1 Comment

Opinion: Driving’s Dehumanizing Effect

Guest blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.

Not long ago, a professor at Brockport Central School teacher was struck and killed by a pickup truck about 25 minutes from my hometown of Rochester, NY. The driver was ticketed for “failing to safely pass a bicycle…” a far too familiar slap on the wrist for a deadly crime of negligence.

This is the latest in a rash of similar pedestrian and bike related deaths in my area over the last several months, a tragic but predictably dismissed epidemic that is simply accepted as “the cost of doing business” in American car culture.

This afternoon, I was riding my bike home from work when a speeding pickup truck flew by my just a foot and a half or so away. The driver was trying to make the light up ahead while avoiding the oncoming car in the opposite lane.

As is often the case, the driver missed the green light, stopping before the intersection. I rolled up behind him, calling to his open driver side window, “hope that was worth it!” I received an aggressive hand gesture in response.

This was far from the first time this has happened… I can’t count the number of times a driver has made an aggressive pass on me at an unsafe distance and speed, only to sit at a light or next several lights with me alongside just a few seconds later. But this time, I had a thought that I never did before. I’ve heard so many cyclists and urbanists talk about how many drivers see cyclists as “less than human.” Indeed, I’ve written articles talking about the lack of respect for cyclists because of the inability for drivers to see bikes as viable forms of transportation. Instead, drivers see cyclists in the road as a recreational nuisance impeding their commute, nothing more.

Today, I realized it’s even worse than that. In order for drivers to see cyclists as sub-human, they have to acknowledge humanity in the surrounding environment in the first place. Even to see someone as less than you is to see them and be aware of their existence. I truly now believe, based on everything I’ve seen in driving behavior, that most drivers don’t see the cars, bikes and other vehicles around them as being piloted by living things at all. I believe the average driver sees other motorists and cyclists simply as video-game-like obstacles that need to be overcome in order to advance in a game of speed and power. In other words, there is something about the automobile that disconnects drivers from the reality that anyone else on the road or in the surrounding environment is worthy of their respect as human beings with spouses, families, jobs and dependents. It’s not that drivers see cyclists and pedestrians as less-than-human, it’s that aggressive motorists will stop but nothing to reach their destination in timely fashion, seeing all others as sand traps and water hazards, cones and barrels, or any other inanimate barrier to success and “freedom.” It is a level of self-absorption rooted in a century of individualistically auto-centered American behavior so ingrained that it blinds the power-infused driver to the presence of potential human impact.

This might seem like an extreme assumption, and perhaps it is. But I can think of no other explanation for the incredible disregard for the physical safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers that motorists routinely display. In our eyes behind the wheel, people become objects, cyclists become hazards and other drivers become enemies.

We can’t solve the problem of pedestrian, cyclist and auto fatalities unless we get to the root of the mindset that enables their frequency. Next time you pass a cyclist, think of her family. Next time you enter a crosswalk without looking both ways, think of the young man trying to get to work or to class. Next time you move aggressively around another car, think of the children that might be strapped in the back seat. Think of the lives these people live, the people who love them and depend on them instead of the 10-30 seconds that putting them in danger may save you. We’re all in this together out there, so let’s start driving like it! Or better yet, take the bus, get on a bike or walk to where you need to go whenever possible!


We can all do our part to make our community safer by paying more attention behind the wheel.

Check out the Drive 2B Better campaign website to learn how. Watch some super cool ad videos. Test your knowledge of the rules of the road. Take a pledge and commit to doing your part.

No Comments

The Power of the Sneckdown

Story By Arian Horbovetz.  Arian is a Rochester resident and creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog that discusses urban and community design and topics as our cities transition to a better future.

As I write this, the city of Rochester is passively preparing for yet another battle with a dreaded but familiar foe, lake effect snow.  Winter boots and labored commutes will surely be the icebreaker (pun intended) conversation starters at the office water cooler today. But for the Urban Planner, as well as the casual observer, periods of light snow can be opportunities for great discovery.

In that time when the first whispers of a snow storm cover our streets and the plows are still dormant in their stalls, we navigate our vehicles on roadways by following the tracks left behind by the cars that recently came before us.  To an Urban Planner, these tracks, especially with regard to their path through intersections, are of particular importance.

The ability to see the space that cars use (or rather don’t use) when traveling through an intersection by looking at these tracks through the snow gives us a golden opportunity to demonstrate how and where our streets can be narrowed.  Think of it like an Urban Planner’s forensic blacklight, revealing the key unseen evidence of superfluous roadway.

