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

car lite logo

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

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

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

car lite t-shirt

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

By: Calvin Eaton

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

Calvin Eaton
Photo Credit: Adam Eaton

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

New Bike, New Me

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

Calvin with a friend at a community bike ride

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

Car-Free to Car-Lite

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

Reimagine RTS

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

Winter sidewalk in Rochester, NY

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

Transportation Justice is an Ongoing Movement

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

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Car Lite Rochester: Small Decisions Become Core Values

car lite logo

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

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

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

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: Small Decisions Become Core Values

By: Tracey Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Floshare: “EVening” the Playing Field

Guest blog by Bree-Ana Dukes, Floshare Program Manager at Mobility Development Operations & Board Member at Reconnect Rochester

According to the 2018 Transportation and Poverty in Monroe County commissioned by Reconnect Rochester, “most households (88%) in Monroe County have access to a vehicle (74% in Rochester). This leaves 12% of households in the county (35,000 households), and 26% of households in the city (22,000 households) without access to a vehicle,” about a third of all city of Rochester households.

Flower City Carshare (Floshare) is a partnership between Mobility Development Operations (MDO) and the City of Rochester and is the first electric vehicle (EV) car sharing program in New York. The carsharing program targets chronically economically distressed areas and neighborhoods where there are low rates of car ownership.

Happy Floshare Customers

“We had a BLAST with the car. My son told everyone everywhere we went that the car we were driving was ‘TOTALLY ELECTRIC MAN.’ Thanks again for helping me get this started, I cannot wait to rent it again.” (Rachael Boelens)

The lack of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) in many of Rochester’s neighborhoods echoes the historical disenfranchisement of marginalized communities and the disparities that have resulted from centuries of disinvestment. Carsharing services alone cannot solve the systemic issues around transportation for the poorest segments of the City’s population, but community-controlled EV carsharing will add a new mobility option to the transportation landscape for those without access to a personal vehicle. Through intentional collaboration with community based organizations, the transportation sector, and social service agencies addressing these EVSE gaps, Floshare hopes to better connect residents to the city and surrounding areas.

Carsharing means community residents have access to a network of electric vehicles located in close proximity to them everyday of the year at any time of the day. This certainly won’t solve our transportation issues, but while funding is on the table we have to consider the lack of car ownership and how marginalized communities are able to benefit from the EV movement from an economic, social, and public health perspective. Much can be debated about the state of transportation within Monroe County, but the fact is that accessibility is not equal for those historically disenfranchised, specifically, for Black and Indigenous people of color.

Targeting EV Investment to the Disenfranchised

Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations are a huge topic of national conversation following the Biden-Harris Administration’s release of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program Guidance. States will be responsible for allocating $5 billion toward electric vehicle charging infrastructure with the goal to “put the United States on a path to a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030 and ensure a convenient, reliable, affordable, and equitable charging experience for all users.”

The Administration’s Justice 40 initiative commits to allocate at least 40% of all funding and investments to “disadvantaged communities”. This is an important distinction because history has shown that without intentional investment in marginalized communities, subpar or disinvestment will continue to widen the racial inequality gap. Some opponents to this commitment will cite the lack of EV ownership as a reason to not invest in marginalized communities, but that is precisely why it is important to do so. Arguments about whether certain communities deserve targeted investments are tired! It is this type of rhetoric that continually blocks BIPOC from opportunities to benefit from social and economic development and revitalization.

A conversation that would be more productive is one that acknowledges the root causes of “carless” homes as well as the inability to afford an EV as outcomes of systemic racism. Centuries of genocide, slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, redlining, and a host of other discrimanatory acts continue to plague our organizations and institutions of governance. So, we must never forget what’s ever present in the zeitgeist that makes commitments like Justice 40 necessary.

Sign Up for Floshare’s Expanding System in ROC

The Floshare program provides access to fully electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for a low cost rate of $5/hour or $40/day. The program has been beta testing since September 2021, with locations at the Rochester Public Market and St. Mary’s Campus and more locations coming soon! About two dozen residents have gone through orientation to test the vehicles and its technology, in preparation for a launch event this summer. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to sign up by downloading the Miocar Networks app.

Charging Floshare Vehicle
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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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A Climate Solutions Blind Spot: Seeing Beyond Electric Cars

Guest blog by Evan Lowenstein, Director of Communications and Membership at the Climate Solutions Accelerator

Remember when you learned how to drive? You learned about the blind spots to the left and right of your vehicle, those spots where another car might be, hidden even from all your mirrors. That there might be things there you aren’t seeing. 

