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Something to Learn: Cycling as Transportation

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

Journey from Car Driver to Bike Educator

In 2012, I was just as car-dependent as anybody when Mike Governale’s Rochester Subway blog and ROC Transit Day caught my attention. It was Reconnect’s creativity and ROC Transit Day’s great buzz that got me thinking about getting to work without my car. When my uncle gave me his old mountain bike around that time, I gave biking to work a shot. I discovered it was just as quick as driving, but I wasn’t very comfortable and stuck to the sidewalk.

“I wanted to be less frightened on my bike.”

Confession time: Just ask my parents – I’ve always been a risk-averse, shy, non-confrontational person. When you conjure up the mental image of a macho, super-confident cyclist, that wasn’t me! I wanted to be less frightened on my bike, so when I learned my friend Tracey Austin was teaching a two-hour bike class at the Rochester Brainery in 2013, I jumped at the opportunity.

Bike Education Built My Confidence

Tracey, who had been trained as a bike patrol officer through IPMB (International Police Mountain Bike), was very knowledgeable and reached her students where we were at. No question was off-limits or too stupid. After a brief slide presentation on traffic law and best practices, we headed outside. We learned how to inspect our bikes to ensure they’ll operate properly, and we spent 20 minutes or so learning basic handling maneuvers such as the quick stop. Then came the best part: We navigated Rochester’s streets together on our bikes.

It was a beautiful late August evening, and together we made left turns in left-turn-lanes (!), something I had never done before and would never have done by myself, if not for riding in a group. I recall biking across the Pont de Rennes Bridge for the first time with a gorgeous sunset transpiring before our eyes. It felt like we were Hogwarts students riding broomsticks around the city. When the class concluded, something in me had changed. I knew what the simple bike was capable of and I was now confident enough to bike on most streets. That fall, I started biking regularly.

Ditching the Car for Good

Three months after that class, I got rid of my car and haven’t had one since. I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year. In the intervening 6 years, I took two more intensive bike classes that exponentially increased my confidence and knowledge. And in 2017 I got certified myself (alongside some friends) as an LCI – a League Certified Instructor – through the League of American Bicyclists.

“I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year.”

If I Can Do It, Anyone Can Do It

I talk to so many people who say “You’ll never get me on a bike.” “No way will I ever ride among cars.” Listen, I totally get it. I’ve been there. I understand how scary it feels. It took a class for me to get comfortable on my bike and I suspect that’s the case for many.

If you consider yourself “interested-but-concerned” when it comes to biking (most people identify in this category), I urge you to take a class. It’s not boot camp. It’s fun, cheap and some of the best money you’ll ever spend.

This isn’t about “getting rid of your car.” This is about taking opportunities to bike. The low hanging fruit: the majority of car trips which are under 2 or 3 miles. As I said in a recent podcast interview, “We’d live in a different world if we saved our cars for long trips, when the weather is bad, or when there’s more than one occupant in the car. If we only biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.” And honestly, even if you only ever intend to bike on our beautiful river & canal trails away from traffic, you’ll still benefit from a class: You’ll get more comfortable on your bike and cycling will become more enjoyable.

“If we only we biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.”

Staying Safe is Mostly Up to You

Top-notch bike infrastructure that makes people of all ages and abilities comfortable absolutely has a place in getting more people on bikes. Reconnect Rochester and Rochester Cycling Alliance volunteers are relentless in advocating for that infrastructure.

But I fervently believe that bike education has a crucial role too. Infrastructure alone isn’t enough. Even if Rochester becomes the Copenhagen of North America, there will never be protected bike lanes from your doorstep to your destination. You are going to have to mix in with traffic some of the time. You’re operating a legal vehicle and need to not only know traffic law, but abide by best practices a certified instructor can teach you.

Keep your eye out on the Reconnect Rochester event calendar for bike education class opportunities, like the “Getting Back on Your Bike” virtual presentation I’ll be giving on April 25 for the Central Library. This summer, we hope to have a couple on-bike classes similar to the one I took in 2013. A typical intro class includes a classroom presentation, basic handling drills and a short group ride where we navigate various infrastructure and intersection scenarios together.

Final Two Words: Just Ride

Beyond bike education, I urge you to just ride. Rochester has a wonderful bike scene and there are weekly rides for people of all ages and skill levels that will resume when we get the thumbs-up from officials. Send me an email to subscribe to the RCA’s monthly news, to be apprised of upcoming classes and rides, or if you have any bike safety questions.

