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The Expectation of Speed

Written by Arian Horbovetz and originally published on The Urban Phoenix blog

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 impact of speed on pedestrian loss of life is clearly highlighted by the fact that while vehicle miles driven was significantly reduced in 2020, the rate at which pedestrians were killed by cars actually went up. In fact, pedestrian deaths are at their highest rate in 30 years. And as always, we are quick to protect our children from any and all potential threats to their safety, and yet car crashes are the leading cause of death in children and teens.

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.

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The Books That Changed Me: Terra Nova & Green Metropolis

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned how Reconnect Rochester’s ROC Transit Day inspired me to try getting to work on a bike for the first time. I’m so grateful to Reconnect for providing that initial inspiration. I owe further credit to Howard Decker’s blog which introduced me to Eric Sanderson’s book, Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs. If ROC Transit Day got me on a bike for the first time as an adult, Terra Nova kept me on my bike. When the only car I’ve ever had bit the dust while reading this book, I was so inspired by what I was reading that I donated my car to charity and haven’t had a car since.

I’m a bookworm concerned with climate change and on occasion I tackle thick, scholarly books. Maybe due to its length, Terra Nova isn’t for everybody, but to this day it’s the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it! In 2015 I was pleased to discover a great companion piece to Terra Nova: David Owen’s Green Metropolis, a very similar book which is shorter and more readable for most people. Together, these two books examine what got us into this climate mess and how we can get out of it. When one learns about our climate crisis, it’s easy to get discouraged. These books however offer a doable approach that leaves you feeling hopeful and encouraged. We can do this.

Lessons Learned

What both authors make clear is that a cleaner, sustainable future requires an investment and turnaround in three areas of life: energy, land use and transportation (and more generally, our habits). One can pay quite a bit of attention to the climate movement and really only hear about energy, as if all we need is a simple 1:1 substitution between gasmobiles and electric vehicles (EVs); between natural gas and solar. But it’s not that simple. As Evan Lowenstein of The Climate Accelerator points out in this recent blog, tech alone like EVs and solar won’t solve our problem. Part of that is due to energy load: “A million drivers plugging in their cars when they get home from work…would strain the power grid.” We’re simply not ready for that. Besides, fuel efficiency just incentivizes driving more. And we don’t need more traffic and traffic deaths. Status quo car-dependency and the enormous health and financial costs that go with it aren’t the way forward.

The other reason is because as Owen states, “the power we don’t use is more important than the power we do.” Take hot summer days for instance. Nowadays when we’re hot, “we adjust the thermostat rather than identifying the source of the problem and looking for a low-tech remedy.” Let’s instead do “what our parents and grandparents did: opening windows at night, to cool the entire house, then shutting the windows in the morning and drawing the curtains in the sunny rooms, to keep them from rapidly heating up again.” I’ve found that this works on all but the hottest Rochester days. In the same vein, the transportation power we don’t use is more important than what powers our vehicles.


“The transportation power we don’t use is more important than what powers our vehicles.”


Similarly, “we must significantly reduce the number of miles we drive, not merely replace one motor fuel with another one.” As Owen reminds us, “the main job of any car is moving the car itself.” Driving is the least energy-efficient way of getting around and society must start discouraging single-occupancy car trips by making it costlier and less pleasant (and by making the alternatives faster, reliable and more pleasant). We respond to incentives and disincentives. “In the long run, miles matter more than miles per gallon. A  car’s fuel gauge is far less significant, environmentally speaking, than its odometer.”

Perhaps your workplace is too far away to walk, bike or take a bus to. Okay, you’ve gotta drive. But what other regular destinations are near your home? (The grocery store, library, pub, kids’ school, etc.) Sanderson estimates that most people are willing to walk to destinations within a half-mile, bike or scoot up to 2.5 or 3 miles, and take transit to destinations within 5 miles. That’s a great place to start! Reconnect Rochester’s 20 Minutes by Bike map shows where you can get to from downtown Rochester in 20 minutes riding at a casual pace. (Stay tuned to our blog for more area maps to come!)

We must also “contract the distances between the places where people live, work, shop, and play.” This is where land use comes in. Mixed-used development and zoning changes are crucial. This does mean reimagining the suburbs a bit. Both authors make clear that the suburbs as we have known them in terms of car-dependency, can’t last. The societal and environmental costs are too great.

