Should Rec Center driveway stay or go?
A popular driveway entrance and exit from the Rochester Recreation Center is planned to close during the nearly completed reconstruction project at the center.
An outcry from facility users has held up that decision, and a new solution might be in store.
The Rochester City Council held a public hearing on the matter Monday night, months after a January meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners where recreation center users presented a petition to maintain the Elton Hills Drive Northwest access.
City traffic engineers in January said city code was behind the decision to close the access. The city's Land Development Manual calls for entrances and exits from facilities to be a minimum 400 feet to 480 feet from intersections of major arterial roads, including North Broadway Avenue.
The citizen group sought a variance to that rule, and city administration — at the direction of the city council — filed a request for a variance with the Zoning Board of Appeals. That request was denied .
The council again directed city administration to bring the issue forward for further consideration.
Todd Huyber, president of the Rochester Youth Hockey Association and president of the Rochester Hockey Foundation, presented the concerns of recreation center users. The new site plan would leave two entrances to the facility — one on North Broadway Avenue and another on Elton Hills Drive, near the new senior center.
The Broadway Avenue entrance, near the Podein property, would present safety concerns for drivers turning left across two lanes of traffic to enter or exit the site, Huyber said.
"For us, we just feel it's a major safety issue introducing 45 mile per hour speeds, or more, with a left-in, left-out entrance up there at Podein's," Huyber said.
City staff has maintained throughout the discussion that the new layout is the safest traffic design available. A traffic study found the majority of car accidents near the facility, 15 in the last 10 years, had occurred at the Elton Hills access that is to be removed.
"A good portion of the 15 that occurred at this location would be preventable by closing the entrance and exit at this location and moving it 300 feet further to the west. That's really the safety issue here," said Richard Freese, city public works director.
Council member Mark Hickey argued the entrance further west on Elton Hills would send many recreation center users on a long detour to reach the front entrance of the center.
"So rather than come in (at the current entrance) and turn, it's this circuitous, half-mile route through a parking lot. … I would suggest that's not a reasonable alternative to get to the front of the building," Hickey said.
The council discussed whether it would be reasonable to seek alternative designs for the site. Time and resources are both in short supply at the recreation center project — a new design would almost certainly push back the completion date, and the project has already exceeded its original budget, according to city staff.
Council member Michael Wojcik made a point to have staff reiterate their position that the proposed layout was the safest alternative.
"The technical expertise is very clear on this. There's no gray area," Wojcik said. "I don't know what it is about this that makes it so different than every other conflict point design that we're doing, but the engineer and the technical expertise is quite clear — it's safer. "
Huyber said traffic data showed only one fatal accident near the site in recent years, and that was at the North Broadway Avenue access.
"The one place that somebody's been killed is the one place you want us all to go in," he said.
Hickey and Huyber both supported a variance to keep the current entrance and exit but change the traffic pattern to allow only right turns in and out of the facility. The council further considered installing a raised median on Elton Hills Drive to prevent left turns in and out at the existing driveway.
"If that was a right-in, right-out, I think that solves all our problems," Hickey said.
The council was not able to reach a consensus decision on that point, though. Members asked for more information on the circumstances of the 15 traffic accidents reported at the entrance and whether they involved right-turning traffic.
The council will review the issue at its next meeting, May 16 .
"I think there was an appreciation of the time constraint, so I fully believe it will come up at our next meeting," City Council President Randy Staver said Thursday.