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Bike infrastructure and bike education: Why it takes both to make a bike-friendly city.

By Jesse Peers, Cycling Manager at Reconnect Rochester

Let’s be honest: there are few cities out there that attract a whole lot of bike ridership without protected bike infrastructure. Whether it’s bollards or curbs or planters that are used, it’s understandable that cyclists want something between them and car traffic besides a thin stripe of paint. When protected bike infrastructure is implemented and it connects people to destinations in a low-stress manner, people use it! It is true that “If you build it, they will come”.

This protected bike lane in Portland, Maine gets residents to their Minor League team’s ballpark. Wouldn’t it be great to bike to Frontier Field like this?

It’s also critically important to fill gaps in the bike network so it’s more usable for the average rider. As Brent Toderian notes, there’s a consensus emerging in the bike world that it’s more about quality of bike infrastructure than quantity (how many miles of bike lanes doesn’t matter as much as how safe & stress-free those miles are). The new regional bike map from the Genesee Transportation Council shows the gaps in our local bike network that lack real bike infrastructure (notice shared use lanes or “sharrows” are not counted as such) Where Rochester tends to score weakest in our regular assessments is in bike network analysis. Reconnect Rochester wants to see some continuous, non-interrupted bike routes as we approach 2034, the City’s bicentennial.

Rochester’s fragmented, piecemeal approach to bike infrastructure installation results in a disjointed “network”

Another key to creating safe roads for riding is messaging to motorists that cyclists have a right to the road. Obviously, drivers harassing cyclists, telling them to “get off the street” doesn’t lead to a very bike-friendly city! We’d love to see every municipality use Bike Month and Bike Week in May not just to tokenly celebrate biking, but a time to get mayors and supervisors in front of cameras and tell motorists this important message: “Cyclists have every right to the street. We want more residents on bikes. More trips by bike helps us meet our goals. Pass them safely and courteously.”

Order a free lawn sign from the Drive2bBetter campaign today!

So we’ve established that protected bike lanes are essential to a bike friendly city, and we’ll keep advocating loudly for them. But there’s no need to keep your bike in your garage gathering dust as you wait for Rochester to become the Copenhagen of North America. You don’t have to wait for some future version of Rochester to appear, and here are some reasons why:

Rochester isn’t a cruddy city to bike in. Many local riders concur and Dan Kamalic wrote a great blog last year observing how pleasant he finds Rochester to bike in compared to other cities he’s lived in. Rochester was rated a Bronze level Bicycle-Friendly Community in 2016 and 2020 (after making honorable mention in 2012), which means we’re a good/decent biking city already. Bronze is nothing to sneeze at; it’s a result of over a decade of intentional investment. We’ve made progress since the City made its first Bike Master Plan in 2011.

There’s absolutely room to improve (we’re not content to remain at Bronze) but cruddy cities to bike in don’t get ranked and recognized. Besides, there are parts of our report cards that Rochester scores very well in such as riding groups and bike events. We’ve got a great cycling community here! Plus we have some of the best trails in the country.

Painted, unprotected bike lanes are still very safe (even though they can be uncomfortable or obstructed at times). Most cyclists’ greatest fear, which is understandable, is getting hit from behind as they bike along the right side of the road. One would assume that with a city of bike lanes without physical separation from motor traffic, that cyclists getting hit in bike lanes would be a common crash scenario. Fortunately, such crashes are extremely rare, here and elsewhere. 

Though some bike lanes could certainly be upgraded, protected bike lanes aren’t necessarily required everywhere. It’s a good bet that our city of the future, like many cities, will feature a mix of protected bike lanes, cycletracks, unprotected bike lanes, bike boulevards and trails working together to form a network. Some highly respected figures in the bike planning world only insist on hard separation from motorized vehicles when speeds hit 30mph. Therefore reducing speed limits and keeping drivers accountable to that speed limit is a great, proven way to make cyclists safer and grow ridership.

In 2021, the City greatly expanded its Bike Boulevard network. There is now a usable low-stress bike network in Rochester that enables you to get around much of the City without the need to bike on busy arterials. The Bike Boulevards primarily stick to residential side streets that have been traffic calmed and connect to existing trails.