Finally, we’ve gotta deal with our overconsumption. “The average American single-family house doubled in size in the second half of the twentieth century” as family sizes plummeted! Rather than move every seven years to an ever-larger house farther away (only to fill it with more stuff and become even more car dependent), we would do well to develop a philosophy and “economy of enough” as climate activist Naomi Klein notes. Check out Rochester’s old trolley neighborhoods, where most lots don’t have original garages since residents used to walk to the end of the street and take a trolley every morning. Because today’s bus routes still more or less follow those old trolley lines, these neighborhoods have pretty reliable transit.

As you can see, whether it’s resisting the temptation to blast your AC all the time, biking to a destination, or choosing to live closer to work (Rochester remains one of the most affordable communities in the country to live car-free), Americans will have to change habits to meet the climate crisis. We’ve gotta go beyond focusing on what powers our stuff and reexamine how we settle and how we move. It’s important to note many of these lifestyle changes aren’t sexy. Rather than being high-tech and Jetsons-esque, many solutions to the climate crisis are old-school and therefore sustainable footprints and everyday life will look much like how our great great grandparents lived: That’s a good life!

Watch Saga City for more on the crucial role of land use and transportation in building a sustainable future.

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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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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!

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

2020 has been a year like no other.

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

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

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


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

#10

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

#9

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

#8

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

#7

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

#6

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

#5

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

#4

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

#3

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

#2

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

#1

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


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

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

Just imagine what we can do in 2021!

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With Our Own Eyes and Lungs: The Benefits of Reduced Motor Traffic

Guest blog by Doug Kelley, Associate Professor, University of Rochester.

In my first few long bike rides this spring, I’ve been bowled over by the beautiful views. And it’s not like I’m visiting new places. I pedaled these same routes last summer, when I first came to Copenhagen for a yearlong sabbatical and was eager to explore. But never were the vistas like this! Now, the hills and buildings of Sweden, 10 miles across the waters of Øresund, are not just blurry shapes, but clear and distinct and colorful. Now, looking southwest from the gorgeous seaside bike path in Naturpark Amager, I can see the towns of Køge and Strøby across the bay, nearly 20 miles distant and never visible before. First noticing these fantastic vistas, I gave thanks for the end of the dark and rainy Danish winter. Then I remembered that visibility was never this good last August or September. Something else must be happening. That something is probably covid-19.

The coast of Sweden, bright and clearly visible across Øresund from a marina north of Copenhagen. Clearer air, improved respiratory health, and lower carbon emissions all come when motor traffic is reduced, as the pandemic is showing us. 

The pandemic is causing profound suffering worldwide, through death and sickness, through separation and hardship. I would not wish it upon anyone. The pandemic is also giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced. Few are driving, which means less air pollution, and we can see the improvement with our own eyes. It’s visible all over, not just on my weekend bike routes but in places like London, Delhi, Wuhan, and Los Angeles. My wife tells me her lungs feel better now as she strolls along formerly-busy roads. Back home, nitrogen dioxide emissions in Rochester are down 30%. NASA data shows similar trends all over the world. Social media is awash in before-and-after photos picturing how much better our views have gotten thanks to reduced motor traffic. Mount Kenya is spectacular. 

“The pandemic is giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced.

With those views come other important benefits. The micron-scale airborne particles that mar our vistas also wreak havoc on our health. They are the most harmful form of air pollution, penetrating deep into the lungs and blood to cause heart attacks and respiratory disease. One study found that for particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, every airborne concentration decrease of 10 micrograms per cubic meter comes with a 36% decrease in lung cancer. Another study estimated that reducing particle pollution by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would prevent 34,000 premature deaths per year in the United States. So ironically, reduced motor traffic due to the pandemic may actually save as many lives as are lost to covid-19. That’s a speculation, but given what we know, entirely plausible. 

Moreover, the health benefits of reduced traffic tend to be greatest for the very people who are suffering most in the covid-19 pandemic. Air pollution links to higher covid-19 death rates and almost certainly plays a role in black Americans dying of covid-19 at higher rates than white Americans. Even aside from the virus, low-income people suffer disproportionately from respiratory diseases, including asthma. Substantially reduced particle pollution is good for everybody — and especially good for those with the most urgent health needs. 

Substantially reduced particle pollution is good for everybody — and especially good for those with the most urgent health needs.

Reducing motor traffic also comes with the obvious benefits of reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will be 8% lower worldwide in 2020 than in 2019, mainly due to reduced motor traffic and airline travel. Climate change is a long-established scientific fact, and its extreme weather and eerily warm winters are now nearly as evident in firsthand experience as the vistas on my bike rides. A one-year, 8% drop isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.

