As we look back on 2019, we’re amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish together this year. The highlights below are just a snapshot of all the good work we’ve been able to do, thanks to the financial support of Reconnect members, the passionate volunteers that make our programs and initiatives run, and so many others that engaged in our work in countless ways. Thanks to each and every one of you.
Sponsored a Cornell University Design Connect project to help the Brighton community create a vision for Monroe Ave., with an improved street design and streetscape that is more vibrant and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Gave transit riders a respectable place to sit at our 30+ seasonal bus stop cubes placed around the city. We also worked with a local fiberglass manufacturer to create a permanent cube design as a year-round solution, and have plans to get the first 15 cubes on the ground in spring 2020!
…And this doesn’t count the untold number of advocacy actions we take day in and day out to advocate for the things we all care about, like a robust public transportation system, streets that are safe for everyone, and a community that’s built to be multi-modal.
Guest blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.
Not long ago, a professor at Brockport Central School teacher was struck and killed by a pickup truck about 25 minutes from my hometown of Rochester, NY. The driver was ticketed for “failing to safely pass a bicycle…” a far too familiar slap on the wrist for a deadly crime of negligence.
This is the latest in a rash of similar pedestrian and bike related deaths in my area over the last several months, a tragic but predictably dismissed epidemic that is simply accepted as “the cost of doing business” in American car culture.
This afternoon, I was riding my bike home from work when a speeding pickup truck flew by my just a foot and a half or so away. The driver was trying to make the light up ahead while avoiding the oncoming car in the opposite lane.
As is often the case, the driver missed the green light, stopping before the intersection. I rolled up behind him, calling to his open driver side window, “hope that was worth it!” I received an aggressive hand gesture in response.
This was far from the first time this has happened… I can’t count the number of times a driver has made an aggressive pass on me at an unsafe distance and speed, only to sit at a light or next several lights with me alongside just a few seconds later. But this time, I had a thought that I never did before. I’ve heard so many cyclists and urbanists talk about how many drivers see cyclists as “less than human.” Indeed, I’ve written articles talking about the lack of respect for cyclists because of the inability for drivers to see bikes as viable forms of transportation. Instead, drivers see cyclists in the road as a recreational nuisance impeding their commute, nothing more.
Today, I realized it’s even worse than that. In order for drivers to see cyclists as sub-human, they have to acknowledge humanity in the surrounding environment in the first place. Even to see someone as less than you is to see them and be aware of their existence. I truly now believe, based on everything I’ve seen in driving behavior, that most drivers don’t see the cars, bikes and other vehicles around them as being piloted by living things at all. I believe the average driver sees other motorists and cyclists simply as video-game-like obstacles that need to be overcome in order to advance in a game of speed and power. In other words, there is something about the automobile that disconnects drivers from the reality that anyone else on the road or in the surrounding environment is worthy of their respect as human beings with spouses, families, jobs and dependents. It’s not that drivers see cyclists and pedestrians as less-than-human, it’s that aggressive motorists will stop but nothing to reach their destination in timely fashion, seeing all others as sand traps and water hazards, cones and barrels, or any other inanimate barrier to success and “freedom.” It is a level of self-absorption rooted in a century of individualistically auto-centered American behavior so ingrained that it blinds the power-infused driver to the presence of potential human impact.
This might seem like an extreme assumption, and perhaps it is. But I can think of no other explanation for the incredible disregard for the physical safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers that motorists routinely display. In our eyes behind the wheel, people become objects, cyclists become hazards and other drivers become enemies.
We can’t solve the problem of pedestrian, cyclist and auto fatalities unless we get to the root of the mindset that enables their frequency. Next time you pass a cyclist, think of her family. Next time you enter a crosswalk without looking both ways, think of the young man trying to get to work or to class. Next time you move aggressively around another car, think of the children that might be strapped in the back seat. Think of the lives these people live, the people who love them and depend on them instead of the 10-30 seconds that putting them in danger may save you. We’re all in this together out there, so let’s start driving like it! Or better yet, take the bus, get on a bike or walk to where you need to go whenever possible!
We can all do our part to make our community safer by paying more attention behind the wheel.
Check out the Drive 2B Better campaign website to learn how. Watch some super cool ad videos. Test your knowledge of the rules of the road. Take a pledge and commit to doing your part.
We have exciting news! (It may be the worst kept transportation-related secret in Rochester, because most of you already know.)
Reconnect Rochester and Rochester Cycling Alliance, two groups that work to promote transportation alternatives in Monroe County, are combining their operations. We will be working together as our own little dream team; wonder twins; transportation alternative superheroes. Together, we will continue striving to create a transportation network that allows all people — regardless of age, ability, income and mode of transportation — to get around safely in the Rochester region.
Reconnect Rochester was founded in 2009 by a group of ordinary citizens who saw a need to create a more multi-modal and robust transportation network that prioritizes people, regardless of their mode of transportation. Over the last decade, our organization has rallied and engaged the community and local leadership to create more robust public transportation, more complete streets, and better, safer transportation alternatives for all.
The Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) began in the summer of 2008 with the goal of uniting local bicycling advocates, enthusiasts and organizations to provide a public voice for all cyclists. RCA has promoted the use of bicycles as transportation, sport, recreation and health. It advocates for improved cycling infrastructure, education, programs and legislation. It strives to help implement active transportation plans, training and outreach programs to help encourage more people to ride, and local governments to provide more complete streets to allow them to safely do so.
This shared vision of a more multi-modal region was at the heart of the decision for the two organizations to join together. Reconnect Rochester, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is expanding our mission and purpose. Our newly blended team welcomed Jesse Peers as Cycling Coordinator this summer. He joined our Director of Planning & Development, Mary Staropoli, as our second official employee. Bill Collins, Brendan Ryan and Susan Levin joined Reconnect Rochester’s board of directors as representatives of the RCA, whose membership will continue their bike advocacy efforts as a work group of the larger organization. Reconnect Rochester’s other active work groups will continue to concentrate on furthering bus system innovation, rail transit, and pedestrian safety.
