Hop off the New York State Thruway at Syracuse, head South on the I-81 expressway and you will understand. Cruising above the city’s downtown, you see the urban streetscape as if you’re flying over it, past it, like it’s something you want to avoid on your way to another more rural destination. Lost on most who travel this vehicular express route is the truth that bypassing cities with above or below-grade highways was a principle element in the demise of American cities. Indeed, the worst thing that happened to our urban culture was creating the expectation that you, the driver, can speed through it, past it and around it.
From expressways to 4-lane one way streets, we have fostered a belief that any urban corridor should be traversable by car quickly and easily, even if the result is an erosion of walkable streets and small business interests. Fast cars mean less street level activity, simply because we as humans are averse to environments that are loud and dangerous… even if we aren’t always aware of it.
Today, I was almost hit by a car while legally riding my electric scooter on a city street. The driver accelerated around a slower car into the bike lane, and missed me by a foot as he sped away in his 2-ton pickup truck. The street in question has multiple lanes of traffic in either direction, giving the driver the sense that he is in control, and that this environment is built for speed. Anyone who stands in the way of this construct should be dismissed, even if it means the potential injury or loss of human life. This kind of street design doesn’t just empower drivers like this one to drive fast, it justifies it. The design of urban right-of-ways sends a clear message to everyone about what’s important, who is prioritized, and more importantly, who isn’t. Speed limit signs mean little when we create environments where the potential for speed is high and the risk of speeding FOR THE DRIVER is extremely low.
Our insanely overbuilt American roadways have created an expectation of automobile speed, while the byproduct is far too often severe injury or loss of life for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Nearly as costly is the effect that the expectation of automobile speed and convenience has on cities, communities and the way we prioritize space. When forty-four foot wide roads create a loud and uncomfortable pedestrian experience, the shops, storefronts, parks and street level amenities that rely on pedestrian prioritization fail as well.
The expectation of automobile speed, convenience and prioritization must be challenged as we begin to realize the nauseating metrics of car-centered communities. The importance of seeing cars as dangerous, exclusive and community-killing vehicles has never been so important.
The cycling season in Rochester continues with Bike Week 2021, spanning two consecutive weekends from May 7 to 16 and offering cycling events for all ages and levels of expertise.
The purpose is to celebrate biking in Rochester and expand the use of bikes as practical, daily transportation. With many people taking up biking during the pandemic, Bike Week welcomes new riders and demonstrates the great community and infrastructure available to cyclists in Rochester.
For the second year, Bike Week will present a new themed Ride of the Day (ROTD), with a suggestion for a destination, group ride, or photo op. This is your chance to just get out there, using your own creativity and bikes. Look for our ROTD posts every day on Instagram and the other social media platforms.
Bike Week is put together by Reconnect Rochester and its cycling arm, the Rochester Cycling Alliance, but is truly a grassroots effort in that each event is organized individually. Information for the rides is below, along with a specific contact for each ride. Once again, masks will be mandatory at each event.
Friday, May 7
7:45pm: Light Up the Night Ride (131 Elmwood Ave)
This fun ride to kick off Bike Week begins after sundown and cyclists are encouraged to light up their bikes with glow sticks and bike lights. Gather at the Genesee Valley Sports Complex parking lot after 7pm; kickstands up around 7:45pm. The ride then proceeds through city streets and some trails, at a slow but enjoyable pace. Total distance 11 miles, but there will be shorter loops of 2-5 miles for younger cyclists as well. Dress warm and bring an extra layer for when the temperature creeps down after dark. Contact: Jesse Peers, email@example.com
ROTDBike to a Body of Water. Kick off #rocbikeweek with our the first Ride of the Day! Bike to a body of water. Use your imagination! Lake Ontario. Genesee River. Erie Canal. Mendon Pond. A fountain in a local park.
Saturday, May 8
10:00am: ROC Freedom Riders 2021 Season Kick-Off (Franklin High School)
The ROC Freedom Riders organize big, intentional, action-oriented rides highlighting Black spaces, Black places, and acknowledging Black faces, in the spirit of the original Freedom Riders of the 1940s and 1960s. Contact: RocFreedomRiders@gmail.com
ROTDBike to Dessert. Are you ready for today’s sweet ride of the day? Ride to dessert! Enjoy an after-meal treat, and bonus for getting there in fresh air and under your own power.
Sunday, May 9
10:00am: Black Girls Do Bike Mother’s Day Ride (REI parking lot)
Join Black Girls Do Bike Rochester for their first annual Mother’s Day Women’s ONLY Bike ride. Meet in the REI parking lot, where their casual paced canal pathway bike ride will start. Contact: Kecia L McCullough, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:00am: Flower City Family Cycling Mother’s Day Ride
Join Flower City Family Cycling on Sunday, May 9 at 10am for an all-ages, family-friendly, social ride to kick off our season! This will be their 4th Annual Mother’s Day ride and they’ll be meeting up in Perinton for a short wetland walk before they hit the trails on their bikes. For details on this ride and a schedule of all their 2021 rides around the Rochester area, join them here: www.facebook.com/groups/flowercityfamilycycling. Contact: Brooke Fossey, email@example.com
ROTDMother’s/Parents’ Day. How about a ride with your kids, or with your mother, or grandmother? Or to your mother’s house? Or meet your mother for brunch. Or any parent, actually. What a nice excuse to ride.