A one-year, 8% drop [in greenhouse gas emissions] isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Clear views of the coast of Sweden, in the distance across Øresund, on a sunny May afternoon at the beach in Denmark. Holding onto our reduced-motor-traffic lifestyles would mean better health, lower carbon emissions, and more beautiful days like this.

Living through this historic moment, when we literally see the good of reduced motor traffic with our own eyes, I can’t help but wonder: What if we hold on to the good, and hold on tight? As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic? What if we reboot our economy and jobs and schooling without ruining our own vistas and attacking our own lungs?

As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic?”

The pandemic has taught us that for many jobs and in many cases, we can work from home just fine. The pandemic has taught us that some travel is more trouble than it’s worth. What if, instead of using the pandemic as an excuse for more pollution, we enact laws and regulations that clean our air? What if we go more places by walking and biking and public transportation? What if we build on our momentum? It would mean new thinking about topics like achieving social distancing on buses and trains. It would mean living in a new way. But the lifestyle adjustments involved are far smaller and simpler than the ones we have already achieved, surviving this unprecedented pandemic together. 

We can get started right now.

Here are a few ways to build on great work already happening in our region: 

The benefits would be huge. Cleaner-feeling lungs, fewer respiratory diseases, better quality of life, reduced chance of climate change causing harder times even than the covid-19 pandemic. And big, clear, beautiful vistas. I think we can do it.

There are many more ways to take action. Leave comments below with your own suggestions.

Read more about the Kelley family’s Danish experience in an earlier blog post: Copenhagen transportation: A day in one family’s life.

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Opinion: Driving’s Dehumanizing Effect

Guest blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.

Not long ago, a professor at Brockport Central School teacher was struck and killed by a pickup truck about 25 minutes from my hometown of Rochester, NY. The driver was ticketed for “failing to safely pass a bicycle…” a far too familiar slap on the wrist for a deadly crime of negligence.

This is the latest in a rash of similar pedestrian and bike related deaths in my area over the last several months, a tragic but predictably dismissed epidemic that is simply accepted as “the cost of doing business” in American car culture.

This afternoon, I was riding my bike home from work when a speeding pickup truck flew by my just a foot and a half or so away. The driver was trying to make the light up ahead while avoiding the oncoming car in the opposite lane.

As is often the case, the driver missed the green light, stopping before the intersection. I rolled up behind him, calling to his open driver side window, “hope that was worth it!” I received an aggressive hand gesture in response.

This was far from the first time this has happened… I can’t count the number of times a driver has made an aggressive pass on me at an unsafe distance and speed, only to sit at a light or next several lights with me alongside just a few seconds later. But this time, I had a thought that I never did before. I’ve heard so many cyclists and urbanists talk about how many drivers see cyclists as “less than human.” Indeed, I’ve written articles talking about the lack of respect for cyclists because of the inability for drivers to see bikes as viable forms of transportation. Instead, drivers see cyclists in the road as a recreational nuisance impeding their commute, nothing more.

Today, I realized it’s even worse than that. In order for drivers to see cyclists as sub-human, they have to acknowledge humanity in the surrounding environment in the first place. Even to see someone as less than you is to see them and be aware of their existence. I truly now believe, based on everything I’ve seen in driving behavior, that most drivers don’t see the cars, bikes and other vehicles around them as being piloted by living things at all. I believe the average driver sees other motorists and cyclists simply as video-game-like obstacles that need to be overcome in order to advance in a game of speed and power. In other words, there is something about the automobile that disconnects drivers from the reality that anyone else on the road or in the surrounding environment is worthy of their respect as human beings with spouses, families, jobs and dependents. It’s not that drivers see cyclists and pedestrians as less-than-human, it’s that aggressive motorists will stop but nothing to reach their destination in timely fashion, seeing all others as sand traps and water hazards, cones and barrels, or any other inanimate barrier to success and “freedom.” It is a level of self-absorption rooted in a century of individualistically auto-centered American behavior so ingrained that it blinds the power-infused driver to the presence of potential human impact.

This might seem like an extreme assumption, and perhaps it is. But I can think of no other explanation for the incredible disregard for the physical safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers that motorists routinely display. In our eyes behind the wheel, people become objects, cyclists become hazards and other drivers become enemies.