“People tend to attach themselves to their vehicle of choice, but it’s not about bike people versus bus people versus car people,” says Mike Governale, founder of Reconnect Rochester. “Our hope is that by bringing the groups together, we can begin to break down ‘mode silos’ and encourage the community to view transportation options as an interconnected system. Transportation planning is about moving people, not vehicles.”
Dr. Scott MacRae, Immediate Past President of RCA said, “Under the leadership of the late RCA co-founder and past president Richard DeSarra, the RCA has been instrumental in helping create bicycle/pedestrian master plans in the City of Rochester and the multiple surrounding municipalities, introducing bike share to our community, and expanding bike lanes and infrastructure to keep moving us toward the goal of being a top tier bike friendly community. It was Richard DeSarra and others who envisioned combining forces of the two organizations synergistically.”
Jesse Peers, Reconnect Rochester Cycling Coordinator: “We’re better together. The youthful energy and creativity within Reconnect’s organization, and the decades of experience in advocacy work that RCA members bring to the fore, is the perfect combination.”
As our organization evolves and learns new things, so too does our leadership team. After almost a decade at the helm as president, our incomparable founder Mike Governale stepped into a new role on our Board of Advisors. In January 2019, Renée Stetzer and Pete Nabozny moved into new roles as president and vice-president, respectively. And the tireless work of our board members picked up steam with the addition of Michael Damico as the new Pedestrian Work Group Chair. He joined longtime board members Brenda Massie, Jason Partyka, DeWain Feller, Dan Speciale, John Lam and Daniel Cordova.
It takes a village to bring about change in our transportation network. Our collaboration will give our collective multi-modal efforts a huge boost, as we share resources, infrastructure, ideas and energy.
Join us to help celebrate our growing organization on Thursday, December 12 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Fifth Frame Brewery Co. (155 St. Paul St.). No RSVP necessary. Complimentary appetizers & cake. Cash bar.
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
I get it, if you’ve never taken the bus before, the proposition of hopping on one is a little scary. Nobody wants to look like they don’t know where they are going or what to do. The hardest part for riders in most cities is knowing when a bus is coming, where to get it and what bus to take.
Fear not, for we are in an amazing time of digital information! RTS has its own app, so you can know where your bus is and what time to be at your stop (very handy on rainy or snowy days). You can also plan your trip via desktop at myrts.com. Some people find the app a bit clunky or don’t want another app on their phones, so turn to Google.
Download the free Google Maps app on your smartphone, enter your destination and click directions. Then if your starting point is different from where you currently are, you can add that as well. Be sure to select the “transit” icon on the screen for directions that feature bus service.
For this example, I want to travel from Reconnect Rochester’s headquarters on 1115 East Main Street to our Louis M. Slaughter station to catch an Amtrak train. The map will show me the best bus routes coming up in the next hour or two…
But right now it’s 9:23am… Since my Amtrak train departs Rochester at 2:03pm, I want to see which bus will work for me this afternoon, not right now. In this case, I can click on the drop-down arrow next to “depart at” and select “arrive by” instead. I know I want to arrive at the train station by 1:55pm to be safe on time, so I can enter that time into the Google Maps and the app will show me the best bus options to get me there on time.
I can see right on the app that I need to leave Reconnect Rochester at 1:26pm and walk a short distance to the Main and Minges bus stop, where the bus will depart at 1:27pm. The bus will arrive at the transit center at 1:35pm, and from there I can walk North to the train station, which should take 10 minutes. I will arrive at the train station at 1:45pm with plenty of time to prepare for my train departure.
Don’t have a smartphone? Go to Google Maps on your desktop or laptop and follow the same instructions above. Remember to bring a dollar for each bus ride you need to take! When you approach your destination, remember to pull firmly on the cord running along the side of the bus to signal the driver that you would like to disembark. And if you don’t want to walk to-and-from the bus, you can bring your bike with you!
Google Maps has done wonders for the directionally challenged with regard to easy automobile navigation, but it can also empower us to efficiently utilize our urban transit systems. The fear of not knowing which bus to take and when, and where to go to catch it is almost completely alleviated, and for most of us, that’s half the battle. So if you’ve hesitated to explore Rochester using public transit (it’s cheap, easy and you don’t have to worry about parking!), try using Google Maps and plan your trip with the confidence of a pro!
On September 17th, the Rochester’s City Council approved changes to the city code in regard to bicycles. The bike ordinances hadn’t been updated since the 1960s! For a full listing, see below. Of particular note is an official prohibition for cars parking in bike lanes. The city is being very upfront that enforcement will be soft and gradual and that there must be some efforts towards changing the culture and educating motorists before the prohibition is strictly enforced. The RCA and Reconnect Rochester are eager to collaborate with the city on that educational work. In the meantime, go ahead and thank council members for moving us in the right direction.
