Downtown for convenience sake.

The key, for both the Jazz Fest shuttles and a hypothetical Downtown Shuttle, is focusing on transferring people from large parking locations into a few key locations in our very small Downtown.

Yeah, but who’s paying for it?

I don’t begin to know what it would cost to setup a shuttle service – either through RGRTA or some other means – in Downtown Rochester. If you told me “a lot,” I’d probably take your word for it.

Whatever the cost, it has to be compared against other options, all of which will have their own price tags. And unlike other options, you might be able to recoup some if not all of the cost with a modest rider fee. Would people pay a few bucks to go Downtown? As someone who has done quite a few baffled laps around the Inner Loop in his teens, I think it would be worth a few cents to avoid the hassle.

If not a shuttle, what would those other solutions be?

Better signage for downtown parking would be a good idea. But we’ve had color-coded signs Downtown for decades.

New parking is just a non-starter. The last thing we need is more holes in the skyline, such as it is.

I can almost guarantee that a new solution that involves a lot of expensive construction is waiting in the wings. But costly new contracts and years of disruption are probably not any more cost-effective over ten years than a park-and-ride shuttle service.

One extra advantage for the entire community would be concentrating parking at the edges of Downtown and eliminating a lot of the side street parking congestion. Another would be relieving the driving congestion. Once again, visitors can concentrate on their destination, not the cars.

We can muster forth any number of solutions, and all of them may have some merit. In fact, many of them may have more merit in combination than a One-Size-Fits-All solution. But until such time as some declarative vision comes out of the Mayor’s Office – a blight therein for which Mayor Lovely Warren is far from the only culprit – we’ll likely just have a brief and animated discussion on social and nothing more.

Whatever the solution if there is to be any, my hope is that we can make small steps that add up to a large accomplishment. Our City has too often fallen victim to a dichotomy of “Big Thinkers” and “Penny Pinchers,” where someone dreams up something bat-shit crazy only to be chipped away at by the eternally pessimistic.


Rochester Jazz Fest: Point of Order: What the Hell is “Jazz?”

The dissection and analysis of Rochester’s biggest festival, the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival continues. And I for one couldn’t be happier. Its wonderful beyond words for a person who has been so active in the musical community (admittedly years ago) to see a really vibrant debate on a genuinely successful musical endevour. Most any musician in this town is bored to tears of the foot-shuffling, “we have no music scene” mope-fest that predominates most of the discussion much of the time.

@roccitynews (City Newspaper)’s Mary Anna Towler discusses the crowds and selection of music, much the topic here and on the @13wham news blog with @rachbarnhart (Rachel Barnhart) and @scarroll13 (Sean Carroll) weighing in. But I had to point out one bit of silliness that has permeated the discussion that Mrs. Towler addresses:

Nugent’s talking about adding more events – but he says they’d likely be free outdoor-stage events. Ummm… I like the outdoor events. But they are trending more toward rock – or jazzy music so loud that it feels like rock. And while I’m all for as much rock as we can stage in the summer – and all for doing whatever we can to attract young adults – too many loud, rock-like events could change the tone of the Jazz Festival. This year, frankly, we seemed to be at a tipping point.

Oh, boy. Not to get all music history on you, but Jethro Tull and King Crimson played jazz festivals all the time. Is Spiro Gyra a rock act or a jazz act? What the hell is Bela Fleck’s music? Dave Matthews? Steely Dan?

The list goes on and on, but you see the problem. There is no “Jazz.” There is only a sliding scale between a huge variety of genres, nor should we shy away from that panoply of sounds if we want a real jazz festival. Yes, there’s room for a Dixieland band and a Glen Miller tribute, if that’s what some people insist on seeing as “jazz.” Or whatever that guy in the beret and sunglasses insists is “jazz.” Fine. But not at the expense of the rest. And most jazz festivals are outdoors, from Newport to Monterrey.

I think that if the festival was allowed to spill out onto East Avenue, we could cater to more sounds. There’s buskers o’plenty out there anyway, why not setup small tents (like the $75 Sears canopy size) for smaller acts as well? I want more music, not easily defined music, and as much of it outside as possible.