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How should we grow Rochester’s bike infrastructure? Let’s ask the data.

Guest blog by Nate August (Data Scientist & Graduate, University of Rochester) and Doug Kelley (Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester)

The year 2022 could be a watershed for active transportation in the Rochester region. The City of Rochester is writing a new Active Transportation Plan to update and extend its existing Bicycle Master Plan (completed in 2011). Meanwhile, Monroe County is writing its first-ever Countywide Active Transportation Plan. Both documents will lay out a vision and set priorities to guide transportation policy for years or decades. Their recommendations will literally be made concrete in communities’ sidewalks, bike paths, bus stops, and roads. Smart planning can improve equity and sustainability in everybody’s transportation – and can be empowered by data-driven insights.

Sharrows in Rochester

This spring, our team of graduate students and faculty at the University of Rochester’s Goergen Institute for Data Science, in partnership with the City of Rochester, set out to make data-driven recommendations for one key enabler of active transportation, the City’s bike infrastructure. We drew on a recent scientific study of bike networks in 62 other cities around the world, coauthored by researchers at the University of Rochester and the IT University of Copenhagen. We selected 86 points of interest around the City and calculated many thousands of routes among them, each along existing bikeways and streets, then located the street segments that currently lack bike infrastructure but frequently are part of the calculated routes. Those are places where new infrastructure would carry the most bike traffic and could most quickly improve users’ experiences of Rochester’s bike network. Here are the ten segments most important for bike transportation in Rochester, according to our analysis:

    • Monroe Avenue between Culver Road and Howell Street
    • Elmwood Avenue between Mount Hope Avenue and S. Goodman Street
    • Driving Park Avenue between La Grange Avenue and Saint Paul Street
    • Joseph Avenue between Cumberland Avenue and Norton Street
    • A connection between North Street and Central Park, either Davis and Scio Streets or Portland Avenue
    • State Street between Andrews Street and Smith Street
    • Smith Street between Lake Avenue and Saint Paul Street
    • South Clinton Avenue between Gregory Street and East Broad Street
    • Stone Street between East Broad Street and East Main Street
    • Saint Paul Street between East Main Street and Andrews Street

Our data-driven recommendations agree well with intuition and ongoing community conversation. Many of these street segments are also among the ten most obvious gaps in Rochester’s bike network, according to Reconnect Rochester’s Mind the Gap campaign. Many were recommended for upgraded bike infrastructure in the Rochester 2034 blueprint for growth and development, adopted by City Council in 2019. When different people using different methods tackle the same problem and find similar solutions, it’s a good sign that those could be the right solutions for the community – great minds think alike!

To learn more about the results and analysis that led to our recommendations, check out the interactive map below. It shows the data-driven recommendations along with existing bike infrastructure and the points of interest. You can pan, zoom, and toggle the layers. Altogether, these new segments span just eight miles (13 km) – short enough to be built rapidly and at low cost. As the map shows, they would link disjointed parts of Rochester’s existing bike network and connect it to more neighborhoods, bringing transportation equity to more residents.

Once these ten key segments have bike-friendly infrastructure, further construction would bring further improvements, and we used the same sort of analysis to ask what should come next. The animation below shows what the Rochester bike network could look like as infrastructure is added in 12-mile increments up to 60 miles. According to our analysis, communities are best served by prioritizing dense connections in the City center along with selected arterial connections to outlying areas.

Suggested bike connections in Rochester

There’s more good news when we rate the impacts of these recommendations in terms of directness. If you’re biking from, say, the Public Market to the downtown library, the directness of your route is the ratio of the actual distance you pedal to the distance as the crow flies. A more direct route is quicker and more efficient. By averaging over all the routes among all the points of interest, the directness of a whole bike network can be calculated. The scientific study found, surprisingly, that building new infrastructure during the early part of a bike network’s development can actually make directness worse because new neighborhoods are at first connected only by tortuous routes. But the good news for Rochester is that our strong foundation of roughly 75 miles of existing protected bikeways, bike boulevards and bike paths allows us to achieve steadily increasing directness. Here, bike routes will tend to get straighter and more direct with each new infrastructure project, as long as projects are chosen sensibly.