Amending the Municipal Code with respect to bicycle riding and bike lanes
BE IT ORDAINED, by the Council of the City of Rochester as follows:
Section 1. Chapter 34 of the Municipal Code, Bicycles, as amended, is hereby further amended to:
a. Revise Section 34-1, Definitions, to read as follows: BICYCLE: Every two or three wheeled device upon which a person or persons may ride, propelled by human power through a belt, a chain or gears, with such wheels in a line or tricycle arrangement. BIKE LANE: The portion of a roadway that has been delineated and marked for the use of bicycles, not including any lane specifically marked for the shared use of bicycles and motor vehicles. CENTRAL TRAFFIC DISTRICT: The area bounded by the Inner Loop, North Union Street, South Union Street, Howell Street and Interstate 490, but shall exclude the Inner Loop, Interstate 490 and their respective frontages. CYCLE TRACK: A pathway in the public right-of-way that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic and distinct from the sidewalk and that is marked for the use of bicycles. A cycle track may be configured for one-way or
b. Revise Section 34-6, Regulations, to read as follows: A. Bicycle riding rules for persons 12 years of age or under. Unless accompanied by a rider over 18 years of age, children 12 years of age or under shall ride bicycles on the sidewalk, cycle track, Genesee Riverway Trail or other multi-use trail. B. Bicycle riding rules for persons over age 12. Persons over 12 years of age shall ride a bicycle either on a usable bike lane or cycle track or, if a usable bike lane or cycle track has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along the bike lane, cycle track or right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. Conditions to be taken into consideration as potentially unsafe include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, in-line skaters, pedestrians, animals or surface hazards. Within the Central Traffic District, persons over 12 years of age shall not ride a bicycle on the sidewalk except where the sidewalk is identified as part of the Genesee Riverway Trail or other multi-use trail system, or if riding with a child 12 years old or under, or if reasonably necessary to avoid unsafe conditions in a bike lane, cycle track or roadway. Outside of the Central Traffic District, persons over 12 years of age may ride bicycles upon the sidewalk, Genesee Riverway Trail or any multi-use trail. The prohibition against riding bicycles upon sidewalks in the Central Traffic District shall not apply to police officers in the performance of their duties. C. Yield to pedestrians. The operator of a bicycle shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians when using the sidewalk. D. Riding in groups. Bicycles shall not be ridden more than two abreast upon a roadway. Persons operating bicycles upon a shoulder, bike lane, cycle track or sidewalk may ride more than two abreast if sufficient space
is available. When passing a vehicle, bicycle, in-line skater or a pedestrian, persons operating bicycles shall ride single file. E. Passengers and towing. No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped. The operators of bicycles shall not pull another person on skates, a skateboard or similar device and shall not pull or tow a sled, wagon or other item unless by the use of a bicycle trailer, trailing bicycle or other device designed and intended to be connected to a bicycle for that purpose. F. Maintaining Control. Operators of bicycles must keep at least one hand on handlebars and both feet on pedals. The obligation to keep both feet on the pedals shall not apply to an operator who is unable to do so due to a condition or impairment that constitutes a disability within the meaning of federal. state or local law.
Section 2. Chapter 111 of the Municipal Code, Vehicle and Traffic, as amended, is hereby further amended to add a new subsection to Section 111-24, Standing or parking prohibited in specified places, to read as follows: No person shall stand or park a vehicle, except momentarily to pick up or discharge a passenger or passengers, or when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, or in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or traffic control device, in any of the following places, unless otherwise indicated by official signs, markings or parking meters: E. Within a bike lane, a cycle track or a trail designated for bicycles or mixed uses. Section 3. This ordinance shall take effect immediately.
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
Brighton will soon open a new piece of pedestrian and cycling connectivity as the long awaited “Highland Crossing Trail” moves closer to completion. A joint collaborative effort between The City Of Rochester and The Town Of Brighton, the new mixed-use trail will combine crushed stone paths with double-wide sidewalks through Brighton, connecting the Erie Canalway Trail and the Genesee Riverway Trail via Brighton Town Town Park and Highland Park.
The project, more than a decade in the making, will wind through Brighton, connecting the already existing trail from The Erie Canalway through Brighton Town Park to Westfall Road, Elmwood Avenue near Lilac Drive, Highland Park, South Avenue near May Street, and eventually the Genesee Riverway Trail via Mount Hope and McLean Street. The section between Westfall and Elmwood is particularly key, as it bridges a gap for pedestrians and cyclists that would otherwise mean traversing busy roads like South Ave. and Clinton.
“I am excited to partner with the City of Rochester on the Highland Crossing Trail project,” said Brighton Town Supervisor Bill Moehle. “Trails enhance the quality of life in our community by connecting people and neighborhoods, and by bringing people closer to nature. The Highland Crossing Trail will connect the Erie Canal Trail in Brighton to the Genesee Riverway Trail in Rochester and will be the latest link in Brighton’s expanding trail system.”
Moehle’s trail reference includes the “Brickyard Trail” which opened in 2016, connecting the town’s residential neighborhoods and library with Buckland Park.
The Highland Crossing Trail is a welcomed collaboration between The City of Rochester and The Town of Brighton, helping to sew the multi-modal and recreational fabric of our communities together. While seemingly a small step, the importance of this urban/suburban partnership to improve connectivity and quality of life in our area cannot be overstated. This new mixed-use project highlight’s Brighton and Rochester’s commitment to a rich trail system that facilitates commuting, fitness, recreation and family activities in the hopes of a healthier, more sustainable community that encourages all types of active mobility.
Guest blog by Calvin Eaton. Calvin is the founder of 540WMain Communiversity, a grassroots non-profit community based university. Calvin is a digital content creator, social entrepreneur, and educator whose area of expertise includes antiracism, diversity, inclusion, K-12 curriculum writing and teaching, gluten free plant based living, and higher education.
If you’ve followed my journey over the last couple of years you probably know that I sold my car in June 2018 and became a car-free professional. There are so many reasons why going car-free was the best decision for me and I want to share a few things I’ve learned over the past year and why I plan to continue my car-free lifestyle.
Like every typical American teen I couldn’t’ wait to get my drivers license so I could enter into grown up world of driving. Like most youth I had been indoctrinated to believe that getting my drivers license at the ripe old age of sixteen was the consummate mark of becoming an adult. American culture worships the car and the transition from child to pre-teen to adult is distinctly marked by getting a drivers license and soon after getting your first car. I admit that for me a drivers license (and by proxy a car) represented freedom, independence, and adulthood. At no point in my adolescence did I question this societal standard, ask why car ownership is idolized, or ask if youth in other cultures are cultivated to own a car at the stroke of sixteen like we are here in America.
After years of driving and adulting; last year I came to the strong conclusion that I honestly do not enjoy driving. In actuality, I hate driving. Driving for me is a sometimes necessity to get from point A to point B or take care of very specific tasks in life. Generally speaking, for me the process and responsibility of driving and more importantly being a responsible driver is stressful. After years of being car payment free and then bucking to societal pressure and getting a lease for a new Honda in 2016, last year I came to a dramatic conclusion that none of it was worth it. Not the maintenance, not the insurance payments, not the monthly car payments. I realized that I do not enjoy driving enough to own my own car and it was this realization that served as my primary reason to get sell my car and become car- free.
