Next time you walk, ride or roll along Parsells, Lyell or Monroe Avenues, you’ll notice a bright new addition to the streetscape. This month, cubes made from fiberglass were installed at 5 bus stops along each of these corridors, offering RTS riders a respectable place to sit while they wait.
The City of Rochester and RTS have been tremendous partners on this project. Thanks especially to DES Commissioner Norm Jones and City Councilmember Mitch Gruber for championing the effort, along with City staff across many departments who worked hand-in-hand with us to see this to fruition. We also couldn’t have done it without our neighborhood partners in Beechwood, Lyell-Otis and Upper Monroe, or the funders that stepped up to contribute.
Cubes for Your Community
This is just the beginning! We hope the pilot project will lead to bus stop cubes in more Rochester neighborhoods and beyond. Reconnect Rochester will continue to work with RTS, local municipalities and community organizations throughout Monroe County to identify bus stops in the system that are well utilized but lack seating.
Would you like to see cubes at bus stops in YOUR neighborhood or community?Contact us and we’ll do our best to work with you to secure funding and make it happen.
Are you from outside the Monroe County area and interested in purchasing bus stop cubes for your town or city?Contact us and we’ll put you in touch with the manufacturer. Reconnect Rochester receives a sales commission that helps fuel our effort to put more bus stop cubes on the ground locally.
Why Are We Doing This Anyway?
Anyone who has ever used public transportation in Rochester is painfully aware of two things: At some point you will have to wait for your bus, and when you do, you will probably be standing.
For senior citizens, people with disabilities, and parents with young children, being made to stand for any length of time can be less than ideal. Even for those passengers who are physically capable of standing, having no place to sit while waiting on the side of a busy roadway can cause anxiety and discomfort.
Why is our bus system the only transportation mode that requires its passengers to stand while waiting for the service? The single biggest issue is the sheer scale of the system. There are thousands of bus stops in the RTS network, and the resources of the transit authority are already spread thin.
If this issue could be remedied, not only would we make the lives of current riders a little easier, but we might also encourage more people to use public transportation. This is why Reconnect Rochester has decided to make bus stop seating a priority for our community.
How Did This Project Come About?
In 2017, after 3 years piloting seasonal bus stop cubes made from high-pressured wood, Reconnect Rochester set out to find a permanent, year-round amenity for bus riders. In our research, we came upon a local manufacturer of fiberglass — a nearly indestructible, weather resistant material that was perfect for the job! It took about three years of stops-and-starts to design and manufacture the fiberglass model that you see today.
To go further back in history and learn more about how the bus cube concept came to be, check out the Bus Cube Birth Story on our website.
“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.
by Jesse Peers, cycling coordinator at Reconnect Rochester
“The bicycle is in many ways the easiest solution to a multitude of problems.” – Anna Brones in Hello, Bicycle
As a bicycle instructor, I love teaching bike classes and presentations in our area. (If you want to book a lunch n’ learn presentation for your workplace, library or community group, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org). Before going in depth on any subject, I spend a few slides at the beginning highlighting the benefits of biking. It’s not enough just to tell people how to bike safely. You have to inspire them to bike in the first place. There are powerful financial, health and environmental benefits that accrue from biking. And although it only takes one of these reasons to get on a bike, you and society will benefit in a variety of ways for doing so.
My hope with this blog is not only to “preach the cycling gospel,” but to familiarize readers with Rochester’s goals and policies, particularly its groundbreaking Rochester 2034 Plan. As I’ve gravitated towards bike advocacy in recent years, I was pleased to discover that my hometown also sees the benefits of getting more citizens on bikes. The City of Rochester has many plans in motion to better our city and many of those plans incorporate getting more people on bikes.
Choice, equity & “complete streets”
In line with New York State, Rochester adopted its own Complete Streets Policy in 2011, in which it “recognizes that our streets should accommodate a wide range of transportation modes…Our streets are a reflection of our community…” According to the most recent US Census Bureau American Community Survey five-year estimates (2017), 25.3% of all households in the City of Rochester do not have access to a private vehicle. In some neighborhoods like JOSANA, over 46% of households do not own automobiles (Source: JOSANA Study).