Protected bike lanes are awesome but they aren’t a substitute for some basic traffic negotiating skills on your bike. No quality level or amount of bike infrastructure will ever alleviate the need to follow the law, maintain traffic awareness, and abide by some best practices when riding. Even if protected bike lanes proliferate, there will never be protected bike lanes or trails all the way to your destination. You will have to mix it up with traffic some of the time.

That’s where our bike education classes come in. Cycling doesn’t have to feel like swimming with sharks! In our fun classes, you can get the knowledge and confidence to enjoy cycling more. And a big part of being less stressed as you ride is learning to ride in such a way that limits motorists’ most dangerous choices. You can take drivers’ most dangerous cards off the table much of the time. It took taking a class for me to get comfortable biking and I suspect that’s probably true for most people. 

You don’t need an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge to bike; just a handful of tips that really change road dynamics and interactions. I don’t believe a day will ever come when cyclist education isn’t necessary because the bike infrastructure is so awesome. The most bike-friendly cities and countries in the world do a great job of educating cyclists and it starts when they’re very young.

Another reason you should not wait for a city filled with bike lanes: Protected bike lanes and cycletracks aren’t necessarily cure-alls since they can still leave you vulnerable at intersections (where most crashes occur) and at driveways/parking lots. Again, this means that some traffic negotiating skills and awareness are still/always needed. We’ll explore at another time that there are ways to construct intersections much safer for cyclists, and we hope Rochester will pursue these kinds of bold design solutions in the future.

One future possibility for Rochester’s West Main Street: a protected intersection!

So when it comes to bringing about a better biking city, which is ultimately what my job is about, I’m a both/and guy. I’m both pro-protected bike infrastructure and pro-education. It takes both to move the needle and create a bike-friendly city. So get your bike out this spring, and I hope to see you at a great community ride or event. If you want to take one of our classes in 2022 to get more comfortable, reach out and let me know. We encourage you as the City of Rochester and Monroe County create their first Active Transportation Plans this year, to be engaged in the public input process and advocate for better bike infrastructure.

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Top ten things we’re most proud of in 2021.

2021 is coming to a close. In the realm of transportation, this year brought a mix of positive progress and setbacks. At Reconnect Rochester, we strive to be innovative and to pivot fast when we see input opportunities to capitalize on, or mobility issues that need attention.

Despite the uncertainty and challenges of our times, we moved our mission forward with intensity. Below is “Top 10” list of accomplishments we’re most proud of this year.


TOP 10 THINGS WE’RE MOST PROUD OF IN 2021
(In no particular order of importance.)

#10

Legislative Advocacy

In March, we made a virtual trip to Albany to champion public transit and safe streets for Rochester area residents (and all New Yorkers). In April & May, we made the rounds to meet with our federal legislators. Among other things, we asked for Phase 2 funding to build the station that long-distance bus riders deserve. Here’s our team meeting with staff from Senator Gillibrand’s office.

#9

More Cubes on the Ground

Thanks to the City of Rochester and many other people and partners (you know who you are), we installed 16 more fiberglass bus stop cubes in the 19th Ward & La Marketa neighborhoods. That brings the total to 31 bus stops where RTS riders now have a respectable place to sit while they wait. Here’s a birds eye view from the balcony of Teen Empowerment on Genesee Street.

#8

Weighing In on Projects & Plans

Through our Advocacy Committee, we submitted written input, attended public meetings and served on advisory committees on countless infrastructure projects and community plans. We urge planners and decision makers to create a connected community with streets and spaces designed for people. This kind of hyper-active advocacy work results in big wins, like the cycle track you see emerging here on E. Main Street, a project we weighed in on in 2019.

#7

Supporting Public Transit

We continued to play an active role in what’s happening with public transit in our community. We partner with RTS to advocate for increased funding that will allow them to make service improvements and expand bus stop amenities. We support mechanisms that will give riders visibility and voice around decision making tables. When there was an unexpected rollback in service in September, we made a strong statement and tried to keep the community informed.

#6

Spotlight on Pedestrian Safety

At our November edition of Rochester Street Films, we brought together our safe streets community partners, victims of road violence, community leaders and concerned citizens to have a community conversation about the silent epidemic of pedestrian injuries and fatalities on our streets. In case you missed it, watch the recording to catch up on the conversation!