Monday, May 10
7:30-9:00am: Bike to Work Day pit stop, University of Rochester (Elmwood cycle track across from main hospital entrance)
Our region’s largest employer is a wonderful bike destination! Situated along the Genesee River and near the Erie Canal, you’re sure to encounter some scenic spots along your route. The University of Rochester earned a silver “Bicycle Friendly University” award in 2018 and had Rochester’s most used bike share station during Pace’s tenure. To thank people cycling to the River and Medical campuses on May 10, they will have snacks to share in a safe manner. Swing by, fuel up, and talk cycling with their staff partnering and some of our dedicated volunteers. Contact: Tracey Austin, firstname.lastname@example.org
ROTDBike to Work or School. Start the work week with a practical ride, which you are already heading to anyway. Ride to work or school. If you are working or learning from home, ride around the block back to your “office” or “classroom” and create a new fun commute.
Tuesday, May 11
ROTDBike to a Susan B Anthony or Frederick Douglass Statue. Celebrate Rochester’s most famous citizens and honor them with a bike ride. Visit any SBA or FD statue and ponder the great things they did for our community. Since it’s Tuesday, traditionally Election Day, may we remind you to make sure you are registered to vote.
Wednesday, May 12
5:30pm: GROC Pizza Party Ride ( 230 Tryon Park)
Come for a chill ride at Tryon/Bay Park West. No drop ride, all are welcome! Just bring a good attitude, a desire to ride bikes and eat pizza and have a beer after! Thanks to Lindsay Card for setting this up and donating pizza afterwards! Schedule: 5:30 to 7:30 – Meet at Tryon Parking Lot for a ride. 7:30 Pizza and beverages after at Salvatores on Main!
7:00pm: RBK Wednesday Night Cruise (Ice Rink, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park)
The Rochester Bike Kids are a dynamic, informal group of mostly young people who bike together regularly. All bikers are welcome. Their signature ride is the Wednesday Night Cruise (WNC). They congregate around the ice rink at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in downtown Rochester every Wednesday at 7pm and roll out at 7:30. More info at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rocbikekids Contact: Bryan Agnello, email@example.com
ROTDRun an Errand by Bike. Do something by bike you needed to do anyway: a grocery stop, the bank, pharmacy, etc. Feel the freedom of finding easy parking right at the front door.
Thursday, May 13
ROTDBike to a Bridge. As a way to “bridge” the work week and the weekend (see what we did there?) we suggest Pont de Rennes, one of Rochester’s most scenic, with a spectacular view of the falls. If that’s out of your distance ability, choose another bridge – over a path, stream or highway.
Friday, May 14
6:30-10:00am Bike to Work Day pit stop (Genesee Riverway Trail, just south of the skate park)
If you’ve never tried biking to work, this is the week! Rochesterians are very fortunate to have an average 4.1-mile commute to work, which is about 25 minutes by bike at a casual pace. To thank people cycling to work on May 14th, the Rochester Cycling Alliance will have munchies to share and celebrate those who get to work on two wheels. Swing by, fuel up, and talk cycling with our dedicated volunteers. Contact: Jesse Peers, firstname.lastname@example.org
7:45pm Light Up the Night Ride redo (131 Elmwood Ave)
This fun ride begins after sundown and cyclists are encouraged to light up their bikes with glow sticks and bike lights. Gather at the Genesee Valley Sports Complex parking lot after 7pm; kickstands up around 7:45pm. The ride then proceeds through city streets and some trails, at a slow but enjoyable pace. Total distance 11 miles, but there will be shorter loops of 2-5 miles for younger cyclists as well. Dress warm and bring an extra layer for when the temperature creeps down after dark. Contact: Jesse Peers, email@example.com
ROTDBike to a Park. Pay homage to the Flower City with your choice of destination, as long as it’s got flowers. A park or garden or even a cemetery. Stop and smell the roses!