We can’t solve the problem of pedestrian, cyclist and auto fatalities unless we get to the root of the mindset that enables their frequency. Next time you pass a cyclist, think of her family. Next time you enter a crosswalk without looking both ways, think of the young man trying to get to work or to class. Next time you move aggressively around another car, think of the children that might be strapped in the back seat. Think of the lives these people live, the people who love them and depend on them instead of the 10-30 seconds that putting them in danger may save you. We’re all in this together out there, so let’s start driving like it! Or better yet, take the bus, get on a bike or walk to where you need to go whenever possible!


We can all do our part to make our community safer by paying more attention behind the wheel.

Check out the Drive 2B Better campaign website to learn how. Watch some super cool ad videos. Test your knowledge of the rules of the road. Take a pledge and commit to doing your part.

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Women and Biking

Story By Susan Levin.  Susan is a cycling advocate, board member at Reconnect Rochester and chair of the Rochester Cycling Alliance workgroup.

The Rochester Women’s Bike Festival is back for its second year in Corn Hill!  The Festival will be at Adams Street Recreation Center, 85 Adams St. on Saturday, June 15 from 9 AM to 3 PM. The event is free!  Registration is available here.  Watch for updates at facebook.com/rochesterwomenbike

Why are we creating a bicycling-event focused on women? Studies have shown that women will use a bicycle for everyday transportation if it’s convenient, comfortable, and safe. When women ride, they teach and encourage their children to get around the same way. For some, it’s economical—for the cost of a few tanks of gas, she can have reliable two-wheeled transportation all the time. Cycling also promotes physical and mental health. In the end, her whole community is safer if she feels it’s safe to get around by bicycle at all.

Over 130 women (and a few men) attended the event last year as participants, speakers, vendors, and volunteers. Three bicycles, donated by R Community Bikes, were given away as attendance prizes at the end of the day, along with gift baskets, salon certificates and bicycle accessories. There were ten breakout sessions throughout the day, and in between sessions, a complimentary breakfast and lunch were served. Four women were chosen to learn, hands-on, how to repair a flat tire and dozens of women practiced loading and unloading a bicycle on an RTS bus.

The Festival is offering space for women to ask questions, learn, and try out bikes in an understanding and non-intimidating atmosphere. Men are welcome to attend, as long as they are also there to encourage women to bike, but be prepared to discuss women-centered topics.

This year, RWBF organizers, including Corn Hill business owner Karen Rogers of Exercise Express, are planning an even bigger and better event.

Additions to this year’s festival include: on-street practice rides led by LCIs (League Cycling Instructors, a certification program from the League of American Bicyclists), healthier food options, more vendors in the Expo area, and more speakers. The RTS bus and Pace Bikes will both be back. Also returning is the bike zoo, where women will be able to test ride different kinds of bikes, such as cargo and e-bikes. REI and Tryon Bike, along with Bianchi Dama representatives, are scheduled to present short maintenance clinics. Breakout sessions will include: How and where to buy a bike; How to bike with children; How to grocery shop by bike; How to find a group
ride and more.

Feel free to drop in and visit the vendor booths, the Bike Zoo and all the sessions. You can also sign up via that link to volunteer or request to host a vendor table. Volunteers will be needed for greeters, set up and break down, staffing info tables and general gophers. Vendors can be about bikes or any sort of organization who would be of interest to women who bike.

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Join Our Team!

Part-time Cycling Coordinator Position Available

Do you get excited by the sight of cycle tracks and trails? Do abruptly ending bike lanes and hazardous intersections make you crazy? Are you organized, resourceful, self-motivated and flexible?

Your dream job awaits.

Reconnect Rochester is searching for an individual to spearhead all cycling related events, advocacy, education, and outreach activities for our organization. This person will work closely with our volunteer Cycling Work Group in running all aspects of our cycling efforts, and will work out of our office in the Hungerford building on E. Main St.

The job may be part-time, but the benefits are endless.

To apply, email a cover letter and resume to info@ReconnectRochester.org by March 15th.

 

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What we accomplished together in 2018

As we look back on 2018, we’re pretty darn proud of what we’ve accomplished together this year. The highlights below are just a snapshot of all the good work we’ve been able to do, thanks to the financial support of Reconnect members, the passionate volunteers that made our programs and initiatives run, and so many others that engaged in our work in countless ways. Thanks to each and every one of you.

If you haven’t yet made a membership donation, we hope you’ll consider doing so to help fuel our work in 2019!  View the membership levels and gift options here. And don’t forget, we have a matching gift in effect from Jason Partyka for NEW members that join by Dec 31st!

