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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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THIS is Why: How a Multimodal Lifestyle Makes You Immune to Rising Gas Prices

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

I didn’t start biking to work because gas was too expensive. I did it because I had this evolving sense of the world based around the central premise that the mode of transport I had spent my whole life worshiping was the very thing that was in conflict with everything I loved.

When I was 18, my friends and I made a stupid little club called “The Anti-Carpoolers Of America.” I made and printed badges on my computer, featuring a minivan with a slash through it, which we all taped to our dashboards. I purchased a brand new 2000 Honda Civic EX and after the Fast And The Furious series came out, I began modding out my ride with things like a cat-back exhaust, a cold-air intake, performance rims and tires and a bevy of visual additives that announced to the world that I was an immature kid who had no idea how to spend his money. I was born in Chicago and I loved public transit, but I hadn’t yet put together the whole “cars destroyed public transit” narrative that I know and tout today.

My buddy bought a Subaru Impreza WRX, maxing out his financial capacity just to have a car that made him the unquestioned alpha in our group of friends. A base model Impreza, a Dodge Neon with a cold air intake and a “grape fruit shooter” muffler, a lightly-modded out Nissan Maxima, my Honda Civic… they all became financed expressions of ego that propelled all of us forward as we tried to express ourselves in a “keeping up with the Jones’s” automotive mentality. I prided myself on the fact that I drove 100,000 miles in four years. To put that in perspective, I have driven approximately 100,000 miles in the last fifteen years. It’s March 8th of 2022, and I have driven a total of 600 miles this year. And that’s only because the snow has kept me from using other forms of transportation as much as I would like.

Mobility independence
One of my first bike rides to work in 2014

But now, there is more incentive than ever for me to flex my human and electric powered micro-mobility options. As someone who owns 4 bikes, 1 ebike, a Onewheel, an electric skateboard, 2 kick scooters, 2 electric scooters, and more skateboards than I would like to admit, I have been an advocate of micro-mobility for nearly a decade. When promoting alternative transportation to the general population (and not just urbanists), I have typically tried to appeal to the intangible “feeling” of independence, as well as the daily exercise. To this point, gas has remained cheap enough that it was impractical to include fuel cost savings in my advocacy argument.

Obviously, this has changed quickly and drastically. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused gas prices to skyrocket toward record highs in the US and even higher in Europe. There has never been a time more ripe for a louder dialogue around human powered transportation, electric micro-mobility and public transit. While much of the country is blaming government for the regulation of fossil fuel drilling and delivery, people like myself continue to advocate for an alternative to our dependence on a single form of energy that is also tremendously damaging to our planet. True energy and mobility security does not come from greater access to a finite supply of oil, but rather a diversification of power sources, including human power.

Steven Senne/AP

In short, THIS is what all of us crazy cyclists, scooter riders, and electric micro-mobility junkies have been saying for a long time. At some point, a day like this was going to come, where the price of gas would literally make people hesitate before using their car for this or that. People have made choices — like buying a large vehicle or a house that’s 30 miles from their job — on the assumption that driving a car was always going to be affordable, despite the truth that at some point, fossil fuels would become scarce, prices would rise or circumstances would change. One of the central tenets of urbanism is simply that embracing density means we are not at the mercy of any of these variables.

As I’ve stated in the past, my wife and I live in an apartment that is just a few miles from each of our workplaces. I went years without a functional car, just recently splurging for a used compact car. Still, most days you’ll see me using a bike, a scooter or any number of other micro-mobility options for my commute and for running errands. Living a couple miles from Downtown Rochester also means we are closer to stores, shops and entertainment options. Literally, everything we need is within a few minute’s drive, a walk, a bike ride, etc.

This was a conscious decision and one we made because, among other reasons, we did not want to deal with the temporal or economic costs of living far away from our jobs and resources.

Pumping gas

So gas prices went up. I am almost completely unaffected. Nor are my friends that share my desire for mobility independence. Even my wife, who drives every day, is impacted far less than most because of our close proximity to everything, including her job. Because really, we don’t necessarily need to be anti-car to limit the impact of variables like gas prices on our weekly budgets. Simply living a “denser” lifestyle ensures that we have everything we need with fewer miles in between.