These visual clues created by snow and tire tracks through our intersections are called Sneckdowns.  While the name might conjure the image of a Dr. Seuss character, it is actually derived from the combination of “snow” and “neckdown,” which is a term for sidewalk additives and extensions that reduce traffic speeds and increase pedestrian access.

Photo of Philadelphia Sneckdown

Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

Photo of Philadelphia Sneckdown

Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

In 2014, urbanist Jon Geeting authored a Slate article in which he took simple photos of sneckdowns on Philadelphia streets.  His efforts inspired walkability advocates around the world to do the same, but best of all, it led to real change in his own backyard.  

Before Picture. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

Jon Geeting’s Sneckdown photo of this intersection paved the way for this concrete island which acts as a traffic calming measure and a pedestrian island for safer crossing. Photo courtesy of Jon Geeting

Clarence Eckerson’s famous STREETFILMS video shows some incredible examples of how overbuilt our streets really are.  With a measuring device and some cold weather grit, Eckerson puts the power of sneckdowns right in front of the viewer, showing how snowbanks that accumulate on city streets can give us a clearer understanding of how to construct and reconstruct our streets going forward.

Why all this fuss about narrowing streets and slowing traffic?  Because decreasing automobile speeds by narrowing lanes and intersections, as well as prioritizing pedestrians, lead to safer, healthier communities.  Furthermore, promoting walkability and pedestrian comfort has been shown to feed economic growth and stability.  

Sneckdowns also give the average citizen the ability to see where change can be enacted.  It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to spot tracks in the snow, it takes a conscious observer who is genuinely concerned about safety and walkability in their environments.  

Hey Rochester!  Next time it snows, take to the streets and see if you can spot overbuilt space on our roads and intersections.  It can be a fun, interesting and positive way to start the conversation about safer streets in your neighborhood, and may even lead to the change we want to see!

No Comments

Complete Streets Series (Part 3 of 3): Safer Rochester Streets, An Intersection at a Time

In this final installment of our Complete Streets Blog Series, guest author David Riley will highlight a sampling of intersections and trouble spots that were nominated for the Complete Streets Makeover project, and share his ideas for how they might be made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Read more

No Comments

Complete Streets Series (Part 2 of 3): Re-Designing Our “Finalist” Streets for People

 

Back in May, we launched our Complete Streets Makeover project by asking the general public to help identify the intersections and trouble-spots where you live, work and play that could be redesigned to make them safer for everyone. We received over 90 nominations, and after a careful process to examine each and every submission, we selected the following locations:

Read more

No Comments

Complete Streets Series (Part 1 of 3): A Neighborhood Intersection Transformed

In the U.S., pedestrian fatalities have skyrocketed, increasing by 46% from 2009-2016. According to our Crash Map, over 4,000 crashes in Monroe County from 2010-2017 involved bicyclists and pedestrians. Eight people die on our streets every year as a result of these crashes.

Read more

3 Comments

Tell City Council You Support Lower Speed Limits

Every year in Rochester, hundreds of people are struck by vehicles while out walking and biking on our community streets. The top two factors in traffic fatalities in this country are alcohol and speed. And the percentage of crash deaths that involve speeding is higher on minor roads (like our neighborhood streets) than on highways and interstates.

How fast we drive on our community streets impacts that safety and quality of life for those who live, work, play and shop along those streets. Around the country, cities such as Cambridge, MA, New York City, and Seattle, are lowering their speed limits to make residential streets safer. Many are hoping Rochester will soon follow suit.

Join the effort led by HealthiKids to reduce the City speed limit from 30 to 25 mph on residential streets.

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Can 5 or 10 mph really make that much of a difference?

Yes.

Here’s why:

The higher the speed, the greater the risk to a pedestrian or cyclist.

A person has more than a 90% chance of surviving if hit by a car traveling 20 mph. If that car is traveling 40 mph, there is about a 90% chance that person will die. Those risks increase if the pedestrian is a child or older adult. The human body can only handle so much.

[Courtesy of HealthiKids]

Reduced speeds are good for pedestrians AND drivers.

Lower speeds allow drivers more time to notice things and react. If something is in the road 100 feet ahead of you when driving 40 mph, you will hit it going 36 mph. If you are traveling 25 mph, you can stop well within 100 feet.

At lower speeds, crashes are likely to be avoided altogether. And if they do occur, they will be far less severe.

Reduced speeds can benefit the entire community.

       [Read more about the benefits beyond safety]

Reduced speed limits on our residential streets alone aren’t the silver bullet, but are an important tool in the overall solution to safer streets. Done in concert with education, enforcement and design, the culture of how we use and share our streets can begin to change.

Let City Council know you want Rochester to be the next city to make streets safer by lowering the speed limit on residential streets!

