Last week, Reconnect Rochester went on a “Virtual Trip to Albany” to champion public transit and safe streets for Rochester area residents (and all New Yorkers). We met with legislators and staff to talk about our transportation-related budgetary and legislative priorities (see our agenda below). We had some great conversations and found that we have many allies in our State delegation that support multi-modal transportation, and even share our passion for it!
Shout out to Bill Collins and Jason Partyka from our team for devoting their days to the effort, and kudos to all the legislative offices that took time to meet with us: Assemblymembers Harry Bronson, Jennifer Lunsford, Josh Jensen, Sarah Clark, Demond Meeks & William Magnarelli, and Senators Samra Brouk & Timothy Kennedy.
Like every non-profit, the pandemic forced Reconnect Rochester to pivot fast to re-tool our planned programs and goals for the year. Luckily, we are small (but mighty), and nothing if not nimble. Despite all the challenges, we managed to move our mission forward with intensity. Check out (below) the “Top 10” list of accomplishments we’re most proud of in 2020.
We also faced financial uncertainty this year as prospects for grants and sponsorships dissipated. You know what got us through? The generosity of supporting members during our last membership drive, especially our sustaining members whose monthly donations proved to be extra crucial this year.
TOP 10 THINGS WE’RE MOST PROUD OF IN 2020 (In no particular order of importance.)
Releasing a new original short film titled Think Transit First to highlight transportation as a systemic equity issue in our community, and the innovative ways some local organizations are meeting transportation needs. The film premiered at our Nov 12 Rochester Street Films event, which also included a presentation of local statistics and a panel discussion. Please watch and share this important film!
Hosting a 3-hour virtual Complete Streets Training attended by 60 local public officials, planners, engineers and advocates. Justin Booth of GObike Buffalo led a discussion about the benefits of active mobility and complete streets, and how we can make our roads safe for people of all ages and abilities.
Rolling out a set of bike education offerings to encourage more people in our community to experience the health and financial benefits of biking to get around, and deliver the information they need to do so safely and comfortably. p.s. Find out more about classes & presentations you can bring to your workplace, campus, community library or schools.
Getting our Monroe County Crash Map (which had crashed) updated on our website with a fresh new design! The map is a resource for looking up crashes that involve pedestrians and cyclists, and serves as a tool for local advocacy efforts around safe streets in our community.
Adding new multi-modal themed products and designs to our online shop. All sales and proceeds are reinvested to support our work in the community. p.s. Several new products are available as membership gifts!
“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.
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.
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.
Guest blog by Doug Kelley, Associate Professor, University of Rochester.
In my first few long bike rides this spring, I’ve been bowled over by the beautiful views. And it’s not like I’m visiting new places. I pedaled these same routes last summer, when I first came to Copenhagen for a yearlong sabbatical and was eager to explore. But never were the vistas like this! Now, the hills and buildings of Sweden, 10 miles across the waters of Øresund, are not just blurry shapes, but clear and distinct and colorful. Now, looking southwest from the gorgeous seaside bike path in Naturpark Amager, I can see the towns of Køge and Strøby across the bay, nearly 20 miles distant and never visible before. First noticing these fantastic vistas, I gave thanks for the end of the dark and rainy Danish winter. Then I remembered that visibility was never this good last August or September. Something else must be happening. That something is probably covid-19.
The pandemic is causing profound suffering worldwide, through death and sickness, through separation and hardship. I would not wish it upon anyone. The pandemic is also giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced. Few are driving, which means less air pollution, and we can see the improvement with our own eyes. It’s visible all over, not just on my weekend bike routes but in places like London, Delhi, Wuhan, and Los Angeles. My wife tells me her lungs feel better now as she strolls along formerly-busy roads. Back home, nitrogen dioxide emissions in Rochester are down 30%. NASA data shows similar trends all over the world. Social media is awash in before-and-after photos picturing how much better our views have gotten thanks to reduced motor traffic. Mount Kenya is spectacular.
“The pandemic is giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced.“
With those views come other important benefits. The micron-scale airborne particles that mar our vistas also wreak havoc on our health. They are the most harmful form of air pollution, penetrating deep into the lungs and blood to cause heart attacks and respiratory disease. One study found that for particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, every airborne concentration decrease of 10 micrograms per cubic meter comes with a 36% decrease in lung cancer. Another study estimated that reducing particle pollution by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would prevent 34,000 premature deaths per year in the United States. So ironically, reduced motor traffic due to the pandemic may actually save as many lives as are lost to covid-19. That’s a speculation, but given what we know, entirely plausible.
