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20 Minutes by Bike Blog Series: University of Rochester

The Rochester area is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to ask a different question in this blog series: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?

Presenting the sixth in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this next installment, we chose the University of Rochester Medical Center on Elmwood Avenue and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get to U of R within 20ish minutes on a bike or scooter. Thanks again to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory surrounding the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), here’s Tracey Austin sharing her personal travel-by-bike experiences.


When I started commuting by bike 14 years ago, I didn’t realize how much ground a bike can cover in a short amount of time. And I’m not a fast rider! It was surprising to me that commuting by bike was almost as fast as driving my car to work. And when I started working at the University of Rochester, I was happy to find out I could save even more time and money on parking by biking to work.

Over the years, I have found that there is so much within reach while biking. There are many wonderful parts of Rochester within a very reasonable 20 minute ride to and from the University. Let me share with you a few of the discoveries I’ve made!

One of the best discoveries by far is that UR is only a 12-minute pedal away from the RTS Downtown Transit Center. Even better, this commute runs along the beautiful Genesee Riverway Trail! If you don’t have a bike or prefer not to bring one on the bus, you can rent a HOPR bike or scooter right at the Transit Center. Google Maps is a great navigating tool for this route. These photos show the Google Maps directions while also highlighting bike boulevards around the area. This is a very exciting prospective route for someone wanting to commute from a surrounding suburb who would rather take the bus for the first part of their trip.

I have driven my car to work only once since starting at UR. The annual parking pass can cost several hundred dollars on up. Also, UR has recently added a daily $5 occasional parking pass so you can just pay for the days you are not able to walk or bike. Not only do I love not paying for parking, but I’ve realized that I could save time by biking to work once I account for time spent walking or shuttling from my assigned parking lot!  This is definitely worth testing out to see if it may work for you, even if only in the warmer months of the year.

There’s no doubt UR is a hot spot for bikes! When Pace/Zagster was in our region, UR had the most utilized bikeshare station of the entire network. Now with 3 new HOPR hubs on our campuses, we are well on our way to being another great connection point—not only for students and employees, but for anyone needing to rent a bike in the area.

Having my bike at work adds convenience during the day, too: if I have to leave for a meeting, I don’t have to walk all the way to a car in a distant parking lot; my bike is parked right outside my office at an easily accessible rack. And I can go for a leisurely ride on my lunch break, because I am close to both the Genesee Riverway Trail and the Erie Canal Trail. These scenic trails also provide great commuting options and a way to get off the busy surrounding streets.

Speaking of lunch, taking the pedestrian bridge from River Campus over to the 19th Ward gives cyclists 10 minute access to Brooks Landing. Expand your horizons beyond just College Town! If you have 20 minutes, you can make it all the way downtown, to Corn Hill Landing, Fuego Coffee, the Foodlink Café at the Central Public Library, and more. And taking South Ave toward Rochester City Center lands cyclists in the South Wedge for any number of restaurant choices. And that’s just if you head north from UR!

Heading south you can easily reach the border of Henrietta and all the stores and restaurants at Park Point. Take the Lehigh Valley Trail (a superhighway for bikes!) from the South Lot and follow it all the way down to Brighton Henrietta Town Line Rd. From there you can easily head on over to RIT or down Jefferson Rd as well. This gives you so many awesome connection points to cut commuting time and stay off the major roadways.

Genesee Valley Park is also directly south of the River Campus and is a great access point: to the Canal Trail and all points west, plus the Greenway Trail, which can open even more commuting options for people in Scottsville and Henrietta (that would sometimes work out to be over 20 minutes, though).

Heading east from URMC, you can easily make it to 12 Corners in Brighton and all the parks in between. Highland Park is a mere 10 minutes by bike from anywhere at UR, and taking a short detour through Mt. Hope Cemetery offers a peaceful route coming from any direction.

The Memorial Art Gallery and surrounding Neighborhood of the Arts can easily be accessed by biking north on the Genesee River Trail on the east side of the river up to the Genesee Gateway Park where you can exit the trail and immediately cross Mt Hope Ave and be on Alexander St, taking that all the way to University Ave! Make a right on University and the MAG is one block up on the left.

 A similar distance to the Susan B. Anthony House neighborhood on the west side of the river can easily be achieved straight up Jefferson Ave from the Riverview Apartments on the river trail west. Not to mention all of the streets of housing that can be accessed in the 19th Ward from two pedestrian bridges and the Ford Street Bridge! 

The UR shuttle service is also a great resource for bike commuters since all of the shuttles have bike racks on the front. So if you are an employee or student and you live Downtown near Eastman School of Music, in the 19th Ward, or Southwedge you have access to a shuttle right in your neighborhood. Check out the shuttle schedules on the transportation website to see if you could even bike to a shuttle stop and then hitch a ride the rest of the way to work/school.

There are many other points you can reach from UR in 20 min by bike, some of which are:

    • Southwest YMCA
    • Parcel 5
    • Eastman School of Music
    • Downtown Rochester
    • Greater Rochester International Airport
    • Frontier Field
    • MCC
    • Brighton Town Park

Free covered bike parking on Library Rd on River campus, more of these solar-lit covered bike parking shelters to come!

If you’re pedaling to work, you can keep your bicycle safe and secure at one of our fully enclosed bike stations. The bike stations are located on the ground level of the hospital’s ramp garage, with one at Jackson Drive and the other at East Drive. Both bike stations offer:

    • 24/7 access
    • space saver bike racks
    • security cameras
    • weather-protection
    • self-service bike repair stations

For $40 per year, bike commuters can purchase a permit to either bike station which offers:

Permits for the bike stations can be purchased through the Transportation and Parking Management Center at 70 Goler House during regular business hours or at the Parking Office inside the main hospital garage after business hours. Appointments are now required if you are visiting the Parking Management office in person. Book an appointment online using the online appointment reservation form. For more information, please contact the Parking Management Center at 585-275-4524.


Newly renovated Jackson Drive Bike Cage:

East Drive Bike Cage:

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20 Minutes by Bike Blog Series: Rochester General Hospital Map (+ a Bonus)

The Rochester area is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to ask a different question in this blog series: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?


Presenting the fifth in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this next installment, we chose Rochester General Hospital (RGH) and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get to RGH within 20ish minutes on a bike or scooter. Thanks again to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory surrounding RGH, here’s Dr. Gerald Gacioch sharing his personal travel-by-bike experiences.

I am a doctor at RGH and have been biking to work for the past 15ish years. I am not comfortable riding before sunrise or after sunset (despite bright lights and neon clothing) so my bike to work season is usually late-April to mid-September. There is really nothing like the feeling I get when my workday starts with a ride instead of the usual car commute on 490 (cycling is sort of a cross between Rocky running up the library stairs and a tranquil Zen master). I live on the border of Pittsford and Fairport. My route is Rt 31 to Schoen Place to Rt 96 past Nazareth to Fisher, left onto East Ave (GREAT new bike lane!) to University to Culver to Norton and Portland. The whole way is very safe and now has a bike lane almost the entire route.