Saturday, May 15
9:00am-noon Exercise Express Bike Ride & Wash (200 West Avenue)
Come celebrate Bike Week with Exercise Express LLC at their first annual bike ride & wash. Kickstands up at 11am. They will ride through the 11th & 19th Wards promoting unity and community engagement. Towels, buckets, soap and water provided by Exercise Express. Donuts & water will be served. Contact: Karen Rogers, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:00am-noon George Eastman Bicycle Tour (900 East Ave)
See Rochester in a new way. A nod to George Eastman’s own love of cycling, the George Eastman Bike Tour will take you to ten different locations related to the life and work of this pioneer of popular photography and famous Rochesterian. You will see buildings and sites that shaped Eastman’s life—or were in turn shaped by him. $25. Must buy a ticket to participate: eastman.org/biketours
3:00-5:00pm Beechwood Community Ride (530 Webster Ave)
Please join us for the 4th Annual Beechwood Bike Ride — a community bike ride around the Beechwood neighborhood! It’ll be a slow and leisurely ride around our neighborhood lasting about 1 hour and followed by a picnic in Grand Ave Park. Route details coming soon to https://www.facebook.com/events/170554108260366 Those who aren’t able to ride are encouraged to join afterwards for the picnic at 4:00pm. Snacks and beverages provided! We have a small number of bikes available to loan out for the ride, so comment if you’d like to use one. Ride kicks off at the Ryan Center and ends at Grand Ave Park. Please spread the word to your Beechwood friends and neighbors!
ROTDBike to Someplace New. Find a new trail or neighborhood you’d like to visit.
Sunday, May 16
11:00am: Keeping It Classy Cycling Club Flower Pedal Populaire
Rochester Bike Week 2021 culminates with this 10-13 mile fancy-summery-dress themed ride, which will depart at 11am and take a leisurely pace through and around the city. Plan for a picnic afterward in one of our lovely local parks and fun with local cyclists! For more details, check out facebook.com/KICCCRochester Contact: Dan Slakes, email@example.com
ROTDChoose Your Own Bike Adventure. It’s about the journey, not the destination. As a close to Bike Week, find a friend to ride with and just enjoy the glory of getting around on two wheels.
Rochester is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to unveil a blog series to ask a different question: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?
We chose the 20-minute benchmark for two reasons:
Nationally, half of our car trips are within 3 or fewer miles, which equates to a 20-or-so-minute bike ride at an easy, casual pace. If we could save our cars for cruddy weather, when the distances are too long or when we are transporting multiple people ౼ and biked the rest of the time (only for short solo trips in good weather!), we’d live in a different world. We’d be physically and financially healthier. The planet would be healthier. The air would be cleaner. There’d be less wear and tear on the roads. Our streets would be safer for everyone.
To inspire people to “shift modes” and choose to walk, bike or use public transportation some of the time – we’ve gotta start with the low-hanging fruit. Though longer distances are absolutely attainable eventually, most people experimenting with biking-as-transportation are going to start with nearby destinations. And that’s totally fine!
This isn’t about getting “into cycling” or becoming a “cycling enthusiast.” You don’t even have to consider yourself a cyclist to hop on a bike and get to a nearby destination. Biking is simply “assisted walking” – it takes the exact same effort as walking and propels you 3 or 4x faster. So even if you’re thinking, “I’m not a cyclist,” we’d encourage you to try biking to a nearby destination sometime. If you want to get more comfortable on your bike, let us know.
So where can you get on a bike in Rochester within 20 minutes?
Presenting the first in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this first map, we chose an arbitrary centralized point in downtown Rochester – Parcel 5 – and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get downtown within 20ish minutes on a bike. In the months to come, we’ll unveil similar maps for surrounding municipalities and popular destinations. Big shout out and thank you to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.
To get us familiar with this green territory surrounding downtown, here’s our Cycling Coordinator, Jesse Peers, sharing his personal travel-by-bike experiences:
When my family and I moved to North Winton Village in 2007, we were 100% car-dependent for every trip, the default lifestyle most Americans are handed. We didn’t discover until later that we had landed in one of Rochester’s sweet spots for car-free or car-lite living: The 42 & 38 RTS routes could get us downtown in a few minutes, and as I eventually learned, the following destinations are within a 15 or 20 minute bike ride from our house:
Ellison Park, Donuts Delite, Culver Ridge Plaza, the Public Market, Wegmans, Downtown, Frontier Field, Cobbs Hill, 12 Corners, RMSC/GEM/MAG/Strong Museum, Highland Park & the Little Theatre. RGH too, which isn’t a leisure time destination. But it is a big hub of employment.
After I took a bike class at the Rochester Brainery and wanted to start biking-as-transportation, I started with my workplace, which was (fortunately!) 1.5 miles away – an easy ride which takes less than 10 minutes. When that trip got to be routine and comfortable, I gave biking to church a shot – 3 miles away (20 minutes). Once that was no problem, I started biking to the RCA’s monthly meeting, which at the time was 5.5 miles away. Once I got comfortable with and physically capable of biking 5 or 6 miles, the world opened up. As the RCA’s Susan Levin said on a recent Connections show, “Biking is freedom. Everything else is a bonus.”
One of the greatest things my family and I have discovered when traversing Rochester by bike, is oftentimes you don’t have to stick to primary arterials, which can be uncomfortable by bike. Getting to destinations via less busy, residential side streets is quite possible, and that’s a big impetus behind the City’s Bike Boulevards program, which will be substantially enhanced this year.
Take my three-mile bike ride to our church for instance. Because I’ve learned to bike confidently over many years and the trip has become routine, I frequently take the most direct way: Culver Road, the bike boulevard on Canterbury Road & Field Street.