What I’ve Learned
Since then public transportation has become my primary means of mobility throughout the City. For me, public transportation works great. I live on a main bus line, work remotely and spend most of my time in the inner city going between the east and west parts of the City via Main Street. Most of my deviation from this daily norm is my travel to area colleges for co-working and meetings. For these times I use Lyft. In addition to these methods of mobility, I walk and sometimes bike. Walking and biking would be more part of my daily regimen if I did not have to deal with the ill and daily effects of living fibromyalgia and chronic pain which sometimes make walking and exercise difficult. Still since ditching my car I am happy to get in more daily steps and see more of the City. When the weather is clear walking is so beautiful and it has been a great way to place myself in spaces and places that I would never enter into if I commuted by car.
I understand that my work and and life affords me privileges that make going car free much easier for me than others. Still I am glad that I am in the position to bring more awareness to public transit, biking, and even walking to get around the City. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that for many young professionals like myself it is really about having a repertoire of easy to access mobility options at the ready when I need them. For me, having a car every single day is just not necessary. However it is necessary for me to be able to have a roster of easily accessible mobility options at my beck and call when I need them. There are some days that I will take the bus in the morning and then take a Lyft back home. Sometimes I borrow a family member’s car when I need to transport something then I drop it off to them mid-day and walk to the bus stop to get to my next destination. Just today, I took the bus downtown, took two meetings, then walked back home. I had my mother drop me off at the public market and then hailed a Lyft to 540WMain. This type of multi-mobility has become just as common and seamless for me as jumping in a car was just a few years ago.
I’ll admit that sometimes planning out my transit in advance can be a minor annoyance and every now and then after a late night class at 540, I wish I didn’t have to wait for the next bus; but for me these moments are few and far between. Because I have designed a highly dense life where everything that I need is within close proximity a car is not only impractical for to get around Rochester but burdensome. I just do not need a car every day and when I do need one, I have the access for that specific occasion and once that is fulfilled my needs are met.
I recognize that going car-free is not the lifestyle nor an option for for everyone but for those that are able to ditch the car or use their cars less, tapping into the biking community is not only good for the earth but good for our City. The more folks that use RTS the more services and infrastructure that will be created to accommodate a more comprehensive system. This will normalize public transit as a viable and accessible mobility option. The more folks who bike for commute the more biking will be normalized on our City streets and force officials, planners, and policy makers to make spaces and communities that support intentional bike infrastructure and design. As we travel deeper into 21st century living we need to be less reliant on cars and more reliant on urbanscapes that make mobility easy and accessible for everyone. Owning a car should be a choice not a necessity to tap into all that our City has to offer.
Story By Susan Levin. Susan is a cycling advocate, board member at Reconnect Rochester and chair of the Rochester Cycling Alliance workgroup.
The Rochester Women’s Bike Festival is back for its second year in Corn Hill! The Festival will be at Adams Street Recreation Center, 85 Adams St. on Saturday, June 15 from 9 AM to 3 PM. The event is free! Registration is available here. Watch for updates at facebook.com/rochesterwomenbike
Why are we creating a bicycling-event focused on women? Studies have shown that women will use a bicycle for everyday transportation if it’s convenient, comfortable, and safe. When women ride, they teach and encourage their children to get around the same way. For some, it’s economical—for the cost of a few tanks of gas, she can have reliable two-wheeled transportation all the time. Cycling also promotes physical and mental health. In the end, her whole community is safer if she feels it’s safe to get around by bicycle at all.
Over 130 women (and a few men) attended the event last year as participants, speakers, vendors, and volunteers. Three bicycles, donated by R Community Bikes, were given away as attendance prizes at the end of the day, along with gift baskets, salon certificates and bicycle accessories. There were ten breakout sessions throughout the day, and in between sessions, a complimentary breakfast and lunch were served. Four women were chosen to learn, hands-on, how to repair a flat tire and dozens of women practiced loading and unloading a bicycle on an RTS bus.
The Festival is offering space for women to ask questions, learn, and try out bikes in an understanding and non-intimidating atmosphere. Men are welcome to attend, as long as they are also there to encourage women to bike, but be prepared to discuss women-centered topics.
This year, RWBF organizers, including Corn Hill business owner Karen Rogers of Exercise Express, are planning an even bigger and better event.
Additions to this year’s festival include: on-street practice rides led by LCIs (League Cycling Instructors, a certification program from the League of American Bicyclists), healthier food options, more vendors in the Expo area, and more speakers. The RTS bus and Pace Bikes will both be back. Also returning is the bike zoo, where women will be able to test ride different kinds of bikes, such as cargo and e-bikes. REI and Tryon Bike, along with Bianchi Dama representatives, are scheduled to present short maintenance clinics. Breakout sessions will include: How and where to buy a bike; How to bike with children; How to grocery shop by bike; How to find a group ride and more.
Feel free to drop in and visit the vendor booths, the Bike Zoo and all the sessions. You can also sign up via that link to volunteer or request to host a vendor table. Volunteers will be needed for greeters, set up and break down, staffing info tables and general gophers. Vendors can be about bikes or any sort of organization who would be of interest to women who bike.
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
The mind conjures the 7-year-old’s awkward stride as her kid legs push vigorously against the ground to gain speed as she holds on to the handlebars for dear life. Or maybe it’s the formidable mustache of Kevin James in the movie “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” as he patrols his local shopping center on a Segway. The fact is, since the scooter was invented, it’s been viewed almost exclusively as a children’s toy, or a middle-aged man’s vehicle toward social isolation. Or rather, those were the only definitions until just a few years ago, when venture-capital startup giants with names like Lime and Bird began dropping electric scooters down in US cities, almost overnight. Now with over 60 cities sporting these new motorized transportation marvels, the former adult stigma of riding a scooter has turned into a national movement.
And if you haven’t heard, we’re next.
