Rochester plans a riverfront renaissance 

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ROC the Riverway consists
of three distinct pieces. The downtown segment includes a wide variety of riverside projects along both sides of the river, from I-490 north to the Inner Loop: improving existing parks, adding riverside pedestrian walkways, improving the Convention Center and the Blue Cross Arena, adding new pedestrian and bike pathways across the river.

Probably the most controversial element of the downtown segment is the reimagining of the Erie Canal Aqueduct, Yudelson says. The aqueduct was built in the 1840's, and it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structure was built to serve as a waterway and later served as the old subway bed. Its surface is now used as the Broad Street Bridge. The ROC the Riverway plan calls for removing vehicular traffic, making the aqueduct a pedestrian bridge, and either re-watering part of the surface or converting it to greenspace.

As city officials are aware, for years there's been interest in keeping the aqueduct covered and using it both as a walkway and for small retail or exhibits. Using it as an open pedestrian space instead "is something for the public to discuss," Yudelson says.

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The downtown segment of ROC the Riverway, Yudelson says, is Mayor Warren's Number 1 priority.

"This is what she wants to tackle first, because it would have the greatest impact," he says. "It would truly be transformative."

The river's redevelopment potential hardly stops there, though. The High Falls district north of downtown offers possibly the most interesting views of the Genesee. But the area has long suffered from a sense of being cut off from downtown, says Yudelson. Thanks to a mishmash of railroad tracks, the Inner Loop, on-ramps, tunnels, and bridges, it can seem intimidating to try to walk between the Main Street area and the High Falls.

Much of the work planned for this area focuses on linking the High Falls District to downtown, making the area more pedestrian friendly, and enhancing access to the river gorge. The former RG&E Beebee Station and its property would be developed for public use. And on the west side of the river, a Tree Top Trail would give visitors aerial views of the river, the gorge, and the falls.

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The third area of riverfront development is south of downtown where the river flows past the University of Rochester and the PLEX neighborhood. The concept here includes a pedestrian bridge to connect the east and west sides of the river. A pair of man-made islands would be created in the river, and the bridge might have a moving structural component that would swing open and allow boats to pass through.

Both sides of the river would be prepared for future private development with plenty of public space. At the south end, Yudelson says, the city hopes to see a more natural-looking shoreline and boat launches for small crafts, canoes, and kayaks.

The river shouldn't be something to appreciate only visually, he says. What will distinguish this area from the others is the opportunity for water-related recreation where residents and visitors can play and physically interact with the river, he says.

An underlying theme in all three areas of development is connectivity, Yudelson says. The city has numerous walkways and trails – some more useable than others. But in many instances, they're not connected, and creating a continuous pedestrian and bike-friendly passages is extremely important, Yudelson says. When ROC the Riverway is completed, downtown must be seamlessly connected to riverfront development to the north and the south, he says.

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