But if I have our kids with me, or the weather is cruddy, or I just want to avoid Culver Road, I can ride through Beechwood, EMMA, the George Eastman Museum, and the Park Avenue neighborhood instead. Virtually the same mileage and we avoid major, high-traffic streets (with the exception of Monroe Ave – but for only one block).
Another example: getting to a Red Wings game, one of my family’s favorite activities. When you bike to Frontier Field, you get the best parking: right next to the gates! When the game ends, you’re most of the way home before most fans are out of the adjacent parking lots. The simplest way to get to Frontier Field for us would be to bike down Main Street all the way to Plymouth.
That route is 3.4 miles. Believe it or not, my kids have biked this with me and it took 24 minutes to get to the ballpark. Not bad, especially when there’s no hassle searching for a parking spot and we don’t have to walk from the “car park” to the ballpark.
But if we take the upcoming Garson Bike Boulevard route, which is lower-stress and much more fun, it is still 3.4 miles! Granted it’s a more squiggly way of getting there, but we get to experience the Public Market, High Falls & the Pont de Rennes bridge on the way there – and all the streets are comfortable.
Other thoughts and tips about navigating ROC by bike:
Cities can get a bad rap for biking but they’re often safer than biking in many suburbs and rural areas. There are many reasons for this: In Rochester and other cities, speeds are lower, traffic lights are more frequent, and buildings are closer to the street. All these tend to result in calmer traffic conditions. Plus, bike lanes are becoming pretty standard in the City of Rochester.
Across the U.S., there is much room for improvement in terms of achieving a culture of respect on our shared roads. But as local cyclist Dan Kamalic pointed out in a recent blog, Rochester drivers are nice and respectful overall, especially when compared to other cities. That doesn’t mean on rare occasions you won’t get honked at or receive some verbal abuse. But as we say in our bike classes, “If they yell at you, they see you. The danger is in not being seen.” Stick to these best practices while riding and if you want to gain confidence, take one of our classes sometime.
When we’re talking distances of less than three miles, biking is pretty much the same amount of time as driving. Sometimes it’s even faster. The best part about biking to downtown destinations is that there’s an abundance of bike racks right next to many popular destinations. You don’t need to worry about the hassle and the cost of parking garages. Parking is free. Just be sure to bring a good bike lock.
As bike advocates in dialogue with federal, state and local officials about safe spaces to ride, Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance often cite the “bike boom” that took off during the COVID pandemic, using it as justification for open streets concepts and investment in top-notch bike infrastructure. But the bike boom that was creating so much buzz nationally was hard to quantify: Yes, we saw that new bikes were hard to find (hence the enormous interest in used bike sales) and we heard that shops had a hard time obtaining common parts like bike tubes. But what did that look like at the micro level? So we reached out to our good friends at DreamBikes and asked Paul and Eric for a boots-on-the ground perspective of what they saw in Rochester during one of the strangest riding seasons ever. Here’s the story they told us.
All images were provided by and belong to DreamBikes.
2020 was a strange and unique year for us all, and this especially rang true for the bike industry. At the end of 2019, we at DreamBikes put together a plan of action for the coming season; how many bikes would we need to have refurbished and ready to roll at the beginning of the season, how many additional bikes would we need on hand to maintain stock throughout the year, what parts and accessories would be the hot sellers of the year, etc. While we thought we were well prepared and on track for a stellar 2020 cycling season, we did not know what was to come.
As Covid-19 started to spread into the Greater Rochester area and lock-downs were put into place we initially thought we would be “dead in the water,” and that the spring season was going to be chalked up as a lost cause. Fortunately, State Officials saw how imperative bike shops are and we were quickly deemed an essential service that is necessary for transportation. Hope was not lost, but we quickly had to adapt and change operations not only to be in compliance with state guidelines, but to also be able to provide our customers with the level of support and customer service that we pride ourselves on. We put together a new plan; offering sales though various digital facets and service on an appointment only basis. This plan was continuously modified throughout the year, but it made for a good starting point when we did not know what was going to happen next. It was only a matter of weeks, if not days, before the craziness commenced.
In the early stages of the pandemic we immediately saw a huge boost in the number of children’s bikes that we were selling. With kids out of school and many families now working from home, parents were looking for any way to get the kids out of the house, and what better way to do so than with a new bike? In the first couple of weeks of lockdown, we had already sold through a huge chunk of our kids bike inventory.
Then came the second wave of bike sales. With gyms closed, many people were looking for other ways to maintain their fitness and stay healthy; again, what better way to do so than by riding a bike? Sport-hybrid and road bike sales started to take off. If you thought you saw more people out riding bikes last spring, you were right. Spin classes may have been cancelled, but you don’t need a large group and a stationary bike to keep those legs moving.
