The Automobile Problem page provides a description and chronology of the automobile problem of Rochester, NY.
Over the past century, the automobile emerged as the primary means of transportation for Rochester residents. The development brought a substantial amount of consequences upon the city of Rochester which can be easily interpreted as negative and long-lasting.
Over the first half of the 20th century, the city turned from focusing on trains, streetcars, the subway, and pedestrians to focusing upon a prominently automobile-centric design. Thus came the rise and spread of Rochester's suburbs and the construction of the Inner Loop and the Interstate highways. Big-box retailers, chain restaurants, immense shopping centers, and a plethora of parking lots became prominent in the Rochester area. Services popped up on every corner in Rochester focused on purchasing, maintaining, and fueling up automobiles. People migrated from the city to the suburbs. Infrastructure and buildings in the city started crumbling from disuse. Residential and commercial planning became heavily focused upon the automobile. Rochester, in turn, became automobile-dependent. This contributed heavily to the decline and blight of the city. People became isolated and alienated from one another, and one can argue that this leads to many ills of our society.
The overwhelming deluge of cars
Traffic congestion is now the norm, and has produced demand for more and bigger roads and removal of obstacles for the goal of "effective" traffic flow. This usually results in more congestion as more cars come in. Cars now roam everywhere, a sea of glittering metal and glass, to which people have become accustomed and see as normal. Stop-and-go traffic is the norm. So is idling in traffic. Congestion leads also to elevated stress in people, and "road rage" incidents occur on a daily basis. Money given to Rochester for growth have been mainly been focused upon road projects to reduce congestion.
As gasoline sources become more volatile, they affect our purchasing and travel habits, and heavily impact the rise and fall of the local economy. Ownership, maintenance and repair of automobiles is an expensive yet necessary burden in itself, with significant portions of our income diverted toward such. The automobile society has turned into a giant money sinkhole for Rochester residents, with astonishing amounts of disposable income and taxes going toward sustaining the automobile paradigm.
The automobile is a major contributor to area pollution, with the massive generation of engine fumes every day. Much of daily commuting is spent with the engine mostly idling at interminable series of red lights, which generates stress upon car engines and produces impressive amounts of useless pollution.
The automobile also contributes significantly to the general aesthetic blight of the landscape, as shopping centers, big-box retailers, long roads, and vast suburbs eat up the beautiful upstate New York landscape. Mt. Hope Avenue south of Elmwood, along with Jefferson Road in Henrietta, are prominent examples of this. When businesses in those shopping centers and along the roads fail, the buildings that once held them are often just abandoned and fall into disrepair. They then turn into unsightly buildings for years and years. They become part of the usual sights on our daily commute. An inordinate amount of the Rochester region is devoted to parking, and Rochesterians still object that there is insufficient parking space. Those vast tracts of parking spaces are not aesthetically appealing, especially when they start crumbling.
The automobile poses an omen and a challenge to Rochester's future. Depending on the automobile has an distressing array of negative consequences.
The automobile problem becomes particularly acute when it comes to prolonged economic uncertainty as brought upon by the American economic collapse of 2008 and new realities in the modern economy. We have an emerging new generation of workers who have less money to spend than previous generations. The automobile poses to them a significant challenge - without a car in Rochester, they are not economically viable.
With the advent of the electric car, people would naturally expect to transition to them from gasoline-powered cars. But the problem emerges with the eventual disposal of the ridiculously large number of soon-to-be-defunct gasoline-powered cars: where will they go? Into Rochester's junkyards?
Maintaining the infrastructure in Rochester for automobile dependency is proving to be an expensive task, as also has been realized in other dense residential areas. If this continues, inevitably rising oil prices along with an ingrained dependence on oil-derived asphalt and gasoline for the sustenance of Rochester's economy all would possibly produce what could be an even larger sinkhole for Rochester's money and a significant slow-down to the local economy.
People's choice to live without the use of the car is greatly reduced in the Rochester area. The automobile is emerging as an illogical choice for primary transportation in a world of limited resources and escalating environment damage. Rochester residents are facing a big problem of having a region that's been designed over the last hundred years for automobile-dependency that has turned out to be unsustainable.
RochesterSubway.com focuses on how Rochester was impacted by its past decisions, including automobile-centric design, and how to change the city for the better.
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2012-02-18 20:20:50 This sounds like what happened in many cities in the United States. Rochester is hardly unique in this regard.
Furthermore, I'm curious as to how motocycles are any better. They use gas as well and are more dangerous to drive. —EileenF
2012-02-19 12:38:52 Correct, it's a nation-wide problem. But since the national government isn't willing to confront it, we Rochester residents may as well start focusing on the problem at the local level before the automobile addiction leads to worse consequences for our beautiful city.
Motorcycles certainly won't fly as the mass alternative to cars. Better solutions lie elsewhere - like light rail. We can start considering solutions that would help keep Rochester's money local, instead of flowing out to the Middle East or giant corporations that don't have Rochester's best interests at heart. —Bammerburn
2012-09-07 13:10:51 While I hate sprawl, Rochester is a cakewalk to drive around compared to other major East Coast cities. The fact that I consider every only going 30 mph on the highway a "traffic jam" is why I love Rochester. Light rail is a great dream, but Rochester isn't really dense enough to warrant this. Buffalo has one and no one uses it because it only goes in a straight line. Maybe we need to make the buses better to ride. —PDub
2014-01-18 23:39:50 Buffalo's MetroRail may not be as widely used as planned because it was cut off at the city limits due to opposition from Amherst, where it was supposed to connect to the new suburban campus of SUNY at Buffalo. But it still gets a lot of use because it runs down the major street dividing the city in half and connecting to many crosstown bus routes, and ends at SUNY Buffalo's original campus. I used it all the time when I lived there. Anyway, Rochester doesn't really have an obvious "Main Street" like Buffalo that would make sense for such a project. Also, Rochester is not dense enough - even Buffalo was judged just barely dense enough for the MetroRail, and that was before the several decades of huge population losses that followed. So it would seem that improving bus service is better suited for Rochester but even that is a challenge as the city continues to shrink and there are fewer and fewer interesting destinations to connect - or the destinations move further and further apart. —Rhywun