Things we’re most proud of in 2018:

Giving transit riders a respectable place to sit at 33 bus stops around the city. We were thrilled to see our bus stop cubes replicated by our neighbor to the west, and we made some progress exploring a permanent fiberglass cube design as a year-round solution… stay tuned in 2019!

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Releasing an in-depth report we commissioned on Transportation & Poverty in Monroe County, and working within the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative transportation work group to translate the data into proposed policy solutions.

Transforming an intersection in the Beechwood neighborhood through our Complete Streets Makeover project, and applying complete streets design to other trouble spots around the city to show how they could be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Rochester's Bike Share

Raising funds to continue sponsoring our two bike share stations on Hudson Avenue & Adams Street. This fall, we hosted a live online presentation to give people a chance to hear from Pace about how Rochester’s 2018 bike share season went (watch a recording here).

Producing three (3) Street Films events that stimulated community conversation about transportation infrastructure investment, the era of highway construction, and designing streets for people. We added two original films to our growing collection (watch them on our YouTube channel).

Reconnect Rochester at Parcel 5

Engaging with the public every day via live events, community outreach tabling, speaking engagementsmedia interviews, social media sharing, and blog posts about things like sidewalk snow removal and transit-supportive development.

Reimagine RTS Community Outreach

Encouraging public engagement, lending support and giving input into local planning initiatives like Reimagine RTS system re-design, and the City of Rochester’s Comprehensive Access & Mobility Plan, Comprehensive Plan & Roc the Riverway.

Advocating for Better Public Transit

Fighting for the transit dependent in our community through countless advocacy actions, like traveling to Albany on Transit Awareness Day, hosting a joint press conference with Our Streets Transit Coalition partners, and joining the New Yorkers for Better Public Transit campaign.

And after two years of conceiving and planning with a powerful coalition of partnerswe helped launch the Drive 2B Better public awareness campaign to make our streets safer to walk and bike. Look out for a second phase of the campaign in 2019!

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How to Bike in Winter… with Mona Seghatoleslami

For Rochester Street Films this year we asked local filmmakers and ordinary citizens to share their perspective on what it’s like to get around Rochester without a car. No rules; No restrictions; No filter.

Rochester NY in February. It’s 19ºF and the ground is slick with snow and ice. But Mona Seghatoleslami, host of WXXI Classical 91.5 FM will brave the cold attempting to ride her bike from her home in Brighton to her job in downtown Rochester (about 4 miles). Afterwards, Mona heads to Tryon Bike shop to find out what type of gear she’ll need for serious winter cycling…

We’d like to ask for your help getting these films in front of as many people as we can. If you would like to host a mini screening of Rochester Street Films in your neighborhood, please contact us.

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Top 10 Things We’re Most Proud of in 2017

If you’ve recently made a contribution to Reconnect Rochester thank you for reaffirming your commitment to our mission. But even if you haven’t contributed dollars, we want to take a moment to thank you for all you’ve given this year in other ways.

Maybe you’ve given to one of our programs or another similar cause. Maybe you tried riding your bike or taking the bus to work for the first time and encouraged your friends to try it too. We know many of you have helped to educate others by writing, making phone calls, speaking out publicly and even running for public office. And some of you right now are leading efforts to improve people’s lives by serving from a position within local government or at RGRTA.

We thank YOU!

Now is the perfect time of year to take pause and recognize our collective efforts (large and small) because frankly, the results have been nothing shy of astounding. And imagine, we still have next year to do even more!

Top 10 things we're most proud of in 2017

#10…

Fighting for our community through countless advocacy actions including: Traveling to Albany on Transit Awareness Day to help make a compelling case for local transportation funding; Rallying support for traffic calming measures (most recently on East Avenue); continuing to promote the Pace Car driver pledge program; Pushing for lower speed limits in City neighborhoods; Opposing Federal cuts to public transportation; AND lending support and input into local planning initiatives like Rochester’s Comprehensive Access & Mobility Plan, Climate Action Plan, Mobility & Enhancement Study, and the Shared Mobility Program. We also love engaging with the public EVERY DAY via live events, speaking opportunities, media interviews, social media and our blog… but that’s already like 11 things right there, so moving on…

#9…

Helping voters stay on top of the races for Rochester Mayor and City Council with our Transportation & Mobility Questionnaire which invited the candidates to communicate their position & understanding of mobility issues.