As the weather started to break and the traditional riding season for most Rochesterians was kicking off, bike sales continued to skyrocket. We were now seeing entire families looking for bikes. Parents and kids all needing new bikes meant that we were flying through our inventory and we started to realize that the game-plan we put together back in the fall of 2019 may not have been sufficient. Hybrids, cruisers, and kids bikes were the hot sellers at this point, much as they are almost every spring, but this time we were selling 3, 4, 5, even 6 bikes on a single transaction. While our inventory was starting to take a significant hit, it was so awesome seeing entire families getting out together for a fun family ride!
New bike sales continued to hold strong and steady and we were ready to kick things into high gear with our usual “the weather has finally broken” rush on tune-ups and service. We saw many familiar faces at this point as well as many new ones, but did not think too much of it as service orders generally tend to take off right around this time. We were in a groove and cruising now with service and sales, but really this was just the start of the chaos. Usually in the bike industry, service work starts with a boom that tails off a bit after the first few weeks of nice weather. This year, that tail-off never seemed to arrive. A steady flow of bikes were being dropped off to the shop for repairs and the service queue continued to grow.
By mid-May, bikes were in short supply across the nation. Folks were looking to purchase any bike that fit them, and those that could not find a new bike were digging their old bikes out of their garages and basements. Service queues grew and grew and even with our mechanics doing their absolute best, it seemed like we could never get ahead of the game. Soon, DreamBikes was booked out 3 weeks for repair turn-around and we heard rumors of some shops across the country utilizing multiple shifts to keep their mechanics wrenching 24 hours a day and still having lead times of several weeks. Little did we know, the service work was not going to slow down.
By mid June, it was nearly impossible to find a new bike. The show-floor at DreamBikes was sparse at best, with just a couple of oddball bikes in stock, and some bicycle manufacturers had already run out of stock that they expected to last throughout the entire 2020 season. People were willing to buy any bike regardless of style, size, color, etc; if it had two wheels and could be pedalled around, they would buy it. We saw an influx of bicycles being brought in for repair that had not been ridden in years or even decades, but the owners just wanted something, anything, to ride. This was the case across the country, and soon distributors were running out of stock on repair items just like they had with complete bicycles. It started with innertubes, then it was tires, then chains, soon after brake and shift cables, brake pads, patch kits, you name it and we probably could not get it; bike shops were unable to order the parts necessary to complete repairs. This was perhaps the most depressing part of the entire season for us; having to turn away a customer just because we could not get the parts we needed to repair their bike.
By August, we slowly but surely got back to a more normal pace and practice around the shop. While new bike supply was still very low, we were able to salvage many bikes and pilfer parts from other bikes that were beyond repair. It was still a challenge to get bikes on to the show floor as they seemed to sell almost as soon as we added them to inventory, but we were starting to gain some traction. Parts and accessories were finally coming off of back-order and making their way to the shop. Our shelves were filling back up and our service queue was back to our standard 48 hour turn-around. We could finally catch our breath!
The entire summer was a bit of a whirlwind and every day posed a new challenge for us. We kept our heads high and our noses to the grindstone and did our absolute best to ensure that we could get as many people on bikes as we possibly could. The ripple-effect of the pandemic will likely be felt in the bike industry for some time still, but hopefully the chaos of the 2020 cycling season is behind us for good!
Reconnect Rochester is optimistic that the bike boom will continue into 2021 and beyond. Whether it’s kids getting out of the house, adults riding to stay healthy, or residents biking to work, riders of all ages and abilities are discovering the joy and freedom of getting around on two wheels.
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.
TOP 10 THINGS WE’RE MOST PROUD OF IN 2020 (In no particular order of importance.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
In a 2017 piece, I wrote about the impact of “independent automobile transportation” on our community environments. To take it one step beyond the idea that we have built a nation around exclusive personal mobility, it’s important to acknowledge the devastating effects of our “convenience culture” here in the United States.
Let’s begin with the assumption that the most important lessons we learn, the most transformative journeys we take, and the most powerful experiences we have are rarely “convenient.” The things that make us better are usually the things that require us to dig a little deeper and find something in ourselves that makes us truly feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. While convenience is a welcomed privilege, what makes us who we are usually requires a modicum of effort, or self reliance, or shared effort. If this is not your experience, then this post may not be for you.
For the rest of you that are still with me, let’s talk about the assumption mentioned above with regard to our communities. Do we make the hard choice to bike to work instead of drive in an effort to reduce pollution, make our community safer, and advocate for a more sustainable mode of transportation, or do we simply drive? Do we conveniently order from Amazon, or do we seek a similar purchase that might strengthen our local economy? Do we use Grubhub, or do we contact our favorite local establishment directly to ensure they get the most from every order? Do we use Uber or do we see if there is a public transit option that might get us to where we need to go?
European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are notorious for prioritizing less “convenient” forms of transportation in favor of bikes and public transit, which empower us and expose us to sociocultural diversity. The lessons learned via anti-exclusive mobility are the true soul-resurrecting elements that we can all benefit from. In other words, if we truly support the definition of strength through adversity, we must embrace the less convenient avenues of mobility, commerce and lifestyle.
