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Jesse Peers (white man) stands in front of Reconnect Rochester door at the Hungerford Building.

By Jesse Peers, Cycling Manager at Reconnect Rochester

As many readers and advocates know, Rochester’s first Bike Master Plan was created in 2011. After more than a decade of investment with that plan as a guide, we’ve made significant progress. We’ve “leveled up” in the League of American Bicyclists’ quadrennial assessment from Honorable Mention to Bronze. Since most cities that are intentionally making progress in terms of bikeability get awarded Bronze, Rochester is in good company (i.e., we’re “average” / “decent”).

After the first initial decade of investment, the City of Rochester recognized it was time to take a step back and reassess. After all, we don’t want to get stuck at Bronze, perpetuate mediocrity, or worst of all – diminish to just checking off a complete streets box without attaining meaningful, continuous and safe connections. The creation of Rochester’s first ever Active Transportation Plan (and the accompanying update of the Bike Master Plan) in 2022-23 served as this step back. Boston’s Toole Design, one of the most respected firms in the country, was hired to create the plan. More on this plan in a bit…

As we’ve noted before, the most significant shortfall in Rochester’s bikeability is the piecemeal, scattered nature of bicycle facilities. If the City keeps doing “what we can, where we can” for cyclists, only giving them “underutilized parking space” when bike lanes and on-street parking conflict, this disjointed nature will continue.

If cyclists are only given “underutilized parking space” when bike lanes and on-street parking conflict, this disjointed nature will continue.

Disconnected segments don’t create a network

For the average person on a bike, who after all is who the City should be creating its bike network for, a disappearing bike lane on a busy road is a lost cause. After a decade of investment, we’ve mostly got piecemeal, disconnected bike lanes, hence no true network yet (the ATP admits this!). If the City wants to lessen emissions and car-dependence, along with getting more women, kids, and older adults on bikes, a greater emphasis must be put henceforward on connectivity.

Excerpts from the City’s Active Transportation Plan

It’s time for a Minimum Grid

In the coming years, as the City looks to implement the Active Transportation Plan, Reconnect Rochester urges the City of Rochester to concentrate on what is called a Minimum Grid bike network in the near term. What is a Minimum Grid? It’s a bare bones, seamless, fully connected network of high-comfort bikeways: at least one continuous bike facility for all ages and abilities in the north-south direction, from one end of the city to the other going through downtown, and a complementing bike facility in the east-west direction from one end to the other through downtown. Because of Rochester’s small size, if we attained that minimum grid and connected it with high quality, well-signaged bike boulevards, that might be enough to get us up to Silver. We could become one of the country’s hidden gems for bikeability.

As Planner Jeff Speck says in this great segment, “It is not unusual to see cities jump very quickly in their cycling population at the moment they cross that threshold from not having an effective, comprehensive system to having a more comprehensive system.” In other words, how many miles of scattered bike lanes doesn’t matter as much as how safe, seamless & stress-free those miles are. Less is more, and we need to shift emphasis and metrics from quantity to quality.

A few examples of cities who have focused political will on attaining a minimum grid and crossed that threshold:

  • Sevilla, Spain built its 50-mile grid in four years, “in time for politicians to brag about [the major biking improvements] in their next campaign.”
  • Victoria, British Columbia’s All Ages and Abilities (AAA) Cycling Network is nearing completion. Next year, 95% of residents will be within a two-minute bike ride of a AAA route! This completion comes 8 years after adopting their plan.
  • Paris, France has been transformed into one of the world’s best cycling cities since Mayor Anne Hidalgo took office in 2014. 52 bike lanes were installed this summer alone.
  • Montreal’s Mayor Valérie Plante is having 200 km of protected bike paths installed in a 5-yr timeframe.
  • New Britain, Connecticut built a very comprehensive network of bicycle infrastructure in ten years. 

Fortunately for us in Rochester, a minimum grid is exactly what our new Active Transportation Plan is recommending, based on community feedback and expert analysis. The ATP calls it the Bike Spine Network, which would hopefully connect someday to the proposed countywide active transportation network envisioned in the County’s Active Transportation Plan. Consultant Toole Design notes that “it is essential that bike lanes be separated from traffic” “on high-speed/high-volume streets [on this spine network]. During the planning process, Toole urged the City to concentrate political will on establishing a minimum grid bike network in the “near term.” Unfortunately, specific timeline goals didn’t make their way into the final document.

Recommended spine network in dark blue; dotted lines are already completed segments, such as the Genesee Riverway Trail and East Main cycletrack between Goodman and Culver.

So Rochester has a better vision. ✔ We’ve got our action-oriented blueprint. ✔ It’s going to take a lot of political will, hardened resolve, and leadership to see this through. Unlike comprehensive plans like Rochester 2034, the Active Transportation Plan doesn’t have to be voted on and adopted by City Council. It’s not the law of the land. Its recommendations just have to be “considered” by project managers and engineers on a case by case basis.

Now let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: On-street parking will have to be sacrificed on certain roads to accommodate the seamless, high-comfort grid. It’s time to be more intentional with where we put our bike infrastructure (and perhaps where we don’t put it as well): to hunker down and determine what those select corridors will be where on-street parking doesn’t win the day over the safety and comfort of vulnerable road users.

At Reconnect Rochester, our job will be to relentlessly point to the ATP and its recommendations for this Bike Spine Network. When an upcoming road project comes along on one or more of those proposed spines, we are going to ask you to join us. When a road project comes along that isn’t envisioned for the Spine Network, we’ll still advocate for safer, complete street designs; we just won’t go at it full-gusto for bike infrastructure as we do with the proposed Spines. After all, if we’re asking the City to concentrate political will (“focus investments”) on fewer, more meaningful bike miles, it only makes sense for us to fight hard for the most important wins. Hopefully in the not-too-distant-future, that Spine Network will be attained and we’ll see ridership soar!

— One Comment —

  1. Great article and it is right to the point. The status quo is no longer acceptable and we need to get assertive and strategic on building a robust bicycle spine through the city and connecting to local municipalities.
    Excellent article Jesse!

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