Cities like Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis; and Copenhagen have pioneered the urban craft of improved cycling and pedestrian access with remarkable results. Copenhagen, a snowy northern European city, boasts a 37 percent cycling commuter rate and consistently is ranked one of the highest quality-of-life cities in Europe and the world. (You can see a film on Copenhagen’s cycling effort here
.) Portland’s cycling commuter rate is 6.5 percent and consistently is rated, along with Minneapolis, in the upper echelon of livable cities. I lived in Portland for 17 years and saw the transformation from a downtrodden downtown to robust, youthful, and financially vibrant destination and place to live. Cycling and pedestrian development was a key element of their urban renaissance.
Here are a few compelling reasons why Rochester should kick into high gear and support a cycling and pedestrian program.
1) There are surprisingly strong economic benefits. Portland economist Joe Cartwright calculated an annual regional savings of $1.1 billion, or 1.5 percent of the region’s income. These dollars are much more likely to stay and circulate within the region than money spent on gasoline, of which at least 73 percent of its value is exported to gas producing countries.
2) Biking cities and countries are safer. Holland has one-third the motor-vehicle fatality rate compared to the US. Paradoxically, cities that have busy pedestrian-cycling cultures are safer for all motorists and for pedestrians and cyclists because people are more alert while driving.
3) Biking communities are healthier. Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. In Holland, where almost every road has a bike lane, and 27 percent of all trips are by bike, the obesity rate is one-half that of the US.
4) Bicycling communities develop a strong pedestrian and youth culture. Cities like Minneapolis, Portland, and Boulder all are attracting young adults and families that revitalize neighborhoods. I was amazed at the transformation of rundown neighborhoods in Portland that are now bustling with restaurants, shops, and small businesses.
Rochester has equivalent or better higher-education centers than Portland, but it lacks a youth culture, which promotes outdoor activity and mingling within the city. Cycling and pedestrian activities nurture these types of environments.
5) The Greater Rochester area has fantastic cycling terrain for road biking, touring, and mountain biking. Recreational cycling promotion would pay huge dividends in ecology, tourism, economic development, and improved quality of life for the region at relatively little cost. Cycle Oregon
, a week-long bike ride across a different part of Oregon each year, was started 21 years ago by the Oregon State Department of Tourism and attracted 1,033 riders. Now rural communities compete heavily to have it come to their town. There is a lottery to be one of the privileged 2,200 riders from 44 states and 11 foreign countries, and it donates more than $120,000 a year to local rural communities.
Iowa has a similar ride through rural Iowa, called RAGBRAI
, with 15,000 riders, which has given an enormous economic, tourism, and goodwill boost to rural Iowa. A similar ride featuring the Finger Lakes, New York’s wineries, and farmlands and bridging to the Erie Canal and 230 miles of trails along the Genesee Valley Greenway would highlight the beauty of the region.
Rochester’s citizen and politicians should seize this opportunity to finish the Genesee River Trail and also think bigger to make Rochester a high-profile bicycling mecca. Portland has done it, and people have responded to its youthful, recreational, environmentally friendly approach while boosting its economy and improving its quality of life. Now is our chance. Let’s seize it.
SCOTT MACRAE, ROCHESTER