Our analysis is all about connecting points of interest, so the results depend strongly on how those points are chosen. We started with the City of Rochester Commercial Corridor Business Data, published as part of the 2034 Plan, which tabulates 1800 locations. By looking for clusters of nearby places, we reduced that long list to 86 points of interest, which constitute parks, museums, convenience stores, schools, and other businesses. We checked to be sure that the points didn’t unfairly favor any of the City’s four quadrants or areas with higher median income. In fact, we repeated our analysis with different points of interest, chosen with a preference for serving underprivileged neighborhoods and combined the results for our final recommendations. We’ve worked hard to make recommendations that promote equity and serve all residents.

Of course, recommendations alone aren’t enough. Concrete improvements to Rochester’s bike network will require, well, concrete – as well as public will. You can help make these recommendations reality. Use this interactive map to mark assets, opportunities, and concerns that should be considered in the Countywide Active Transportation Plan. Respond to the community survey for Rochester’s Active Transportation Plan. Encourage your community leaders to prioritize bike and pedestrian infrastructure, especially when they think about big projects like ROC the Riverway and the Inner Loop North Transformation.

Kids ride on a bike path in Rochester

You can also dig deeper into our analysis by reading the full report or adapt our tools and methods to other communities by downloading our analysis code. A similar study of Monroe County would be invaluable and would be easier now that we’ve added much of Rochester’s bike infrastructure to OpenStreetMap.

With more data and analytical processing power available now than humankind has ever before known, our society is in a position to devise and execute truly excellent plans for active transportation networks. Let’s make the most of the opportunity.

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Hey ROC, Mind the Gap!

In Rochester, bike riders have a lot to be grateful for: world-class trails, an average commute of 4.1-miles across mostly flat terrain, and a vibrant bike community. Something we need to work on, however, is the lack of connectivity in our bike network. Too often, road projects are done in a piecemeal fashion and little attention is paid to overall connectivity.

The new regional bike map from the Genesee Transportation Council shows just how fragmented our local bike network is. (Note: the map doesn’t consider sharrows on arterials as bike infrastructure). Reconnect Rochester wants to see continuous, non-interrupted, low-stress bicycle routes. As the City and County gear up for their Active Transportation Plans this year, we are advocating for “a fully connected spine of high-comfort bikeways” that can be built upon for years to come. When gaps are filled, ridership will increase and Rochester can eventually “level up” from bronze to silver in the rankings of Bike Friendly Communities.

With that in mind: Reconnect Rochester, in a play on words, is proud to present the first annual Mind The Gap vote campaign! We took a look and identified ten of the most obvious gaps in our bike network that, if filled, would be a huge connectivity improvement. 

Here’s where you come in, ROC cyclists. We want your vote! Take a look below at the locations we’ve nominated this year and tell us which gaps you think are the most important to fill.

The gap that receives the most votes will be declared the winner and Reconnect Rochester will give this segment special attention with our advocacy efforts. Specifically, we’ll approach the relevant municipality with our community support evidence in hand to make the case that it is a crucial gap to fill.

Some quick notes:

    • You’ll be able to cast votes for three gaps.
    • Think we missed something? There’s a fill-in-the-blank option that will help us with nominations for future years’ contests.
    • We didn’t nominate the Genesee Riverway Trail through downtown. The City is well aware of this obvious gap and through the ROC the Riverway initiative, is addressing it segment-by-segment as funding becomes available. (Someday we will have a continuous riverway trail through downtown to High Falls!)
    • Ideal nominations have somewhat comfortable biking on each end with a relatively short, awkward, or uncomfortable gap in the middle that can hopefully be remedied to have an enormous impact for a great number of riders.

(Ready to vote before reading on? We like the enthusiasm! Click here.)

Without further ado, here are this year’s nominations:

  1. EAST MAIN STREET BETWEEN UNION STREET AND DOWNTOWN The bike lanes between Union and Goodman are okay, though clearly not what was envisioned during the 2015 E. Main & Market District Plan. The cycletracks under construction further east between Goodman and Culver will be a huge step up. But once cyclists from the east side approach Union, reaching downtown is quite stressful due to the awkward 490 turn-off. Cyclists have to move left in the bike lane just as motorists next to them merge right to get on the Inner Loop. This weak spot – an intimidating tenth of a mile! – deters cyclists from what could otherwise be a decent bike corridor. Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. ST. PAUL STREET FROM DOWNTOWN TO BREWER STREET Though there are bike lanes for much of this stretch, the Genesee Riverway Trail deserves better: Protected bike lanes on St. Paul Street from downtown to Brewer Street (or a tad bit further to Carthage Drive for those who don’t want to descend into the gorge only to ride back up), would open up this pride of Rochester to cyclists of all ages and abilities. As it is now, some bravery is required on St. Paul. This stretch is only one mile! Once cyclists reach Brewer Street, there’s comfortable biking up to Ontario Beach Park. Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. WEST MAIN STREET FROM DOWNTOWN TO BULLS HEAD PLAZA Since 2015, Rochester cyclists have biked to Bulls Head Plaza on West Main Street to participate in the weekly Unity Rides. Though the ride itself is joyous and comfortable thanks to the escort, getting there is often a stressful experience. At the moment, there’s no bike infrastructure on West Main and motorist speeds are very high. From downtown to Bulls Head Plaza is only 7/10 of a mile! Fixing this stretch would also make biking to Susan B. Anthony house and Nick Tahou’s easier. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT
  1. MONROE AVENUE FROM CANTERBURY ROAD TO DOWNTOWN The City’s first bike boulevard was installed along Canterbury Road in 2015 to help cyclists approach downtown from Brighton and the southeast side. But once Canterbury ends at Monroe Ave, cyclists are forced to constantly meander left and right, in and out of bike lanes and sharrows all the way to Chestnut Street downtown. This stretch is only one mile. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT
  1. THE APPROACH TO MONROE COMMUNITY COLLEGE (HENRIETTA CAMPUS) Monroe Community College, our area’s largest institute of learning, is very uncomfortable to get to by bike. Though bike lanes have been installed on East Henrietta Road from Westfall south to 390, the bridge over 390 is terrifying. Students, faculty and staff approaching MCC from the north deserve a better approach. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT
  1. STATE STREET FROM ANDREWS STREET TO MORRIE SILVER WAY Trust us. Biking to Frontier Field is the best way to get to a Red Wings game. There’s ample, free bike parking right next to the gates and security guards are there the entire time – a huge deterrent to bike theft. When the game ends, you unlock your bike and ride. You’ll likely be most of the way home before those who drove get out of the congested parking lots nearby. Andrews Street is a wonderful east to west thoroughfare for cyclists, but once you get to State Street, you’re immediately uncomfortable. Steve Carter and Red Wings fans deserve better. The short stretch is only 3/10 of a mile! Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. “THE JOSANA TRAIL” A critical connection the City intends to make someday is between the Colvin Street bike boulevard and the soccer stadium, where the Plymouth bike boulevard continues north all the way to Kodak Park. This is especially important as this area sees the most cyclist-motorist collisions. The intended connection is via the abandoned railroad tracks and would be called the JOSANA Trail. Things always get complicated when CSX is involved, but if this gap wins the contest, perhaps it’ll give the City a sense of urgency in acquiring right of way and finding the funding to implement the planning work that’s already done. This segment of the trail is only a half mile. Jurisdiction: CSX (City of Rochester in the process of purchasing)
  1. THE APPROACH TO EAST AVENUE WEGMANS Biking to the East Avenue Wegmans and locking up your bike next to the front doors is often way more convenient than driving there and searching for a parking space. But Wegmans could certainly be more approachable by bike on each side. From the southwest, cyclists can bike along the comfortable Canterbury/Harvard bike boulevard to Colby Street. But once you get to East Avenue, that short 1/10 of a mile to Wegmans is quite busy. Surely something can be done in this area too to better connect the Harvard/Colby bike boulevard and Wegmans to the future bike boulevard across from Artisan Works on Marion Street that’ll go all the way up to Tryon Park. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT (East Avenue) and City of Rochester (Winton and Blossom)
  1. UNION STREET FROM EAST MAIN STREET TO THE PUBLIC MARKET Riders of all ages and abilities enjoy the new Union Street cycletrack, but its shortcoming is that it’s too short and doesn’t connect anywhere. Though no doubt it’ll extend and curve northwest someday as part of the Inner Loop North transformation, it would make a huge difference if dedicated bike infrastructure continued a half mile north to the Public Market. We know from our marker campaign that the market is a popular desired destination by bike, but that short stretch of Union Street north of Main is intimidating. Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. ELMWOOD AVENUE FROM THE CITY LINE TO 12 CORNERS Rochester’s second cycletrack was installed along Elmwood Ave in 2020 to connect the University of Rochester Campus to College Town. In 2022 and ‘23, the cycletrack will be extended to the Highland Crossing multi-use Trail just across from the Al Sigl Center. In June 2021, it appeared that the further extension of the multi-use trail along Elmwood all the way to Twelve Corners was a sure thing, but the project has since stalled and it’s uncertain whether it’ll proceed. Brighton residents definitely deserve this low-stress bike connection to Rochester’s largest employment hub. Jurisdiction: Monroe County DOT

So, what do you think?

p.s. We got some of our ideas from you with the informal polling we’ve done around town. Thanks for sharing!

