Rochester eclipse: Police prepare for heavy traffic during eclipse

Eclipse HQ: Public safety during the total solar eclipse in Rochester

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — April 8 is not the day to go to the doctor. April 8 is not the day to go to Wegmans. April 8 is not the day to take two cars to an event. 

That’s according to police, county officials, and anyone else who has a stake in the total solar eclipse crossing North America this spring. 

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, completely blocking it out. While a partial eclipse is visible for hours — and looks like someone took a bite out of the sun — totality on lasts a few minutes. Within city limits, it’s about 3 minutes and 38 seconds. 

Rochester is one of many cities right in the path of totality and is poised to welcome between 300,000 and 500,000 visitors, according to county projections. With all those people comes hundreds of thousands of cars, too.

“We anticipate and anyone that comes should anticipate that travel is going to be slow,” Deputy Joshua Deruyter said. “It seems to be consistent — it’s not just a dead stop but it will be slow — so we’re really not devoting a whole lot of resources to that. There’s not much we can do.”

Deruyter is the Captain of Special Operations for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. He says the priority for MCSO is getting staff stationed ahead of the big crowds so that emergency services can run normally. Their goal is to spread out enough deputies — and pair them with other first responders — to minimize the travel time in the event of an emergency.

Here in the city, RPD is planning on flexibility. The officers are no stranger to big events, but what makes this one different is that people aren’t all going to be congregating in one place.

“When it ends at that 4:30 timeframe — 5 o’clock — whatever it may be, everyone’s going to leave at once, and everybody’s going to go different directions,” RPD Public Information Officer Greg Bello said.

Bello said officers are well-versed on procedures for closing a particular road, or managing pedestrians. The challenge will lie in deciding which roads to close, based on real-time reactions to where people are, and what makes the most logistic sense.

No matter how prepared they are, Bello said the crowds are unavoidable, and folks should be prepared to sit in their car for hours on end. To help mitigate this, the official recommendation is to avoid any unnecessary travel. He compared it to a snowstorm.

“Be prepared that you’re going to be stuck in traffic for possibly a long time,” Bello said. “Granted it won’t be snowstorm weather — but things like having a full tank of gas, things like having food in your car, things like having safety plans phone chargers things along those lines —  having them in your car expecting that you may be stuck in traffic for hours.”

While the eclipse itself doesn’t start until around 2 p.m., celebrations start in Monroe County as early as 10 a.m. And just after totality most folks are expected to pack up and leave.

“What we also see statistically or traditionally is that people come, they watch it, and then 95% of them leave within 15 minutes,” Deruyter said. “Which is what creates all these problems with traffic.”

So what can you do to stop traffic? Not very much. But you can keep yourself out of it by running errands before or after April 8, and avoiding “unnecessary” travel. Even folks who try and avoid backed-up highways by taking back roads will likely end up disappointed, as Deruyter said those back roads are expected to get busy, too.

Don’t think you’re safe if you live outside Monroe County. Folks who traveled two hours to the last eclipse in Denver spent over ten hours trying to get home on the same routes. With both Rochester and Buffalo on the path of totality, just about everywhere in between is expected to back up.