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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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Welcoming Jahasia Esgdaille!

Reconnect Rochester is excited to announce the hiring of Jahasia Esgdaille, Community Engagement Manager!

We’re so glad that Jahasia has joined our dynamic and growing staff team that works day-in and day-out to improve mobility in our community. In her role, she will act as Reconnect’s conduit to the community by developing strong relationships with people and organizational partners, and by conducting on-the-ground outreach. Get to know Jahasia and find out what drove (no pun intended) her to this work in the message below.

P.S. You may recognize Jahasia from one of our Car Lite Rochester blogs

Jahasia Esgdaille stands outside the Reconnect Rochester office door, smiling!
JAHASIA ESGDAILLE

Hello friends and fellow advocates! I’m so honored to step into the Community Engagement Manager position at Reconnect Rochester. The mission of Reconnect Rochester very much aligns with my upbringing growing up in New York City as multi-modality was a part of my family’s everyday life, which I discuss more in my car-lite blog here.

My interest in advocating for mobility justice and transit equity initially began as an environmental sustainability steward where I focused heavily on the ways that I could reduce my personal impact on the planet by swapping car trips for walking, biking or taking the bus. This interest, and admittedly newfound passion, quickly grew into a more encompassing lens on how access to multi-modal transportation options affect everything from our environment to economic opportunities, and more.

I look forward to listening, learning, contributing to and advocating for a sustainable and equitable transportation system for all of our community members!

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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.