A few weeks ago, the first news stories began reporting that Rochester will see these two-wheeled machines hit our streets as soon as this year. As no surprise, this announcement has been met with equal parts optimism and skepticism, with some excited to see a new transportation option in our city, and others worried about what hazards they could bring. In any event, e-scooters are a very divisive and at times heated topic, so let’s take a look at what we really know about them.
What Is E-Scooter Share?
Just like our Pace bike share network in Rochester, e-scooter sharing is a smartphone app-based system whereby you can easily locate an e-scooter near you, activate it with your phone, pilot the machine to your destination and end the ride on your phone when you’re done. Just like bike share, you’ll be charged based on the amount of time you use the e-scooter.
E-scooters are far more robust than the small kick scooters you see children riding. Equipped with formidable electric motors, these machines have a top speed of 15mph, allowing you to zip around the city at a respectable speed without breaking a sweat. Literally. No kicking, no pedaling, just hit the throttle and go.
While e-scooter share systems started on the streets of San Francisco in 2012, the phenomenon really exploded in 2017-2018. Large venture capital-based companies with names like Lime and Bird began distributing e-scooters in western cities with no warning, almost overnight, and typically, without the blessing of local government. In fact, electric scooters weren’t even legal in many of these municipalities.
In spite of this, e-scooters become instantly popular, garnering use from the curious urban fun-seeker to the daily commuter alike. By the time cities began to question the legal, safety and community impact of these micro-mobility machines, people had become so attached to them that they fought vigorously for their continued existence. The e-scooter startups had created such a strong public demand in such a short period of time, it almost forced local governments to grant licensing, change laws and accommodate for their continued use.
In 2018, e-scooter share trips topped 38.5 million across the country. For the first time, scooter share trips exceeded bike share trips (36.5 million) in the U.S., even though bike share has been established in US cities far longer. Like it or not, e-scooters are booming, and the trend shows no sign of slowing.
As of now, e-scooters are not legal in New York State. This will likely change sooner rather than later. Support from Governor Cuomo, and more recently a bill introduced by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Nily Rozic are putting the wheels in motion for municipalities to make their own laws regarding e-scooter operation. Cities and communities would be left to decide whether or not to allow e-scooters, as well as legal restrictions on their use.
What Are The Positives?
E-scooters can be tremendous “last mile” or short-to-medium distance transportation options for city residents and visitors. They can facilitate car-free travel without breaking a sweat, or be a fun activity on a warm summer night.
A national study by Qualtrics showed that 55% of Americans believe that e-scooters are a “lasting innovation.” This number was 72% for people that had already used an e-scooter share service. Seventy percent of commuters said they prefer e-scooter share to bike share. Two-thirds of all respondents said they believed that e-scooters had a “positive impact on the environment,” and were good for their city.
Surveys found that 62% of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively. For respondents under 35 years of age, the support was 71%. Support from people of color was 74%, and support from residents with incomes below $30,000 was 66%. Seventy-one percent of Portland riders used scooters for transportation and 34% of residents and (as well as 48% of visitors) said they took an e-scooter instead of taking a car, using ride hailing services or taking a taxi.
In sum, the few studies that have been conducted on e-scooter use and community impact imply that a majority of people are in favor of their continued use. There is also evidence to show that residents and visitors use them in place of driving or using ride hailing services, which potentially decreases automobile congestion on city streets.
One of the biggest positives with regard to implementation in Rochester is the fact that Zagster, the trusted company that already operates our Pace bike share service, will be rolling out the new e-scooters. Unlike so many cities across the country in which tech startups have imposed scooter share programs without the blessing of local government, Zagster is working with the city to create a system that fits our needs and addresses major issues. Having an e-scooter operator that already has a positive working relationship with local government and the community is a tremendously positive first step toward a bright future for this service in Rochester.
It’s Not All Roses…
As you may have heard via countless news outlets, e-scooter programs have had their issues. Concerns over safety, “sidewalk litter” and pedestrian disruption are often very valid complaints with regard to these machines.
A safety study conducted by UCLA between September 1st 2017 and August 2018 tracked emergency room visits link to e-scooter share use in Los Angeles and Santa Monica hospitals. In all, e-scooters led to 249 emergency room visits, with no fatalities and two intensive care unit admissions. In the same time period, 195 ER visits for bicycle injuries and 181 visits for pedestrian injuries were reported, suggesting that e-scooters may be more dangerous than walking or biking.
A recent 87-day study conducted by the CDC in Austin, Texas showed similar concerns. The findings showed that, for every 100,000 rides, 20 injuries occurred, and 14% of these injuries led to hospitalization. Sixty percent of the reported injuries were suffered by riders who had used e-scooter share 9 times or less, suggesting a “learning curve” with regard to safe piloting of these machines.
Beyond safety, another concern with regard to these machines is that they tend to create “sidewalk clutter.” This occurs when riders reach their destination and finish their ride, lean the scooter against a tree or pole, only to have a slight wind or something else knock it over. The result is often the presence of e-scooters lying in sidewalks, obstructing pedestrians.
Lastly, while these machines are intended for use in the road, sidewalk riding is a frequent complaint. Since e-scooters can reach 15 miles per hour, the zipping by people on foot at these high speeds can be a nuisance, and potentially dangerous.
Let’s Take A Step Back
Scooters, like cars and bikes, are amazing tools for getting around. But they can potentially be a health risk, especially for new and inexperienced riders. While many people have ridden bikes, it’s safe to say that electric scooters are a very new riding experience for most Americans. There will no doubt be a learning curve when using these machines in our city, as speed, riding position, turning radius and the overall feel will be new to virtually every Rochestarian. With this in mind, it’s important for potential riders to “take it slow” and enjoy these machines carefully when learning how they respond and maneuver.
Let’s also put e-scooters into context. Forty-thousand Americans died and 2.5 million were seriously injured in car crashes last year alone, and most of those were due to operator error. Yet most Americans don’t hesitate to climb into their cars and SUV’s each morning and head off to work. The difference, of course, is that a misstep behind the wheel can cause tremendous harm to the driver and others around them while a bad decision on a bike or scooter will likely only result in the rider being injured. While it’s vital to consider safety for everyone, it’s also important to remember that these are 45 pound machines that can travel 15mph, not 3000 pound SUV’s capable of triple digit speeds. The potential for injury, damage and death that a poorly piloted e-scooter can cause is no match for carelessly driven automobile.