I’m not a market economist, and I am certainly no international relations expert… who knows where this terrible conflict happening in Ukraine will end, and what will happen as a result. Back home, the fact that our worst fear lies in rising gas prices just shows how detached we are with what is happening elsewhere on our planet. And even more trivial is the notion that we continue to rely on a single form of energy for a huge percentage of our day-to-day mobility.

Living closer to cities, using public transit and micro-mobility means that market fluctuations have less of an impact on our wallets. It means that we can choose how to move about, rather than relying on the car alone. While the automobile has always been a symbol of American freedom, a simple market shift based on events elsewhere in the world means that freedom can quickly turn into a financial hurdle that many are struggling to afford. THIS is why we urbanists advocate for a life less dependent on cars, and thus, on fossil fuels.

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The Books That Changed Me: Terra Nova & Green Metropolis

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Convenience Culture and the Effect of Exclusive Personal Mobility

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

In a 2017 piece, I wrote about the impact of “independent automobile transportation” on our community environments. To take it one step beyond the idea that we have built a nation around exclusive personal mobility, it’s important to acknowledge the devastating effects of our “convenience culture” here in the United States.

Let’s begin with the assumption that the most important lessons we learn, the most transformative journeys we take, and the most powerful experiences we have are rarely “convenient.” The things that make us better are usually the things that require us to dig a little deeper and find something in ourselves that makes us truly feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. While convenience is a welcomed privilege, what makes us who we are usually requires a modicum of effort, or self reliance, or shared effort. If this is not your experience, then this post may not be for you.

Comfortable Bus

For the rest of you that are still with me, let’s talk about the assumption mentioned above with regard to our communities. Do we make the hard choice to bike to work instead of drive in an effort to reduce pollution, make our community safer, and advocate for a more sustainable mode of transportation, or do we simply drive? Do we conveniently order from Amazon, or do we seek a similar purchase that might strengthen our local economy? Do we use Grubhub, or do we contact our favorite local establishment directly to ensure they get the most from every order? Do we use Uber or do we see if there is a public transit option that might get us to where we need to go?

European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are notorious for prioritizing less “convenient” forms of transportation in favor of bikes and public transit, which empower us and expose us to sociocultural diversity. The lessons learned via anti-exclusive mobility are the true soul-resurrecting elements that we can all benefit from. In other words, if we truly support the definition of strength through adversity, we must embrace the less convenient avenues of mobility, commerce and lifestyle.

And yet, in a country of perpetual chest-thumping, relentlessly championing the illusion of toughness and grit, we look for the closest parking space at the gym. We curse the driver that takes an extra second to make a left turn, delaying us during our commute. We berate the local business that doesn’t have the “in-and-out” convenience parking we ravenously crave. This America of “strength” is suddenly brought to its knees when we can’t find a parking space within a few hundred feet from our destination.

This is the sociological construct that is created when we over-prioritize the most “convenient” (and most exclusive) form of transportation. For example, of the 37 OECD nations, the United States has the second lowest gas tax behind Mexico, which has no gas tax. In fact, the US gas tax is almost exactly one-quarter of the OECD average per gallon. The lack of significant fuel tax in the US is an under-realized financial lubricant for the proliferation of the automobile as an affordable choice instead of the exclusive one. In essence, we have made it financially easier for people to get around using the most inefficient, unsafe and environmentally unfriendly mode of transportation this planet has ever seen.

Couple this with more than a half century of urban demolition, residential displacement and racially-diving highway creation, and you get a mode of transportation that is so convenient AND exclusive that few other modalities have a chance.

And it’s not just cars. It’s mega stores like Walmart that, ironically, we welcome into our rural and suburban worlds on the promise of jobs and inexpensive merchandise, when the reality is a monopolistic machine that pays unlivable wages and makes it impossible for small businesses to compete. The end result is actually a loss of American jobs and a culture that is built around a one-stop-shop solution that is highly subsidized and simultaneously damaging to local economies.

Services like Grubhub make it easy for consumers to order from local restaurants. But these third-party food delivery services can take up to 30% of each sale, creating a no-win scenario for restaurants. Choose to use Grubhub and have your profit margins stripped, or go it alone and receive extremely limited exposure based on the public’s lack of desire to look beyond their favorite apps to fulfill their cravings. Grubhub has quietly become one of the most powerful “pay-to-play” constructs in our local economy.