And yet, in a country of perpetual chest-thumping, relentlessly championing the illusion of toughness and grit, we look for the closest parking space at the gym. We curse the driver that takes an extra second to make a left turn, delaying us during our commute. We berate the local business that doesn’t have the “in-and-out” convenience parking we ravenously crave. This America of “strength” is suddenly brought to its knees when we can’t find a parking space within a few hundred feet from our destination.
This is the sociological construct that is created when we over-prioritize the most “convenient” (and most exclusive) form of transportation. For example, of the 37 OECD nations, the United States has the second lowest gas tax behind Mexico, which has no gas tax. In fact, the US gas tax is almost exactly one-quarter of the OECD average per gallon. The lack of significant fuel tax in the US is an under-realized financial lubricant for the proliferation of the automobile as an affordable choice instead of the exclusive one. In essence, we have made it financially easier for people to get around using the most inefficient, unsafe and environmentally unfriendly mode of transportation this planet has ever seen.
Couple this with more than a half century of urban demolition, residential displacement and racially-diving highway creation, and you get a mode of transportation that is so convenient AND exclusive that few other modalities have a chance.
And it’s not just cars. It’s mega stores like Walmart that, ironically, we welcome into our rural and suburban worlds on the promise of jobs and inexpensive merchandise, when the reality is a monopolistic machine that pays unlivable wages and makes it impossible for small businesses to compete. The end result is actually a loss of American jobs and a culture that is built around a one-stop-shop solution that is highly subsidized and simultaneously damaging to local economies.
Services like Grubhub make it easy for consumers to order from local restaurants. But these third-party food delivery services can take up to 30% of each sale, creating a no-win scenario for restaurants. Choose to use Grubhub and have your profit margins stripped, or go it alone and receive extremely limited exposure based on the public’s lack of desire to look beyond their favorite apps to fulfill their cravings. Grubhub has quietly become one of the most powerful “pay-to-play” constructs in our local economy.
These are just a few examples of convenience culture and how this unsustainable model of commerce is slowly eliminating the chance for small businesses to thrive. The more we subscribe to the convenience economy, perpetuated first and foremost by the drastic over-prioritization of the automobile, the more we feed into our own undoing. Whether you’re a rural American who loves the convenience of Walmart, or an urban American who just wants to find the closest parking space in front of your favorite farm-to-table restaurant, remember that true patronization often takes effort. With this in mind, let’s be fine with parking a quarter mile away and getting some exercise on the way to our destination. Let’s pay a little extra to shop at our local market instead of lining the pockets of billionaires who are fleecing our small business cultures. Let’s look at the notion of what our American spirit really stands upon… the idea that if we all work a little harder and a little smarter, we can overcome the temptation of convenience culture and reclaim our community strength by doing what is more difficult.
Guest blog by Jon Schull, Reconnect Rochester Advisor
In 2009, I came across an online article that changed my life.
It described an enclosed cycleway envisioned for a network of cycleways to run above and through Toronto, Canada. Not only did it promise year-round human-powered access to the entire city, but because each tunnel was one-way, your ride in each direction would be downwind, thanks to the breeze created by your fellow travelers.
It was (and is) a beautiful vision, but untested and unlikely to be implemented. It occurred to me that Rochester, NY could be a great testbed for a simplified version. As a professor of innovation at RIT, I have always been mystified by our neglect of the potential North-South corridor that runs from RIT to UofR, crosses the Erie Canal, continues to Downtown, High Falls, Turning Point Park, and Lake Ontario. An enclosed cycleway from RIT to High Falls could reintegrate town, gown, and city, could highlight the nation’s preeminent urban waterfall, and could reframe Rochester’s wintry weather as inspiration for ecological innovation. It would “create a revolutionary all-weather alternative energy transitway for bikes, e-vehicles, joggers, and skaters that will reduce road traffic and parking pressures on our campuses, create a year-round recreational attraction for locals and visitors from around the world, and put us at the forefront of the new energy economy.” (Rochester Greenway Whitepaper)
It was a no-brainer! I dubbed this the “Rochester Greenway” before I understood that the Genesee Valley Greenway was a pre-existing natural extension pointing South. I created postcards and a website to promote the idea. I presented a model and a poster at RIT’s innovation festival. I was all in.
After meeting with the Genesee Valley Greenway people, former Rochester Mayor Tom Frey, Frank Regan of the Rochester Environment newsletter, and City engineers, I wrote a whitepaper. On the one hand, it shows that I wasn’t completely out of touch with reality.
