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Car Lite Rochester: From Car-Free to Car-Lite, Three Years Later

car lite logo

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out the t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: From Car-Free to Car-Lite, Three Years Later

By: Calvin Eaton

Calvin Eaton is a disabled scholar, author, cultural curator, content creator, and social entrepreneur. He founded the theglutenfreechef brand and website in 2013 and founded 540WMain, Inc. in 2016.

Calvin Eaton
Photo Credit: Adam Eaton

Whew! It’s been a long time since I last checked in! Can you believe it’s been three years since my last blog with Reconnect Rochester? And what a time we’ve had in three years. We’ve survived an incessant global pandemic and  I’ve survived two bouts of COVID-19, vaccinations, boosters, masks, and so much more. With so much change you would think we would be closer to realizing neighborhoods and streets that are more universally designed, pedestrian friendly, and less reliant on the all-powerful automobile. This is hardly the case. So much has changed yet when it comes to a culture that is less reliant on cars so much has remained the same. Still it’s not all doom and gloom. There’ve been lots of positive changes in the realm of more bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure in recent years. Before I dive into that let me update you on what’s been happening with me.

New Bike, New Me

I got a new bike in 2021. Actually, a very kind friend gifted me a brand new bike. It was a complete surprise and I am forever grateful. After what seems like decades of lamenting about how I needed to get a bike, I just wasn’t making it a priority. One day in early summer 2021 I reached out to my Facebook community to ask if anyone had recommendations for a decent used bike and next thing I knew I received a brand new bike on my doorstep. What a thoughtful and amazing gift. I was able to test out my new bike just in time for the 2021 edition of the Juneteenth Roc Freedom Ride through Rochester. Tapping into the robust bike community and the dedicated bike trails has been key for me since I still don’t always feel comfortable riding my bike solo on the city streets. Even though fibromyalgia prevents me from cycling as much as I would like, having my new wheels has been amazing.

Calvin with a friend at a community bike ride

Rochester’s affinity based cycling communities have grown throughout the pandemic. These communities are important to me because they break down the stereotypes and bias that Black people don’t bike or can’t bike. Amazing transformative leaders like Rashad Smith and the Roc Freedom Ride initiative are a beautiful homage to the bus desegregation movement of the 1960s and parallel the modern day desegregation of “cycling culture” in Rochester and other cities around the country. Cycling culture in Rochester like most cities looks very homogenous (i.e white) and groups like Roc Freedom Riders, Black Girls Do Bike, Conkey Cruisers, and the Flower City Feeling Good bike rides are some of the initiatives that have grown over the past few years that diversify and bring equity and inclusion to cycling culture in Rochester. This work is priceless. Despite this progress, bike legislation and biased enforcement has led to over policing, racial profiling and pretext stops for Black and brown cyclists. Group bike rides provide a measure of support and safety for those of us that are new to cycling as a regular form of transportation.

Car-Free to Car-Lite

In my last blog I shared my journey to a car-free lifestyle and three years later I’ve migrated from car-free to car-lite. The short story version is that during the pandemic my brother purchased a used car from Geva’s fleet of cars for performers and then gifted the car to me. It all happened very quickly but I do remember needing a week or two to think about the implications of bringing a car back into my life. This was at the top of 2021 and at the time I was teaching as an adjunct at St. John Fisher University and we were migrating back to in-person learning. After three years of being car-free, having access to my own vehicle again didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Reimagine RTS

My final decision came down to convenience. Even with the many improvements to bicycle infrastructure, and the reimagine RTS initiative I would be being disingenuous if I didn’t admit that having a car is simply more convenient in our city. Owning and maintaining a car is a privilege, this I must admit. Getting reacclimated to car life and taking care of the administrative details like registration, insurance, and transferring the title was relatively easy for me to do and I recognize this immense privilege. As someone living with a disability my lifestyle lends itself to far less driving than the average car owner. Due to the disability that I live with, each month my car sits idle in the driveway for multiple consecutive days. More often than not, I don’t have the stamina or energy to drive. The majority of my work happens online and I hold many meetings remotely via zoom. Even on my good days having a car for me isn’t essential. Understanding this privilege I recently was able to loan my car to a car-free friend who was taking a road trip for a couple of days.

Winter sidewalk in Rochester, NY

For me having a car during the cold winter months is most helpful. And I notice and advocate for improvements in how our streets and sidewalks are plowed during the winter months. Anyone that uses a wheelchair or power chair is figuratively and literally stuck when the snow starts to accumulate and this is simply unacceptable. There remains much work to be done in this regard.