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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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“Flower City Feeling Good” Summer Group Rides: Building Community & Learning Road Lessons Along the Way

By Jesse Peers, Cycling Manager at Reconnect Rochester

After taking a bike class in 2013 which made me much more comfortable biking around, in 2014 I adopted the bike as my primary mode of transportation. Since biking short distances was easy and fun, it wasn’t long before I wanted to ride with other people. In May 2015 I took our son and we went on our first group ride: a tour of public art as part of RoCo’s Ride It exhibit. Riding in such a large group was euphoric! I knew I wanted more.

That summer I started attending the weekly Unity Ride at Bulls Head Plaza, then in its first season. The people, the diversity of the crowd, and the Unity Ride’s message – cyclists coming together to stand for non-violence and community – kept me coming back each week. I also started attending the City’s Tuesday Guided Bike Tours sponsored by the Recreation Department. That’s how I got to know Richard DeSarra, who was leading those rides at the time. For decades, Richard was the godfather of all-things-cycling in Rochester. If there was anything happening related to bikes, he had his fingerprints all over it. Most notably, he cofounded the Rochester Cycling Alliance with Jon Schull and was instrumental in the creation of Rochester’s first Bicycle Master Plan.

Richard was a perfect bicycle tour guide. Not only was he a natural at herding a large group of cyclists across the city, but he just knew so much about local history, architecture and culture that anywhere we went, I’d learn something new. It was through those Rec Dept guided bike tours that I got to know Rochester by bike, particularly the Genesee Riverway Trail and other scenic locations.

Eventually Richard’s health started deteriorating and he wasn’t able to lead the tours anymore, though his advocacy and leadership continued until he passed away in 2019.

For several years, Oscar Wilson led the tours and did a great job growing the community. As with many things, the pandemic threw a wrench in those weekly tours and this year, the Recreation Department felt it was time for a reboot of sorts. The City reached out to Reconnect Rochester to see if we’d be interested in organizing and leading the weekly tours. We jumped at the unexpected opportunity and asked longtime collaborator Exercise Express and R Community Bikes to help.

We changed the night to Wednesdays and decided to use these fun community rides to familiarize residents with bike infrastructure, and to focus the tours on the newly expanded Bike Boulevard network.

For those unfamiliar with bike boulevards, they are a low-stress network of mostly residential side streets that parallel busy arterials. Traffic calming measures such as speed bumps are installed to slow down and even deter car traffic, so cyclists have a better experience. Over time, wayfinding signage will be added for cyclists. Until this year, Rochester barely had any Bike Boulevards. Many are probably familiar with the first in the area: the Harvard/Canterbury boulevard from Hillside Ave/Cobbs Hill to Monroe Ave.

In 2021, the City added 20 miles to the network! When you include the next phase of boulevards (the yellow routes above, which are absolutely cyclable now!), the future Running Track Bridge connection, and pre-existing trails, you end up with a bike network like this:

Thanks to Stefan Korfmacher for creating this stylized map for us to generate interest and discussion. Click here for a key.

Here is the best thing about the Bike Boulevards: They are Rochester’s first and up to this point only centrally planned bike network. Whereas bike infrastructure on arterials is too often done in piecemeal fashion “where feasible” with no overall view to connectivity, the Bike Boulevards are the first instance of Rochester zooming out and implementing a centrally coordinated plan to connect the city. As a result, from one end of a particular boulevard to the other, there are no gaps. Keep in mind these boulevards cross major, busy streets but for the most part avoid cycling along them.

It’s important to note that the City views these bike boulevards as complementary to, not substitutes for, on-street infrastructure on arterials. But the boulevards in large part can get you where you need to go within the city comfortably as long as you’re willing to go a little bit out of your way. Someday the network could expand to look like this.

Our hope over the summer was to build up bike traffic along this growing network ahead of time and amp up excitement for construction. We rode from a different Rec Center each week and each ride was about seven miles so it could be comparable in length to other community rides like the Unity Ride. Over the course of the series, we were able to show how these various routes connect with each other to form a usable network. Here are all of our different rides over the summer combined in one image.