The City defines a complete street as one that “accommodates all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and persons with disabilities.” Moreover the recent 2034 Plan expresses clear concern for “an overly car-dependent culture” and acknowledges that residents want choice when it comes to transportation. “The City’s statement of support for these values helps set the bike community up to advocate for specific projects and improvements.
Household & Society Finances
Each fall, the American Automobile Association (AAA) puts out an updated estimate of the average annual cost of car ownership. As anyone who’s ever owned a car knows, this cost goes beyond just paying for the vehicle itself: interest, insurance, gas, maintenance, registration and depreciation add up considerably. Though we can expect Rochesterians to spend less than the average ($9,282 a year for a new car), in a city where the per capita income is well below the national average, $6,000 or more a year to spend on a car is too big a piece of the household financial pie. By biking for some trips, Rochesterians can save serious money.
In addition to the financial burden cars impose on households, we also need to recognize that society loses money from prioritizing and incentivizing car travel. As our friend Arian Horbovetz points out so well, every form of transportation is subsidized. No form of transportation pays for itself. It stands to reason then that municipalities, especially those with limited funds in hard times, ought to prioritize infrastructure funding for modes of travel that are available to everyone, not just those who can afford to own a personal vehicle.
“It is pure poetry that a 19th-century invention is capable of solving complicated 21st-century issues.” – Mikael Colville-Andersen in Copenhagenize
As Lynn Richards, the President & CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, told us last year in her Reshaping Rochester talk for the Community Design Center, downtowns with abundant, cheap parking have city halls that struggle to pay the bills. A frequent line from those administrations is “Yeah, [your idea] is great but we don’t have the money.” Vibrant downtowns use valuable urban real estate to make money, put a price on parking and incentivize other modes of travel. Next time you hear someone say good bike infrastructure is too expensive, remind them that “One mile of a protected bike lane is 100x cheaper than one mile of roadway” and that by prioritizing cars, they are prioritizing the mode too many residents can’t afford.
City documents and plans that support these values:
The 2034 plan asserts that “increasing the ability of residents to bike will provide residents who don’t own cars with an alternative to get to work or the store.”
Rochester Bicycle Master Plan: “Improving bicycling conditions is a cost effective way of optimizing existing public infrastructure.”
Bike Rochester webpage: Increased disposable income can result in increased spending in the local marketplace, which would boost the local economy.
2034: Vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods with strong economies “limit auto-oriented uses and design.”
As Peter Walker points out in How Cycling Can Save The World, “the health incentives for cycling massively outweigh the perils…Every year about 700 Americans die on bikes, a figure that could and should be significantly lower. But over the same period at least 200,000 of their compatriots die from conditions linked to a lack of physical activity.” And don’t forget that “more Americans have died in car crashes since 2000 than in both World Wars.”
Moderate biking “has been found to have an almost miraculous effect” on health, “in part because it is so easy to incorporate into everyday life…Cyclists don’t just get extra life years, they’re more likely to remain mobile and independent into older age.” A recent UK study found that bike commuters had a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer.
City documents and plans that support these values:
Evaluation of Trail Entry Conditions and Recommendations for Improvements: The City of Rochester proudly promotes healthy communities and lifestyles.
2034: Residents bicycling instead of driving incorporate exercise into their daily routine, which increases overall health.
2034: The City wants to improve public health by making Rochester more walkable and bikeable
2034: On-street bike networks allow residents to access to recreation, world-class trails and parks improves public health
UC Davis found that if only 14% of urban trips worldwide were taken on bikes, we’d reduce emissions enough to meet the Paris Climate Goals. This is so doable! If people used their cars for when the weather was bad, when the distances are too long and when there’s more than one occupant in the car, we’d live in a different world. If you only hopped on a bike for short solo trips in good weather, it’d make a massive difference.