Lessons Learned

Here are some of the lessons I have learned from now hundreds of days of bike commuting:

    • Pick a safe route. I tested out several routes when I started biking to work on a Sunday when roads were pretty quiet. I have used the same route since then and I now know the timing of the lights, where the potholes are, where people drive weirdly, etc.
    • Check out an e-bike. Still a great workout when you want it to be, but lots of fun to blast up a hill with little effort sometimes. I can cut 10-15 minutes off my commute when on the e-bike.
    • Enjoy the ride and be in the moment.

Rochester’s Bicycle Boulevards

One of the best things that Rochester has to offer in terms of bikeability is its ongoing Bicycle Boulevards implementation. Back in 2015, the City identified priority routes that could be used by cyclists to navigate the city. This year the City is implementing 20 miles of this network! Bike Boulevards are mostly residential side streets that parallel busy, sometimes intimidating roads. Over time, traffic calming measures like speed humps will be installed to slow down or even deter car traffic along these corridors, keeping the experience as comfortable as possible for cyclists of all ages and abilities. Wayfinding signage will also be added to help cyclists navigate. One of the best kept cycling secrets in Rochester is that you can use these routes now, even if they haven’t been technically converted to Bike Boulevards yet. See the purple dotted routes below.

As always, no quality level or amount of bike infrastructure will ever alleviate the need to have some basic traffic-negotiating skills under your belt. Sometimes biking on a major road is unavoidable for a block or two, and even if you stick to comfortable Bike Boulevards, you’ll still have to cross major streets. So stick to these general principles and if you want to get more comfortable and confident on your bike, take one of Reconnect Rochester’s classes sometime.

Biking (or scooting) to RGH along Bike Boulevards from the South, you get your own easy, private entrance to the complex! Northaven Terrace is a dead-end street for cars. But on your bicycle, just open the gate at the end and you’re there.

The Routes

This trip along low traffic, residential bike boulevards from North Winton Village is 3.6 miles (21 minutes by bike):

Here is a route biking (or scooting!) from the downtown Transit Center to RGH, primarily along Bike Boulevards. This is 3.3 miles, under 20 minutes! (TIP: Thomas Street, a great connection for cyclists wanting to avoid Joseph and Hudson Avenues, is one way between Upper Falls Boulevard and Clifford Avenue, so use the sidewalk for that brief section.)

Biking to RGH from the north above 104 is a little more challenging. Unless you can use the El Camino Trail to cross 104, as seen below, you’ll have to bike on Carter Street or Portland Avenue to approach the complex (Seneca Avenue is a less stressful alternative).

When you arrive on the campus, there are currently three places to lock your bike:

    1. Carter St Garage, where there is a locked bike cage (to gain access to it you go to the Parking Office located right in the garage near the entrance to the hospital).
    2. Portland Ave Garage, where there are bike racks next to security (stationed 24/7).
    3. Near the Emergency Department, where there are also bike racks.

RGH will soon be placing more bike racks by the main entrance. Cyclists can look forward to this custom bike rack in the shape of a stethoscope!


Bonus!

As a bonus, we’re throwing in a bike shed map of Rochester Regional’s other primary campus, Unity Hospital on the west side. Though outside the 20-minute scope for most people, Unity is approachable via the Erie Canal Trail from Spencerport, Gates, and the 19th Ward. It’s also not far from the City’s Maplewood Historic District. To get to Unity from Maplewood, we recommend taking Ridgeway to Latona to Welland, which takes you straight to the Unity entrance. Stay tuned for developments on the Eastman Trail, which will parallel Ridgeway Avenue. As you can see below, there are plans to connect these west side trails and we’re excited for that connectivity!

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20 Minutes by Bike Blog Series: Brighton Map

The Rochester area is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to ask a different question in this blog series: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?


Presenting the fourth in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this next installment, we chose Twelve Corners in Brighton and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get to Twelve Corners within 20ish minutes on a bike. Thanks again to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory in Brighton, here’s WomanTours’ Jackie Marchand sharing her personal travel-by-bike experiences.

One of the many things I love most about living in Brighton is its bikeability. It seems I can ride my bike to nearly everywhere I need or want to go. You’d think with more than 50 years of living here that I’d be able to find my way around without Google’s help. However, it’s become a game. Do I know my community better than my phone does? Can I find a safer, quieter and prettier way to bike to my destination than Google can? Or will it surprise me and show me a hidden bike trail?

Yesterday, I had a breakfast meeting at Morgan’s Cereal Bar on East Avenue. I used the bike feature on the Google Maps app and it sent me down Monroe Avenue. That wasn’t bad because it has a bike lane. Then I was supposed to turn down Alexander, but I knew there was a beautiful new bike path on Union Street. I went one block further than Google recommended and reveled in cycling the former Inner Loop on my way to East Ave.

I left my house ten minutes earlier than if I’d driven, and managed to complete a 20-minute bike ride before breakfast. The best part of all was that while others had to pay the meter, my parking was free!

When I grocery shopped at Tops last week, my phone sent me straight down Elmwood Avenue for one mile to the store. I always avoid cycling down Elmwood Avenue, as the lanes are too narrow for both a car and a bike. Fortunately, that could change in the future. There are plans to extend the Elmwood Avenue cycletrack from South Avenue to 12 Corners, which will be fantastic but is still years away.

For now, I have to find my own safer way. I know there’s a small trail behind Temple B’rith Kodesh to quiet Ashley Drive. At the end of Ashley, another trail connects to Brandywine and then another short trail connects to Lac De Ville into the Tops parking lot. I arrived at Tops in 15 minutes by cycling only one block on Elmwood Avenue. Google – 0, Jackie – 2. 

Last weekend, I wanted bagels from Bagel Land at 12 Corners, the cornerstone of Brighton. In addition to the fastest route straight down Elmwood Avenue, Google offered me the longer but better route through side streets to the back of the plaza. There was even a bike rack waiting for me. It took one minute longer but was well worth it. Thanks Google.

It’s actually pretty easy to navigate around 12 Corners using the small side streets to avoid the tight busy intersections. If traffic is low though, I’ll choose to cycle through it rather than around it. All the stoplights keep vehicles moving slowly.

Now that the Auburn Trail is improved, my favorite after-office ride is to the Pittsford Wegmans on my way home. Google actually found this route for me. My office is just over the Brighton/Henrietta line and an easy half-mile to the Canal Trail. After a mile on the trail, I linked to the unpaved Railroad Loop Trail that took me behind Pittsford Plaza all the way to Wegmans. Google even told me how long it would take – just 18 minutes. Google – 2, Jackie – 2.