#8…

The loooong awaited opening of Rochester’s new train station which we celebrated with a “behind the scenes” tour guided by representatives from Amtrak and hosted by our Rail Transit Workgroup.

#7…

Our volunteers who built and placed 20 new Bus Stop “Cube” seats in and around Corn Hill, Union Street, Saint Paul Street and Monroe Avenue. Since 2016 we’ve more than doubled the number of cubes out there to give bus riders a respectable place to sit at 34 bus stops. And with plans underway for a permanent fiberglass cube, we’re also within reach of a year-round solution.

#6…

All of you who came out for SIX Rochester Snow Downs on commercial avenues in all four city quadrants, drawing attention to the need for clear sidewalks & bus stops.

#5…

Our Rochester Street Films which drew hundreds of people to The Little Theatre for inspiration and thought-provoking discussion on a broad range of topics including the relationship between transportation and poverty, getting around with a disability, “car culture”, sustainability and community design. These films will continue to inspire people online and at future neighborhood gatherings.

#4…

Our Complete Streets Workgroup team who participated in the planning of a Traffic Safety Public Education Campaign convened by Common Ground Health. Watch for the campaign in 2018!

#3…

The wild success of Rochester’s new bike share system and our partners at Zagster and the City of Rochester. And all of YOU who helped us raise over $18,000 to sponsor bike share stations in less affluent neighborhoods (on Hudson Avenue in Upper Falls and Adams Street in Corn Hill). We’re gearing up to do it again in 2018!

#2…

The launch of our Transportation & Poverty initiative to place focus on transportation as a key barrier for people living in poverty and to inform community action. We produced a 30 minute documentary film on the subject and recently commissioned an in-depth report by Center for Governmental Research which will feed into the Rochester and Monroe County Anti-Poverty Initiative. Look for that in early 2018.

And the #1 thing
we’re most proud of in 2017…

Helping our community to Reimagine RTS!
We don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this may be a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to reposition our public transit system for a very bright future. If you haven’t already, we invite you to read our suggestions for a better transit system compiled by our Bus Innovation Workgroup. Reconnect Rochester is one of many groups serving on the project’s Community Advisory Committee and we’d like to remind you to share YOUR input on this important project. If you missed the public input session we co-hosted, there is still time for you to take the Reimagine RTS Survey.

But most of all,
we’re proud to be partners with YOU and all of our new members this year.

 

 

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Bikes vs. Cars : 6:30pm, Wednesday at The Little

Bikes vs. Cars

Bikes vs Cars premiers in Rochester this Wednesday kicking off a full line-up of events for Rochester Bike Week 2016. Starting as a Kickstarter project in September 2013, this much anticipated film tells of the modern bike revolution in cities across the world.

Reserve your seat with a donation in any amount (either online or at the door) and you’ll also be entered into a raffle to win a $25 gift card for Abundance Food Co-op or Towner’s Bike Shop, OR a $20 gift card for Harts Local Grocers!

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Reconnect Rochester Survey

Reconnect Rochester envisions a community connected by a robust transportation network that makes it easy for everyone—regardless of physical or economic ability—to get around. To achieve this vision, it is important for us to prioritize our goals, and focus on activities that have the greatest potential to advance those goals in a measurable way. You can help us by answering this quick survey…

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Introducing “Streets for the People”

Streets for the People
Posted by: board member Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

Regular, everyday citizens rallying together can set in motion great change in our communities. After all, the people who are most in touch with what is needed in our neighborhoods are those who live, walk, ride, play, drive, shop and work in them every day.

Reconnect Rochester is happy to announce a new initiative that is a direct result of everyday citizen action: Streets for the People

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Monroe County Had 2,679 Vehicle Collisions Involving Pedestrians & Cyclists Over Last 4 Years Report Shows

Yet, New York State plans to spend fewer dollars on pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure; advocates call on the Governor to allocate more resources.

In Monroe County (January 1, 2009 - December 31, 2012) pedestrians were involved in 1,479 vehicle crashes and 1,200 involved bicyclists.
According to state data, there were 2,679 vehicle collisions with pedestrians or bicyclists in Monroe County over a four-year period from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012. Using the New York State Department of Transportation’s Accident Data Files, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit transportation policy watchdog organization, found that pedestrians were involved in 1,479 of these collisions and 1,200 involved bicyclists.1 Thirty-three of these collisions were fatal (28 pedestrian collisions and 5 bicyclist collisions). The City of Rochester had the highest number of collisions (1,614) and the town of Greece the second highest (215)…

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