Transportation Justice is an Ongoing Movement

Despite my return to life with a car, I remain an active and vocal advocate for safe streets, increased and improved bicycle infrastructure, and better accessibility for our roads, public transportation and the built environment for disabled people. My journey has taught me to have more compassion and empathy for everyone’s choice to own a car or not and to spend less time making moral judgements about people’s decisions and more time advocating for a city that includes all perspectives and voices. There have been lots of additions that allow more transportation choice in our City like the HOPR bike and scooter share, bike clubs, electric vehicle sharing, renovations to the RTS station, road diets, improvement along East and West Main streets, and the advocacy and education presented by Reconnect Rochester. Still we have so much work to do to reimagine and redesign our city to be more pedestrian safe and friendly.

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Car Lite Rochester: Small Decisions Become Core Values

car lite logo

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: Small Decisions Become Core Values

By: Tracey Austin

It’s interesting to think through why your life includes (or excludes) something that most other American families find normal. I would say my family’s car-lite life was born from necessity. We never really made a conscious decision on a particular day to be car-lite, yet it has become one of our values. And it has amazed me how such a seemingly small decision has shaped our life.

After college, my sister and I wanted nothing more than to get an apartment together in the City of Rochester. We shared our college car, and since my job was downtown and closer, I was the one who got to take the bus, ride my bike, and walk. I learned so much about Rochester during that time of my life because I used these multimodal ways of getting around. They weren’t an alternative for me; it was just what I had to do, like most people who don’t have access to a car.

After I got married, there was no question whether we would also live in the city near friends and our jobs. Proximity to work and “life things” has always been a natural priority for us. I love this city. I have spent the past 20+ years exploring some of its best short cuts. Back in the day, my favorite shortcuts were through the old midtown building and the enclosed path you could take from MCC to the other side of Main Street – glory days!

I love bike commuting, and the bus has helped in a pinch. But I prefer to walk most places. If I’m short on time, I bike. But walking is a form of therapy for me, especially before and after work in the winter. It’s always a peaceful way to start and end the day. And when I worked downtown it was always a good excuse to pick up coffee on the way into work without having to wait in a drive thru or park my car. I guess all of my life’s decisions usually come down to coffee access.

For these combined reasons, we have been able to get by with one car (even now with a teenage driver also sharing it!). My husband prefers the bus to biking or will walk sometimes when I need the car. And all of us are now very used to asking friends and co-workers for rides. I wish that was more normalized. I even have close neighbor friends who always anticipate my request for a ride if we are both invited to the same event. Most people don’t mind at all, especially if you help pay for gas or bring them something freshly baked. ☺

We manage, and we manage well. Although I sometimes agree with my youngest son’s wish that “we at least had a newer car,” I don’t frame it as a necessity and I never will. What started as an economic decision continues to be one: I could never stomach paying a car payment on a new car, let alone two. And paying for parking when the job or event is fairly close to my house seems silly. I am happy that my kids prioritize material things less, since the necessity of cars wasn’t modeled for them. And sometimes I make a point to say things like, if we had two cars to pay for we wouldn’t be able to go on this trip or pay this bill. As they get older, I hope they will prioritize adventure and healthy budgeting over something that ties them down.

I suppose my story isn’t going to be a huge revelation to most readers. But my car-lite life has revealed a lot to me—about myself and about my city. I choose to interact with it daily in a more tangible way by how I travel through it, and that in turn helps my bank account and our environment. That makes me happy. So as long I have physical mobility to travel the way I prefer, I will do just that. And I hope I can help some friends to try it along the way.

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Car Lite Rochester: Family Style

car lite logo

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: Family Style

By: Doug Kelley

Doug Kelly smiles in a helmet next to the Genesee River

It was early 2015 when my transportation lifestyle hit rock-bottom. Rochester’s winter had been especially cold and snowy that year. I was still bitter over the cancellation of the RTS route that had shuttled me, all through the prior winter, directly from my own block to my job at the University of Rochester (anybody else have fond memories of the 52 line?). With my children in elementary school and my wife and I both working new jobs, busy-ness and frustration led me to break my routine by buying a parking pass and commuting in a car all winter. It seemed logical enough, especially since my wife and I happened to own two cars for the first time since our daughters had been babies.