A recent study found that people who drive to work would much rather teleport if such a thing were possible. Cyclists, however, the study found, wouldn’t teleport – because they actually find empowerment and joy in the journey.

Montreal's world-class bike infrastructure

bikes at St. Joseph's

A cyclist enjoys visiting St. Joseph’s Oratorio in Montreal.


Just back from a vacation in Montreal, I’ll volunteer a report about the infrastructure of that admirably bike-friendly city. Montreal is easier to traverse by bike than any city I have ever visited, and appears to have more cyclists on its roads as well. Spending four days there, my wife and I saw nearly all the major sites, visiting every neighborhood in our guidebook — and more. We never used a car, or even the Metro, but logged 110 miles on our bikes. Montreal’s bike infrastructure works for a number of inter-dependent reasons.
First, Montreal has a critical mass of bike lanes and cycle paths — you can ride almost anywhere. On an island city, nearly every bridge has a cycle track, or is used solely for bikes and pedestrians. In a bustling metropolitan center, where construction is necessary, bike routes take detours instead of being blocked. Recreational routes through parks and along canals connect to commuter routes so well that the distinction becomes artificial. City festivals have large valet parking facilities for bikes.
Second, Montreal’s bike infrastructure is well-engineered and clearly marked. Bikes are kept separate from pedestrians, and often separate from cars as well. Major bike routes have cycle paths with a curb between bikes and cars; minor routes have painted bike lanes. Following the paths and lanes is straightforward because every intersection has a sign pointing the way to continuing and connecting bike routes. Many intersections have dedicated traffic lights for bikes. Detours for construction are marked well. The long downhill on Jacques-Cartier bridge has barriers that force descending cyclists to swerve — and therefore slow to a safe speed.
Complicated intersections show evidence of particularly careful thought. Where rue Rachel crosses rue Berri, the cycle track on the west side of rue Rachel turns, continuing on the south side of rue Berri, so cyclists face the difficult maneuver of crossing every lane of auto traffic. To help, bike-specific stoplights usher them across one street, then the other. A large paved area is blocked off at the corner in between, giving cyclists a safe place to wait for the light.
Finally, the cycling experience is so much safer and more pleasant on cycle paths and bike lanes that cycling two or three blocks out of your way is worth the trouble. This further separates bikes from cars, and makes transit safer for everybody: major car thoroughfares are not major bike thoroughfares, but both sets of city arteries are extensive enough and close enough to go where people need. Optimizing every road for both cars and bikes is by definition impossible; by splitting the roads, traffic engineers can optimize for cars where necessary, and bikes everywhere else.
After all this praise for Montreal’s bike infrastructure, I have some questions, too, which I’ll address in my next an upcoming post.

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Getting the word out

Mostly, I just wanted to hightlight the GRATS idea with the article below that I have posted in various venues–and to mention that I hope the next meeting of the RCA includes some time devoted to communications–getting the word out about RCA’s mission alternative transporation as a real option in our area.

So, here’s the article:

Rochester bike commuting, the tipping point

Remember when you were a kid and used to watch water drops form? You’d stare at a point where a water drop was building, then after a while a tipping point would be reached and the drop would, well…, drop. Magic didn’t cause it; it was physics and surface tension and (not to bore you) things were building up.

Something like that is occurring in Rochester, NY on alternative transportation. Things are building up. 1. The public’s desire to do something about Climate Change. 2. Rochester, NY’s location at the confluence of several major off-road trails. 3. Many influential organizations willing to work together to solve the transportation conundrum facing us. 4. A five-mile direct trail from Rochester Institute of Technology, Genesee Valley Park, the University of Rochester, and downtown Rochester. All of this is coming together in a new concept by Professor Jon Schull, interim Director, Center for Student Innovation at Rochester institute of Technology. The concept is called GRATS: Greater Rochester Active Transportation System.

Here’s the skinny on the GRATS project: “Rochester has an enviable network of bikeable and walkable trails and boulevards that connect neighborhoods, campuses, and natural attractions. Connect the dots and a few gaps, and give Rochesterians, visitors and businesses new options for local travel, regional recreation, and economic development. With intermodal links to bus stations, train stations, waterways and airports, GRATS gives us a sustainable transportation system. Over half of our trips are under 5 miles. Why not bike? Why not walk? HELP MAKE GRATS A REALITY.” GRATS.

What’s compelling about GRATS is the map. Instead of the usual busy road/bike map, you see a lean, instantly comprehensible grid that conveniently intersects our community north, south, east, and west. You spot your house, your job, or your local grocer and you see how close you are to GRATS. You and GRATS will get you to those important short distances without polluting the planet or costing you an arm or a leg.