“Substantially reduced particle pollution is good for everybody — and especially good for those with the most urgent health needs.“
Reducing motor traffic also comes with the obvious benefits of reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will be 8% lower worldwide in 2020 than in 2019, mainly due to reduced motor traffic and airline travel. Climate change is a long-established scientific fact, and its extreme weather and eerily warm winters are now nearly as evident in firsthand experience as the vistas on my bike rides. A one-year, 8% drop isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“A one-year, 8% drop [in greenhouse gas emissions] isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.“
Living through this historic moment, when we literally see the good of reduced motor traffic with our own eyes, I can’t help but wonder: What if we hold on to the good, and hold on tight? As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic? What if we reboot our economy and jobs and schooling without ruining our own vistas and attacking our own lungs?
“As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic?”
The pandemic has taught us that for many jobs and in many cases, we can work from home just fine. The pandemic has taught us that some travel is more trouble than it’s worth. What if, instead of using the pandemic as an excuse for more pollution, we enact laws and regulations that clean our air? What if we go more places by walking and biking and public transportation? What if we build on our momentum? It would mean new thinking about topics like achieving social distancing on buses and trains. It would mean living in a new way. But the lifestyle adjustments involved are far smaller and simpler than the ones we have already achieved, surviving this unprecedented pandemic together.
We can get started right now.
Here are a few ways to build on great work already happening in our region:
Walk or bike or take the bus on three trips this week — or the next three trips you take, if you’re at home this week — when you might otherwise have used a motor vehicle.
The benefits would be huge. Cleaner-feeling lungs, fewer respiratory diseases, better quality of life, reduced chance of climate change causing harder times even than the covid-19 pandemic. And big, clear, beautiful vistas. I think we can do it.
There are many more ways to take action. Leave comments below with your own suggestions.
Copenhagen is famous for having the world’s best bike infrastructure and highest rates of bike transportation. (OK Amsterdam, you’re not bad, either.) Transit nerds love to extol the engineering details, celebrate the signage, and explain the traffic patterns in excruciating detail. While I admit getting excited by those nerd-outs — I’m an engineering professor and a lifelong cyclist, after all — the real point is the beautiful lifestyle enabled when communities “Copenhagenize.” So here’s a snapshot, one typical day of the lifestyle, as lived by my family and me during our sabbatical year away from Rochester.
After a Danish breakfast of pastries, yogurt, and coffee, I hop on my bike for the morning commute. Neighborhood roads bring me to Lyngbyvej (pronounced “loong boo vye”), busy at rush hour with more car traffic than almost any road in central Copenhagen. Still, it’s a pleasant place to cycle, because its wide bike lanes are separated from the cars by curbs, and because automotive traffic is held to reasonable speeds by stoplight timing and posted limits. At rush hour, Copenhagen’s roads carry more bikes than cars, so I feel like part of the crowd. Some cyclists ride slower, and some ride faster, passing on the left, often after ringing their bells to avoid surprises. (Impatient commuters sometimes ring excessively.) As I head south, motorists turning right wait at the intersection for a gap in the long line of cyclists passing in their own lane.
From experience I know that the stoplight at Tagensvej (pronounced “tah gens vye”) is slow, so seeing its pedestrian signal turn green up ahead, I pedal harder. A green bike signal comes next, then a green signal for motorists. I sail through as the bike signal turns yellow. Arriving at work in under 10 minutes after a 1.5-mile ride, I’m invigorated and just starting to warm up. Bike parking is ample, with spots in the open by the nearby entrance, covered spots further away, and beyond them, an underground bike-only parking deck for bad weather and expensive bikes. Most folks ride commuter bikes, akin to what Americans might call hybrids, neither flashy nor expensive, just practical. I pull into a covered spot.