But by March, it was clear that car commuting had been a terrible blunder. I found myself much more grumpy, fussing over traffic and parking and gas prices. I was out of shape and feeling lethargic. Canceling the built-in exercise of walking to the bus or biking to the office, and eliminating the routine that gave me quiet outdoor moments for reflection twice a day, had made me miserable — both physically and emotionally. The writing was on the wall: I crave exercise and the joys of active transportation more than I hate the cold. I swore I’d never buy another winter parking pass, and I never have. We soon got rid of that second car.

Once we did, the benefits piled up. For starters, living a car-lite lifestyle can be a big financial help for a young family. Driving less meant we spent less on gas, of course — and today’s high gas prices would increase the impact. Dropping my parking pass saved us a few hundred bucks a year. (Shout out to the University’s free Occasional Parking Program!) But the real financial payoff came with getting rid of that car altogether: no car payments, no insurance, no oil changes, no brake jobs or belt jobs or worries about what would break next. Our car-lite lifestyle continues to save us thousands of dollars each year.

Cost of a car diagram
Diagram from EPA

Other benefits are less tangible, but for a family, maybe more important. Exercise is one of the best things anybody can do for physical and mental health, so building exercise into daily transportation routines is great for parents and kids alike. Biking and walking make my family and me happier, more focused at school and work, and ready to enjoy time together more fully. Burning less fossil fuel and emitting less carbon make my wife and me feel better about our climate impacts, not only for our own sake but also for our two teenage daughters. After all, they will live through more repercussions of climate change than us, and going car-lite now will empower them to be more adaptable and less dependent on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, strolling and rolling around the neighborhood weaves all of us more tightly into our community. The kids bump into classmates; my wife and I see friends and neighbors.

Maybe the best perk for families who go car-lite is one we hadn’t anticipated back in 2015: it has made parenting easier for us. Teaching our kids to walk to elementary school saved us countless hours idling in carpool traffic jams. More importantly, living car-lite lets children gain freedom and learn responsibility in baby steps, as appropriate for their age. In second grade, our girls were big enough to walk by themselves to the playground across the street. In third grade, they could walk to a friend’s house down the block, or another around the corner. Soon, they could bike to see more friends or walk to music lessons. By the time our daughters reached middle school, we found ourselves living a year in Copenhagen. There, great public transportation, world-beating bike infrastructure, and negligible crime rates meant the girls could go nearly anywhere in the city without setting foot in a car. We didn’t own one there anyway. Back in Rochester, though the infrastructure doesn’t match Copenhagen’s, our daughters have the skills and confidence to go many of the places they need, walking to school and work, biking to the pet store and thrift stores. Restricting their childhood transportation to cars alone would have robbed them of the chance to gain agency and independence, steadily and surely, through all those years. Our older daughter will get her driver’s license this fall, and I shudder to think what would have happened if she’d been handed car keys and set loose to drive two tons of high-speed steel without first having learned how to find her way around the world, independently, on foot and on bikes and on buses and trains.

Family of four (two parents, two children) with bikes on a Copenhagen street
The Kelley Family in Copenhagen

Though living car-free in Copenhagen was a breeze, our family has never lived car-free in Rochester. Looking ahead to a time when all four of us will have driver’s licenses, we’re transitioning now from owning just one car to owning two — but certainly not four! The car-lite lifestyle is a pleasure we will continue.

Our chosen lifestyle is made more enjoyable by a few practicalities we’ve figured out along the way. First, we chose to live in a neighborhood with ubiquitous sidewalks and good bike routes to many places, especially our most common destinations, including my workplace, the kids’ schools, grocery stores, gyms, a bank, a pharmacy, a bakery, and a library. If you live near good routes to work and everyday destinations, by bike or bus or walk, transitioning to a car-lite lifestyle could be almost seamless. If you are among the millions working from home nowadays, going car-lite is even easier. If not, and if you’d like to commute by biking or walking, ask whether your employer has a shower. (Pro tip: U of R has many at the medical center, many at the gym, and at least two others on River Campus.) By providing a little extra power, an e-bike can be a key enabler of a pleasurable car-lite lifestyle, especially if you have health or mobility limitations, your commute is a little longer, or you frequently find yourself hauling young children and groceries. Cargo bikes and trailers are wonderful for families, not to mention backpacks and panniers. When children are old enough to pedal themselves but not yet old enough to navigate to school independently, a great solution is a bike train, in which just one or two parents bike along with a group of neighborhood classmates. Carpools are another great way to go car-lite, whether to school or to work. You can find great routes using RTS’s Transit app or browsing Rochester’s Bike Boulevards. When winter weather makes roads and sidewalks slick, you can pull on some microspikes on your way to the nearest bus.