After shopping, I crossed Monroe Avenue to hop on the Auburn Trail. Google didn’t know about this trail yet – it’s that new. I exited the trail at Elmwood Avenue and then meandered some calm streets through quiet neighborhoods to my house. It felt safe and relaxing. When was the last time you called a trip to Wegmans relaxing?! 

In search of some comfortable biking clothes last week, I googled the bike route to Sierra Trading Post from my office. Most of the 16-minute trip to the store was on roads, but there were shoulders and the traffic was light, so I felt safe. Google even knew to take me around the back of the stores where the loading docks were to avoid the busy parking lot. Surprise – there was a bike rack waiting for me in front of the store! Google – 3, Jackie – 3. 

Examining the ride home after shopping, I learned that my phone wanted me to take the Canal Trail to the Brighton Town Park, but from there Google failed me. It was sending me on Westfall to South Clinton to Elmwood Avenue for a total of two miles on busy thoroughfares. 

When I zoomed in, I saw that there was a small path connecting Westfall to Schilling Lane in a small residential neighborhood. It allowed me to cut out the hilly intersection at Westfall and S. Clinton and cycle nearly the entire two miles on a mix of quiet roads and paths. Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have found the trail without Google, so I gave us each a point. Google – 4, Jackie – 4.

Finally, I already knew that the two newest trails in Brighton are not recognized by Google as bicycling routes. The one-mile long Brickyard Trail recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and connects Westfall and Elmwood Avenues. It’s a stroll through wetlands where I’ve regularly spotted foxes, turtles, owls and turkeys. The Highland Crossing Trail is less than two years old and also connects Westfall and Elmwood Avenues, but then continues north through Highland Park, ending at the Genesee Riverway Trail. Its highlight is an elevated boardwalk through a forest.

Jackie on the Highland Crossing Trail

The two trails are my favorite place to go when I don’t have anywhere I need to be. I tried the loop the other day, incorporating a couple calm bike boulevards that Google suggested. So I gave Google two points for the bike boulevards, and myself a point for each trail. Google – 5, Me – 5. I’m going to have to keep cycling so I can get ahead!

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20 Minutes by Bike Blog Series: Pittsford Map

The Rochester area is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to ask a different question in this blog series: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?


Presenting the third in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this next installment, we chose Four Corners in Pittsford Village and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get to Four Corners within 20ish minutes on a bike. Thanks again to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory in Pittsford, here’s Flower City Family Cycling’s Brooke Fossey sharing her personal travel-by-bike experiences.

Introducing 20 Minutes by Bike Pittsford

You don’t have to be a cycling enthusiast to appreciate how connected Pittsford is. My humble hope is that after reading this, you’ll discover a new route available to you, and maybe you’ll pull out your bike for a trip that you’ve only considered accessible by car before. At the very end, I’ll share some tips that I hope will help you get started. 

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I’m struck by three things about this 20 Minutes Map:

    1. You can bike to the heart of the village—our Library, shops, restaurants, Bakery and Dairy—from pretty far away in just 20 minutes or less, including from East Rochester, Pittsford Plaza, two colleges, and many of our neighborhoods. 
    2. We have been gifted, through good planning and leadership, with a great trail system that connects so much of Pittsford completely off the roads, including the Erie Canalway Trail and Town trails that connect cul-de-sac neighborhoods.
    3. We still have a long way to go to make major roads comfortable for most riders. We have to keep advocating for safety improvements on our major arterials. Although trail connections are great, direct routes should be viable and safe by bike – for everyone.

Take a look at the major attractions we have that are bikeable in the same length of time widely considered in Rochester to be the longest it takes to drive anywhere (20 minutes):

    • Library
    • Community/Recreation Center
    • Village and Town Halls
    • Main Street shops and restaurants
    • Schoen Place shops, restaurants, and breweries
    • Bushnell’s Basin shops and restaurants
    • Pittsford Plaza shops and restaurants, including Wegmans
    • Schools
    • Doctor and dentist offices
    • Banks
    • Yoga, pilates, and the YMCA
    • Hair salons
    • Parks like Great Embankment, Thornell Farm Park, Kreag Rd Park
    • Playgrounds
    • Erie Canal
    • East Rochester amenities, including restaurants, a pool and splashpad
    • Nazareth and St. John Fisher colleges

That list is pretty incredible. Now, let’s break some of this down further. 

Bike to your Books! 

The Pittsford Community Library has not one, but two bike racks: one in front on State Street and one behind with an adjacent bike repair station. If you haven’t considered biking to the Library, strap on your backpack or grab your bike basket. You’ll feel great when you arrive and you’ll have the best parking spot there. 

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Pittsford Community Library bike parking

Let’s say you’re coming from one of the neighborhoods off Rt-96. You can take the sidewalk along Rt-96, cross at the light at South Street and take the quieter neighborhood roads right to the Library in 5 minutes by bike, 1 mile each way. 

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Coming from the other direction, Google will send you on the most direct path, on N. Main Street, and you can cut in through the parking lot. Or, take the quieter, but slightly longer, neighborhood route down Schoen Place. Sometimes going a little bit out of your way on your bike makes for a much more enjoyable and relaxing ride, until our main streets are made safe enough for everyone to feel comfortable riding on them. I’d probably take this longer but quieter route if I had my kids riding independently next to me. It would be a little longer, but on a bike, it’s not that noticeable, and it would be much less stressful. 

*Note: State Street Bridge is closed for repairs until mid-July.

Middle School Mileage

A few of our friends who live in or near the village have middle-school age children who biked to Calkins Road Middle School. To many of us, that sounds a little scary, but there’s actually a sidewalk that connects all the way, and a trail system that connects cul-du-sacs and allows for riding on much quieter streets. Having route choices makes biking more accessible as each person can tailor their ride to their own comfort level. Biking to school has so many benefits: independence for teens, reduced congestion, transportation savings, and kids can arrive to school more awake and ready to learn. This is something I believe we should be actively encouraging as a community. 

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Calkins Road Middle School bike racks are packed on Bike to School Day

Many of Pittsford’s neighborhoods have walking and biking paths that connect cul-du-sacs with the next neighborhood without having to go out on the main road, and I’ve found that you can travel quite far on these side roads—if you know about them! 

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Trail connection between Crestview Dr and the Jefferson Road School grounds
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Neighborhood walk/bike connection between Stonegate Ln and the Pittsford Community Center

Groceries and Gears

Getting groceries by bike requires a little more planning, but it is not only possible, it can be so rewarding. Do I wish there was a small grocery to pop into to grab a few things by bike a few times a week – heck yes. Is Wegmans by bike an option? Believe it or not, also heck yes. Maybe you can’t bring as much home as you would in your car, but you can actually haul quite a bit on your bike with panniers or just a large backpack. Plus you have the added benefits of exercise, parking right up next to the building, and—let’s not underestimate the badass factor. You’ll feel really proud of yourself. I’ve done this route myself, but my husband usually runs it weekly during three seasons using the trails to completely avoid Monroe Avenue. 