2 Comments

Reckless Driving Concerns Highland Park Neighbors

Car crash in Highland Park Neighborhood

Guest essay submitted by: Michael Tomb & Marcia Zach, Highland Park residents… 

Dear Friends,

As many of you are aware, because of a crash near the intersection of Meigs & Linden, in 2009, we created the HPNA Traffic Calming team which eventually became “The Highland Placemaking Team”. We came up with a plan for traffic calming in the area of our playground and, although quite a few items were implemented, many of the safety related traffic calming features were not because of County resistance, City policy and other things.

Car crash in Highland Park NeighborhoodOur intent was to avoid something as what JUST happened in my neighbor’s front yard.  No children should have to witness such a scene in their front yard while waiting for the school bus. I am thankful we avoided (barely!) a major heart-wrenching tragedy, but it was NOT because of this driver’s fear of the consequences of being so careless. It was only a matter of timing that prevented something much worse from occurring.  You and I both know we need to do better.

We are also both saddened and absolutely outraged the driver was NOT ticketed.  Maybe  I am bit ashamed of my city as well.  My assessment after working on matters of traffic calming in Rochester has actually been to expect that kind of response from law enforcement.  Indeed, I have been telling friends that if a person desires to damage property and and even kill innocent bystanders, in order to face the fewest number of consequences, the car IS your weapon of choice. It wasn’t always that way… the tolerance for irresponsible driving was a hard -earned privilege. Read more

No Comments

City of Rochester’s Pace Car Program Asks Drivers to Be Part of the Solution

Rochester's Mayor Lovely Warren held a press conference today to announce the expansion of the Pace Car program citywide.
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, Vice President & Pedestrian Safety Committee Chair at Reconnect Rochester

We were proud to be part of today’s launch of the City of Rochester’s Pace Car program! We joined Mayor Lovely Warren and other community leaders to introduce the new citywide initiative that asks drivers to be part of the solution to make our community streets safer for all who use them. Pace Car drivers sign a pledge to drive within the speed limit, drive courteously, yield to pedestrians and be mindful of bicyclists and others on the street. Drivers display the yellow Pace Car sticker on their vehicles to show others that they are taking accountability for how they drive on our community streets.

Read more

No Comments

Introducing “Streets for the People”

Streets for the People
Posted by: board member Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

Regular, everyday citizens rallying together can set in motion great change in our communities. After all, the people who are most in touch with what is needed in our neighborhoods are those who live, walk, ride, play, drive, shop and work in them every day.

Reconnect Rochester is happy to announce a new initiative that is a direct result of everyday citizen action: Streets for the People

Read more

No Comments

Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets

Crosswalk [PHOTO: Renee Stetzer]
Posted by: board member Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

In January, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative external link. The goal is to address “non-motorized safety issues and help communities create safer, better connected bicycling and walking networks.” He called it the most comprehensive and forward-thinking initiative the DOT has ever put together on bike and pedestrian issues. It aims to engage transportation specialists, safety experts, leadership and the public to make streets safer for a variety of transportation options. And it recognizes the vital role biking and walking play in a reliable multimodal transportation network…

Read more

No Comments

Congress Introduces Safe Streets Act of 2015

Pedestrian Sign Park Ave [PHOTO: Renee Stetzer]
Posted by: board member Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

Congress introduced a bill this week that will help streets across the country become safer for all people, regardless of their mode of transportation. With bipartisan support, The Safe Streets Act of 2015external link, was introduced by Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and David Joyce (R-OH):

Read more

5 Comments

Finding a Solution for Sidewalk Clearing in Rochester

Sidewalk off Mt. Hope [Photo: Brenda Massie]
Posted by: board member Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

It’s been a tough winter for anyone having to be outside in Rochester. Transit riders have to hike over ice encrusted snow drifts and stand in streets, because their stops are buried. Pedestrians have to wear crampons to trudge across the uneven icy places where sidewalks once were. Those who are less steady, have things to carry or have to walk with assistance, have been forced to use the plowed streets. Cyclists hold on as they brave traffic, since the bike lanes are no longer there. And drivers cautiously turn corners blocked by snowbanks higher than their cars, taking turns on residential streets with only enough room for one car at a time. But the people walking out in the elements have clearly been given the lowest priority of attention.

Read more

1 Comment

Grab your shovel, it’s time to Reconnect your sidewalk…

Who's responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow? All of us! [PHOTO: gam9551, Flickr]
Posted by: Brenda Massie, Board Member and Secretary, Reconnect Rochester.