“By merely endeavoring to pursue this vision, we can help revitalize Rochester’s reputation for technological and social innovation, stimulate collaboration and synergy between our urban and academic communities, create jobs, and attract funds to the region.“
On the other hand, I was pretty far out there. For example, the whitepaper’s aspirational “Brief History of the Rochester Greenway” told the fictional but heroic story of how, in a few short years, the Greenway became a reality, concluding…
“….the Greenway grew, and helped make Rochester a world leader in sustainable technology consulting, a leading exporter of ultralight e-vehicles, and a hotbed of economic development. The Rochester Renaissance was driven, in part, by the entrepreneurial young that the Greenway initiative attracted, inspired, and nurtured. Grey haired, energetic, and fit, the pioneers still ride the Greenway and the Erie Canal Crossway, accompanied by e-boarding grandchildren. Even now, they wear Greenway Transit Tokens as badges of honor.“
As if! In reality, everyone responded with politeness, good-humor, and (I now realize) forbearance. They understood, as at first I hadn’t, that Rochester’s cycling community was small, that cycling here was generally unappreciated, and that the city didn’t do anything radical. It would take a culture change for something like this to happen.
Which is how I became a cycling advocate, and co-founded the Rochester Cycling Alliance with Richard DeSarra.
At our first meeting, Frank Regan introduced Richard as Rochester’s go-to cycling guy, a principal of the Rochester Bicycling Club, and the hero who made bike racks a fixture on Rochester buses(!). However, when I suggested that there should be a Rochester Cycling Alliance to advocate for cycling culture, Richard was not enthusiastic: “been there, tried that.”
At the end of the meeting, I asked people to comment on “possible next steps.” To my surprise, Richard stepped up: “I’m joining the Rochester Cycling Alliance.” And so it began.
Over the years, Richard chaired the Rochester Cycling Alliance’s monthly meetings, and we became the City’s leading advocates for Richard’s signature phrase: “Bicycling as Transportation.” Rochester now has bicycle lanes, bicycle boulevards, and bicycle advocates. The Southern edge of the Inner Loop is gone, and in its place we have protected bike lanes and greenspace. The Northern Loop may go soon. The Roc the Riverway initiative is underway. A new Skatepark is nearing completion. That’s all terrific news and significant progress.
I know Richard DeSarra would be proud of our development. Just a couple months after his passing in September 2019, the Rochester Cycling Alliance joined forces with Reconnect Rochester, our local active mobility organization. The RCA gets better every year at increasing accessibility to biking and the local push for complete streets is strengthening.
But we still don’t do anything radical. We still haven’t embraced a systemic vision of a human-centric, active-transportation, family-recreation network. We still haven’t faced up to the urgent need for climate action, even though the climate crisis is now upon us. Instead, we continue to make worthwhile incremental roadway improvements on a site-by-site basis.
Just last week I saw a preview of the City’s plans for reconstructing State Street. Good news: bike lanes will connect the Riverway trail to the Gateway to High Falls under the Inner Loop. Bad news: the proposed bike lanes are mere markings between parked cars and busy traffic. Parents and children who can bike 5 miles along our beautiful Riverway, will be turned back at the very threshold to the nation’s most substantial urban waterfall and (potential recreation area!).
It’s not too late. Bold visions help create new realities (even if the realities differ from the vision). We are in a moment of societal flux when change is possible, and desperately needed. Let’s make the most of it!
Next time you walk, ride or roll along Parsells, Lyell or Monroe Avenues, you’ll notice a bright new addition to the streetscape. This month, cubes made from fiberglass were installed at 5 bus stops along each of these corridors, offering RTS riders a respectable place to sit while they wait.
The City of Rochester and RTS have been tremendous partners on this project. Thanks especially to DES Commissioner Norm Jones and City Councilmember Mitch Gruber for championing the effort, along with City staff across many departments who worked hand-in-hand with us to see this to fruition. We also couldn’t have done it without our neighborhood partners in Beechwood, Lyell-Otis and Upper Monroe, or the funders that stepped up to contribute.
Cubes for Your Community
This is just the beginning! We hope the pilot project will lead to bus stop cubes in more Rochester neighborhoods and beyond. Reconnect Rochester will continue to work with RTS, local municipalities and community organizations throughout Monroe County to identify bus stops in the system that are well utilized but lack seating.
Would you like to see cubes at bus stops in YOUR neighborhood or community?Contact us and we’ll do our best to work with you to secure funding and make it happen.
Are you from outside the Monroe County area and interested in purchasing bus stop cubes for your town or city?Contact us and we’ll put you in touch with the manufacturer. Reconnect Rochester receives a sales commission that helps fuel our effort to put more bus stop cubes on the ground locally.
Why Are We Doing This Anyway?
Anyone who has ever used public transportation in Rochester is painfully aware of two things: At some point you will have to wait for your bus, and when you do, you will probably be standing.
For senior citizens, people with disabilities, and parents with young children, being made to stand for any length of time can be less than ideal. Even for those passengers who are physically capable of standing, having no place to sit while waiting on the side of a busy roadway can cause anxiety and discomfort.
Why is our bus system the only transportation mode that requires its passengers to stand while waiting for the service? The single biggest issue is the sheer scale of the system. There are thousands of bus stops in the RTS network, and the resources of the transit authority are already spread thin.
If this issue could be remedied, not only would we make the lives of current riders a little easier, but we might also encourage more people to use public transportation. This is why Reconnect Rochester has decided to make bus stop seating a priority for our community.
