The Mayoral Debate at Gleason Works

I stopped by Gleason Works (1000 University Ave.) for the Mayoral Debate tonight. On the ballot are Tom Richards as a Democrat, Alex White on the Green Party ticket, and former mayor Bill Johnson as an independent. Ann C. Lewis was in present as a write-in candidate (and handing out literature outside) along with a couple other write-in candidates who were more vocally upset at not being invited to the debate. I've known White a bit through a friend of mine, and I find him to be rational, methodical, strategic, and a real lover of living life. I don't think I've ever seen Richards, and I've only had passing contact with Johnson when he was mayor or around town on occasion.

Anyway, let me lay things out in broad strokes. Rachel Barnhart, acting as moderator, asked 5 pre-conceived questions then selected several more from cards from the audience. Alas, she didn't ask about the proposed RGRTA Bus Barn project on Mortimer Street nor about the City Schools, but instead found it more important to ask about suburbanite concerns about parking and about what to do with the riverfront. In general, all the candidates recognize the major issues before them and have similar directions they'd like to go in.

The differences, though, are what's key. All three candidates agreed that giant boondoggle projects failed to revitalize downtown — White cited a few, and Johnson added that he counted 27 in the past 60 years or so as part of his research as a college professor. However, only White wanted to move forward with caution. Johnson seemed almost bitter that the Renaissance Square was opposed and cancelled — he saw it as the first time in a long time that the city and county cooperated, but my perspective was less of a trophy of such an achievement and more that the county would defecate and the city would get to keep it. Richards cited value in a rivers-end marina being developed with high-priced housing adjacent; he apparently didn't hear that the real estate market's bubble burst. While Johnson and Richards play with hitting the proverbial lottery, White's "big project" was public transportation possibly using light rail — and at that, his proposal was for, at best, a modest start rather than a one-shot full system.

White also differentiated himself by understanding that he is, foremost, a champion of the people. Johnson continues to give more credence to businesses than people (and yes, I fondly recall how he was so easily contacted, often recommending people call his office and set up a lunchtime appointment). Richards was scarcely a Republican in Democrat clothing showing strong support for big business and high finance over actual people. For instance, when White proposed that abandoned houses be rehabilitated for low-income families, both Richards and Johnson jumped down his throat that (1) the houses are not worth salvaging (clearly, White was proposing for the many houses in salvageable shape), and (2) the city now has a policy to secure the houses so it is nearly impossible for people to get into them so they can be "preserved" and get sold later. Missing from the discussion is that homeless people can be paired with abandoned homes (at least temporarily) to help solve two problems.

White also proposed that Rochester attempt to supply municipal electricity, citing that the density of electrical service suits such a system and can drive utility bills down. He prefaced by acknowledging that Richards opposes the idea (purportedly because Richards was former CEO of RG&E, resigning profitably when it was sold to Energy East, then later Iberdrola headquartered in Spain). Richards countered by saying that municipal power wouldn't work because there is no reserve to tap from, adding that the utility company is a major taxpayer in the city whose revenues would need to be replaced. Obviously capacity consumed by RG&E customers would be freed up for municipal power, so his argument is essentially that it's better to spend $0.17/kwh (average what I pay) so that $0.02/kwh can go to the city and $0.10/kwh can go to profit (fictitious figures, but you get the idea) rather than paying $0.05/kwh for municipal power and making up the $0.02/kwh difference in additional property tax (for those not good at math, that's a savings of over 50% of the cost of electricity).

Anyway, in reading other media, I find they fall for the allure of Johnson and Richards slickly polished public speaking skills with Johnson and Richards having an edge with better sound bytes. However, White spends less effort perfecting his public image and more developing sound choices for the future of Rochester.

