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Deconstructing the Intractable Issue of Snowed-In Bus Stops

By Arian Horbovetz (The Urban Phoenix)

It’s a sound only heard on the coldest mornings.  The thunderous crunch with every step in my massive boots was deafening as I stumbled over the freshly plowed sidewalk snow.  Over a foot of newly-fallen snow glistened in the streetlight.  I peered through the steam from my latest breath and saw the bus stop in front of me.  But as I stumbled closer, I discovered that any chance of relief from the biting breeze was going to be a challenge.  The drifting snow, combined with the wall of white stuff created by sidewalk plowing made accessing the bus shelter a difficult proposition, even for a person like myself who is physically capable and adequately protected.

My aforementioned bus stop

Later that day, I watched as an elderly woman stood in the partially-plowed bike lane on East Henrietta Road, where drivers routinely reach 50mph.  The woman was waiting for a bus.  The sidewalk adjacent to the perfectly cleared roadway was not only unplowed, the road plows had slung an additional foot of dirty snow on top, making the sidewalk adjacent to the bus stop literally impassable, even for the most agile pedestrian.  With each car that passed the woman, I winced, knowing that a single distracted driver could mean disaster.

These observations are the norm rather than the exception in snow-stricken cities like Rochester.  Nearly 80 inches of snowfall annually, coupled with the tremendous lack of funding for non-automobile mobility, marginalizes and often endangers residents who rely on the bus.  For the 25% of Rochester residents who do not have access to a car, for the elderly who may not have adequate support, and for our disabled citizens, heavy snowfall means an inability to access essential resources.  

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

It’s important to note that the issue of bus stop snow removal is symbiotic with the issue of sidewalk snow removal.  The City of Rochester code 104-11 clearly places the role of sidewalk snow removal on the adjacent property owner.  But too often, property owners are unwilling, unable or unaware of their responsibility to maintain the adjoining public right of way.  And while infractions are reportable, they are often not addressed in a timely manner.  As in most cities, the snow melts before enforcement leads to a positive outcome.

A Rochester resident scales a snow pile

Additionally, the city provides “supplemental” snow removal of 878 miles of city sidewalk when storms deposit more than 4” of snow.  While this is a welcomed service that most cities do not provide, a lack of continued sidewalk snow maintenance means that private driveway plowing companies and icy walking conditions caused by the packing of snow by pedestrians, still makes for treacherous or impassable on-foot experiences.  

And finally, nowhere in the code is snow removal from bus stops or bus shelters mentioned specifically.  In a recent report by WHEC News 10, RTS Spokesperson Tom Brede “asks” that property owners clear a path to the adjacent bus stops as part of their responsibility to clear the sidewalk.  But with the ambiguity and subsequent lack of accountability, any regular bus rider will attest that this action is rarely taken.

How Does It Work In Other U.S. Cities?

As much as Rochester residents are frustrated by winter sidewalk conditions, a 2019 article by Streetsblog USA called Rochester the “clear leader” when it comes to sidewalk snow removal, citing the city’s aforementioned efforts to plow nearly all of its sidewalks in the wake of a heavy snowfall.  This is not to downplay the fact that far more needs to be done here in the Flower City, it is more to show just how few cities have the funding or the will to accommodate those who rely on sidewalks and access to public transit.

A snowy bus stop in Rochester

In a February 2022 WGRZ Buffalo, NY story, NFTA Spokesperson Helen Tederous stated that Buffalo’s code places the responsibility of bus stop snow removal on abutting property owners.  But a review of Buffalo’s Article VIII 413-50 “Snow and Ice Removal” resulted in no clear reference to this claim.  

While Syracuse has only recently begun taking partial sidewalk snow removal responsibility, The Salt City recently finalized an agreement with a contractor, and will spend up to $650,000 to plow 100 miles of sidewalk.

In Minneapolis Minnesota, if a property owner does not clear their adjacent public sidewalk, the city sends them a warning.  If the owner does not comply, a city crew is dispatched to do the job themselves, and a bill is sent.  If the bill is ignored, the cost is included in the owner’s next property tax bill.  City inspections also commence 24 hours after each snowfall, giving legitimacy to the requirement.  The fact that the city takes at least some responsibility in the process of reporting violators is a rare but welcomed level of sidewalk snow removal enforcement.