Map courtesy of Bob Williams at Genesee Transportation Council

Great emphasis was put on the City’s north side, where not much bike infrastructure is present and where many Rec Centers were kept open during the pandemic due to the vital support they provide to their surrounding communities. Participants enjoyed riding along the east-west boulevards in this area that serve as wonderful alternatives to Norton, Clifford, and Bay.

Though we weren’t able to ride every boulevard this summer, you can see how these low-stress routes really do connect the City! From our marker campaign, we knew residents wanted an easier way to bike to the Zoo and to the Public Market. Well, this bike network delivers! The El Camino Trail, which you can get to via bike boulevards, ends at the Seneca Park Zoo and the Public Market is approachable via bike boulevards from all four directions!

The best part of the series was having participants ride through neighborhoods they had never seen before. Maplewood and 14621 just west of RGH got a lot of love. To my surprise, participants’ favorite ride was the longest one with the most hills! To wrap up the series, we stopped by Exercise Express, which is situated on the Ames Street bike boulevard, for some treats. Along with some group photos, here is some of the neat stuff we spotted along our journeys:

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Bike Safety: It’s more than just bike lanes

Guest blog by Rochester resident, Sarah Gerin

I bought my first bike at a local pawn shop when I was nine, after finding a fresh $100 bill on the floor of a K-Mart earlier that day. Obviously I “invested” the rest (i.e. putting it in the Garfield cup in my room that held my fortunes). As a kid, my experience with biking was minimal, taking short rides around my neighborhood and learning how to ride “no hands” because I thought it looked cool.

I didn’t ride bikes again until 2018, when I spontaneously decided that I wanted to “get into road bikes” as a hobby. I dove head-first into learning as much as I could about the biking world, including different bikes and the local “bike scene” in Rochester. Inevitably, that meant that I ended up visiting – I kid you not – every single bike shop in Rochester to learn from the experts and enthusiasts what bikes made the most sense for what endeavors, and I even got “fitted” for a bike, which at the time felt like the most legitimate thing you could do as a cyclist, especially a novice one.

During my three-week escapade of research, I learned that the local cycling scene in Rochester was robust and the community here is not only knowledgeable, but welcoming and genuinely amazing. People really love to bike, and I think I grew to love it simply from my conversations with people about everything from the best gear to the best trails and the local meetups that happen each weekend.


“I biked for leisure, I biked to work (most of the time), I biked to see the city I’ve lived in for over a decade with fresh eyes.”


I eventually landed on my “entry level” road bike, with plans to work my way up in expertise. Once I made my purchase, my commitment to hitting the road remained consistent and spirited. Biking around Rochester became my official summer activity. I biked for leisure, I biked to work (most of the time), I biked to see the city I’ve lived in for over a decade with fresh eyes. During that time, I had never really considered the gaps in safety for cyclists that exist here because, frankly, the fear for my own safety didn’t ever cross my mind. I felt so free on the road and I took the necessary safety precautions as a cyclist, so what could go wrong?

In September 2019, the occasional thoughts regarding safety suddenly became very real and necessary, when a casual ride down East Ave turned into a not-so-casual ride to the ER after getting clipped and catching my fall with my face, which was thankfully protected by a helmet (wear your helmets, people!!). I honestly don’t recall many details of the incident before I found myself monologuing for hours on end in the ER and entertaining the nurses on the night shift. (Unfortunately there is no evidence of what could have been a GREAT Netflix comedy special, but there is evidence of me trying to walk to my friend’s car like a newborn deer.

What I do know is that the crash happened on the busy stretch of East Ave that doesn’t have a bike lane, which forces bicyclists to cozy up to the curb in order to avoid cars passing by on the road. *Note to cyclists and non-cyclists alike – this is NOT the “right” way to ride in the road, and was not typically my riding behavior. Call it a perfect storm, call it fate. Either way, my face smashed into the pavement and it has changed the way I think about riding and cyclist visibility/ awareness. Along with some semi-permanent changes to my physiology…but that’s a whole other blog post entirely.


“Call it a perfect storm, call it fate. Either way, my face smashed into the pavement and it has changed the way I think about riding and cyclist visibility/ awareness.”


Here’s the thing: My experience with biking in Rochester had always felt quite safe and unhindered despite the sometimes noticeable limited infrastructure in and around the city. Despite these gaps, I never felt concerned, namely because of my own safety measures and the fact that my cycling habits were usually during “off hours” and thus lower commute times. That being said, my crash happened on the one strip of East Ave that of course DOESN’T have a bike lane, during a high traffic time – a Friday night during a summer festival. In other words, a time of mayhem.