Microspikes make car lite easier
Microspikes are a great way to make walking in the snow less treacherous!

Finally, you can help make a car-lite lifestyle more possible and more pleasurable for your own family and for everybody else by communicating its importance to public officials. A great way to start is by giving input for the City of Rochester’s new Active Transportation Plan and for Monroe County’s new Countywide Active Transportation Plan

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Car Lite Rochester: A Lifetime of Multimodal Memories

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

Car Lite Rochester: A Lifetime of Multimodal Memories

By: M. André Primus

Car lite: Andre, his wife, and their daughter pose before a bike ride

I’ve always lived a car-lite lifestyle, but growing up in the hood we used to just call it “broke.” I suppose in Europe they don’t call it anything, it’s just normal. Whatever you call it, it works out to be the same thing: Do you make the majority of your trips with a car or without one? And what does that mean for how you experience your life?

Growing up, we could only afford one car, so I have very early memories of sitting in the child seat on the back of my mom’s bike, watching her standing up in the pedals to get us both up the hill over the train tracks on East Main, on our way to the Public Market. I remember a few years later, pedaling up the same hill behind her on a little bike of my own, my baby sister now taking my place on the back of the bike.

Rochester winters were colder and snowier then, the lead up and lag longer — practically a six-month progression of slush, then ice, then snow, then ice, then slush again. When our bikes were away for the winter, we trudged through the snow to the Sully Library, where I, homeschooled-kid that I was, would sit for hours and read.

Car lite: an adult pulls three kids on a sled down a snowy sidewalk

I remember finding a stash of old RTS tokens in some corner of our old house, undoubtedly uncovered by my mom’s continuous renovations. Even though they had been phased out of use by the mid-1990s, we used them to get on the bus for the next couple of weeks, the driver accepting them out of some combination of bemusement, kindness, and apathy.

The funny thing is, we did have a car for all that time! When gas fit in the budget, or our destination was too difficult for a single mother to haul her two children with alternative transportation, we drove. But I don’t have any memories of my time in the car with my mother, save for a few family road trips. Any day-to-day car travel was struck from my mind, while even the most mundane bike trips stand out with a sort of magical glow. I was a very imaginative child, and as soon as I sat in a car I checked out of this universe. I read a book, or explored the wilds of Hyrule on my Gameboy Color, or simply imagined a world of my own. But traveling without a car, I was present; I could see the world around me. 

As I got older, our life stabilized. My mom started getting higher-paying work, I started attending school, and we used our car more. But I retained a love for alternative transportation. By the time I got to high school I was walking to school every day and exploring the city with my friends, on foot or by bike. 

Once I graduated high school and began attending MCC I biked out to Henrietta daily, year-round. I was occasionally endangered by drivers on my way to school, when I reached the point where Mt. Hope became West Henrietta Road and the shoulder became narrow. More than once the rush of air from a passing truck shook me, or even knocked me off my bike onto the curb. But that couldn’t stop me any more than the snow could. I’d practically been born doing this.

Nowadays I have a family of my own. A wife and two daughters, one four and one six. I’ve worked to create memories for them, the same way my mother did for me. I hope that when they get older, they’ll remember being pulled through the snow in a sled to the Sully Library, or to New City Cafe. Maybe they’ll remember riding to the Public Market as a family on Saturday morning. Maybe they’ll remember how excited they were every time they got to ride the RTS 41 crosstown, how they would cry out and point every time they saw it around the city, “The 41 bus! Look!”

Car lite: Andre poses on his Onewheel in a suit, presumably on his way to work

And I’m still creating my own memories. I ride my Onewheel to work most days, with the exhilarating feelings of floating along powered by electricity and intention, of seeing the city, the people, of feeling the wind in my face. A feeling that, besides the visceral pleasure, provides the sort of feeling of freedom a teenager gets upon getting their license, but without the feeling of being tied down that same teenager will get once they begin dealing with gas, insurance, maintenance, and the inevitable lack of a parking spot.

When it gets too snowy for the onewheel, my mountain bike comes out. In the depths of winter, the effort of plowing through snow banks and navigating the maze of icy berms left by competing snowplows warms me up enough that I often have to remove my jacket, and certainly don’t miss a car’s heating. I’ve watched Rochester’s winters get milder and milder in my 30-odd years, so I take a sort of savage joy in wrestling with the winters we have left. 