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Hefty Wegmans haul via bike

The approved Active Transportation Plan calls for a multi-use trail along Monroe Avenue, but until that happens, did you know you can reach Wegmans completely on trails? Check it out: 

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This route uses the Auburn Trail, accessible behind the Pickle Factory. Unfortunately Google maps doesn’t show this connection. From the Four Corners, get on the Erie Canal towpath heading west, turn right on the turnoff near Pittsford DPW’s building, and hop on the Auburn Trail behind the Pickle Factory storage building. Cross to Wegmans at the light and cruise right into the parking lot, with bike parking on either side of the store. 

Alternatively, you can come up on the west side of Wegmans taking the Erie Canal towpath farther west and coming down the ramp near the old Lock 62. 

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College Connections

Connecting young people to the village and giving them the option to get here without driving will help our local economy and give students more freedom. Nazareth has a great connection to the village, thanks to the new sidewalk installed by the Town this past year. St. John Fisher also has a straight shot on main roads. How can we encourage students to visit the village on foot or on bike, and how do we make that an attractive option? 

What Does This Mean for YOU?

If you are even the slightest bit curious, I encourage you to try biking to your destination. You will arrive invigorated and pretty darn proud of yourself. You can do this! One trip builds on the next and pretty soon, it becomes a true option, and you start to ask: should we take the car or bike today? 

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Tips for Getting Started

Short and easy destination. If you’re brand new to biking and want to give it a try, pick a destination no more than a mile away, and which will be low-stress to get there. Ex: Pittsford Dairy: access the canal path from your closest neighborhood spot and ride to N. Main Street, and then from there just a short distance to the Dairy. Grab your milk (or ice cream!), throw it in a backpack, and head back home. Once you master that, you’ll start to see that the world opens up to what you can reach just by the power of your own legs. It’s walking, only faster! Here are some great destinations to check out in the Village: Pittsford Dairy, Lock 32 Brewery, Copper Leaf Brewing, Simply Crepes, The Coal Tower, Village Bakery, Pittsford Library, Thirsty’s, Label 7, Olives, Aladdin’s, Breathe Yoga, BluHorn Tequilaria…the list goes on and on, so pick what interests you and go for it! 

School run on a weekend. Try a school run one day – but do it on a weekend. Try it without the stress of getting there at a certain time, or rush hour traffic. Do the run and see how it is, and then when you do it for the first time on a school day, it’ll be so much easier. Pretty soon, your kids might start asking you to drop off or pick-up that way because they get more time with you and like moving their bodies before settling in at school.

Ride with other people. There are many biking groups around Rochester that do club rides. You can find one that suits your skill level and interest and ride with others. There’s a sense of camaraderie riding in a group, and you can learn from other people. Here’s a shameless plug for Flower City Family Cycling, a group I co-run that plans chill, social rides for families. All ages and abilities welcome, and we’d love to see you.  

Wrapping Up

As this map shows, Pittsford has some amazing connectivity. But it also overstates connections we do have: many of the main arterials shown as straight shots through Pittsford are often not enjoyable by bike—they can even be downright stressful and scary, depending on the time of day. They will require a great deal more effort to improve the ride experience to encourage new riders. 

The next step to making this 20-min map a reality for many people is to make the roads safer to bike on. That means lowering vehicle speeds, narrowing lanes, considering bike lanes or shared bike/walk trails, and educating the public on how to safely drive alongside someone on a bicycle.

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20 Minutes by Bike Blog Series: Irondequoit Map

The Rochester area is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to ask a different question in this blog series: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?


Presenting the second in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this next installment, we chose Irondequoit’s “central square” – I-Square – and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get to I-Square within 20ish minutes on a bike. Thanks again to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory in Irondequoit, here’s Pam Rogers sharing her personal travel-by-bike experiences.

Introduction

I’m so excited to share with you my personal recommendations for cycling in my favorite area of Rochester, which also happens to be my local neighborhood! Forgive me if it turns out to be an homage to Irondequoit, but it’s my way of letting you know all the best reasons to find yourself cycling here.

If you’re looking for places to ride, no matter what kind of cycling you enjoy, you’ll find something to love here in Irondequoit. It’s full of hills and flats, roads and trails, natural beauty, local history, family fun, and great places to stop and rest for food and drink. Whatever you’re looking for, it can be found between the shores of the Genesee River, Lake Ontario, and Irondequoit Bay!

How To Ride Here

The best route into town are as follows:

  • From the Northwest – the LOSP trail that follows along the parkway is the best, and it drops you out right by Pattonwood Dr and will take you over the river and into Irondequoit.
  • From the Southwest city environs – come on up St Paul St and then hop on the El Camino Trail that begins at Scrantom St and takes you north all the way up to Navarre Rd and across from the Zoo entrance – you’ll love the old railroad bridge that takes you over 104 without worry
  • From the Northeast – Well, when the swing bridge is available it’s easy peasy, but when it’s not you’ll need to approach from the south of the Bay and come around by way of Empire Blvd. Yes, busy with traffic and a very challenging hill to climb – bail out as soon as you can, on Orchard Park Blvd, if you don’t mind a few more hills to climb with a bay view, and then follow Bay Shore Blvd to get you to Ridge Rd and turn right at Kane Dr before it ever gets busy, that will take you right up to Sea Breeze Dr!
  • From the Southeast – The only way to get over the 104 expressway is to take Culver Rd but there are plenty of side streets to stay on south of it, and just north you can turn right on Brower Rd and cut through the neighborhood to come out on Ridge at Walnut Park, then quick jog over to Kane Dr to get to Sea Breeze Dr.

All Roads Lead To/From I-Square!

If you live in Irondequoit, you know our town’s “central square” is now I-Square. It was developed with a vision, to not only improve quality of life for town residents, but also to be a role model for green, environmentally responsible and energy efficient building projects. It’s a destination unto itself with restaurants, rooftop gardens and dining, outdoor amphitheatre, the Imaginarium, Art Gallery and Science Center. 

From here, it will take you less than 20 minutes to ride in any direction and find our other local treasures. West to the zoo and the river, north to the lake, east to the bay, and all wonderful tree-lined neighborhood streets along the way. When riding in town, and you must cross busy intersections, it’s safest to pick the crossroads with lights. For example, riding in northern neighborhoods divided by Hudson Ave, you can cross safely at the light using Brookview Dr to Diane Park.

You can find steep hills, nice flats, and occasional rollers. You’ll find most of the steep hills along the shores of Irondequoit Bay. There are serene and quiet neighborhoods tucked away in all corners of town: check out Rock Beach Rd off Lakeshore Blvd in the North, follow Winona off St Paul Blvd, or discover Huntington Hills nestled up against Durand Eastman Park by taking Pine Valley Rd to Wisner, and be sure to take a fun ride down Hoffman Rd behind the Irondequoit Cemetery to the end where it stops at a trail you can take through the Durand Eastman Golf Course. There, you’ll find an old hidden road overgrown with weeds that you can ride from Kings Hwy N, where Horseshoe Rd stops being a maintained road, and you can ride it along the northern edge of the golf course, across the creek, and back up to Lakeshore Blvd.