#5

Informing the Electorate

Leading up to election days in June & November, we surveyed all candidates for Rochester Mayor and City Council to learn where they stand on issues related to transportation and mobility. Questions were designed to learn about their opinions, ideas and vision for a well-connected and accessible community.

#4

Making Monroe County Bike Friendlier

We continued to exponentially expand cycling-focused programs, advocacy, education and outreach. In fact, there are so many accomplishments that we had to create a CYCLING TOP 10 LIST. These efforts are led by Cycling Manager Jesse Peers with support from countless passionate people and partners working to make our community a safer and more bike friendly place.

#3

Supporting New Mobility Options

We helped educate the community and promote HOPR’s first season in our area, and we celebrated the installation of 8 new HOPR stations to expand bike & e-scooter access in Rochester’s underserved neighborhoods. We also spread the word about the launch of Floshare, an electric carshare pilot that offers an option for low income residents that can’t afford to own a personal vehicle.

#2

Blog Content That Inspires

We amped up content on our blog and enlisted guest blog writers to help us provoke thought and community engagement about things like transportation climate solutions, urban density, and designing streets for people. We’re especially proud of our 20 Minutes by Bike blog series.

#1

Strengthening Our Organization

Reconnect Rochester took some big leaps forward in 2021. We completed a 3-year strategic plan that charts our path ahead, announced a transformative investment by Dr. Scott MacRae (pictured above) that will enable us to expand our staff capacity, and appointed Mary Staropoli as Interim Executive Director to lead us through this period of growth and transition. In case you missed it, you can catch up on all the excitement here.

Just imagine what we can do in 2022!

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Top ten things we’re most proud of in 2020.

2020 has been a year like no other.

Like every non-profit, the pandemic forced Reconnect Rochester to pivot fast to re-tool our planned programs and goals for the year. Luckily, we are small (but mighty), and nothing if not nimble. Despite all the challenges, we managed to move our mission forward with intensity. Check out (below) the “Top 10” list of accomplishments we’re most proud of in 2020.

We also faced financial uncertainty this year as prospects for grants and sponsorships dissipated. You know what got us through? The generosity of supporting members during our last membership drive, especially our sustaining members whose monthly donations proved to be extra crucial this year.

If you haven’t already, we hope you’ll take a look at the membership levels and gift options and make a donation toward our 2021 Membership Drive so we can hit the ground rolling in 2021!


TOP 10 THINGS WE’RE MOST PROUD OF IN 2020
(In no particular order of importance.)

#10

Releasing a new original short film titled Think Transit First to highlight transportation as a systemic equity issue in our community, and the innovative ways some local organizations are meeting transportation needs. The film premiered at our Nov 12 Rochester Street Films event, which also included a presentation of local statistics and a panel discussion. Please watch and share this important film!

#9

Installing 15 fiberglass bus stop cubes on Parsells, Lyell & Monroe Avenues to give RTS riders a respectable place to sit while they wait, and celebrated at a ribbon cutting event with City officials and project partners. Check out the Channel 8 news story and more photos of the ribbon cutting event.

#8

Hosting a 3-hour virtual Complete Streets Training attended by 60 local public officials, planners, engineers and advocates. Justin Booth of GObike Buffalo led a discussion about the benefits of active mobility and complete streets, and how we can make our roads safe for people of all ages and abilities.

#7

Rolling out a set of bike education offerings to encourage more people in our community to experience the health and financial benefits of biking to get around, and deliver the information they need to do so safely and comfortably.
p.s. Find out more about classes & presentations you can bring to your workplace, campus, community library or schools.

#6

Joining forces with Rochester Cycling Alliance to weigh in on an untold number of transportation plans and projects, like the Priority Bicycle Boulevards plan, GTC’s Long Range Transportation Plan, and infrastructure projects all over the City and County. Our favorite win this year was a final design for E. Main Street that includes dedicated bike lanes, a result of working alongside neighborhood partners to advocate for a street design that accommodates ALL users.

#5

Publicly expressing our solidarity with the movement toward racial justice in our community by signing on to the community statement that Racism is a Public Health Crisis. We also committed to reflect and actively work on holding ourselves accountable for living up to our professed values of equity and inclusion, and centering anti-racism in our work.