I have yet to really know how my own cycling behaviors will be influenced by my crash on the road, but I don’t have any intention of stopping. That is, once I build up the courage to get back on my bike (estimated Summer 2021 after nearly two years of recovery). Despite my unfortunate encounter with a giant moving metal object at rapid speed, I STILL think biking is a safe and enjoyable activity and method of transportation. We are a city of bike enthusiasts and have low-to-no road rage here compared to many other cities! I call that a win.


“We are a city of bike enthusiasts and have low-to-no road rage here compared to many other cities! I call that a win.”


Do I think more bike lanes need to be strategically placed around the city? Perhaps. It couldn’t hurt. But “good cycling” on the road often means that you are in the street. My biggest issue as a cyclist is that the burden of safety is always placed on cyclists, the most vulnerable in a collision circumstance, just like in “rape culture” the burden of safety or responsibility is placed on women.

If you do a quick internet search on cycling safety, you will see important things like wearing brightly colored gear, lights, a helmet, riding with the flow of traffic, and traffic signals. However, if you were to survey a randomly selected group of drivers, how many of them know how to safely engage with a cyclist on the road? How many of them know what a straight arm out versus a bent arm means when you see a cyclist doing it? How many times have you seen drivers not looking both ways (with cyclists in mind) when turning onto a street? If the safety measures diligently taken and used by cyclists mean nothing to the drivers who share the road, there will always be disproportionately increased risk.

Might there be ways to increase visibility, and more importantly awareness about cyclists, that aren’t just about creating bike lanes?

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A Rochester transplant’s perspective: Our city is a fantastic place to bike

Guest blog by Dan Kamalic

As a six year transplant to Rochester, I’ve had some time now to reflect on my experience cycling here versus other cities, and I’ve come to a pretty stark conclusion:  Rochesterians seem to have no idea how good we have it here.

You see, I travel all over the world with my bike (or at least I did pre-COVID) for either my day job or night job.  For the day job, I do computer stuff for decent money.  For the night job, I sing opera professionally for not-as-decent money.  I’ve gone back up from half-time to full-time for the former now that all of my performances for the latter are on hold due to the pandemic, and that’s given me the opportunity to bike ONLY in Rochester for the past year now.  This has only further convinced me that it’s just plain unfortunate that we keep getting ranked lower in “bike friendly city” polls than many cities that, in my experience, are just not nearly as pleasant to bike in. 

Photo Credit: Arian David Photography

Aside from the bounty of beautiful nature just a short ride from the city, the thing that really makes the difference in Rochester is that people are actually friendly, and that includes when they’re behind the wheel of an automobile.  They don’t have to deal with horrible traffic, they don’t seem to be in a terrible rush, and they don’t seem to be generally miserable — they seem to be happy and outgoing in a very “Canadian” way.  

Of course you get a few jerks here and there, but they’re astoundingly few and far between.  I was shocked when I first moved here at how friendly and non-confrontational drivers were to me by comparison with Boston, New York City, or even bike meccas like Portland, Oregon.  It was months before a driver even so much as said a word to me, and when it finally happened, it was to express concern for my safety, not to curse me out.  I’ve joked that I’ll take ten thousand miles on Rochester’s streets with friendly drivers and no bike lanes over ten miles on Boston’s streets with ubiquitous bike lanes and psychotic drivers. 


“What Rochester lacks in bike-specific infrastructure or warm weather, it makes up for tenfold in its unusually low percentage of homicidal drivers.”


Now, this ain’t no Sanibel, Florida (if you don’t know, look it up!), so we can’t do anything about the weather, but the bike success of snowy cities like Minneapolis prove that’s not really an issue.  Rochesterians are hardy folks, and dressing for the weather is second-nature to us.  And the driver attitudes really do make all the difference. 

Photo Credit: Dan Kamalic

I remember when I first moved here from Boston in 2014, that first, incredibly snowy winter, I saw a man sloshing up the bike lane on East Ave in the middle of a pounding snowstorm, towing his child in a baby trailer and running his dog on a leash.  I remember looking over at my wife and saying, “I bet NOBODY has honked or yelled at that guy today, or told him he’s a bad father.” What Rochester lacks in bike-specific infrastructure or warm weather, it makes up for tenfold in its unusually low percentage of homicidal drivers.

