Preserving Small Towns
by Lewis Gurley
Former Transportation Director, NYS DOT Region 4

Preserving Small Towns Archive ............Current Preserving Column Online
Published by Clarion Publications, Geneseo, NY

A transportation professional's view of Geneseo (June 8, 2006)

I have enjoyed a career of over 40 years as transportation professional. I have a BS in Civil Engineering from Drexel University and an MS in Traffic Engineering and Transportation Planning from Villanova University.
I have held a wide range of positions with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). I retired from NYSDOT in 1998 after serving more than ten years as the Regional Director of Transportation for the Genesee Valley Region 4.
In this position I was responsible for all state transportation matters in the seven county region surrounding Rochester. Through out my career I have always been led by a passion for helping communities to find solutions to their transportation and traffic problems as well as lead them to sound planning that can go a long way towards preventing problems before they are irreversible.
As you know, there has been several traffic studies conducted in the Town and Village of Geneseo over the last several years for different reasons, but all connected to either a specific commercial development or a concern for development pressures generally along the Route 20A corridor (Access Management).
One can be easily confused by the plethora of traffic information provided by these studies. Some of the data is projected from dated information and some from new actual traffic counts.
The most recent study dated May 2006 prepared for the Gateway Town Centre project provided updated manual counts at nine intersections along Route 20A. While it is good to see some actual counts taken since the opening of the new Super Wal-mart, more information is needed in order to properly assess traffic impacts for future development.
In my own investigation, I found that the distance from the corner of Route 63 and Court Street to Wal-Mart is essentially the same traveling over two routes.
The first route is the marked traffic route of Route 63 to Route 20A and then to Volunteer Road. The second route is via Court St., North St. and Lima Rd to Volunteer Rd.
However, the first route takes 20% longer to travel due to current traffic and traffic lights. As traffic congestion increases along Route 20A, the 2nd route becomes more attractive to motorists.
Computer traffic models often do not consider very local streets such as Court St and North St. I do not know if the ones used by the various traffic consultants considered these alternative routes. The Town and Village embarked on a course of action several years ago and again as recently as March of 2005 seeking to create an Access Management Plan. That plan could help to provide a blueprint of actions current and future that would mitigate the traffic impacts of continued development.
Unfortunately, this Access Management Study has not been completed but the pressure for additional significant commercial development has continued. While one new major retail property is in place and a second one under consideration, proper strategic planning for the corridor can still generate a positive benefit for the community as leaders work to preserve the unique quality of life enjoyed in Geneseo.
The Village's Historic Landmark designation is an attribute that other villages can not simply decide they would like to have. The history that makes Geneseo unique should be preserved. Cooperative efforts of the Village and the Town are imperative in planning for the future to assure that the area does not become just one more over developed impersonal landscape without a character that area residents can look at with pride.
Retail development, especially large or “big box” developments do not provide the kind of employment that generates successful growth. In time, other small businesses close because they can not compete with volume retailers.
At the same time, they draw on a much larger area for their patrons resulting in the increase in traffic that threatens the quality of life enjoyed in small towns and villages. Eventually, the ones with the sharpest business model survive and the others close and vacate their space leaving empty buildings which is the beginning of urban blight.
Another fact of large scale retail development is that it always attracts more of the same. For this reason, communities need to have a plan that considers all the land area that has a potential for becoming developed.
Otherwise each developer/ retailer comes to the local government for their approvals. When the impact that an individual retailer causes is evaluated, the incremental increase to traffic and/or community services does not appear to be a problem until finally there comes a proposal that is “the straw that breaks the camels back.”
At that point it is too late to solve problems. The quality of life that the community may have embraced is only a memory. Along the Route 20A corridor there is still much undeveloped land as well as land ripe for redevelopment (i.e. the old county SNF).
When Volunteer Road was built the intention was to have an office park with light industry and a limited amount of new retail space. When the Super Wal-mart was built, however, dramatically changed the trip generation characterization for this parcel.
Further large scale retail developments will continue this destructive traffic generation trend. Action to restrict the size of individual retail stores on the remaining land would help to slow the eventual undesirable, traffic generation.


Continue to Part 2

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