#4

Exponentially expanding cycling focused programs and outreach led by the Rochester Cycling Alliance during the first full year of our organizations coming together. A film screening and panel discussion of the Dutch film Why We Cycle, a virtual update on the City’s bike infrastructure, on-bike classes at the Rochester Public market, a bike law refresher video for Rochester Police Department officers, and many more accomplishments too numerous to name.

#3

Getting our Monroe County Crash Map (which had crashed) updated on our website with a fresh new design! The map is a resource for looking up crashes that involve pedestrians and cyclists, and serves as a tool for local advocacy efforts around safe streets in our community.

#2

Adding new multi-modal themed products and designs to our online shop. All sales and proceeds are reinvested to support our work in the community.
p.s. Several new products are available as membership gifts!

#1

Traveling to Albany to meet with local legislators and advocate for a legislative platform to improve transportation in our region, developed in partnership with Our Streets Transit Coalition member organizations.


…and that doesn’t even count the ways we spark community engagement and conversation every day through social media shares and blog posts about things like the survival of public transit, the benefits of reduced motor traffic, or the automobile and racial exclusivity.

We think that’s a pretty darn good Top 10 list for a disrupted kind of year.

Just imagine what we can do in 2021!

Bike Education Classes

Get the confidence you need to enjoy cycling more by taking a 2.5-hour Smart Cycling class! Classes are typically held at the Rochester Public Market or the Reconnect Rochester office (1115 E Main St, Door 4) and are being offered:

Tuesday, May 17, 6:00pm-8:30pm @ the Rochester Public Market

Tuesday, July 19, 6:00pm-8:30pm @ the Rochester Public Market

Saturday, September 17, 10:00am-12:30pm @ Reconnect Rochester’s Office

Many people like the idea of biking more, but they don’t feel safe mixing it up with cars. In this class, students will learn the rules of the road and proper roadway position. We’ll examine safe cycling techniques and ways to make cycling easier and more enjoyable. The class will incorporate classroom learning, parking lot maneuvering drills and a short group ride navigating different traffic scenarios.

Cost:  $25 per person

SPACE IS LIMITED — REGISTER TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • These classes are for folks who already know how to balance and ride a bike. For more information on private learn-to-ride classes, contact cycling@ReconnectRochester.org.
  • Participants must come with their own (tuned-up) bike.
  • Participants must wear a helmet.
  • The class will go on rain or shine. In the event of rain, the classroom portion will be extended to cover more Smart Cycling curriculum.

QUESTIONS?

Contact Jesse Peers at jesse@ReconnectRochester.org or 585-270-1095.

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Get on That Bicycle and Ride

In honor of National Bike Month, we’re sharing this super fun and inspiring music video made by Rochester Cycling Alliance volunteer Laura Mack, along with her sister and partner.

Maker’s Note

by Laura Mack

I have found that during this pandemic, there have been times when I really don’t want to do much of anything. In the morning, I roll out of bed to my bedside table which I have made into my makeshift work desk. I spend most of the work day locked in my bedroom to create a private and HIPPA compliant space so I can talk to my clients who have SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness). There are days when the emotional toll of my work day is hard to leave behind. Social media and those fighting back against what the experts have to say have made tuning everything out all the more difficult.

I’ve found the cure to cabin fever, a cure I have known all along but sometimes it takes reminding, is riding my bike. Whether it’s riding by a friends house as they’re sitting out on their porch, or heading to the local 7-11 or liquor store to get a beverage for dinner that night, those quick trips make all the difference in my day.

I’m not suggesting you ride 25 miles down to Avon on the Genesee Valley Trail, or ride from Buffalo to Albany on the Erie Canal. I am writing this as a gift to you, to dust off your bike and take it for a ride down the street. Whether you have the intention to swing by a friend’s house to say hi and pick up tomato plants, or to the 7-11 to pick up a six pack of beer, I promise the satisfaction of giving yourself some fresh air while doing something practical and time enhancing will make all the difference in your life.

Your bike does not, and I repeat, DOES NOT have to be in the most perfect shape. Make sure you can come to a complete stop at a stop sign and make sure you’ve got a little air in those tires. If you do not own a bike, lots of folks in our community are selling great ones on Facebook Marketplace. Ask questions and look for something you like.

Decrease your excuses to increase your joy.  I hope our music video will encourage you to get on that bicycle and ride!

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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.