Meanwhile my younger daughter, age 12, sets out for school, also biking. She soon turns left from Lyngbyvej, using the usual jug-handle method: ride across the intersecting street, stop until the signals change, then ride left across Lyngbyvej and on toward school. That keeps her in the bike lanes all the time, so she doesn’t have to change lanes and cut across motor traffic. Like the Danes, she gives a hand signal beforehand. A few blocks later, road signs direct her through a slight detour. Construction is blocking the usual bike lane, so the motor-vehicle lanes have been narrowed to make room for bikes and pedestrians, protected by a steel barrier. Construction is no excuse to block important bike and pedestrian thoroughfares.
Copenahgen may have the world’s highest rates of bike transportation, but it doesn’t have the world’s best weather. Today it’s drizzling, so my daughter is wearing a shell jacket, boots, and her new waterproof pants. Danes like to say there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Sure enough, rain hardly changes the number of cyclists on the road, and today the nearby cyclists wear clothing varying from Gore-Tex to full-body ponchos to soggy blue jeans. Most of their bikes have fenders, and lights are required by law–winter nights in Denmark are long.
Having stuff to carry doesn’t keep people from cycling, either. I take my laptop and lunch to work in waterproof saddle bags. My daughter carries a backpack, like many of the riders around her. Nearly all their bikes have racks on the back, often bearing loads held with bungee cords. Mail, football equipment, take-out, Ikea furniture, and all manner of things get carted around on sturdy flatbed cargo bikes, sometimes with electrical assistance to make pedaling easier. Danish parents commonly carry their kids to school in cargo bikes with boxed compartments on the front. Older kids sit on tag-along bikes attached to mom’s or dad’s. Most have learned to ride solo by age 3 or 4, and are getting to school on their own bikes by age 6 or 7.
My older daughter, age 13, isn’t a morning person and leaves later, finishing her 2.2-mile commute and parking her bike just in time for class. After school, the clouds persist but the rain has quit, so she decides to bike with classmates to Stroget, one of the largest pedestrian-only market streets in Europe, to window-shop and buy some candy to share. As her dinnertime curfew approaches, she considers the headwinds and decides not to bike all the way home, instead catching the S-train, which allows bikes anytime. Metro trains also allow bikes, though not at rush hour, and only with an extra ticket. But she might be tempted to take the Metro anyway once the new Orientkaj stop opens–it’s next-door to her school.
While the rest of us are away, my wife shops for some hygge (cozy) furnishings at the neighborhood secondhand shop, then picks up groceries for dinner, including fresh-baked bread. She could bike both places, but decides to walk for exercise, and anyway the grocery store is only three blocks from our apartment. After working at home awhile, she rides the S-train to Klampenborg to jog in the woods. In summer, she might instead bike to the Nordhavn harbor for a swim, or cycle 25 miles to Helsingør, then ride the train home. Neither she nor I need to plan our day around driving our kids from place to place, since they can capably bike and navigate public transportation on their own.
Home together at the end of the day, the four of us light candles, start a fire in the wood stove, and sit down to dinner. My younger daughter is ravenous after biking home from football (pronounced “soccer”) practice. My older daughter is proud that her new fitness tracker logged 14,000 steps since the morning. We have lived another day of our full and busy lives, traveling to work and school and many other places without driving a car or wishing for one. Our daily travels have required nearly no fossil fuel and put nearly no carbon into the atmosphere. Outdoor exercise lifts our moods and keeps us fit. Alternative transportation gives the kids freedom to move about independently, making extra time for us parents. And in the summertime, when the days are long and the skies are clear, Copenhagen transportation is even more lovely.
Crucially, you don’t have to live in Copenhagen to enjoy this lifestyle. Ride RTS. Rent a Pace bike. Stroll to your neighborhood cafe. Bike to work and to the Public Market. Though Rochester’s bike infrastructure doesn’t match Copenhagen — nobody’s does — you can bike to many destinations without using big, ugly roads clogged with motorists. Pedal on the Canal Path, on the River Trail, on the cycle tracks along Union Street or Elmwood Avenue, on the network of Bike Boulevards, or simply on quiet streets that parallel the big thoroughfares. Teach your kids to bike, show them safe and effective routes, let them walk, and teach them to use public transportation. Tell community leaders about the importance of building alternative transportation infrastructure. And support organizations like Reconnect Rochester that are enlarging this lifestyle in Rochester.