Now, if we could only get our infrastructure to be as good as our drivers seem to be, we’d be over the top!  But we’re not going to get there by courting die-hard year-round enthusiasts.  There aren’t enough of those.  And we’re not going to get there by courting people who have convinced themselves that anyone who rides a bike outside of a spin studio has a death wish.  Those people are just too hard to win over, at least at the beginning.  

Photo Credit: Arian David Photography

We’re only going to get there by courting the vast numbers of people who are on the fence.  Especially during the pandemic, these would-be cyclists are finally starting to consider their bike as an option for getting themselves outside, livening up their commute, or getting some exercise.  And these are exactly the people who need to hear that cycling is safe — statistically safer than driving.  They need to hear that there are enough warm months in the year to make biking worthwhile even if you pack it away for the cold.  And they need to hear that the right clothing for cold weather is most likely stuff they already own.  They need to hear that it’s easy to ride in the street, even without bike lanes, and that there are tons of riding groups here — including casual cycling groups like the Unity Rides and Slow Roll — where people can get used to it by riding together with others.

I think this is the key here — we need to normalize bicycling, fighting a cultural shift so powerful that it killed our own subway system.  And the only way we normalize it is by constantly showing regular people that Rochester is a fantastic place to bike.

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ROC Cycling: Knowing Our Weaknesses, Building On Our Strengths

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

When I saw the trailer for Why We Cycle years ago, I instantly knew how special this film was. Finally someone had made a gorgeous film about the myriad of reasons why people all over the world choose to traverse their communities by bike. I’m glad we were able to screen the documentary for a Rochester Street Films event in September 2020 and use it as a springboard to discuss local values and goals.

If you haven’t seen the film or weren’t able to take part in our panel discussion, watch them here.

Rent (or buy) the film

Watch our panel discussion

As our moderator, Mona Seghatoleslami, wrapped up the great discussion that evening, she said, rightly so, that “this is just the beginning of a lot of things.” Let’s examine several takeaways from the film itself, the chat amongst viewers, and our panel discussion, and where we go from here.

Culture at Large

Some participants felt our screening of this Dutch film was too lofty and dreamy. In terms of culture-at-large, we agree. Comparing the Netherlands and ROC is apples to oranges. Dutch culture is indeed vastly different! The Netherlands prides itself on having an egalitarian society, in which they strive for everyone to be shown respect. If you haven’t noticed, the U.S. has much room to improve in this regard to say the least. But that doesn’t mean we have to overturn societal values before we can become a more equitable community in terms of mobility, though that won’t keep us from trying. Other cities of all sizes surpassing Rochester in the national bike rankings proves this.

Being Vigilant and Showing Up

Our panelists made clear that to attain better bike infrastructure, it takes being involved in the process, showing up at meetings (even virtual ones these days) and organizing ourselves. As the old adage goes, “if you don’t do politics, politics will do you.” If the bike community was under the impression that after the adoption of the 2034 Plan, which encourages implementation of “complete streets” designs that accommodate ALL modes of travel, that this would happen overnight with no need for continued advocacy, we were mistaken (see State Street).

One of the words that was spoken over and over during our panel discussion, particularly from Brighton’s Robin Wilt, was “demand.” Just as the Dutch rose up in the 1970s to demand safer road conditions and greater accountability, the active mobility community is going to have to demand safer streets that are designed for all modes of travel, not just cars. We have to keep our leaders accountable to the 2034 Plan, remind them of their values and goals, and when opportunities arise, vote for leaders who stand behind this progressive, multimodal vision.

The Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) does our best to get the word out about public input sessions and other advocacy opportunities. Please make sure you’re on our mailing list and take those opportunities to provide input.

Rochester’s not a bad biking city!

There were varying opinions held by viewers about Rochester’s bikeability — some negative, some positive. Let’s look at the bright side first and identify some of Rochester’s advantages participants took note of in the chat: We are blessed to have the Genesee Riverway Trail, Erie Canal Trail, and an abundance of water and stellar public parks in our community. People pay a lot of money to come from all over the world to Cycle the Erie and we have free access nearby! Overall Rochester is pretty flat, which makes getting somewhere by bike less arduous. And the average city resident has a 4.1-mile commute to work, a journey that can be done by bike at a casual pace in less than 25 minutes.

As several people pointed out in the chat, Rochester has an impressive bike culture for a city of our size. There’s a wide variety of groups with different riding styles, and open-invite group rides take place most evenings during the riding season.