There are off road trails to explore as well. You can follow a dirt/stone trail along the east side of the river from Seneca Park Zoo all the way to the lake, which follows the old Windsor Beach Railroad line started in 1883 that traveled from the city’s Avenue E all the way north to Summerville. You can ride challenging single track trails along the west part of the bay in either Tryon Park or Irondequoit Bay Park West. Don’t forget the nicely paved pathways too! There’s one along the shore of Lake Ontario from the corner of Culver and Sweet Fern (right next to Parkside Diner) and extending to just across from Camp Eastman on the lake shore. The other one is Sea Breeze Dr along the northern section of 590 from Titus down to Culver Rd and Sea Breeze.  

Nature/Water/Parks

You may not know this, but Irondequoit, by its very name of Iroquois origin, means “where the land meets the water.” And there’s just nothing like being close to water and natural spaces, is there? The views are beautiful and varied. Some of my personal favorites I’ve already mentioned, and there are smaller parks dotting all the neighborhoods for kids to enjoy too.  A completely hidden gem is Densmore Creek Falls, accessible from the back parking lot of the Legacy at Cranberry Landing at the very eastern end of Norton before it crosses over 590 and drops down by the bay.

Food & Drink

I-Square has plenty of options for food and drink, and beautiful outdoor seating on the roof as well, so if you’re in the neighborhood you can cycle on over and enjoy! Right around I-Square you will also find the Cooper Deli, Titus Tavern and the Irondequoit Beer Company.  At the very northern end of Clinton Ave there’s a little-known but exceptionally unique eating experience that awaits you called Atlas Eats, and it’s the best for a weekend breakfast. Another hidden treasure for you ice cream lovers would be Netsins Ice Cream Shop on Culver Parkway.

If you love to ride farther afield, and take a break from your spinning wheels along the way, our waterfront taverns abound. I love to make routes that include these special stops in the neighborhood for that. Summerville has Silk O’Loughlin’s (Olie’s). Sea Breeze has Marge’s Lakeside Inn (sit on the beach!), Bill Gray’s, Shamrock Jack’s Irish Pub, and Union Tavern (it’s haunted!).  There’s Murph’s Irondequoit Pub, a neighborhood staple, now down by the O’Rorke bridge, and across the way take Marina Dr down to the end and you’ll find Schooner’s Riverside Pub, an open air only open in the summer fun kind of place.

Family Fun

You could plan a day of cycling with the kids in the small neighborhoods in Sea Breeze, stop by Parkside Diner, play a round of mini-golf next door at Whispering Pines, then head down to the Sea Breeze Pier and Beach. Need I say, Sea Breeze Amusement Park? Or ride the little neighborhoods off St. Paul Blvd. around Winona, and at its southernmost tip, take the sidewalk connecting to Maplehurst Rd, turn right and there’s paved access directly into the Seneca Park Zoo.

Routes You Might Enjoy

Feel free to use these as a starting point to create your own adventure!

I-Square to Aman’s Farm Market 3.5 miles see the RWGPS map here.

I-Square to Sea Breeze – 5.6 miles – see the RWGPS map here.

I-Square to Seneca Park Zoo – 2.4 miles – see the RWGPS map here.

I-Square to Parkside Diner and Whispering Pines 5.6 miles – see the RWGPS map here.

I-Square to Stutson Bridge Plaza and Riverside 3.2 miles see the RWGPS map here.

Town Tour from I-Square – 15 miles – see the RWGPS map here.

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Irondequoit Gravel Growler Beer Ride – 25 miles – see the RWGPS map here.

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20 Minutes by Bike Blog Series Kickoff: Downtown Rochester Map

Rochester is famous for its 20-minute commute. For driving that is. Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance are excited to unveil a blog series to ask a different question: Where can you get within 20 minutes on a bike?

We chose the 20-minute benchmark for two reasons:

  • Nationally, half of our car trips are within 3 or fewer miles, which equates to a 20-or-so-minute bike ride at an easy, casual pace. If we could save our cars for cruddy weather, when the distances are too long or when we are transporting multiple people ౼ and biked the rest of the time (only for short solo trips in good weather!), we’d live in a different world. We’d be physically and financially healthier. The planet would be healthier. The air would be cleaner. There’d be less wear and tear on the roads. Our streets would be safer for everyone.
  • To inspire people to “shift modes” and choose to walk, bike or use public transportation some of the time – we’ve gotta start with the low-hanging fruit. Though longer distances are absolutely attainable eventually, most people experimenting with biking-as-transportation are going to start with nearby destinations. And that’s totally fine!

This isn’t about getting “into cycling” or becoming a “cycling enthusiast.” You don’t even have to consider yourself a cyclist to hop on a bike and get to a nearby destination. Biking is simply “assisted walking” – it takes the exact same effort as walking and propels you 3 or 4x faster. So even if you’re thinking, “I’m not a cyclist,” we’d encourage you to try biking to a nearby destination sometime. If you want to get more comfortable on your bike, let us know.

So where can you get on a bike in Rochester within 20 minutes?

VIRTUALLY ANYWHERE!

Presenting the first in a series of custom “bike shed maps.” For this first map, we chose an arbitrary centralized point in downtown Rochester – Parcel 5 – and are showing how far out in every direction you can get on a bike at a casual but steady pace of 10 miles per hour. This means that if you live anywhere in this green area, you can get downtown within 20ish minutes on a bike. In the months to come, we’ll unveil similar maps for surrounding municipalities and popular destinations. Big shout out and thank you to Brendan Ryan and Mike Governale for their help putting these maps together for us.

To get us familiar with this green territory surrounding downtown, here’s our Cycling Coordinator, Jesse Peers, sharing his personal travel-by-bike experiences:

When my family and I moved to North Winton Village in 2007, we were 100% car-dependent for every trip, the default lifestyle most Americans are handed. We didn’t discover until later that we had landed in one of Rochester’s sweet spots for car-free or car-lite living: The 42 & 38 RTS routes could get us downtown in a few minutes, and as I eventually learned, the following destinations are within a 15 or 20 minute bike ride from our house:

Ellison Park, Donuts Delite, Culver Ridge Plaza, the Public Market, Wegmans, Downtown, Frontier Field, Cobbs Hill, 12 Corners, RMSC/GEM/MAG/Strong Museum, Highland Park & the Little Theatre. RGH too, which isn’t a leisure time destination. But it is a big hub of employment.

North Winton Village, we love you!

