Viral parking video highlights need for major improvements downtown
Anyone who works in downtown Rochester can appreciate the humorous video (below) posted this week by Mayo Clinic employee Ben Thomas.
It shows Thomas, who has worked at the clinic for 13 years, arriving at his new downtown parking space — a major milestone for any local Mayo employee.
"I'm with all of you guys now. I park downtown," says an ecstatic Thomas. "Three blocks from where I have to go to work; that's where I park."
On Facebook alone, the video has been viewed by more than 100,000 people and shared over 1,000 times. "Every Mayo employee in Rochester knows the struggle is real," said one commenter.
Another wrote, "For a Mayo employee this is like winning the lottery!"
Anticipation over a downtown parking space has become part of the culture for Mayo employees in Rochester. Most won't get a downtown parking space for at least a decade; the wait for a spot near the St. Marys campus is even longer.
Why? Because the the employee density of what's now the DMC District is the equivalent to a city three times the size of Rochester. In other words, Mayo has grown out of the city's current transportation infrastructure.
That's why transportation — along with Discovery Square and Heart of the City — are the top three priorities for DMC over the next five years.
"Every city is dealing with the legacy systems they have in place ... the road infrastructure, the parking infrastructure.... really the automobile-oriented, single person per car kind of approach," said Patrick Seeb, director of economic development and placemaking for the DMC EDA.
"I think most people have come to recognize that won't work in Rochester if [the city] is to grow and succeed as it hopes to."
Seeb said the first steps for DMC will be finding ways to improve walkability and bicycle access. He said there are fewer bike commuters in Rochester than in cities of similar size.
"If we just tackled that, that would make a big difference in transportation," he said, stressing that we shouldn't just plan our cities for the worst 25 days of the year. He's now working with community partners on trying to bring a bike share program to Rochester.
It will still be a while, though, until some of the heavier infrastructure projects outlined in the DMC Development Plan, like street cars and light rail, potentially become a reality. Those plans will require years of design and environmental review, as well as federal funding.
"We will do some prototyping [and] some testing of ideas in the meantime to get a feel for what a new version of transportation could look like," said Seeb.
While we still don't know what the specific projects that come forward will look like, we can confirm one thing: all three major players — DMC, Mayo and the City — all agree that something needs to be done. And soon.
"We've seen too many cities that err too far on the car side," said council member Nick Campion. "And then they come back and are doing really expensive renovation projects to bring their cities back to being more pedestrian oriented."
Does this mean drivers will stop parking downtown altogether? No, of course not. But it means Rochester is going to have to develop new and more efficient ways of transporting patients, residents and workers.
Because until we find a better way to reliably transport 30,000 Mayo employees in and out of downtown, people will continue to get pretty damn excited over a single parking space.
Both Campion and Seeb were interviewed for a forthcoming special report on DMC. The full series will be published on Dec. 18.
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover graphic: Screenshot / YouTube)