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Taking the Bus

I've been working on migrating my travels to alternatives to the car — as you'll recall, I took my Civic off the road (so now I've got our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon and Ali's Saturn, neither of which I want to rely on for day-to-day tasks). Tonight was The Rochester Speculative Literature Association (R-SPEC) meeting at Barnes & Noble (3349 Monroe Ave.) so I thought I'd try taking the bus. I've used the buses on rare occasions in the past, but this was the first trip that required a transfer and that I didn't really have a backup plan (aside from calling Ali, even though she loaned her car out to our friend Christina for the day).

The meeting was at 7 p.m. so I wanted to get there a bit early. According to The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA)'s trip planner on the website, I should take the #24 bus at 5:56 p.m. downtown to Court and Clinton, then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:40 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes. I did my own analysis of the schedules and decided instead to take the #19 bus at 5:38 p.m. to 12 Corners then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:09 p.m. — total trip time: 31 minutes. I arrived early enough to get some dinner at Benucci's (3349 Monroe Ave., in the Pittsford Plaza) … nothing particularly exceptional, but still perfectly fine.

So after the meeting, the RGRTA trip planner suggested I leave on the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or a similar trip starting at 9:38 p.m.) and take it to — get this — Irondequoit Plaza (2133 Hudson Ave.) to get the #5 bus back to my house at 11:51 p.m. — total trip time: 2 hours, 57 minutes. I analyzed it myself and determined I could take the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or an identical trip starting at 10:02 p.m.) to Clinton and Main then hurry to meet the #5 bus going south at St. Paul and Main and get home by 9:37 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes.

As it turned out, the meeting ran a bit long and I stayed to try and find that book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbuilt which they did not have. I took the 10:02 bus which arrived pretty much on time. I made it to the #5 which didn't leave for a few minutes anyway and made it home fine.

All told, it worked out okay. I bought a "Freedom Pass" which gets you rides for a day for $3 (as far as I could tell, I would have had to pay $4 for the 4 bus trips … there's probably a secret to transfers or something, though). The bus stop nomenclature is confusing — for instance, the stop nearest my house for the #19 bus is "Crittenden and East" which identifies an intersection. There are 2 stops within 20 yards of that intersection and I wasn't sure which one was right. The trick is that the first street is the main street and the second is the cross street, so it would be much clearer to say "Crittenden at East" but once you get used to it, it makes sense. You also have to know which direction your bus is going — for instance, there are 4 stops at the Elmwood and Mt. Hope corner.

It's also annoying that the stops have advertising on them rather than information: the bus stop signs only specify how much the trip will cost. If only one route uses a particular stop, the sign will identify the route number, but if the stop serves multiple routes, it will just say that it serves multiple routes and not specify which ones. There are no maps or clues as to where to go or when.

But it's that routing system that is the worst. What good is it if you can do it yourself and get better results — and with relative ease at that? The biggest obstacle is to get the bus route information from the site as it is no longer available as tidy PDF's of the route tables, but as dynamically generated pages where you can specify your stops. It would make much more sense to, say, get all the bus route tables for stops within a few blocks of your starting and ending points and figure it out from there.

It's too bad that RGRTA has a government sponsored monopoly because with a little competition, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a better system. One thing that I've been toying with is the idea of a "superway" — a system that's like a subway, but instead puts buses on the network of highways to cover the large distances quickly. So, for instance, there would be stops along each exit on 490, 590, and 390 with buses running frequently along those routes. I could walk 15 minutes to 390 and East Henrietta Rd. then take a bus to the Monroe Avenue exit off 590 in 3 minutes (maybe more like 6 minutes counting a stop at Winton), finishing up by walking the remaining 19 minutes to Pittsford Plaza. All told, it would take about about 40 minutes but I could do it pretty much any time I wanted to; the walking time on my trip out there added 10 minutes for a total of 41 minutes on the way out and 53 minutes on the way back and also limited to the whims of the bus schedule. Throw in a few extra routes to cover the parts of the city farther than a mile from a highway exit, and you're in business.

Anyway, the bus is now an alternative for me to use. But once I get a bike ready, I can cover the 5 miles to Pittsford Plaza via the canal path in about 20 minutes or so. And do it any time.

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