Rochester was awarded a bronze level status as a Bike-Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists in 2012, 2016 and 2020. That’s not bad! A bronze status means we’re on the right track. Yes, there is a lot to be improved if we want to reach silver or gold, but we are a decent biking city already. In fact, I firmly believe Rochester could become the best biking city in the Great Lakes. It’s more within reach for us than other cities due to the advantages noted above. I know many people who are already of the opinion that Rochester is one of the #BikeLife’s greatest secrets. There are affordable neighborhoods within a 15-minute ride of downtown where car-free living is absolutely attainable. If biking on busy, main thoroughfares isn’t your thing (we don’t blame you!), often there are parallel side streets through residential neighborhoods that will get you to your destination in a timely, less stressful way. If you want to get more comfortable on your bike, consider signing up for one of our on-bike classes sometime.

Our Biggest Weakness: Not Zooming Out

Yes, Rochester is making progress in expanding our bike infrastructure. But there was a consensus on participants in the chat that the current process doesn’t work. As it is now, bike infrastructure is installed “where possible” along small, segment-by-segment stretches. Each self-contained project is overseen by a different design firm and it’s apparent there is no overall network vision guiding this process along predetermined priority routes. Because of this, we get a piecemeal, patchwork result where you can bike on one street for several miles and encounter bike lanes, sharrows or nothing at all.

Even the gorgeous cycletrack along Union Street got knocked pretty hard during our chat: It sure is pretty, but what’s it supposed to do? It doesn’t go anywhere and, as bidirectional cycletracks on one side of the street often do, it creates awkward transitions for those on bike.

“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).” ~Brent Toderian

Furthermore, though the City is chipping away at its Bike Master Plan, albeit in small, often disconnected pieces, the suburbs for the most part have yet to get on board. Cyclists might be somewhat comfortable on some city streets with bike infrastructure and lower speed limits, but once they cross the city line into surrounding towns, that infrastructure disappears too much of the time.

Instead of a city full of bike lanes which are uncomfortable for most residents, we need to focus on less mileage but higher quality (protected!) bike lanes along strategic routes. Rochester and Monroe County could also use a more top-down “let it be!” approach when it comes to a usable bike network.

“The fast implementation of projects proved to be far more effective than the traditional model of attempting to achieve near unanimity on projects even when you already have consensus that the status quo doesn’t work. Efforts to reach an idealized consensus have resulted in years of indecision, inaction, and paralysis-by-analysis.” ~Streetfight (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow)

Getting local leaders out of their cars

This next topic brought up by participants is probably unrealistic, but holy moly would it move the needle like nothing else! (And it was discussed on September 12th): Getting elected officials, engineers and planners out of their cars. I suspect that many people in our governments and design firms who design and approve bike infrastructure, may never use that bike infrastructure themselves. If officials had to bike solo in rush hour through every segment of infrastructure they approved, we’d likely see very different bike infrastructure.

“In my perfect world, anyone working on bicycle infrastructure or planning should be handed a bicycle and told to ride it in their city for a month…That would certainly force the issue in the minds of the inexperienced or skeptical. We have been thinking car-first for decades, and that worked out pretty well for motorists and the engineers who cater to them. Now it’s time to switch it up.” ~Copenhagenize (Colville-Andersen)

More than a quarter of Rochesterians don’t drive everywhere, either by need or by choice. How incredible would it be for elected officials to show solidarity with their constituents and get around town a quarter of the time without their cars?

“When I look around the world at the growing list of cities that are once again taking the bicycle seriously, I can identify one primary factor: political leadership. Advocates and activists continue to do their part, pushing from the bottom upward. At the end of the day, though, it seems that policymakers exercising top-down leadership are the catalysts for real change…Politicians may notice…a personal brand boost when they take matters to the next level.” ~Copenhagenize (Colville-Andersen)

Representing All

Finally, panelist Mitch Gruber urged Rochester’s active mobility and bike community to do a better job of outreach to neighborhoods that don’t look like us – of listening to people who use their bikes in different ways than we do. This is something Reconnect Rochester is committed to working on. Our recent signing of the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group’s statement that Racism is a Public Health Crisis was only a start.

Going into 2021, join us in being vocal about the benefits of biking to elected officials, stay tuned for advocacy opportunities, and join us for one of our workshops and cyclist gatherings in 2021.

Want to join the RCA email list to stay abreast of these opportunities? Drop me a note at jesse@reconnectrochester.org and request to be added!