After I took a bike class at the Rochester Brainery and wanted to start biking-as-transportation, I started with my workplace, which was (fortunately!) 1.5 miles away – an easy ride which takes less than 10 minutes. When that trip got to be routine and comfortable, I gave biking to church a shot – 3 miles away (20 minutes). Once that was no problem, I started biking to the RCA’s monthly meeting, which at the time was 5.5 miles away. Once I got comfortable with and physically capable of biking 5 or 6 miles, the world opened up. As the RCA’s Susan Levin said on a recent Connections show, “Biking is freedom. Everything else is a bonus.”

One of the greatest things my family and I have discovered when traversing Rochester by bike, is oftentimes you don’t have to stick to primary arterials, which can be uncomfortable by bike. Getting to destinations via less busy, residential side streets is quite possible, and that’s a big impetus behind the City’s Bike Boulevards program, which will be substantially enhanced this year.

Take my three-mile bike ride to our church for instance. Because I’ve learned to bike confidently over many years and the trip has become routine, I frequently take the most direct way: Culver Road, the bike boulevard on Canterbury Road & Field Street.

But if I have our kids with me, or the weather is cruddy, or I just want to avoid Culver Road, I can ride through Beechwood, EMMA, the George Eastman Museum, and the Park Avenue neighborhood instead. Virtually the same mileage and we avoid major, high-traffic streets (with the exception of Monroe Ave – but for only one block).

Another example: getting to a Red Wings game, one of my family’s favorite activities. When you bike to Frontier Field, you get the best parking: right next to the gates! When the game ends, you’re most of the way home before most fans are out of the adjacent parking lots. The simplest way to get to Frontier Field for us would be to bike down Main Street all the way to Plymouth. 

That route is 3.4 miles. Believe it or not, my kids have biked this with me and it took 24 minutes to get to the ballpark. Not bad, especially when there’s no hassle searching for a parking spot and we don’t have to walk from the “car park” to the ballpark.

But if we take the upcoming Garson Bike Boulevard route, which is lower-stress and much more fun, it is still 3.4 miles! Granted it’s a more squiggly way of getting there, but we get to experience the Public Market, High Falls & the Pont de Rennes bridge on the way there – and all the streets are comfortable.

Other thoughts and tips about navigating ROC by bike:

Cities can get a bad rap for biking but they’re often safer than biking in many suburbs and rural areas. There are many reasons for this: In Rochester and other cities, speeds are lower, traffic lights are more frequent, and buildings are closer to the street. All these tend to result in calmer traffic conditions. Plus, bike lanes are becoming pretty standard in the City of Rochester.

Across the U.S., there is much room for improvement in terms of achieving a culture of respect on our shared roads. But as local cyclist Dan Kamalic pointed out in a recent blog, Rochester drivers are nice and respectful overall, especially when compared to other cities. That doesn’t mean on rare occasions you won’t get honked at or receive some verbal abuse. But as we say in our bike classes, “If they yell at you, they see you. The danger is in not being seen.” Stick to these best practices while riding and if you want to gain confidence, take one of our classes sometime.

When we’re talking distances of less than three miles, biking is pretty much the same amount of time as driving. Sometimes it’s even faster. The best part about biking to downtown destinations is that there’s an abundance of bike racks right next to many popular destinations. You don’t need to worry about the hassle and the cost of parking garages. Parking is free. Just be sure to bring a good bike lock.

Try biking downtown for these fun activities: riverside picnics, the Central Library, Movies with a Downtown View, 4th of July fireworks (we’ll never make the mistake again of waiting an hour in a parking garage to move after the fireworks have ended!), Fringe Fest, The Strong Museum of Play, Knighthawks or Amerks games at Blue Cross Arena, Dinosaur Barbeque, and a movie at The Little.

Join us next month for a look at biking in Irondequoit!

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ROC Cycling: Knowing Our Weaknesses, Building On Our Strengths

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

When I saw the trailer for Why We Cycle years ago, I instantly knew how special this film was. Finally someone had made a gorgeous film about the myriad of reasons why people all over the world choose to traverse their communities by bike. I’m glad we were able to screen the documentary for a Rochester Street Films event in September 2020 and use it as a springboard to discuss local values and goals.

If you haven’t seen the film or weren’t able to take part in our panel discussion, watch them here.

Rent (or buy) the film

Watch our panel discussion

As our moderator, Mona Seghatoleslami, wrapped up the great discussion that evening, she said, rightly so, that “this is just the beginning of a lot of things.” Let’s examine several takeaways from the film itself, the chat amongst viewers, and our panel discussion, and where we go from here.

Culture at Large

Some participants felt our screening of this Dutch film was too lofty and dreamy. In terms of culture-at-large, we agree. Comparing the Netherlands and ROC is apples to oranges. Dutch culture is indeed vastly different! The Netherlands prides itself on having an egalitarian society, in which they strive for everyone to be shown respect. If you haven’t noticed, the U.S. has much room to improve in this regard to say the least. But that doesn’t mean we have to overturn societal values before we can become a more equitable community in terms of mobility, though that won’t keep us from trying. Other cities of all sizes surpassing Rochester in the national bike rankings proves this.

Being Vigilant and Showing Up

Our panelists made clear that to attain better bike infrastructure, it takes being involved in the process, showing up at meetings (even virtual ones these days) and organizing ourselves. As the old adage goes, “if you don’t do politics, politics will do you.” If the bike community was under the impression that after the adoption of the 2034 Plan, which encourages implementation of “complete streets” designs that accommodate ALL modes of travel, that this would happen overnight with no need for continued advocacy, we were mistaken (see State Street).

One of the words that was spoken over and over during our panel discussion, particularly from Brighton’s Robin Wilt, was “demand.” Just as the Dutch rose up in the 1970s to demand safer road conditions and greater accountability, the active mobility community is going to have to demand safer streets that are designed for all modes of travel, not just cars. We have to keep our leaders accountable to the 2034 Plan, remind them of their values and goals, and when opportunities arise, vote for leaders who stand behind this progressive, multimodal vision.

The Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) does our best to get the word out about public input sessions and other advocacy opportunities. Please make sure you’re on our mailing list and take those opportunities to provide input.

Rochester’s not a bad biking city!

There were varying opinions held by viewers about Rochester’s bikeability — some negative, some positive. Let’s look at the bright side first and identify some of Rochester’s advantages participants took note of in the chat: We are blessed to have the Genesee Riverway Trail, Erie Canal Trail, and an abundance of water and stellar public parks in our community. People pay a lot of money to come from all over the world to Cycle the Erie and we have free access nearby! Overall Rochester is pretty flat, which makes getting somewhere by bike less arduous. And the average city resident has a 4.1-mile commute to work, a journey that can be done by bike at a casual pace in less than 25 minutes.

As several people pointed out in the chat, Rochester has an impressive bike culture for a city of our size. There’s a wide variety of groups with different riding styles, and open-invite group rides take place most evenings during the riding season.