I realize I could have made a case here, telling you all the economic, financial, environmental, and sociological reasons why you should consider using your car less, but at the end of the day, I think the emotional experience of living less of your life in a car is reason enough. Maybe you don’t need the monotony, isolation, and immobility of car travel in your life. Maybe, you could have something better?

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Car Lite Rochester: From Big to Midsize City

Logo: "Car Lite Brewed by Reconnect Rochester." Styled like a beer logo.

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: From Big to Midsize City

By: Chaz Goodman

Chaz Goodman (guest blogger) smiling on his bike. He's wearing a black helmet and red backpack.

I love biking. I do it for fun, and for about eight years it was the only way I got around. I love being a part of my surroundings instead of being isolated in a car. I love seeing a friend on a bike or on the sidewalk and calling a quick hello. I love hearing the birds sing and feeling the breeze. I love hearing a busker playing on the street or snippets of a conversation from outdoor diners on Park Avenue. I love that instead of finding time in my busy schedule to work out in a stale indoor space, I can get exercise during my commute. I love that when I’m not feeling active, I can take it easy, bike slower, and still get to work without much effort.

From Chicago to Rochester

I spent my twenties living car free in Chicago before my wife and I moved back to Rochester. Here our lives would be different. We now had a dog and we would be visiting multiple suburbs rather than mostly staying within the city. One of the first things we did was buy two cars, one for each of us.

I added my new car key to a key ring and put it in my back pocket. The key was large and hard to ignore when I sat back down. I shifted slightly and set off the alarm button on the remote. The symbolism of the moment was a little too on the nose for me. I started thinking about how I could get back to my car free lifestyle – or at least car lite.

Commuting by bike in Rochester wasn’t too much of an adjustment from Chicago. In warmer weather, I ride to work in gym clothes and keep my work clothes in a light drawstring bag to stay cool. When I get to work I splash a little water on my face and change in the bathroom. In the winter, I just throw on a jacket over my work outfit. I put my computer and lunch in my panniers. I take East Avenue which generally has a wide shoulder since cars can’t park there during work hours. It is quite spacious for a bicycle.

The shoulder on East Avenue
The shoulder on East Avenue

I am rarely carrying much so taking my bike to work is pretty easy. Even if I have to run multiple errands, I just make sure to bring my backpack. You’d be surprised how much stuff fits in those three bags (panniers and backpack). Due to commuter traffic, travel times are pretty similar on a bike vs a car (especially if I’m traveling within the city). I almost always bike when I go out for the evening and I never worry about where to park or how much it will cost.

Speaking of cost…that alone is a good reason to consider a car lite lifestyle. My bike initially cost me $200 and I’ve probably put about $500-$600 into it for repairs over the course of ten years. Imagine this minimal cost replacing how much you put toward car repairs/payments over even half that period of time.

Challenges & Allowances

I considered my other travel needs beyond commuting, night life, and errands. I’m a musician and I often play gigs where I have to set up my own sound. Here, I allowed that I would need a car to transport my full PA system and multiple instruments/microphones/stands/amplifiers.

My next challenge was visiting family in different suburbs. I started riding from my place in Brighton to my brother’s place in Irondequoit. It’s a long ride but I enjoy it. The only time I feel nervous on a bicycle is crossing under Route 104. There are a lot of drivers who are in a hurry to get on or off the highway and they just aren’t expecting a cyclist. Nonetheless, it’s definitely doable and 104 is only one small part of my ride. TIP: I stay safe by assuming a car doesn’t see me unless I have made eye contact with the driver.

My next allowance was to drive to my parents’ place in Webster because biking this route is unfortunately quite impractical. The Bay Bridge is obviously not built for bicycles and although Empire Boulevard has a wide shoulder, cars are often going upwards of 60 MPH. I’ve read a few sobering stories about collisions gone wrong there. Plus, biking in Webster itself makes me nervous.  

If I took public transit I would need to take three buses for an hour, without any delays. There isn’t a bus that goes to my parent’s neighborhood so I would need to walk an additional five miles to their house which is not in the RTS demand area. Or I could drive and it would take 20 minutes. I can hardly blame someone who chooses to drive when we have made it so much easier than the alternative.

I decided that other than these allowances, I was going to bike even in challenging circumstances. I have a raincoat for rainy days, staying active on my bike keeps me warm in the winter, and I have multiple lights for night riding.

Then my son was born. Now the lack of protected bike infrastructure I had been blissfully unaware of as an able-bodied adult became glaringly obvious. I’m in the process of putting a toddler seat on my bike so my son can join me for errands in the city, but it’s still nerve-racking to consider. His daycare is located on a particularly busy four lane section of South Clinton Avenue so I plan to ride on the sidewalk with him for safety.