There’s another blind spot putting us at risk here in car-centric America: the one that prevents us from thinking beyond the automobile as we strive for climate solutions and a truly sustainable society.

Image Credit: State Farm on Flickr

The rise in concern about climate change in society and industry is encouraging, and happening not a second too soon. But the well-intentioned efforts run the risk of falling way short because of our perilously persistent belief that we can achieve a climate-safe, sustainable future simply by running our cars on something besides fossil fuels.

Transportation accounts for 40% of our climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, and converting vehicles from fossil-fuels to more cleanly-generated electricity surely can reduce those vehicles’ emissions. But the way they are fueled is just one of many environmental, economic, and equity problems caused by our cars — and just one of the problems inherent in our prevailing transportation model and mindset. 

Thus, there is an inconvenient truth hidden in our blind spot: as we seek transportation modes and systems that are better for the environment, for the economy, and for equity, electric vehicles are the next-worst option to the fossil-fueled ones. 

Why Electric Vehicles Aren’t Enough

The switch to electric cars as a solution to climate change depends simultaneously on a massive transition to renewable energy, such as wind and solar, happening at an unprecedented speed. If we don’t transition to renewables as fast as we transition to electric cars, electric vehicles won’t produce any real progress on climate change. The switch also means a massive increase in demand on our already-strained electric grid; in addition to the cost of putting up that much renewable energy, we then have to upgrade the grid to carry it all.

And electric cars are still cars — machines that produce environmental impacts such as water pollution from tire and brake residues, and leaks of toxic materials from millions upon millions of compromised vehicles; pollution from extraction of materials needed and energy needed to make them; gargantuan fossil-fuel expenditures needed to transport them from manufacturer to individual buyer. In addition, the massive road and storage infrastructure (parking lots) needed to accommodate individual cars as a primary transport choice has titanic environmental impact: polluted runoff, biodiversity loss and roadkill from fractured habitat, etc. Having to maintain all this outsized, inefficient infrastructure forever also creates enormous financial challenges for governments, and prevents resources from being used more wisely.  

The Cost of Personal Vehicles 

Speaking of roadkill — cars also kill a lot of people too, upwards of 60,000 annually in our country from crashes and illness from fossil-fueled air pollution. And many people killed by cars are low-income and people of color, forced into walking or cycling in car-centric communities without adequate provisions for pedestrians or cyclists; and/or forced into living in places with the worst auto-borne air pollution.

Car-culture also creates and perpetuates more inequity like this. Cars are already expensive to own, maintain, insure, and fuel. Low-income people without the means to own cars are shut out from many needs and opportunities (jobs, education, recreation, culture) that are accessible only by car. In addition, most low-income people rent instead of own their housing, and even if they were able to access electric vehicles, they likely wouldn’t have easy access to charging. If the shift to electric vehicles makes car ownership even more out of reach for low-income people, the equity gap exacerbated by car-culture will grow even wider. 

Building a Multi-Modal Future

We must start seeing what’s in the blind spot–the fact that a switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles cannot be the primary push as we strive for sustainability. Instead, we must understand that the best car trip for climate and sustainability is not an electricity-powered car trip, but the absence of a car trip.  

Then, we must focus our planning and funding to make it easier for more people to transport themselves by bus, rail, bicycle, and foot. Note that an electric bus or train uses ten to twenty times less electricity per passenger mile than an electric car does — no matter how clean or dirty the electricity supply is, they are always that much better. And even if buses and trains aren’t electrified, they produce less overall impact than electric private vehicles as a whole, simply by transporting more people over less distance. Walking and bicycling for transportation — if done safely using adequate infrastructure provided for it — produces positive health benefits along with the environmental benefits.

Seeing what’s in the blind spot also means developing land and our communities more efficiently so that transit, bike, and pedestrian transportation modes are viable for a lot more people. Community design with this location efficiency in mind will also save energy, land, and natural resources, meaning that planning for car-free lives enables climate solutions well  beyond the transportation modes themselves. This location efficiency also makes it more feasible for car sharing and carpooling — putting more people in each car is a super-sensible and affordable climate solution as well. 

The hard truth is that climate solutions, sustainability, and equity cannot be achieved solely through intention, but rather through execution. And executing requires plugging all the key facts into our designs of policy and place. We cannot let this big blind spot — an overemphasis on electric cars — run us off the road to our destination: a cool, carbon neutral planet.