Rochester was awarded a bronze level status as a Bike-Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists in 2012, 2016 and 2020. That’s not bad! A bronze status means we’re on the right track. Yes, there is a lot to be improved if we want to reach silver or gold, but we are a decent biking city already. In fact, I firmly believe Rochester could become the best biking city in the Great Lakes. It’s more within reach for us than other cities due to the advantages noted above. I know many people who are already of the opinion that Rochester is one of the #BikeLife’s greatest secrets. There are affordable neighborhoods within a 15-minute ride of downtown where car-free living is absolutely attainable. If biking on busy, main thoroughfares isn’t your thing (we don’t blame you!), often there are parallel side streets through residential neighborhoods that will get you to your destination in a timely, less stressful way. If you want to get more comfortable on your bike, consider signing up for one of our on-bike classes sometime.

Our Biggest Weakness: Not Zooming Out

Yes, Rochester is making progress in expanding our bike infrastructure. But there was a consensus on participants in the chat that the current process doesn’t work. As it is now, bike infrastructure is installed “where possible” along small, segment-by-segment stretches. Each self-contained project is overseen by a different design firm and it’s apparent there is no overall network vision guiding this process along predetermined priority routes. Because of this, we get a piecemeal, patchwork result where you can bike on one street for several miles and encounter bike lanes, sharrows or nothing at all.

Even the gorgeous cycletrack along Union Street got knocked pretty hard during our chat: It sure is pretty, but what’s it supposed to do? It doesn’t go anywhere and, as bidirectional cycletracks on one side of the street often do, it creates awkward transitions for those on bike.

“There’s a consensus emerging in the bike world that it’s more about quality of bike infrastructure than quantity (how many miles of bike lanes doesn’t matter as much as how safe & stress-free those miles are).” ~Brent Toderian

Furthermore, though the City is chipping away at its Bike Master Plan, albeit in small, often disconnected pieces, the suburbs for the most part have yet to get on board. Cyclists might be somewhat comfortable on some city streets with bike infrastructure and lower speed limits, but once they cross the city line into surrounding towns, that infrastructure disappears too much of the time.

Instead of a city full of bike lanes which are uncomfortable for most residents, we need to focus on less mileage but higher quality (protected!) bike lanes along strategic routes. Rochester and Monroe County could also use a more top-down “let it be!” approach when it comes to a usable bike network.

“The fast implementation of projects proved to be far more effective than the traditional model of attempting to achieve near unanimity on projects even when you already have consensus that the status quo doesn’t work. Efforts to reach an idealized consensus have resulted in years of indecision, inaction, and paralysis-by-analysis.” ~Streetfight (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow)

Getting local leaders out of their cars

This next topic brought up by participants is probably unrealistic, but holy moly would it move the needle like nothing else! (And it was discussed on September 12th): Getting elected officials, engineers and planners out of their cars. I suspect that many people in our governments and design firms who design and approve bike infrastructure, may never use that bike infrastructure themselves. If officials had to bike solo in rush hour through every segment of infrastructure they approved, we’d likely see very different bike infrastructure.

“In my perfect world, anyone working on bicycle infrastructure or planning should be handed a bicycle and told to ride it in their city for a month…That would certainly force the issue in the minds of the inexperienced or skeptical. We have been thinking car-first for decades, and that worked out pretty well for motorists and the engineers who cater to them. Now it’s time to switch it up.” ~Copenhagenize (Colville-Andersen)

More than a quarter of Rochesterians don’t drive everywhere, either by need or by choice. How incredible would it be for elected officials to show solidarity with their constituents and get around town a quarter of the time without their cars?

“When I look around the world at the growing list of cities that are once again taking the bicycle seriously, I can identify one primary factor: political leadership. Advocates and activists continue to do their part, pushing from the bottom upward. At the end of the day, though, it seems that policymakers exercising top-down leadership are the catalysts for real change…Politicians may notice…a personal brand boost when they take matters to the next level.” ~Copenhagenize (Colville-Andersen)

Representing All

Finally, panelist Mitch Gruber urged Rochester’s active mobility and bike community to do a better job of outreach to neighborhoods that don’t look like us – of listening to people who use their bikes in different ways than we do. This is something Reconnect Rochester is committed to working on. Our recent signing of the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group’s statement that Racism is a Public Health Crisis was only a start.

Going into 2021, join us in being vocal about the benefits of biking to elected officials, stay tuned for advocacy opportunities, and join us for one of our workshops and cyclist gatherings in 2021.

Want to join the RCA email list to stay abreast of these opportunities? Drop me a note at jesse@reconnectrochester.org and request to be added!

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When Streets Were Equitable

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

“Dude, get out of the road,” you yell in an enraged state fueled by someone’s blatant disregard for the fact that you woke up late and are traveling 10mph over the speed limit only to encounter a man “jaywalking” across the road in front of you. Your displaced anger bubbles over as you find yourself inconvenienced for a whole 9 seconds.

We’ve all been there… getting behind a car that’s traveling 10mph under the speed limit, trying to pass a cyclist with no shoulder, or yelling at a pedestrian who crosses the road outside of a crosswalk with no regard for your time.

Let’s step back in time to 1906. Jaywalking, or the illegal crossing of a street in a non-designated crosswalk, was 20 years from being a thing. The automobile was just beginning to assert itself as a semi-regular addition to city streets that accommodated a multi-modal construct. Can’t imagine what this looks like? Let’s look at this amazing digitally remastered video of a 1906 San Francisco street car ride.

The most important thing to note in this video is how diverse the street traffic is. Horse and buggy, trolley, automobile, bicycle, pedestrian… they all move at approximately the same speed. The well-to-do owner of the car travels at a speed that is similar to the pedestrian and cyclist. While the driver may be able to enjoy an independent, stress-free commute, he or she is subject to the street congestion caused by many different forms of mobility. And while this low-speed chaos would likely be psychologically catastrophic to the car commuter today, it presents some incredibly meaningful lessons with regard to our streets and their effect on society.

Multiple Modes of Mobility

Trolleys, carriages, bikes, cars and pedestrians… count the number of different forms of mobility in this video. The streets were truly for everyone, regardless of speed, size or socioeconomic status.

Similar Speed

Equitable transportation is rooted in the idea that anyone can access jobs and resources equally, regardless of their socioeconomic status. In this piece of video, pedestrians, mass transit and cars move at a similar speed. The difference in velocity between the most exclusive form of transportation and the most humble form of transportation is negligible. Today, the average 15 minute commute by car is likely to be over an hour by bus. The prioritization of the automobile has completely eradicated equitable access to jobs and resources.

Density and Community

Slower, more equitable mobility leads to greater, more efficient urban density. Suburban sprawl has created an inequitable construct based on “pay-to-play” access of upwardly mobile resources. When multi-modal transportation is encouraged, more efficient and equitable communities are possible.