As for the issue of sidewalk litter, e-scooter companies are already searching for creative ways to encourage people to park their machine after using it. Skip, an e-scooter share company that has branded itself on being friendly and compliant, is working on a tethering system in which a rider would use a retractable bike-style lock to secure the scooter to a pole or bike rack after riding. Their scooters are already armed with a sensor that can detect when a scooter parked upright, and when it is simply left on its side as a potential tripping hazard.
Lime has rolled out an in-app feature called “Parked-Or-Not,” which encourages users to take a picture of their properly parked scooter after their ride. Lime and other companies are also testing and considering “points systems,” in which riders would be incentivized to park their machines responsibly with discounts and/or coupons for local establishments.
When cars first hit the streets of American cities, they were heralded as a nuisance and a serious safety hazard. But in a short time they became by far and away the most popular form of transportation in our country. Every mode of transportation has had its growing pains, but kinks are worked out with time, infrastructure gets built, and standards, both legal and societal, naturally evolve. For all intents and purposes, e-scooter share programs have only been on the radar for 2-3 years. Just like the automobile a century ago, there are certainly issues to be addressed, but with time, these troubles will likely diminish. When public demand for these machines are as high as they are, their parent companies will find solutions that make their use safer and more convenient for everyone.
What Is Reconnect Rochester Recommending?
As a leading advocate for smart, safe transportation and mobility in our city, Reconnect Rochester has made the following recommendations to City Council based on extensive research into e-scooter share data and media reports:
Use the first year as a pilot program to collect data on scooter usage, impact and public perception to allow for more informed decisions about the e-scooter share in Rochester moving forward. This will allow for flexibility and innovation that is tailored to the Rochester experience. The City of Portland’s Shared Electric Scooter Pilot Program provides an excellent example of what might be carried out in the City of Rochester. Portland discovered so many challenges during its 2018 pilot that it decided to conduct a second pilot year in 2019.
Consider capping the speed at 12mph to start. Beginning with a lower speed may give the inexperienced rider (and there will be a lot of them) time to adjust to this new mode of transportation and provide more reaction time for road hazards and traffic conditions. Given that most e-scooter trips are 1 to 1.5 miles, this lower speed won’t impact the trip time for the rider, but may help reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Make education a top priority. Offer free classes and online information on how to ride, where to ride and how to operate a scooter safely. In partnership with community organizations and the e-scooter vender, provide frequent training sessions at R-Centers and throughout the City to help encourage safe operation and road sharing.
Establish a set of best practices for e-scooter users and others who share the road to follow. This will help reduce tensions between the different modes of transportation as our community learns how e-scooters fit in. It will also help reduce the potential of crashes and injuries.
Establish guidelines with vendor to help reduce clutter on sidewalks and public rights of way. For example, consider tethering/locking features and designated parking infrastructure.
The key to a positive e-scooter share service in Rochester is a blend between an open-minded approach, a well-structured set of standards and expectations, and a willingness to explore new ideas to make the service better for everyone.
My Personal Experience
As an avid fan of alternative transportation, I already own an electric scooter, despite the fact that they are not legal in our state.
My experience with my e-scooter has been nothing but positive. At a maximum speed of approximately 17mph and a range of about 15 miles, my machine allows me to leave the car and bike behind in favor of a vehicle that gets me where I need to go without breaking a sweat. After hundreds of miles of e-scooter use, I can confidently consider myself an expert rider, and have never had an crash or fallen from the device. It is easy to operate, as long as I am alert and aware of my surroundings.
I will qualify that my positive opinion and safe navigation is likely due to the fact that I have biked nearly 10,000 miles over the last 5-7 years. This experience of traversing busy streets on two wheels, with balance, quick reaction time and precision likely eliminates much of the learning curve it might have taken a new e-scooter rider. With that said, I personally believe e-scooters are powerful, environmentally conscious and fun machines, and I welcome the day when e-scooters are legal across New York State.
It’s not a matter of “if” electric scooters will hit the street of our city, it’s “when.” And when they do, there will likely be excitement and acceptance, mixed with growing pains and learning curves. These devices are environmentally friendly alternatives to short trips by car, as well as fun and interesting ways to see our great city. As Rochester continues to evolve, and young people continue to ask for more transportation options, our city is positioning itself to offer a greater network of mobility options. E-scooters are part of that vision, and while there will certainly be hurdles, there is tremendous potential for a positive result and a meaningful additive to Rochester’s ever-evolving fabric.
The community response was tremendous, and we thank all those who took the time to submit nominations! We received a total of 159 nominations for 31 locations in Monroe County.
The Steering Committee had a tough task to choose from so many quality submissions and deserving locations! A set of established judging criteria helped guide us through the selection process. Here we are, hard at work examining each and every submission:
So What’s the Good Word?
In the end, we selected the following locations for this year’s project:
N. Clinton Ave. in the El Camino neighborhood – WINNER
S. Clinton, S. Goodman & Henrietta St. – FINALIST
Monroe Ave. & Sutherland St. (Village of Pittsford) – FINALIST
The North Clinton Ave. location presented the right mix of community support, evidence of safety concerns, and potential for a street re-design that would create real, transformative change for the community through our project. A Complete Streets Makeover will also be perfectly timed to dovetail with plans already underway for this corridor.
The Complete Streets Makeover will kick off with a community input session in June (facilitated by the Community Design Center) to hear from the residents of the El Camino neighborhood about their experiences and ideas. No one understands what it’s like to use our streets better than those who walk, bike, roll and ride along them everyday.
Based on feedback from this session, the complete streets design team at Stantec will draft conceptual design improvements of an improved streetscape. The design will be brought to life through a temporary on-street installation in September. We will rely on people power from the neighborhood community, and equipment from the Healthi Kids traffic calming library to lay down the temporary design on the street. Stay tuned for project updates as we go along!
