Monday, June 25, 2007

100th Post Considers City's Competing Priorities

It took about a year and a half to get to this, the 100th post of the infamous Roch-a-Cha Rant. Although it often strays quite a bit from its original intent, I'd like to think that I have succeeded in generating useful discussion amongst my target audience. If you haven't noticed yet, I added a hit counter back in mid-May and have already exceeded 1,000 site visits since then, including 25 international visitors. I have no idea what that means in the blogosphere, but it's impressive to me. Thanks for taking the time to listen to me bitch and moan and occasionally come up with good ideas. Whether you agree with me or not, it's good to know you care. But enough of that, on to the good stuff...

This past Saturday, Downtown Rochester played host to one of the fastest-growing cycling events in North America, the Saturn Rochester Twilight Criterium. In only its fourth year, the event attracted an estimated 35,000 visitors to the streets of Rochester. The event provided an economic shot-in-the-arm for those restaurants that are lucky enough to be located along the course. I doubt Simply Crepes or He's have ever been busier. It is truly electric to watch some of the best cyclists in the world fly by you at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Actually, it can be quite dizzying for spectators so it's best to have a few beers during the race to keep you on the level. Good thing the JW Dundee's beer tent was dispensing pints of fresh-brewed hometown goodness. Too bad that beer tent isn't open year-round.

The Crit has become one of the premiere events on the North American cycling calendar. We should be proud of our ability to host one of the top LPGA events in terms of both attendance and purse on the same weekend and still bring out record breaking crowds for this event as well. As Australian female pro Jessie MacLean said, "This is the best race I've been to, I've never raced in front of a crowd like this." That is a sentiment shared by all cyclists and it is a testament to the people of our city as well as to the potential of this city to be a vibrant and energetic place. As a note, Aussies won both the men's and women's races, with Australian Olympian Hilton Clarke winning the men's pro race for the second year in a row. I'm thinking an Australian-themed bar might do pretty well down there, at least for one weekend.

As great as this race is, it faces an uncertain future. If conceptual plans were brought to fruition, the finish line on the very street this race uses would be no more. Last year I voiced my support for the Broad Street Canal concept. In theory, this project would remove Broad Street from South Avenue all the way to Brown Street and restore the original alignment of the Erie Canal. This remains a great concept, and I applaud the gentlemen behind it, but it clearly has its shortcomings. The Criterium may be internationally televised next year, attracting thousands more spectators, and it is likely that it will be expanded in the near future to a full weekend of festivities. Is there any way that this race could co-exist with a canal on Broad Street? Sure, but the race would be significantly altered and would definitely lose the exhilarating turn at Irving Place that is the signature of the course.

Maybe a compromise can be reached that incorporates the history of the Erie Canal's original path in an interpretive manner. Perhaps a narrow channel of some sort could run along Broad Street mimicking the former Canal's path and tying into my proposal for a Canal-themed public square on what is now a surface parking lot bounded by Plymouth, Broad, Main, and Washington. Interpretive signage and kiosks could be placed along the entire length of the historic alignment, with pictures and stories to help guide the way. I recognize that this goes against my earlier sentiments, and I hate to contradict myself, but that is what planners and economic development types do; we look at the pros and cons, we examine feasibility, cost effectiveness, and impacts, and we make recommendations that sometimes go against our initial thoughts. I still feel that the Canal proposal deserves to be fully studied and I would certainly not be against its development should it be proven feasible. But there is something about this Criterium that leads me to believe it can become a signature event for our city and its revival. Is it wise for us to pass on such a sure thing?