By the way, any idea where the most polluted air is concentrated? Where the unhealthiest air is to breathe? It’s around our schools every morning and every afternoon. “Pick-up and drop-off times create clouds of invisible yet toxic diesel fumes” as buses idle.
City documents and plans that support these values:
In its Climate Action Plan, the City acknowledges the urgent need to “reduce vehicle miles traveled” along with “single occupant vehicle trips.”
Transportation currently accounts for about a quarter of GHG emissions in Rochester. Policies and actions that make it easier to make trips by foot, bicycle, and transit, can help the community reduce transportation-related GHG emissions.
2034: Installation of various bicycle infrastructure elements (bike lanes, protected lanes, bike boulevards, bike share system, bike parking/storage, bike maintenance stations) to encourage this cleaner, healthier mode of transportation.
2034: Single-occupancy vehicles are detrimental to the environment…Motor vehicles are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, alternate modes of transportation, such as walking, biking, riding the bus, or carpooling can greatly cut down on the environmental impact of traveling.
2034: The more trips made by bicycle means fewer motor vehicles on the road, which decreases congestion on our streets, lowers the demand for parking, and decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere.
2034: Bike infrastructure encourages cleaner modes of transportation
2034: The more trips made by bicycle means fewer vehicles on the road, which decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere.
2034: The City Department of Environmental Services is a bringing more green infrastructure to the city and is pursuing an aggressive plan to reduce Rochester’s carbon footprint.
Anytime we advocate for safer, more equitable streets and better bike infrastructure, we need to point to Rochester’s goals and plans and how the whole community will benefit from encouraging bicycling. And when City Hall delivers, let them know your appreciation!
Join us for a virtual screening of the inspirational Dutch film Why We Cycle on Thursday, September 10, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Zoom. Following the film, there will be a live panel discussion with community leaders and advocates. We’ll use the film as a springboard to reflect on how we can get more Rochesterians on bikes. See event details and register at www.ReconnectRochester.org/streetfilms.
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.
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.
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.
Authored by Arian Horbovetz, Reconnect Rochester Board Member
In these suddenly uncertain times, the urbanist virtues of density and public transit are negated by the public responsibility of social distancing. The idea that our cities are cooperative centers of shared innovation, inspiration and collective efficiency has suddenly given way to the real and justifiable fears of physical proximity and viral transmission. Suddenly, many of the qualities that make cities amazing places are the very things that can also promote the spread of the Coronavirus.
Estimates for transit are grim. Transit agencies across the country are likely seeing an estimated 50%- 90% decrease in ridership. And this is after a 20-year increase in transit utilization suddenly took a dive around 2015, largely due to the popularity of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. This viral gut-punch will likely be another blow to the vital community resource that is public transportation.
Experts estimate that transit agencies will lose $26-$38 billion in revenue as a result of the necessary steps of social distancing, remote work and the closing of non-essential businesses. While this is a monumental blow to the already-strained budgets of nearly every transit system in the nation, it would likely be one that many small-to-midsized cities simply could not overcome. Without the aforementioned assistance from the Federal Government, transit agencies across the nation would have to discontinue important routes and services.
An estimated 36% of transit riders are workers in essential industries such as health care. In a time when our hospital capacities are being pushed to their limits and the presence of essential staff is critical, the importance of reliable public transportation cannot be overstated.
What About Long Term?
The seamless functionality of public transit during this period of uncertainty is tremendously important for public health. But when we finally mitigate the spread of this virus and begin the return to societal normalcy, we will need public transit to help facilitate the economic recovery of our communities. Getting people back to work, back to more frequent trips to stores and fun nights out with friends will all be partially dependent on public transit to help sew the fabric of cities like Rochester back together. A high-functioning RTS bus network here in our community will be a critical safety net, softening the horrific economic impact the coronavirus has already inflicted on our city. Transit can help families do what they need to do now, so that when this time passes, those same families are more likely to fully recover and regenerate our local economy.