Our Neighbors To The Northeast

Montreal, Canada has long been heralded as the undisputed champion of snow removal.  As one of the snowiest large cities in the world, Montreal is faced with the same challenge that many major U.S. cities incur, but the process in removing the snow is just as robust.  A large piece of this process is based on the fact that the city actually removes the snow from streets, sidewalks and bike paths in large trucks and transports it to more than two dozen designated locations around the city.  This monumental task begins with signage and notices prior to the storm, warning residents not to park their cars and bikes in the streets or sidewalks.  Instead, residents are encouraged to use a system of parking lots and garages free of charge.  During and after the snow storm, a fleet of 2,200 snow removal vehicles are dispatched to clear the 10,000 kilometers of roads, sidewalks and bike paths.  Yes, that’s right, over half a million Montreal residents use their bikes for transportation rather than recreation, likely due in part to the fact that year-round bike commuting is made more practical by the Titanic snow removal efforts that Montreal employs.

Montreal Snow Removal, courtesy of Zvi Leve

When sidewalks and bike paths are cleared, this allows residents of all socioeconomic levels to access transit with greater ease, creating a more inclusive urban environment.  While Canada’s tax structure and municipal funding practices are very different from the United States in many ways, it is encouraging to see that effective snow removal is possible, and leads to better access.

Calming The Storm

While Rochester is considered a leader in sidewalk snow removal, there is still room for a great deal of improvement.  One of the key starting points is a more robust definition of who is responsible for bus stop snow removal, and a greater communication to property owners regarding this expectation.  Like Minneapolis, regular city-wide snow removal inspections coupled with greater enforcement would likely also improve outcomes.  Finally, advocacy is always an important factor in creating change.  Consider joining organizations like Reconnect Rochester in their efforts to make our streets, sidewalks and public transit systems accessible and equitable.  Together, we can make our city a place where mobility for all is accommodated and uplifted.

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The Bus Cubes Have Landed!

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.

Our bus system is the only transportation mode that requires its passengers to stand while waiting for the service. Not an ideal situation if we're trying to encourage folks to use public transit.

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.

RTS rider enjoys our temporary, seasonal solution to the dearth of seating at local bus stops.

Bus Stop Cubes: A place to rest while you wait

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.

Our bus system is the only transportation mode that requires its passengers to stand while waiting for the service. Not an ideal situation if we're trying to encourage folks to use public transit.

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.

A Solution

In 2014, Reconnect Rochester set out to find a solution. What we came up with was a design for a bus stop seat that is a simple 2’x2’x2’ cube. Our bus stop seating cube comes in 4 primary colors (red, green, yellow, and blue) that add beautification and brightness to the street landscape. The compact size allows the seat to fit easily within areas where space is at a premium – such as tree lawns or that little bit of space between the street curb and sidewalk. 

This woman says her legs have a tendency to give out on her, and the CUBE is the perfect height for her - not to low to the ground.
RTS riders enjoy our temporary, seasonal solution to the dearth of seating at local bus stops.

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!

In September 2020, Reconnect Rochester installed the first 15 fiberglass cubes on Parsells, Lyell and Monroe Avenues (read more in this blog post). In 2021, we installed an additional 16 cubes — that’s a total of 31 cubes on the ground! Stay tuned to our blog and social media for updates on our current efforts.

Click this image to enlarge the map & see exact locations!

Cubes for Your Community

Reconnect Rochester will continue to work with RTS, local municipalities and community organizations throughout Monroe County to add bus stop cubes at stops that are well utilized but lack seating. 

Would you like to see bus stop cubes at 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.


The Bus Cube Birth Story

The bus cube was born in 2014, when Reconnect Rochester set out to come up with a temporary solution to the dearth of seating at local bus stops. Here’s how we did it…

We could just chain a plastic patio chair to a bus stop sign, but to be honest, we're not fans of plastic furniture. And we really don't think the neighbors would appreciate this look very much.

We spent countless hours brainstorming. We scoured the internet. And we even met with a local furniture designer, Staach (we really admire the way those guys balance form, function, and sustainability). But we needed something that would be relatively inexpensive and easy for regular people like us to build and duplicate. It would also need to be compact, sturdy, and weather resistant.