South Clinton Avenue's four lanes
South Clinton Avenue’s four lanes

The Big Picture: Why Be Car Lite?

It’s hard not to feel a little frustrated at the decisions made for our communities. When I mention reducing car usage to people I often hear the counter argument: “don’t force your lifestyle onto the rest of us.” But we’ve already all but forced people to use cars with our street design and inefficient public transit.

Some people genuinely prefer driving and that’s fine. But there are plenty of people who would opt for transit or biking if they felt it was safe and convenient. Many people don’t realize how impractical cars are because they never considered a life without them. I was certainly one of those people before spending nearly a decade without a car.

Stock image of a frustrated driver and passenger, perhaps in a traffic jam

Beyond their environmental impact, cars are just inefficient for most of our daily needs. Go to any public area and look at how much space is devoted to parking. Imagine if we could reduce that. Imagine how much more space we would have and how pleasant it would be. Imagine if drunk drivers weren’t a concern because most people weren’t driving when they went out. Imagine if children could travel with classmates via buses to their various after school activities rather than relying on overtaxed parents to transport them everywhere. Imagine if you didn’t have to drive to work every day and you could spend your commute on public transit; reading or daydreaming or writing or texting or sending emails. Imagine not needing to spend every day operating a dangerous machine that requires complete focus to stay safe. Imagine not needing to worry about car repair bills or auto insurance. Imagine a world where road construction is less common because there aren’t thousands of cars degrading the quality daily.

For those who say it’s impossible: consider the fact that our cities used to operate this way with a multitude of pedestrians, trains, buses, bicycles, and cars sharing public space. Even now our public school bus system shows us this is far from a pipe dream. Systemic change is difficult to imagine and even more difficult to enact but it’s certainly not impossible.

Eventually my son will be able to walk to school and take his own bike to get around town. Then I can reduce my car reliance even more. I hope to eventually go back to being car free when it’s possible. For now, I will continue to support institutions such as Reconnect Rochester that are working to correct the imbalance.

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Car Lite Rochester: An Urbanist’s Perspective

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: An Urbanist’s Perspective

By: Arian Horbovetz, Creator of The Urban Phoenix

I remember the feeling of thunderous accomplishment as I dismounted from my bike and whacked my kickstand with exaggerated force.  I texted my girlfriend at the time, letting her know I had made it to work safely.  I took a selfie, and entered my workplace, where I immediately began bragging about what I had just done.  I sat at my desk and took yet another selfie, which I posted on my Facebook page.

selfie of white man in blue helmet; car lite rochester

For the first time, I biked to work.  I had researched for days, looking for the route with the least amount of car exposure.  I had to assure my partner several times that this was OK and I would be safe, and that this was something I really wanted to try.  Now that I had done it, it didn’t feel like such a big deal.  Sure, the hit of elation that came from light exercise and being outside on a late-summer morning when everyone else was frantically piling into their car was intoxicating, but honestly my 4-mile Rochester-to-Henrietta bike commute suddenly didn’t seem like the momentous event that I thought it would be.  Something I thought was an outlier of an experience suddenly felt very natural and approachable.  Later, I would realized that by biking to work one time, I had simply and swiftly demolished the construct that is so ingrained in our American persona from the time we are young… the idea that driving is the only way to move about.  For me, the simple act of powering myself to work on two wheels vanquished that concept forever.

So I biked to work the next day.  And the one after that.  And the full week after that!  Suddenly, the activity that seemed so “fringe” just a short time ago felt incredibly normal, almost routine.  I began to take different routes to work, just to see streets I hadn’t spent much time on and mix up the landscape.  I left home earlier and stopped for coffee and read the news.  Suddenly my formally A to B commute turned into a micro-sightseeing adventure on my way to work.  My car began to sit for days, even weeks at a time.  I began to bike everywhere… to the store, the market, out to meet friends.  I started to make use of Greater Rochester’s fruitful trail network, and memorized every low traffic street that would get me where I needed to go with minimal car contact.  My mom lived in Pittsford at the time, so I simply hopped on the Empire State Trail and visited her every week.  Sure, I had a car and sure, I still used it occasionally.  I just didn’t want to.  Or rather I felt like when I got on a bike, I was doing something better.  Not just for me and my health, but for the community and the planet.

Winter sidewalk. Rochester NY.