Guest blog by Calvin Eaton. Calvin is the founder of 540WMain Communiversity, a grassroots non-profit community based university. Calvin is a digital content creator, social entrepreneur, and educator whose area of expertise includes antiracism, diversity, inclusion, K-12 curriculum writing and teaching, gluten free plant based living, and higher education.
If you’ve followed my journey over the last couple of years you probably know that I sold my car in June 2018 and became a car-free professional. There are so many reasons why going car-free was the best decision for me and I want to share a few things I’ve learned over the past year and why I plan to continue my car-free lifestyle.
Like every typical American teen I couldn’t’ wait to get my drivers license so I could enter into grown up world of driving. Like most youth I had been indoctrinated to believe that getting my drivers license at the ripe old age of sixteen was the consummate mark of becoming an adult. American culture worships the car and the transition from child to pre-teen to adult is distinctly marked by getting a drivers license and soon after getting your first car. I admit that for me a drivers license (and by proxy a car) represented freedom, independence, and adulthood. At no point in my adolescence did I question this societal standard, ask why car ownership is idolized, or ask if youth in other cultures are cultivated to own a car at the stroke of sixteen like we are here in America.
After years of driving and adulting; last year I came to the strong conclusion that I honestly do not enjoy driving. In actuality, I hate driving. Driving for me is a sometimes necessity to get from point A to point B or take care of very specific tasks in life. Generally speaking, for me the process and responsibility of driving and more importantly being a responsible driver is stressful. After years of being car payment free and then bucking to societal pressure and getting a lease for a new Honda in 2016, last year I came to a dramatic conclusion that none of it was worth it. Not the maintenance, not the insurance payments, not the monthly car payments. I realized that I do not enjoy driving enough to own my own car and it was this realization that served as my primary reason to get sell my car and become car- free.
What I’ve Learned
Since then public transportation has become my primary means of mobility throughout the City. For me, public transportation works great. I live on a main bus line, work remotely and spend most of my time in the inner city going between the east and west parts of the City via Main Street. Most of my deviation from this daily norm is my travel to area colleges for co-working and meetings. For these times I use Lyft. In addition to these methods of mobility, I walk and sometimes bike. Walking and biking would be more part of my daily regimen if I did not have to deal with the ill and daily effects of living fibromyalgia and chronic pain which sometimes make walking and exercise difficult. Still since ditching my car I am happy to get in more daily steps and see more of the City. When the weather is clear walking is so beautiful and it has been a great way to place myself in spaces and places that I would never enter into if I commuted by car.
I understand that my work and and life affords me privileges that make going car free much easier for me than others. Still I am glad that I am in the position to bring more awareness to public transit, biking, and even walking to get around the City. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that for many young professionals like myself it is really about having a repertoire of easy to access mobility options at the ready when I need them. For me, having a car every single day is just not necessary. However it is necessary for me to be able to have a roster of easily accessible mobility options at my beck and call when I need them. There are some days that I will take the bus in the morning and then take a Lyft back home. Sometimes I borrow a family member’s car when I need to transport something then I drop it off to them mid-day and walk to the bus stop to get to my next destination. Just today, I took the bus downtown, took two meetings, then walked back home. I had my mother drop me off at the public market and then hailed a Lyft to 540WMain. This type of multi-mobility has become just as common and seamless for me as jumping in a car was just a few years ago.
I’ll admit that sometimes planning out my transit in advance can be a minor annoyance and every now and then after a late night class at 540, I wish I didn’t have to wait for the next bus; but for me these moments are few and far between. Because I have designed a highly dense life where everything that I need is within close proximity a car is not only impractical for to get around Rochester but burdensome. I just do not need a car every day and when I do need one, I have the access for that specific occasion and once that is fulfilled my needs are met.
I recognize that going car-free is not the lifestyle nor an option for for everyone but for those that are able to ditch the car or use their cars less, tapping into the biking community is not only good for the earth but good for our City. The more folks that use RTS the more services and infrastructure that will be created to accommodate a more comprehensive system. This will normalize public transit as a viable and accessible mobility option. The more folks who bike for commute the more biking will be normalized on our City streets and force officials, planners, and policy makers to make spaces and communities that support intentional bike infrastructure and design. As we travel deeper into 21st century living we need to be less reliant on cars and more reliant on urbanscapes that make mobility easy and accessible for everyone. Owning a car should be a choice not a necessity to tap into all that our City has to offer.