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Rochester is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to unveil a blog series to ask a different question: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?

We chose the 20-minute benchmark for two reasons:

  • Nationally, half of our car trips are within 3 or fewer miles, which equates to a 20-or-so-minute bike ride at an easy, casual pace. If we could save our cars for cruddy weather, when the distances are too long or when we are transporting multiple people ౼ and biked the rest of the time (only for short solo trips in good weather!), we’d live in a different world. We’d be physically and financially healthier. The planet would be healthier. The air would be cleaner. There’d be less wear and tear on the roads. Our streets would be safer for everyone.
  • To inspire people to “shift modes” and choose to walk, bike or use public transportation some of the time – we’ve gotta start with the low-hanging fruit. Though longer distances are absolutely attainable eventually, most people experimenting with biking-as-transportation are going to start with nearby destinations. And that’s totally fine!

This isn’t about getting “into cycling” or becoming a “cycling enthusiast.” You don’t even have to consider yourself a cyclist to hop on a bike and get to a nearby destination. Biking is simply “assisted walking” – it takes the exact same effort as walking and propels you 3 or 4x faster. So even if you’re thinking, “I’m not a cyclist,” we’d encourage you to try biking to a nearby destination sometime. If you want to get more comfortable on your bike, let us know.

So where can you get on a bike in Rochester within 20 minutes?

VIRTUALLY ANYWHERE!

Presenting the first in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this first map, we chose an arbitrary centralized point in downtown Rochester – Parcel 5 – and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get downtown within 20ish minutes on a bike. In the months to come, we’ll unveil similar maps for surrounding municipalities and popular destinations. Big shout out and thank you to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory surrounding downtown, here’s our Cycling Coordinator, Jesse Peers, sharing his personal travel-by-bike experiences:

When my family and I moved to North Winton Village in 2007, we were 100% car-dependent for every trip, the default lifestyle most Americans are handed. We didn’t discover until later that we had landed in one of Rochester’s sweet spots for car-free or car-lite living: The 42 & 38 RTS routes could get us downtown in a few minutes, and as I eventually learned, the following destinations are within a 15 or 20 minute bike ride from our house:

Ellison Park, Donuts Delite, Culver Ridge Plaza, the Public Market, Wegmans, Downtown, Frontier Field, Cobbs Hill, 12 Corners, RMSC/GEM/MAG/Strong Museum, Highland Park & the Little Theatre. RGH too, which isn’t a leisure time destination. But it is a big hub of employment.

North Winton Village, we love you!

After I took a bike class at the Rochester Brainery and wanted to start biking-as-transportation, I started with my workplace, which was (fortunately!) 1.5 miles away – an easy ride which takes less than 10 minutes. When that trip got to be routine and comfortable, I gave biking to church a shot – 3 miles away (20 minutes). Once that was no problem, I started biking to the RCA’s monthly meeting, which at the time was 5.5 miles away. Once I got comfortable with and physically capable of biking 5 or 6 miles, the world opened up. As the RCA’s Susan Levin said on a recent Connections show, “Biking is freedom. Everything else is a bonus.”

One of the greatest things my family and I have discovered when traversing Rochester by bike, is oftentimes you don’t have to stick to primary arterials, which can be uncomfortable by bike. Getting to destinations via less busy, residential side streets is quite possible, and that’s a big impetus behind the City’s Bike Boulevards program, which will be substantially enhanced this year.

Take my three-mile bike ride to our church for instance. Because I’ve learned to bike confidently over many years and the trip has become routine, I frequently take the most direct way: Culver Road, the bike boulevard on Canterbury Road & Field Street.

But if I have our kids with me, or the weather is cruddy, or I just want to avoid Culver Road, I can ride through Beechwood, EMMA, the George Eastman Museum, and the Park Avenue neighborhood instead. Virtually the same mileage and we avoid major, high-traffic streets (with the exception of Monroe Ave – but for only one block).

Another example: getting to a Red Wings game, one of my family’s favorite activities. When you bike to Frontier Field, you get the best parking: right next to the gates! When the game ends, you’re most of the way home before most fans are out of the adjacent parking lots. The simplest way to get to Frontier Field for us would be to bike down Main Street all the way to Plymouth. 

That route is 3.4 miles. Believe it or not, my kids have biked this with me and it took 24 minutes to get to the ballpark. Not bad, especially when there’s no hassle searching for a parking spot and we don’t have to walk from the “car park” to the ballpark.

But if we take the upcoming Garson Bike Boulevard route, which is lower-stress and much more fun, it is still 3.4 miles! Granted it’s a more squiggly way of getting there, but we get to experience the Public Market, High Falls & the Pont de Rennes bridge on the way there – and all the streets are comfortable.

Other thoughts and tips about navigating ROC by bike:

Cities can get a bad rap for biking but they’re often safer than biking in many suburbs and rural areas. There are many reasons for this: In Rochester and other cities, speeds are lower, traffic lights are more frequent, and buildings are closer to the street. All these tend to result in calmer traffic conditions. Plus, bike lanes are becoming pretty standard in the City of Rochester.

Across the U.S., there is much room for improvement in terms of achieving a culture of respect on our shared roads. But as local cyclist Dan Kamalic pointed out in a recent blog, Rochester drivers are nice and respectful overall, especially when compared to other cities. That doesn’t mean on rare occasions you won’t get honked at or receive some verbal abuse. But as we say in our bike classes, “If they yell at you, they see you. The danger is in not being seen.” Stick to these best practices while riding and if you want to gain confidence, take one of our classes sometime.

When we’re talking distances of less than three miles, biking is pretty much the same amount of time as driving. Sometimes it’s even faster. The best part about biking to downtown destinations is that there’s an abundance of bike racks right next to many popular destinations. You don’t need to worry about the hassle and the cost of parking garages. Parking is free. Just be sure to bring a good bike lock.

Try biking downtown for these fun activities: riverside picnics, the Central Library, Movies with a Downtown View, 4th of July fireworks (we’ll never make the mistake again of waiting an hour in a parking garage to move after the fireworks have ended!), Fringe Fest, The Strong Museum of Play, Knighthawks or Amerks games at Blue Cross Arena, Dinosaur Barbeque, and a movie at The Little.

Join us next month for a look at biking in Irondequoit!

— One Comment —

  1. Excellent! This is a better promotion for living, working, & owning a business in Rochester NY than most of the promotions by the 88 economic development organizations in the area. In fact, those organizations ranging from the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Rochester, Regional Economic Development Council to Greater Rochester Enterprise, Rochester Economic Development Corporation, should be providing funds to the Rochester Cycling Alliance, a part of Reconnect Rochester to use social media to “spread these blogs” all over the world.

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