What About the Finalists?
Our finalists won’t walk away empty-handed! The design team at Stantec will provide each of them with a conceptual drawing of street design improvements. The neighborhoods can use these illustrations as a launch pad for community discussion, and a tool to help advocate for changes that would make these streets safer for everyone
Cycling advocate Richard Fries, in town to serve as announcer for the Twilight Criterium, also led a slow ride highlighting bike infrastructure around Rochester.
Rochester’s Bike Week 2019 was a huge success! Thanks so much to the ride leaders and organizers for collaborating with us. Bike Week kicked off Friday, May 10th with the RCA’s annual Light Up The Night Ride. The weather was a little chilly but everyone had a good time decorating their bikes with glow sticks and riding around town. Saturday was area cyclists’ favorite day of the year: the MVP Twilight Criterium put on by Full Moon Vista. Kecia and Black Girls Do Bike went on a ROC Urban Slow Ride with announcer Richard Fries. At the same time, Jesse Peers led his first George Eastman Bike Tour of the year for George Eastman Museum. Families converged on downtown for the Criterium races in the evening.
Weather was awful for Mother’s Day so rides resumed Monday with Flower City Bike Party’s Welcome to Rochester Ride. On Tuesday, riders got their pick between the city’s Tuesday Guided Bike Tour and the Rochester Bike Kids’ Taco Tuesday Ride. The biggest ride of the week, the annual Ride of Silence, occurred on Wednesday as area cyclists rode for safer streets in solidarity with those harmed and killed while riding their bikes. The weekly Unity Rides resumed on Thursday, this time with a couple RPD bike patrol officers accompanying us.
Friday morning the RCA conducted a Bike To Work Day bagel & coffee giveaway beside the Union Street Cycle track to give commuters the chance to fuel up for their commutes. Deputy Mayor James Smith and many commuters from City Hall were present for Mayor Warren’s Bike Week proclamation. That evening, riders got to choose between the annual Beechwood Ride and the Tryon Bike Social Ride. Cyclists headed over to the Flower City Arts Center on Saturday for the free bike wash. Though the thundershowers postponed Sunday’s annual Seersucker Ride, 15 riders chose to ride anyway before the storm hit. Join us Sunday June 2nd at 10am at Abundance Food Co-op for the Seersucker Ride makeup date.
Don’t miss this year’s Rochester Women’s Bike Festival on 15 June! Focused on beginners, the event is overflowing with talks and workshops about how to bike safely and enjoyably around Rochester. Learn about traffic rules, gear, maintenance, routes, and more. Breakfast and lunch are included, ASL interpretation is provided, and daycare is available. Lucky attendees will win bikes from Yellow Haus, DreamBikes, and a personal donation. Admission is free, so register now. The event runs 9-4 on 15 June at the Adams Street Recreation Center, 85 Adams Street.
We are thrilled to welcome Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator and newest member of a growing staff team at Reconnect Rochester!
Jesse is hitting the ground running (or shall we say hitting the road biking) due to his already deep involvement in cycling advocacy and education. Learn more about his passion for the work in the message below.
Rochester-area media outlets are noticing the growing momentum of bikes in our communities, if their coverage of Bike to School Day is any indicator. WHAM aired this segment focusing on the Bike to School Day event at School 23 in Rochester, and WHEC aired this segment giving an overview of the event.
It’s no accident that Bike to School Day is getting noticed–lots of schools are hosting events, and lots of community leaders are participating. At Indian Landing School in Penfield, more than 150 people rode in last Wednesday’s Bike to School Day event, including Penfield Town Supervisor Tony LaFountain and Brighton Town Supervisor Bill Moehle. Penfield school superintendent Dr. Thomas Putnam greeted riders at the school as they arrived. At Jefferson Road Elementary in Pittsford, more than 150 people biked, including Town Supervisor Bill Smith and two members of the Town and Village Boards. At School 23 in Rochester, more than 60 people biked, including Principal John Gonzalez. The group was greeted by Interim Superintendent Dan Lowengard as they arrived at the school. At Manor Intermediate School in Honeoye Falls, 100 people biked, including Superintendent Eugene Mancuso and Principal Jeanine Lupisella. (See more about their event on this post on facebook, and this one and this one on Twitter.) In Brighton, Council Rock Primary School, French Road Elementary, and Twelve Corners Middle School all participated. Twelve Corners had about 150 riders, French Road had even more riders than last year’s count of 240, and Council Rock has expanded their event to span the whole week–nice. Big thanks go to all those leaders for their support of bike transportation! Bike to School Day is a national event held the first Wednesday of every May, with thousands of schools participating. Its goal is to highlight biking and walking as great ways to get from place to place, not just one day each year, but every day. Biking and walking improve our physical fitness, make us healthier emotionally, reduce climate change, cost less than driving a car, and build community by putting us closer to our neighbors. And teaching our kids to go places by walking and biking lets them take on freedom and responsibility gradually and in age-appropriate ways. A kid with a bike isn’t stuck in his room with video games and social media all day!
Organizing a Bike to School Day event at your own school is really easy, and the Rochester Cycling Alliance would be glad to help–just send us an email. You can also bike with your own kids on the way to school, start a bike train with lots of kids biking to school and a few parents taking turns riding along, or let your older kids bike to school on their own. (My friends and I started in third grade.) You can also talk to your school about incorporating bikes and bike safety into physical education classes; the New York Bicycling Coalition has a curriculum ready to go.
It’s Bike Week in Rochester! In fact, Bike Week is so full of great events that it’s swollen to more than a week, running 10-19 May, 2019. So whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a curious new rider, you can get involved in lots of events to kick off the summer cycling season and explore Rochester on two wheels. All of these events are on the RCA Calendar, which includes more details (click the + at bottom right to get them on your calendar, too). Get a load of them:
The Light up the Night Ride, with glow sticks and prizes, starts 10 May at 7:30 pm at 131 Elmwood Ave.
The George Eastman Bike Tour, rolling through Rochester history, starts 11 May at 10 am at George’s place (900 East Ave).