And it didn’t stop there.  As the winter weather began to creep in, I started riding the bus.  Having time in the morning to check emails on my to work, or simply relax while traveling to a meeting in the city became a joy, especially on those frigid and snowy Rochester days.  Even in good weather, I would throw my bike on the front rack of the bus and go “multi-modal” to countless destinations in the city and even the nearest suburbs.  I found the sense of community on the bus to be enjoyable as well, an aspect of transit that is easy to forget when traveling alone by car.

As far-fetched as it might seem, using a broad range of transportation modes helped to expand the focus beyond my insulated life, allowing me to see that I was part of something bigger and more interconnected… and something I could help to make a little better every day.  It made me realize the importance of urban density and mixed-use development.  It helped me understand that with every car trip turned bike ride or bus trip, I was one less polluter, one less car on the road that was stuck in the traffic jam, one less parking space needed, and one less safety concern for pedestrians and other bike riders.  These were the seeds that led me to create TheUrbanPhoenix.com, a blog that addresses urban issues across New York State, which now enjoys a national readership.

A decade after that first bike ride, I’ve become a full-fledged multi-modal transportation advocate.  With the persistent work by cyclists and transit riders, as well as organizations like Reconnect Rochester, I’ve seen our city slowly progress as we work to make our streets safer and more equitable.  There are tremendous hurdles we must climb to make alternative transportation a safer and more convenient form of mobility in The Flower City, but with the dedication of so many advocates who understand that life is better when you’re multi-modal, I am pleasantly optimistic.

I still own a car.  It’s a used sub-compact that is cheap, slow and completely unsexy.  I went car-free for over a year at one point, but the modern realities of American sprawl, combined with my recent introduction to the “everything suddenly hurts” phase of middle-aged awareness means that a car-lite lifestyle is the way for me.  And of course, with the lack of adequate snow removal from most trails and bike lanes in our community, having a car as a “backup” means that I can still get to where I need to go regardless of the conditions and how we maintain our infrastructure.  And for that I understand I’m privileged, as many in our community cannot afford that luxury.  Still, I bike and ride the bus far more miles each year than I drive, and that helps me feel like I am making a difference.

When I started biking to work, I felt accomplished.  When I started taking the bus to destinations across Rochester, I felt empowered.  When this became a routine, it transformed me into an advocate.  Today, it’s a way of life, and one that has helped me to understand how connected I can feel to my community, just by moving around it.

Today, using multi-modal transportation has become as practical as it is satisfying.  I have even added other mobility options to my “fleet,” such as an an Ebike, an Electric Scooter, a Onewheel, and several longboards (I taught myself to skateboard during COVID!).  All of these options allow me to adapt to nearly any trip, any condition and frankly, they make moving around a lot more fun.

I am relatively unaffected by the realities of stifling gas prices.  Finding parking for our numerous Rochester events like Jazz Fest and Red Wings games is not just easy, it’s always free.  And when others rant about the horrors of their adversarial morning commute, I can’t help but grin, knowing that two-thirds of my bike ride to work is along a trail through nature where I watch the sun speckle through the trees and “befriend” deer, rabbits, ducks, geese, foxes, giant turtles and even a pack of wild turkeys.

And that’s the realization that eventually comes from living car-free or even car-lite for an extended period of time.  Suddenly, you see the battleground of automobile aggression on our roads as you slowly move past it, through it and beyond it, unaffected by the anxiety of the masses who are constantly trying to shave seconds off of their journey.  It’s the wry smile you can’t contain, like knowing that you’re one of the few that have discovered a secret happiness that you wish others could experience, even just once.  I don’t do what I do for purposes of ego or politics… I do it because I know I feel like a better, more complete human being.  I don’t advocate for what I do for any other reason than I wish others had the opportunity to see mobility the way I do… and if they did, I truly believe our world would look very different.  And that “different” is the Rochester I would love to imagine for our future.

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Introducing: Car Lite ROC Blog Series

Think about the last trip you took in a personal vehicle.  Could you have taken it another way?  Maybe not.  But what about the last two, three, four trips?  Probably!

The truth is, having access to a car makes it really easy to get behind the wheel for all your short trips that could be completed via public transit, bike, scooter, etc.

It’s no secret that we live in a car-centric culture that is focused on everything happening NOW.  Losing a few minutes to travel seems like a big deal with our busy schedules.  Inclement weather sometimes makes opting for a bike ride less desirable.  Maybe the bus is running behind schedule and you have an important meeting to get to.  We get it: it’s hard to make the shift.  We’re hoping to help with that.