Of course, there will be much resistance to the kind of changes needed to seriously change direction on transportation and mitigate its effect on our environment. Some resistance will come from those of us disinclined to change our driving habits. It’s convenient to simply hop or jump into our car and buzz down the road. But the personal fossil fuel vehicle is expensive. The sticker price is only a fraction of the cost of a car. You have to ask yourself: How much did your vehicles cost? The second car? How much does it cost to run it? How much of your taxes go for the upkeep of the infrastructure for your vehicle? How much for insurance? How much do you pay to park? Repairs? Inspection? Insurance? Accidents and deaths? How many jobs do you work to pay for your vehicle? Subsidies to the oil industry? What if gasoline prices start to reflect their true cost—some say $10 per gallon?

More resistance will come from the car and fossil fuel industries. They’ll feel threatened by a public willing to forgo the car for the bike, though that’s a great big hypocrisy: When you’re an employee and your job is being replaced by outsourcing or by new technology, they tell you to get over it. Get retrained and deal with it. But if you are an industry that pollutes and compromises our environment, they don’t succumb to reason and deal with it, they hire lawyers to fight it. They spend a zillion bucks on advertizing and influence peddling to convince you and your representatives that life without a car is unthinkable.

So, what’s the tipping point? What will it take for us to adopt an alternative transportation system like GRATS? What about bicycling in winter? What about getting sweaty and going to work? What about bike storage? The answer is: The tipping point is you. Get involved. Go to Rochester Cycling Alliance and chime in.

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Getting the word out

Mostly, I just wanted to hightlight the GRATS idea with the article below that I have posted in various venues–and to mention that I hope the next meeting of the RCA includes some time devoted to communications–getting the word out about RCA’s mission alternative transporation as a real option in our area.

So, here’s the article:

Rochester bike commuting, the tipping point

Remember when you were a kid and used to watch water drops form? You’d stare at a point where a water drop was building, then after a while a tipping point would be reached and the drop would, well…, drop. Magic didn’t cause it; it was physics and surface tension and (not to bore you) things were building up.

Something like that is occurring in Rochester, NY on alternative transportation. Things are building up. 1. The public’s desire to do something about Climate Change. 2. Rochester, NY’s location at the confluence of several major off-road trails. 3. Many influential organizations willing to work together to solve the transportation conundrum facing us. 4. A five-mile direct trail from Rochester Institute of Technology, Genesee Valley Park, the University of Rochester, and downtown Rochester. All of this is coming together in a new concept by Professor Jon Schull, interim Director, Center for Student Innovation at Rochester institute of Technology. The concept is called GRATS: Greater Rochester Active Transportation System.

Here’s the skinny on the GRATS project: “Rochester has an enviable network of bikeable and walkable trails and boulevards that connect neighborhoods, campuses, and natural attractions. Connect the dots and a few gaps, and give Rochesterians, visitors and businesses new options for local travel, regional recreation, and economic development. With intermodal links to bus stations, train stations, waterways and airports, GRATS gives us a sustainable transportation system. Over half of our trips are under 5 miles. Why not bike? Why not walk? HELP MAKE GRATS A REALITY.” GRATS.

What’s compelling about GRATS is the map. Instead of the usual busy road/bike map, you see a lean, instantly comprehensible grid that conveniently intersects our community north, south, east, and west. You spot your house, your job, or your local grocer and you see how close you are to GRATS. You and GRATS will get you to those important short distances without polluting the planet or costing you an arm or a leg.

Of course, there will be much resistance to the kind of changes needed to seriously change direction on transportation and mitigate its effect on our environment. Some resistance will come from those of us disinclined to change our driving habits. It’s convenient to simply hop or jump into our car and buzz down the road. But the personal fossil fuel vehicle is expensive. The sticker price is only a fraction of the cost of a car. You have to ask yourself: How much did your vehicles cost? The second car? How much does it cost to run it? How much of your taxes go for the upkeep of the infrastructure for your vehicle? How much for insurance? How much do you pay to park? Repairs? Inspection? Insurance? Accidents and deaths? How many jobs do you work to pay for your vehicle? Subsidies to the oil industry? What if gasoline prices start to reflect their true cost—some say $10 per gallon?

More resistance will come from the car and fossil fuel industries. They’ll feel threatened by a public willing to forgo the car for the bike, though that’s a great big hypocrisy: When you’re an employee and your job is being replaced by outsourcing or by new technology, they tell you to get over it. Get retrained and deal with it. But if you are an industry that pollutes and compromises our environment, they don’t succumb to reason and deal with it, they hire lawyers to fight it. They spend a zillion bucks on advertizing and influence peddling to convince you and your representatives that life without a car is unthinkable.