Getting around during winter in Rochester is challenging — no matter what mode of transportation you choose. Subzero temperatures, snowy sidewalks, and dangerous street conditions become part of everyday life. As a pedestrian, it is especially hairy…

Read more

No Comments

2014 the Safest Year to Be a Pedestrian in NYC Since 1910

In June, the New York State legislature passed a bill to let NYC lower its default limit to 25mph. Lowering speed limits is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero plan. [PHOTO: Michael Tapp, Flickr]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

This month marks the one year anniversary of New York City’s ambitious Vision Zero campaign external link, a plan to eliminate traffic fatalities by the year 2024.

As part of the effort external link, traffic calming and street design measures were implemented, bike lanes were expanded, speed cameras were installed in school zones, the citywide default speed limit was reduced to 25 mph, arterial slow zones were established, public education and awareness were ramped up and the NYPD significantly stepped up enforcement and ticketing for traffic violations. It’s an effort that requires all people, regardless of how they traverse those streets to rethink how they drive, walk and ride about their daily lives. It requires a shift in the culture of getting about in NYC, which is no easy task.

So, one year later, is the campaign making a difference?

Read more

1 Comment

City Council Approves Additional Red Light Camera Study

Do Red Light Cameras Make Rochester Streets Safer? [PHOTO: Yousuf Fahimuddin]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

Last week, the City Council approved further study of Rochester’s red light camera program. This isn’t a brand new study, but an expansion of the study that was released in November. The results of that study indicated a reduction in the number of accidents at 22 intersections external link that have red light cameras. Two intersections had no changes in the collision rates before and after the cameras were installed. And 8 intersections had an increase in the number of collisions. Those 8 intersections are the subject of the expanded study, as well as whether the cameras could be tied into traffic signals to help reduce operation costs…

Read more

8 Comments

Parking Summit This Wednesday

The City of Rochester will hold a public Parking Summit this Wednesday.
Posted by: Mike Governale, president and co-founder of Reconnect Rochester

This Wednesday, 5:30 – 7:00pm at the Penthouse (1 East Avenue – 11th Floor) you are invited to attend a Downtown Parking Summit external link hosted by the City of Rochester. But this is not a meeting to discuss how we create more parking. We’ve tried that before, and it nearly killed our city.

Reconnect Rochester recognizes the importance of having an adequate supply of downtown parking. However, we believe parking should be one component to a much larger, diverse plan to improve access to downtown…

Read more

1 Comment

New Citywide 25MPH Speed Limit in NYC

New Citywide 25MPH Speed Limit in NYC. [PHOTO: Vision Zero, NYC.gov]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

New York City’s new lower citywide speed limit goes into effect today. In June the NY State legislature passed a bill that allowed NYC to lower its default speed limit to 25mph external link. Part of the city’s Vision Zero plan external link to eliminate traffic fatalities, the new lower default speed limit was approved by the City Council in October and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last week. And the new 25mph signs are going up today…

Read more

No Comments

Cuomo Approves Red Light Cameras Through 2019

Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo granted permission for several cities and counties in New York, including Rochester, to begin or continue red light camera programs until 2019. [PHOTO: Renee Stetzer]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo granted permission for several cities and counties in New York, including Rochester, to begin or continue red light camera programs until 2019. Red light camera programs remain a controversial topic, but cities all over the country are choosing to continue their programs as they strive to make their streets safer for all who traverse them. New York City Mayor de Blasio is leading the charge in our state with his Vision Zero external link plan, a multi-faceted approach to reducing traffic fatalities – and red light cameras are one of those facets…

Read more

20 Comments

Do Red Light Cameras Make Rochester Streets Safer?

Do Red Light Cameras Make Rochester Streets Safer? [PHOTO: FringeHog, Flickr]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

The City of Rochester began installing red light cameras in 2010. There are currently over 30 intersections equipped with red light cameras (see the full list and a map here external link) The cameras are active 24/7 and get still photos and video anytime a vehicle runs a red light. Registered owners of vehicles that are “captured” running red lights in those intersections are sent a Notice of Liability in the mail.

Many drivers, of course, do not like the presence of the cameras. They feel like big brother is watching…

Read more

No Comments

Join the Call for Safer Streets in Rochester

Lake Avenue at St. Bernard's Park Apartments where senior citizens regularly cross to pick up their bus on the opposite side of the street.
Last week the City of Rochester decided it would not move ahead with a planned road diet along Lake Avenue that many had hoped would improve safety for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and those who depend on bus service in the area. The Lake Avenue Improvement Project external link would have replaced two automobile lanes with a center turning lane and bike lanes. Due to pressure from the Charlotte neighborhood and merchants associations, city engineers will be sent back to the drawing board, ordered to keep all four auto lanes…

Read more