These are just a few examples of convenience culture and how this unsustainable model of commerce is slowly eliminating the chance for small businesses to thrive. The more we subscribe to the convenience economy, perpetuated first and foremost by the drastic over-prioritization of the automobile, the more we feed into our own undoing. Whether you’re a rural American who loves the convenience of Walmart, or an urban American who just wants to find the closest parking space in front of your favorite farm-to-table restaurant, remember that true patronization often takes effort. With this in mind, let’s be fine with parking a quarter mile away and getting some exercise on the way to our destination. Let’s pay a little extra to shop at our local market instead of lining the pockets of billionaires who are fleecing our small business cultures. Let’s look at the notion of what our American spirit really stands upon… the idea that if we all work a little harder and a little smarter, we can overcome the temptation of convenience culture and reclaim our community strength by doing what is more difficult.

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Rochester wants to get more residents on bikes

by Jesse Peers, cycling coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

“The bicycle is in many ways the easiest solution to a multitude of problems.” – Anna Brones in Hello, Bicycle

As a bicycle instructor, I love teaching bike classes and presentations in our area. (If you want to book a lunch n’ learn presentation for your workplace, library or community group, let me know at cycling@reconnectrochester.org). Before going in depth on any subject, I spend a few slides at the beginning highlighting the benefits of biking. It’s not enough just to tell people how to bike safely. You have to inspire them to bike in the first place. There are powerful financial, health and environmental benefits that accrue from biking. And although it only takes one of these reasons to get on a bike, you and society will benefit in a variety of ways for doing so.

My hope with this blog is not only to “preach the cycling gospel,” but to familiarize readers with Rochester’s goals and policies, particularly its groundbreaking Rochester 2034 Plan. As I’ve gravitated towards bike advocacy in recent years, I was pleased to discover that my hometown also sees the benefits of getting more citizens on bikes. The City of Rochester has many plans in motion to better our city and many of those plans incorporate getting more people on bikes.

Choice, equity & “complete streets”

In line with New York State, Rochester adopted its own Complete Streets Policy in 2011, in which it “recognizes that our streets should accommodate a wide range of transportation modes…Our streets are a reflection of our community…” According to the most recent US Census Bureau American Community Survey five-year estimates (2017), 25.3% of all households in the City of Rochester do not have access to a private vehicle. In some neighborhoods like JOSANA, over 46% of households do not own automobiles (Source: JOSANA Study). 

The City defines a complete street as one that “accommodates all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and persons with disabilities.” Moreover the recent 2034 Plan expresses clear concern for “an overly car-dependent culture” and acknowledges that residents want choice when it comes to transportation.  “The City’s statement of support for these values helps set the bike community up to advocate for specific projects and improvements.

‘Justicia Urbana’ by Fabian Todorovic

Household & Society Finances

Each fall, the American Automobile Association (AAA) puts out an updated estimate of the average annual cost of car ownership. As anyone who’s ever owned a car knows, this cost goes beyond just paying for the vehicle itself: interest, insurance, gas, maintenance, registration and depreciation add up considerably. Though we can expect Rochesterians to spend less than the average ($9,282 a year for a new car), in a city where the per capita income is well below the national average, $6,000 or more a year to spend on a car is too big a piece of the household financial pie. By biking for some trips, Rochesterians can save serious money.

In addition to the financial burden cars impose on households, we also need to recognize that society loses money from prioritizing and incentivizing car travel. As our friend Arian Horbovetz points out so well, every form of transportation is subsidized. No form of transportation pays for itself. It stands to reason then that municipalities, especially those with limited funds in hard times, ought to prioritize infrastructure funding for modes of travel that are available to everyone, not just those who can afford to own a personal vehicle.

“It is pure poetry that a 19th-century invention is capable of solving complicated 21st-century issues.” – Mikael Colville-Andersen in Copenhagenize

As Lynn Richards, the President & CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, told us last year in her Reshaping Rochester talk for the Community Design Center, downtowns with abundant, cheap parking have city halls that struggle to pay the bills. A frequent line from those administrations is “Yeah, [your idea] is great but we don’t have the money.” Vibrant downtowns use valuable urban real estate to make money, put a price on parking and incentivize other modes of travel. Next time you hear someone say good bike infrastructure is too expensive, remind them that “One mile of a protected bike lane is 100x cheaper than one mile of roadway” and that by prioritizing cars, they are prioritizing the mode too many residents can’t afford.

