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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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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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Tell City Council You Support Lower Speed Limits

Every year in Rochester, hundreds of people are struck by vehicles while out walking and biking on our community streets. The top two factors in traffic fatalities in this country are alcohol and speed. And the percentage of crash deaths that involve speeding is higher on minor roads (like our neighborhood streets) than on highways and interstates.

How fast we drive on our community streets impacts that safety and quality of life for those who live, work, play and shop along those streets. Around the country, cities such as Cambridge, MA, New York City, and Seattle, are lowering their speed limits to make residential streets safer. Many are hoping Rochester will soon follow suit.

Join the effort led by HealthiKids to reduce the City speed limit from 30 to 25 mph on residential streets.

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Can 5 or 10 mph really make that much of a difference?

Yes.

Here’s why:

The higher the speed, the greater the risk to a pedestrian or cyclist.

A person has more than a 90% chance of surviving if hit by a car traveling 20 mph. If that car is traveling 40 mph, there is about a 90% chance that person will die. Those risks increase if the pedestrian is a child or older adult. The human body can only handle so much.

[Courtesy of HealthiKids]

Reduced speeds are good for pedestrians AND drivers.

Lower speeds allow drivers more time to notice things and react. If something is in the road 100 feet ahead of you when driving 40 mph, you will hit it going 36 mph. If you are traveling 25 mph, you can stop well within 100 feet.

At lower speeds, crashes are likely to be avoided altogether. And if they do occur, they will be far less severe.

Reduced speeds can benefit the entire community.

       [Read more about the benefits beyond safety]

Reduced speed limits on our residential streets alone aren’t the silver bullet, but are an important tool in the overall solution to safer streets. Done in concert with education, enforcement and design, the culture of how we use and share our streets can begin to change.

Let City Council know you want Rochester to be the next city to make streets safer by lowering the speed limit on residential streets!

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City of Rochester’s Pace Car Program Asks Drivers to Be Part of the Solution

Rochester's Mayor Lovely Warren held a press conference today to announce the expansion of the Pace Car program citywide.
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, Vice President & Pedestrian Safety Committee Chair at Reconnect Rochester

We were proud to be part of today’s launch of the City of Rochester’s Pace Car program! We joined Mayor Lovely Warren and other community leaders to introduce the new citywide initiative that asks drivers to be part of the solution to make our community streets safer for all who use them. Pace Car drivers sign a pledge to drive within the speed limit, drive courteously, yield to pedestrians and be mindful of bicyclists and others on the street. Drivers display the yellow Pace Car sticker on their vehicles to show others that they are taking accountability for how they drive on our community streets.

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