Speaking Of RTS
RTS was expected to roll out their long-awaited Reimagine RTS system re-design plan on June 29th of this year, with revised routes, increased frequency on popular routes and “mobility zones” in outlying areas. In a statement last week, RTS CEO Bill Carpenter announced that the rollout of this new plan would be delayed indefinitely.
RTS has, however, remained dedicated to providing riders with regular service while adding more frequent and thorough cleanings of buses and facilities while temporarily waiving fares on all routes.
Just when cities like Rochester were beginning to have meaningful conversations about the tremendous social and economic benefits of public transportation, the pandemic we now face will likely have a lasting impact on how we view and interact with public spaces. Since the nature of public transit is physically shared mobility, with close seats, handrails and pull-cords, the understandable long-term stigma generated by the pandemic may mean that riders who can afford to choose more individualized transportation will do so, at least in the short term. In the future, public transit agencies may have to feature newer, cleaner buses, trains and facilities to mitigate what is likely to be a lasting psychological aversion to touching and interacting with public surfaces. And while this aversion will lessen with time, how we, the rider, approach the choice to take public transit from the perspective of our personal health, may never be the same.
We Need Public Transportation
The $25 billion emergency public transit infusion from the federal government that will help to lessen the blow during this difficult period was made possible only by staunch advocacy from organizations and individuals who know the importance of transit in our communities. Those of us who understand transit’s inherent ability to promote equity and mobility options for Rochester and beyond must continue to advocate politically, socially and personally for a robust commitment to public transportation.
Finally, in this time, it is important to remember that many of the folks who are on the front lines, keeping us safe, healthy, and well fed, are the people who rely on public transportation for their everyday commute. And when this difficult time passes, public transit will, as it always has, play in an integral role in Rochester’s economic recovery, connecting people to jobs and resources.
Our city will always be stronger and more adaptable when we have an abundance of mobility options. When our diverse community of citizens are empowered with transportation choices, our Rochester will always be more successful, more equitable and more resilient. We will get through this… and when we do, we will need public transit to do what it has always done, and more.
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.
As part of its new Comprehensive Plan, Rochester 2034, the City of Rochester is studying which major streets have the best potential for “transit supportive development” in Rochester. Transit supportive development encourages a mix of complementary activities and destinations (e.g., housing, work, shopping, services, and entertainment) along major streets and centers. This kind of development helps create compact, vibrant communities where it’s easier for people to walk, bike, and use public transit to get around. Read more
Last week RGRTA announced a plan to “Reimagine RTS.” Reconnect Rochester believes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community to get mass transportation right. We all have a stake in the success of our public transportation system and it is critical that RGRTA and its project team have access to thoughts and ideas from every demographic and every corner of our community. To help, we have compiled our ideas and recommendations, and we are asking you all to do the same.
But first, we need to understand how we got here.
Rochester’s public transportation network was originally designed to carry people between downtown and densely populated surrounding neighborhoods. As our residential population, commerce, and jobs spread outward with the adoption of the automobile, RGRTA attempted to follow this migration by extending service outward. With lower population densities in the suburbs, the stretched transit company found itself facing an impossible choice: expand service to reach fewer customers, or maintain its existing service area for a dwindling urban population.
After decades of attempting to do both, the quality of service in Monroe County has suffered. Those who rely on transit are underserved, and those who might choose to ride rather than drive do not. We hear complaints from riders about infrequent service, long trip times, perceived safety issues, and the need to walk great distances to reach their bus stop or final destination. Clearly, we need systemic changes to improve service and increase the viability of our public transit network.
RGRTA recognizes these issues and is now taking a bold step to design “a new transit system from the ground up.”
Our Top 5 Recommendations to Make Rochester Transit Great (again)
Reconnect Rochester has surveyed its members on how to improve Rochester’s public transit system to serve the greatest number of people. Our recommendations are prioritized below.