City documents and plans that support these values:

  • The 2034 plan asserts that “increasing the ability of residents to bike will provide residents who don’t own cars with an alternative to get to work or the store.” 
  • Rochester Bicycle Master Plan: “Improving bicycling conditions is a cost effective way of optimizing existing public infrastructure.”
  • Bike Rochester webpage: Increased disposable income can result in increased spending in the local marketplace, which would boost the local economy.
  • 2034: Vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods with strong economies “limit auto-oriented uses and design.”

Health

As Peter Walker points out in How Cycling Can Save The World, “the health incentives for cycling massively outweigh the perils…Every year about 700 Americans die on bikes, a figure that could and should be significantly lower. But over the same period at least 200,000 of their compatriots die from conditions linked to a lack of physical activity.” And don’t forget that “more Americans have died in car crashes since 2000 than in both World Wars.” 

Moderate biking “has been found to have an almost miraculous effect” on health, “in part because it is so easy to incorporate into everyday life…Cyclists don’t just get extra life years, they’re more likely to remain mobile and independent into older age.” A recent UK study found that bike commuters had a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer.

City documents and plans that support these values:

  • Evaluation of Trail Entry Conditions and Recommendations for Improvements: The City of Rochester proudly promotes healthy communities and lifestyles. 
  • 2034:  Residents bicycling instead of driving incorporate exercise into their daily routine, which increases overall health.
  • 2034: The City wants to improve public health by making Rochester more walkable and bikeable
  • 2034: On-street bike networks allow residents to access to recreation, world-class trails and parks improves public health

Climate Crisis

UC Davis found that if only 14% of urban trips worldwide were taken on bikes, we’d reduce emissions enough to meet the Paris Climate Goals. This is so doable! If people used their cars for when the weather was bad, when the distances are too long and when there’s more than one occupant in the car, we’d live in a different world. If you only hopped on a bike for short solo trips in good weather, it’d make a massive difference.

By the way, any idea where the most polluted air is concentrated? Where the unhealthiest air is to breathe? It’s around our schools every morning and every afternoon. “Pick-up and drop-off times create clouds of invisible yet toxic diesel fumes” as buses idle.

City documents and plans that support these values:

  • In its Climate Action Plan, the City acknowledges the urgent need to “reduce vehicle miles traveled” along with “single occupant vehicle trips.” 
    • Transportation currently accounts for about a quarter of GHG emissions in Rochester. Policies and actions that make it easier to make trips by foot, bicycle, and transit, can help the community reduce transportation-related GHG emissions.
  • 2034: Installation of various bicycle infrastructure elements (bike lanes, protected lanes, bike boulevards, bike share system, bike parking/storage, bike maintenance stations) to encourage this cleaner, healthier mode of transportation.
  • 2034: Single-occupancy vehicles are detrimental to the environment…Motor vehicles are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, alternate modes of transportation, such as walking, biking, riding the bus, or carpooling can greatly cut down on the environmental impact of traveling.
  • 2034: The more trips made by bicycle means fewer motor vehicles on the road, which decreases congestion on our streets, lowers the demand for parking, and decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere. 
  • 2034: Bike infrastructure encourages cleaner modes of transportation
  • 2034: The more trips made by bicycle means fewer vehicles on the road, which decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere. 
  • 2034: The City Department of Environmental Services is a bringing more green infrastructure to the city and is pursuing an aggressive plan to reduce Rochester’s carbon footprint.

Anytime we advocate for safer, more equitable streets and better bike infrastructure, we need to point to Rochester’s goals and plans and how the whole community will benefit from encouraging bicycling. And when City Hall delivers, let them know your appreciation!


Join Us!

Join us for a virtual screening of the inspirational Dutch film Why We Cycle on Thursday, September 10, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Zoom. Following the film, there will be a live panel discussion with community leaders and advocates. We’ll use the film as a springboard to reflect on how we can get more Rochesterians on bikes. See event details and register at www.ReconnectRochester.org/streetfilms.

“The Dutch and their bikes are inseparable. It’s not a form of transportation, it’s a way of living.”Holland.com guide for visiting the Netherlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can get started right now.

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

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

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

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