Introducing: Car Lite Rochester, a blog series that will highlight the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle! The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, follow along over the next few months.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep the car-lite lifestyle? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

From Transit-Spoiled in the Big Apple to Car-Lite in the Flower-City: How I Went from Car-free, to Car-dependent to Car-lite 

By: Jahasia K. Cooper

On August 28, 2021, I sold my 2008 Nissan Sentra and officially became “car-lite”. But this wasn’t an entirely new experience for me. Growing up in New York City, born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, car-free and car-lite living was just a normal part of my family’s day-to-day life from going to school to getting groceries, we’ve never been car-dependent. Ever. So, selling my car ironically felt like I was returning to what was familiar to me, and taking the bus again was comforting. Admittedly, however, it was a little scary because the transit options in Rochester weren’t quite what I was used to back home. So, there was naturally a learning curve.

I started diligently planning out my days, noting when to take off so I could get to work on time or if I was taking a grocery trip to Wegmans, how long I had to shop before my next bus was on its way, and if I was really in a pinch and wasn’t on top of things I would borrow my fiance’s car. 

Going car-lite in Rochester took a lot more planning and organization than simply jumping in my car and getting from point A to point B, and I actually began to experience many of the small improvements that could be made for myself and others who were also car-lite or car-free, whether it was by choice or not. For example, it’s a lot more difficult to be happy about not owning a car in the winter when you’re waiting at a shelterless bus stop or when you have to stumble over a mountain of snow just to get on the bus. These are things that I never thought about when I had my car but something I began to advocate for after personally experiencing this. It’s something that’s a minor hindrance for me when taking the bus but it’s actually a major accessibility issue for people who rely on public transportation.

Although I saw much to be improved on, there were also many unexpected benefits that I’ve experienced from being car-lite here in Rochester. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Connecting more to my community. When I had the habit of jumping in my car anytime I wanted to get somewhere, I was flying by all of the small, local businesses that were right in my backyard that I never noticed before. When I went car-lite and decided to bike or walk to my destination it was like noticing a new world for the first time. On top of that, I noticed that getting out of your car and into the world means that you actually connect with other human beings. I can’t tell you how many interesting conversations and moments I’ve had with total strangers. Okay, maybe I’ll tell you one. I was chatting with a sweet older lady on the bus one day and she casually described my hair as “very artistic”. I have locs, and I’ve never seen it that way, but it’s stuck with me ever since, and it actually made my day! It’s the random moments, the ones that catch you off guard, that make you appreciate the unique characters in your city that you might just fly by in your car.

Going grocery shopping. Another unusual benefit that I’ve actually enjoyed is biking to get groceries. Once I sold my car, I wondered why on Earth I would drive to Wegmans if it was a 5-10 minute bike ride away. Of course, I can’t load up on two weeks worth of groceries on one bike trip. But I figured that gives me an excuse to exercise throughout the week if I make multiple trips to get groceries. So I found a milk crate at Cobbs Hill because no one ever buys a milkcrate, and bought a used pannier bag and started biking to Wegmans and Abundance Co-op 1-2 times a week. When the weather gets nice, I love seeing other bikers around Rochester heading to the co-op with cargo bikes, panniers, milk crates and their kids in the back to get groceries.

(Left photo: Using panniers at Wegmans. Right Photo: Getting grocery essentials with my milk crate at Abundance Co-op)

Lowering my carbon footprint and personal vehicle impact. When I sold my Nissan and opted for biking, walking and taking the bus as my primary way of getting around, I significantly reduced my personal carbon emissions. The average personal vehicle emits about 4.6 tons of CO2 each year, that’s a quarter of the emissions emitted by the average American annually. As someone who tries to live as sustainably as possible, owning a gas-powered car simply didn’t align with my values for the environment.

Since I sold my Nissan back in August and experienced going car-lite, I’ve actually bought my dream car, a 2008 Toyota Prius. But, that hasn’t changed my perception or behaviors of multi-modality and pedestrianization in our flower city, and I still very much consider myself car-lite. If the weather is nice, and I am definitely a “fair-weather-biker”. I’ll walk or bike to work which takes me about 20 minutes. In fact, if I have to go anywhere, I think about my options and whether or not I need to drive to get to my destination, even if it’s just to pick up a pizza for date night with my fiance, the proof is in the picture below! 

Contact Information:

jahasia@ReconnectRochester.org

Instagram: @javatheurbangardener