The Twilight Criterium will race through the streets of downtown Rochester at breakneck speed on the evening of 11 May.
Kidical Mass will take a family ride for Mothers’ Day on 12 May at 10 am.
The Flower City Bike Party Ride will cruise through the southeast neighborhoods on 13 May, starting at 6:30 pm at 275 East Main St.
The City of Rochester will start its Tuesday Guided Bike Tours on 14 May at 6 pm at the Lake Riley Lodge in Cobbs Hill Park.
Rochester Bike Kids will stage their first Taco Tuesday Ride of 2019 on 14 May at 7 pm at 489 South Ave.
The Ride of Silence will have cyclists riding in solidarity for safer streets with better bike infrastructure on 15 May, starting at 7 pm at 275 East Main St.
The first of this summer’s Unity Rides will begin at 7 pm on 16 May at 855 West Main St.
It’s national Bike to Work Day on 17 May, and RCA will be offering free coffee and snacks through the morning at Union and Broad Sts.
The Beechwood Ride will tour that neighborhood on 17 May, starting at 5:30 at 530 Webster Ave.
Meanwhile, the Tryon Bike Week Social Ride will start at 6 pm at 80 Rockwood Place.
Get the grime off your ride at a free bike wash, 18 May 10 am to 3 pm at 713 Monroe Ave.
The Reconnect Rochester Beechwood Complete Streets Makeover will turn a dangerous intersection into a welcoming place for bikes, pedestrians, and drivers; help make the makeover happen 10 am to 2 pm on 18 May at 441 Parsells Ave.
Last but not least, the Seersucker Ride will take us out in style on 19 May, starting at 10 am at 571 South Ave.
Check out the RCA Calendar for links, contact information, descriptions, and more!
It’s April in Rochester, so our Pace bikeshare program has returned from hibernation, and bikes are back on the streets. In fact, I took my first bikeshare ride of the season yesterday, and it got me from a lunch meeting at U of R to an afternoon meeting in the East End for just $1, in less than 15 minutes, on a warm and lovely day, when I didn’t have my own bike with me.
As maybe you realize, $1 per ride isn’t enough to support the bikeshare program. Each of the dozens of Pace docks in Rochester exists because city government, businesses, community organizations, and citizens have come together to provide $9000 per year. Some docks bring customers and are enthusiastically supported by businesses whose earnings increase much more than the cost of the dock. But to really grow active transportation in Rochester, we need the bikeshare network to cover lots of places people go, and to extend to under-served populations for whom low-cost bike transportation is not just a novelty, but a true economic opportunity.
That’s why I urge you to help keep bike share on Hudson Avenue by making a donation for the dock there. Our friends at Reconnect Rochester fund the dock with a yearly campaign. You can read their well-stated explanation (and also find out about the perks of becoming a supporter). Donate here. I did!
According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the Canal Trail will be closed near I-390 in Gates from 22 April until Memorial Day or later. Cyclists are advised to find an alternate route. You can read more here.
The Rochester Cycling Alliance is co-sponsoring the 2019 Active Transportation Summit, organized by Common Ground Health. Scheduled for May 23, 8:30-4 at the Rochester Riverside Hotel, the summit is themed “Ideas into Motion”. It will feature consultant and activist Mark Fenton as the keynote speaker, New York State Department of State Director of Smart Growth and Planning Paul Beyer as the plenary speaker, and sixteen breakout sessions. You can learn more and get tickets here. And you can support the summit with a donation using the button below. Hope to see you on 23 May!
Story By Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.
As I write this, the city of Rochester is passively preparing for yet another battle with a dreaded but familiar foe, lake effect snow. Winter boots and labored commutes will surely be the icebreaker (pun intended) conversation starters at the office water cooler today. But for the Urban Planner, as well as the casual observer, periods of light snow can be opportunities for great discovery.
In that time when the first whispers of a snow storm cover our streets and the plows are still dormant in their stalls, we navigate our vehicles on roadways by following the tracks left behind by the cars that recently came before us. To an Urban Planner, these tracks, especially with regard to their path through intersections, are of particular importance.
The ability to see the space that cars use (or rather don’t use) when traveling through an intersection by looking at these tracks through the snow gives us a golden opportunity to demonstrate how and where our streets can be narrowed. Think of it like an Urban Planner’s forensic blacklight, revealing the key unseen evidence of superfluous roadway.
These visual clues created by snow and tire tracks through our intersections are called Sneckdowns. While the name might conjure the image of a Dr. Seuss character, it is actually derived from the combination of “snow” and “neckdown,” which is a term for sidewalk additives and extensions that reduce traffic speeds and increase pedestrian access.
Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
In 2014, urbanist Jon Geeting authored a Slate article in which he took simple photos of sneckdowns on Philadelphia streets. His efforts inspired walkability advocates around the world to do the same, but best of all, it led to real change in his own backyard.
Before Picture. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
Jon Geeting’s Sneckdown photo of this intersection paved the way for this concrete island which acts as a traffic calming measure and a pedestrian island for safer crossing. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting
Clarence Eckerson’s famous STREETFILMS video shows some incredible examples of how overbuilt our streets really are. With a measuring device and some cold weather grit, Eckerson puts the power of sneckdowns right in front of the viewer, showing how snowbanks that accumulate on city streets can give us a clearer understanding of how to construct and reconstruct our streets going forward.
Sneckdowns also give the average citizen the ability to see where change can be enacted. It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to spot tracks in the snow, it takes a conscious observer who is genuinely concerned about safety and walkability in their environments.
Hey Rochester! Next time it snows, take to the streets and see if you can spot overbuilt space on our roads and intersections. It can be a fun, interesting and positive way to start the conversation about safer streets in your neighborhood, and may even lead to the change we want to see!
Reconnect Rochester is searching for an individual to spearhead all cycling related events, advocacy, education, and outreach activities for our organization. This person will work closely with our volunteer Cycling Work Group in running all aspects of our cycling efforts, and will work out of our office in the Hungerford building on E. Main St.
The job may be part-time, but the benefits are endless.