In the video above, the fastest form of transportation, the cars, are moving about 2-3 times the speed of pedestrians. Sure, that difference might be a great deal more on an open road, but the top speed of between 30 and 50 miles per hour for the average Ford… not to mention you needed oil every 250 miles, and the fact that highways were just a glimmer in the hopeful eye of an urban enemy. A humorous note, just two years earlier, a driver was given the first speeding ticket in Dayton Ohio for going 12mph in a 5mph zone.

At such low speeds, the prospect of “sprawl” was horribly impractical. As a result, cities remained unquestionable centers of equity, efficiency and productivity. Because cars were just a slightly faster mode of transportation in a sea of other mobility options, 15-20 mile car commutes were simply not possible.

But cars became faster. Car and oil companies became the dominant lobbyists in the United States. Highways were built to allow for greater sprawl, all subsidizing people’s desire to create exclusive communities outside their city centers.

In Conclusion

I shared this video with a number of friends. The comments back marveled at the clothing, the trolleys, the horses, the man sweeping horse droppings, and the maddening chaos of multi-modal traffic. But when I look at videos like this, I see what cities were like when mobility was far more equitable. Sure, our cities were dirty, crowded, smelly and sometimes scary. Sanitary amenities, cleaner energy and a host of other legal and environmental issues were still hurdles for cities 1906.

But the power of the city as the social, economic and equitable hub of humanity was far greater than it is in the U.S. today. Architecture hasn’t changed all that much, save the skyscraper. Street layout is pretty much the same. The big difference is the fact that the formally diverse streets featuring slow traffic have been replaced with exclusive automobile access, allowing those who own cars to speed to their destinations while those who must rely on public transit are subject to maddeningly underfunded networks, long wait times and inefficient commutes.

The video above shows what streets were meant to be. They were havens for diverse mobility instead of space that is solely dedicated to speed and exclusivity. Our cities have paid the price for this massive mistake, and as a result, equity and upward mobility continue to lag compared to much of the rest of the industrialized world.


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The American Automobile And Racial Exclusivity

The “Pay To Play” cost of the automobile might be the most racially exclusive component of American society.

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

I saw something today that blew my mind. The average new road vehicle retails for $37,876. Can we say that again? Americans are purchasing cars, trucks and SUVs to the tune of $38,000. In a time when we are asking questions of equity and “pay-to-play” constructs in our American culture, is there anything more exclusive than the automobile?

Most of our focus in life revolves around three basic things… our home, our work and how we connect the two. After World War II, the Federal Government subsidized the construction and purchase of homes outside of city limits in areas now referred to as “the suburbs.” But that wasn’t enough… with major employers still entrenched in urban cores as a matter of practical business, the same administrations facilitated the creation of automobile expressways that allowed white Americans, who could afford cars to access jobs while living in racially exclusive suburbs, to commute efficiently to their employment epicenters. And as no surprise, these highways doubled as a way of demolishing “blighted” black neighborhoods, segregating white from black, and rich from poor in our cities.

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Redlining and racial property covenants (among a host of other elements of institutionalized racism) ensured that people of color could not transcend their circumstance, creating an un-traversable economic fissure between wealthy white and struggling black citizens in highly polarized and segregated counties.

Car, oil and rubber companies furthered the plight of inner city America by lobbying for wider roads, campaigning for “jay-walking” to become a public offense and famously purchasing the private city street car companies, only to immediately disband them. All this to ensure that the most expensive and exclusive mode of transportation was virtually the only mode of transportation. And of course, this was all done to the tune of billions of dollars in subsidies for auto-related manufacturers and the building of automobile infrastructure that a huge percentage of the country simply could not afford.

How do you disenfranchise an entire group of people? Simple. Tell them they can only live in one place, (which we as a country did) then incentivize everyone else (and thus American jobs) to move away from that place… and for the final touch, make it too expensive for the disenfranchised population to access good jobs, public resources and any hope of upward mobility. The perfect purposeful recipe for racial, cultural, economic and social isolation.

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Let’s go back to the cost of the average new vehicle, $37,876. The average Black household in the U.S. earns $41,511 (2018), less than $4,000 more than the cost of the average American automobile.

Can Americans purchase a used car for much cheaper? Absolutely. But a huge percentage of disenfranchised communities still struggle with high interest rates and all the “extras” that go along with car ownership (insurance, fuel, maintenance, registration fees, etc.). When the process of conveniently commuting requires 40% of your income, something is seriously wrong.

“The financial burden that the car-centric American narrative places on our families is stifling. … Those who can purchase and maintain a car win…everyone else loses.

As someone who purchased a used car 6 years ago for $7,500 and still occasionally uses that car today, I am in absolute awe of the amount of money my friends spend on cars, trucks and SUVs that I would consider “luxurious.” The financial burden that the car-centric American narrative places on our families is stifling. The amount that middle class American families are willing to spend for the convenience of two SUVs is staggering. But the myth that this choice is a necessity is one of the most racially and socially exclusive economic and psychological constructs in American culture. I would argue that the toxic level of “pay to play” exclusivity in this country is and always has been the veiled mirage of the automobile as the only means of convenient transportation. Those who can purchase and maintain a car win… everyone else loses.

When the average cars costs $38,000, equity is not possible. When the average commute of 23 minutes by car is an hour and twenty minutes by bus, equity is not possible. In a nation where Black Americans were disallowed to thrive in our urban cores, this same social and economic rift occurs today with regard to transportation and the convenient access of jobs and services.

Redlining derailed black neighborhoods by placing a financial ceiling on their communities. Property covenants and other restrictions disallowed people of color from moving to other neighborhoods. The war on drugs targeted black males in a conscious effort to disrupt black families. Today, in a world where mobility is such a strong determinant for success, the century-long subsidization of the most expensive and exclusive form of transportation continues to add yet another wrinkle in the fabric of blatantly racist agendas that our country has supported.

“Want to make the United States more equitable? Support public transit that serves everyone.”

It’s time to realize that the American automobile, and the immense infrastructure that facilitates its transportation dominance, might be one of the most toxically racial tools this country has ever seen. Want to make the United States more equitable? Support public transit that serves everyone. Support walkability and infrastructure projects that limit automobile speed and prioritize pedestrians, especially in traditionally minority-based neighborhoods. Support urban density that considers the needs and desires of Black Americans. The American car/truck/SUV has pummeled the core of U.S. urban density… let’s realize this as a mistake and get aggressive about building a more equitable future of mobility in our urban centers!


A few related notes and resources from Reconnect Rochester. . .

We appreciate this excellent piece by Arian at The Urban Phoenix that makes new and insightful connections between mobility and racial & economic justice.

Over the past five years, Reconnect Rochester has been part of an effort to examine the relationship between transportation and poverty in our community, to better understand the problem so we can identify possible solutions, and act on them. Resources this effort has generated can be found here on Reconnect’s website and include:

Our efforts continue through the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI)’s transportation work group. In collaboration with many community partners around the table, we work to translate the report learnings into systemic policy recommendations and actions that can create real change.