How Did This Project Come About?
In 2017, after 3 years piloting seasonal bus stop cubes made from high-pressured wood, Reconnect Rochester set out to find a permanent, year-round amenity for bus riders. In our research, we came upon a local manufacturer of fiberglass — a nearly indestructible, weather resistant material that was perfect for the job! It took about three years of stops-and-starts to design and manufacture the fiberglass model that you see today.
To go further back in history and learn more about how the bus cube concept came to be, check out the Bus Cube Birth Story on our website.
by Arian Horbovetz, Reconnect Rochester Board Member and author of The Urban Phoenix blog
If you’re like me, a firm believer that public transit, walkability and bike Infrastructure can make our city better, the last few months have been grueling. Empty buses, the encouragement of single-passenger automobile ridership, and the loss of Zagster’s Pace bike share here in Rochester have us all wondering about the future of multi-dimensional mobility in our city.
Zagster’s abrupt departure from Rochester’s landscape earlier this year was a shock to many who believed that bike share made The Flower City a better place. The freedom of grabbing a couple bikes while enjoying an evening downtown, or filling the last mile gap on your daily commute is suddenly absent.
The hope had been that 2020 would bring a fresh new season of bike share, and possibly scooter share to the Rochester transportation network, but the pandemic that is upon us had other plans. Shortly after it was announced that the start of the Pace bike share season would be delayed, Zagster abruptly pulled the plug on the program altogether, stating that the company was “reassessing its business model.” While Rochester actively searches for a new bike share vendor, here are some key points to understand about the Zagster/Pace departure.
It’s Not Our Fault
Zagster is a venture capital company, which is a business model that can quickly rocket a good idea to soaring heights. The downside is an increased level of volatility, which can lead to these kinds of aforementioned “reassessments,” or even closures without warning. The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 crisis has caused a massive ripple in our nation’s economy, one that has caused every business to make drastic changes and hard decisions. This was noted as a key reason for Zagster’s departure from Rochester, as well as ceasing operations in other mid-sized cities like Norfolk, VA. On May 27, Zagster formally announced its closure as a company.
Rochester’s Ridership Was Remarkable
Over the past three years, Pace bikes settled into our local culture as an easy, convenient way to get around. Over 22,000 Rochester residents activated accounts over the three years Zagster was operating in our city, and those customers took a remarkable 116,951 trips.
At Zagster’s end-of-season report in November 2019, it was reported that “Pace Rochester continues to be Zagster’s most utilized bike share fleet in the country, with 189 trips taken daily!” Rochester riders totaled more than 40,000 trips in 2019 alone. Company representatives often described Rochester as Zagster’s “flagship” mid-sized city for our ridership numbers.
An end of year user survey in 2019 revealed that “half of all trips replaced the use of a personal or shared vehicle,” highlighting just how important the service was to the transportation landscape in the City of Rochester. And ridership mapping suggests that many Rochesterians heavily used the bike share to get to suburban job locations, like Marketplace Mall in Henrietta.
Bike Share Theft Happens Everywhere
Midway through the 2019 season, empty bike racks and “ghost bikes” (bikes that appeared on the Pace App but were not physically present) revealed a rash of rampant bicycle theft. Nearly two-thirds of Pace’s Rochester fleet was stolen, leading to a sea of bad press and public doubt.
While the stories of significant theft, followed by Zagster’s subsequent departure caused many Rochester residents to believe the two were related, it’s important to remember that bike share theft happens everywhere. Wherever there is something of public value, there will always be a select few in any community who will try to pilfer it. While the theft of Pace bikes in Rochester was difficult, it was not at all uncommon. The onus is on the bike share provider to anticipate this construct and design their equipment with safeguards. But the lack of a GPS tracking device on Pace bikes made solving the problem through recovery and prosecution of theft nearly impossible. The next vendor will need to have more anti-theft technology built into their bikes.
We Will Have Bike Share Again
Fear not… Rochester will have bike share again. And very likely, e-bikes and e-scooters will be added to the menu. The City Of Rochester is actively searching for a new operator with which to partner, and word on the street is that we may see a limited launch for a few months this fall, and a fully operational system in place by spring 2021.
This Is Not Another Fast Ferry
While we may fall victim to the Fast Ferry narrative of “this is why we can’t have nice things,” we must realize that the challenges that walk hand in hand with bike share are not unique to our city. Zagster’s departure should not be seen as a failure to retain a valued resource, but rather a chance to connect with a new brand that is better equipped to handle the nuances of bike share in mid-sized cities. So before we internalize the loss of Pace bike share as a Flower City Failure, let’s remember the big picture that was three years of successful bike share utilization in our city.
We know one thing for sure… Rochester’s stint with Zagster showed us all how vital a role bike share plays in the transportation fabric of the city. While also serving as a tremendous recreational draw, bike share’s ability to connect residents and visitors to work, home, destinations and other modes of transit makes it a powerful piece of transportation infrastructure for Rochester.