So, what’s the tipping point? What will it take for us to adopt an alternative transportation system like GRATS? What about bicycling in winter? What about getting sweaty and going to work? What about bike storage? The answer is: The tipping point is you. Get involved. Go to Rochester Cycling Alliance and chime in.

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Rochester bicycle boulevard ride a success

On Sunday, May 23 at 1 PM in Cobbs Hill Park, over forty bicyclists began a bicycle boulevard demonstration ride through the Upper Monroe neighborhood in Rochester, New York. They were not racers, or members of a single bicycling club, or recruits for a charity ride. They were just ordinary folks finding out what a bicycle boulevard would look and feel like in our area.

Maybe it is a harbinger of things to come. Portland, Oregon’s next generation bicycle boulevards is already achieving what we are attempting here: “A low traffic volume and low traffic speed street where bicycles, pedestrians and neighbors are given priority.” Already, this concept is being introduced as one of the choices for the Bicycle Master Plan being developed by the City of Rochester and the county of Monroe.

Preparation for this demonstration ride began almost a year ago by choosing a neighborhood properly situated near the heart of the city, en route to popular generators. A generator is a destination that attracts traffic, like a supermarket, a city center, a theatre district, or, in Rochester’s case, its wonderful network of trails (including the New York State Canal Trail) which come to a hub at Genesee Park.

For this specific demonstration ride, a route from the Upper Monroe neighborhood was mapped out and temporarily signed, pointing out each turn of the ride. When fully developed, this bicycle boulevard would not only have permanent signage, it might have many other features like auto speed reduction, auto traffic reduction, and various changes to make crossing busy streets easier and safer. (http://www.bta4bikes.org/) Ultimately, Upper Monroe bicycle boulevards would be linked to a series of other boulevard routes throughout all our neighborhoods providing safe and enjoyable routes that make our neighborhoods more neighborly. Not to mention fewer fossil-burning vehicles, fewer ozone alert days, and a lighter impact on climate change.

What might tip the community from one that views bicycles, walking, and public transportation as peripheral ways of getting around to a city that is designed specifically around these transportation options? Maybe we could take our lead from Portland, Oregon, pack up all our influential community leaders, and send them to Boulder, Colorado or The Netherlands and let them see how they do it. Don’t laugh, it’s been done—and it worked!

No Comments

Rochester bicycle boulevard ride a success

On Sunday, May 23 at 1 PM in Cobbs Hill Park, over forty bicyclists began a bicycle boulevard demonstration ride through the Upper Monroe neighborhood in Rochester, New York. They were not racers, or members of a single bicycling club, or recruits for a charity ride. They were just ordinary folks finding out what a bicycle boulevard would look and feel like in our area.

Maybe it is a harbinger of things to come. Portland, Oregon’s next generation bicycle boulevards is already achieving what we are attempting here: “A low traffic volume and low traffic speed street where bicycles, pedestrians and neighbors are given priority.” Already, this concept is being introduced as one of the choices for the Bicycle Master Plan being developed by the City of Rochester and the county of Monroe.

Preparation for this demonstration ride began almost a year ago by choosing a neighborhood properly situated near the heart of the city, en route to popular generators. A generator is a destination that attracts traffic, like a supermarket, a city center, a theatre district, or, in Rochester’s case, its wonderful network of trails (including the New York State Canal Trail) which come to a hub at Genesee Park.

For this specific demonstration ride, a route from the Upper Monroe neighborhood was mapped out and temporarily signed, pointing out each turn of the ride. When fully developed, this bicycle boulevard would not only have permanent signage, it might have many other features like auto speed reduction, auto traffic reduction, and various changes to make crossing busy streets easier and safer. (http://www.bta4bikes.org/) Ultimately, Upper Monroe bicycle boulevards would be linked to a series of other boulevard routes throughout all our neighborhoods providing safe and enjoyable routes that make our neighborhoods more neighborly. Not to mention fewer fossil-burning vehicles, fewer ozone alert days, and a lighter impact on climate change.

What might tip the community from one that views bicycles, walking, and public transportation as peripheral ways of getting around to a city that is designed specifically around these transportation options? Maybe we could take our lead from Portland, Oregon, pack up all our influential community leaders, and send them to Boulder, Colorado or The Netherlands and let them see how they do it. Don’t laugh, it’s been done—and it worked!