We could have simply taken a page from the guerilla bus stop seating playbook and chained a plastic patio chair to a bus stop sign, but to be honest, we’re not fans of plastic furniture. And we really didn’t think the neighbors would appreciate this look very much.

Then one day, almost like it happens in the movies, the solution hit us like a lightning bolt…good old-fashioned children’s blocks!  It’s amazing how sometimes the best ideas are inspired by the simplest things. Children’s blocks. Durable, easy to use, easy to construct – and what could possibly be more fun? Quite fitting for Rochester, the home of the National Toy Hall of Fame!

Our bus stop CUBE seat was inspired by ordinary children's blocks.

We put pencil to paper and designed a simple 2’x2’x2’ cube. The compact size allows the seat to fit easily within areas where space is at a premium – such as tree lawns or that little bit of space between the street curb and sidewalk. Our prototype was constructed using pressure-treated lumber and decking materials for a total cost of about $100 per cube. 

We put pencil to paper and designed a simple 2’x2’x2’ cube to fit easily within areas where space is at a premium.

We tested the prototypes at two locations within the city of Rochester: The PriceRite at Dewey & Driving Park and N. Union St. at the Public Market. The results were very positive. Interviews with transit riders and passersby can be viewed in this video.

The idea quickly won community support as well as accolades from RTS which encouraged the effort. Over the next three years (2014 – 2017), in partnership with the City of Rochester, Flower City Habitat for Humanity and many neighborhood and community organizations, we built and placed a fleet of over 30 bus stop cubes at bus stops all around the city. 

The seasonal cubes go out on the street in May and are brought back in and stored in October. As the fleet grew, the job performed by Reconnect Rochester volunteers of placing, removing and storing the cubes each season, became harder to manage. That’s when we decided it was time for a permanent, year-round solution. 

It took about three years (2017 – 2020) of stops-and-starts to research, design and manufacture the fiberglass model that you see today. But we’ll save THAT story for another day.

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Bus Cube Update

This summer, Reconnect Rochester placed these bus stop cubes at several locations around the city. With your help, we hope to add more next spring.
Posted by: Daniel Speciale, volunteer at Reconnect Rochester

You may recall reading some time ago that Reconnect Rochester had come up with a temporary solution to the lack of seating at Rochester’s bus stops. Here’s an update…

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Grab your shovel, it’s time to Reconnect your sidewalk…

Who's responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow? All of us! [PHOTO: gam9551, Flickr]
Posted by: Brenda Massie, Board Member and Secretary, Reconnect Rochester.

Getting around during winter in Rochester is challenging — no matter what mode of transportation you choose. Subzero temperatures, snowy sidewalks, and dangerous street conditions become part of everyday life. As a pedestrian, it is especially hairy…

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Bus Stop Cubes Are Winning Community Support

Reconnect Rochester's bus stop cube seats are winning support from the community, including RTS and The Strong Museum of Play.
Posted by: Mike Governale, president and co-founder of Reconnect Rochester

Last month we unveiled an idea to put seating at area bus stops. Our little CUBE seats have since garnered local external link and national external linkattention, and we’ve also been approached by The Harley School, Rochester Community Design Center, and The Strong National Museum of Play about partnering to make this idea a reality! Today, Rochester Transit Service (RTS) official threw their support behind the cubes as well…

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Bus Stop Cubes: a place to rest while you wait

Reconnect Rochester is aiming to come up with a solution for the lack of seating at bus stops in our region.
Posted by: Mike Governale, president and co-founder of Reconnect Rochester

Anyone who has ever used public transportation in Rochester is painfully aware of two things: At some point will have to wait for your bus, and when you do, you will probably be standing. But now, Reconnect Rochester is aiming to come up with a solution…

Read more

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RTS Unveils Bus Stop Changes

RTS has announced several changes, including new bus stop signs and route numbers. [IMAGE: Rochester Transit Service]

RTS on Thursday announced several changes to its bus routes and stops. Changes to routes and route numbers will be made in conjunction with the opening of the RTS Transit Center on November 28, 2014. In addition, new bus stop signage will be installed system wide in 2015. Here’s what you’ll need to know…

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