1. Make service more frequent and consistent.
Current routes and schedules are too complex and inconsistent. To build confidence and make people believe they will have a ride available when they need it:
Vehicles should run every 30 minutes or less throughout the entire system.
Vehicles should run every 15 minutes or less on key routes during peak hours.
Routes, schedules and frequencies should be consistent throughout the weekday and on weekends.
Vehicles should depart from the terminal on time.
Even spacing should be maintained between buses.
The number and placement of new bus stops should follow the recommendations outlined previously in the RTS Bus Stop Optimization Study (2014) to strike a balance between pedestrian accessibility and system performance.
Outlying routes or segments that cannot support 30 minute frequency (either with ridership or private sector funding) may need to be eliminated, or serious consideration should be given to servicing these areas by other means.
2. Make routes more direct.
Many routes currently have unnecessary turns and deviations, meaning most trips take much longer than they should. The current hub and spoke layout also makes it difficult to transfer between routes without going downtown. To improve efficiency and provide the fastest possible trip time:
Routes should be designed to take the most direct path between major destinations. Twists, turns and “zig-zags” should be eliminated.
Buses should not run into and through office complexes and strip mall parking lots. Instead, municipalities need to work to make sure transit access is provided by direct and convenient pedestrian access through a site to the edge of the public right of way.
It should be possible to switch (or transfer) between routes from any point in the network.
Adjacent routes should be placed within walking distance from each other and service staggered to make it easier for riders to switch from one bus to another on a nearby route.
Provisions should be made for other modes of travel at major bus stops or satellite hubs (i.e., ridesharing and bike share stations, safe and accessible pedestrian infrastructure, information/signage, etc.).
It should be possible to travel between the county’s four quadrants without transferring downtown.
Crosstown or orbital routes should be added near the perimeter of the city where radial routes diverge.
Work with other transit providers to make existing crosstown routes (e.g., U of R’s Orange Line) available for riders.
Work with the City and DOT to design streets that prioritize transit (as well as pedestrians and cyclists) over private motor vehicles.
Install curb extensions at transit stops (as opposed to curb cutouts) to eliminate time spent weaving in and out of traffic.
Optimize traffic signals to improve reliability by allowing buses to maintain a constant speed, and reducing time spent at red lights.
Utilize dedicated lanes to move buses more quickly through crowded streets.
3. Right-size the service.
Many routes receive high ridership near the core of the network, resulting in overcrowded, slow moving buses there and nearly empty buses for the remainder of the routes. To relieve overcrowding and improve service in high demand areas:
Some routes may require express and local access service.
Consider eliminating outlying routes or segments where demand is low.
Vehicles should be selected according to demand.
Heavily used routes within the core of Monroe County should be serviced by 40’ or larger vehicles, while lesser used routes could be serviced by vans or other systems altogether (i.e., ride-sharing).
Where necessary, transit vehicles should be outfitted to accommodate more bicycles.
4. Make transit accessible and easy to use.
In recent years RGRTA has added several systems and technologies that have made it easier and more enjoyable to use transit. These include the fully enclosed RTS Transit Center, fare kiosks, Tap & Go fare cards, digital signage, and a mobile trip planning app. The following recommendations would make RTS even easier to use and more welcoming to new customers:
Improve integration with other modes and transit systems.
Institute an integrated payment solution so that one “currency” can be used across a variety of transportation systems (i.e., one stored-value pass to pay for bus fare, rideshare, taxi, or bike share that could be replenished online or at a kiosk).
Include data from other transportation companies within the RTS mobile app.
Share data and synchronize service between other transit providers such as college bus systems, Amtrak, and intercity buses.
Work with municipal staff and land use boards in development review and site design. Employment locations, services, retail, and higher density residential development should occur within a half mile of transit corridors. The details of site design such as building placement and internal pedestrian circulation networks are critical in supporting transit.
A dynamic transit frequency map should be published for municipalities to evaluate whether transit is a realistic mobility option for a given development or not. There’s a huge difference in a site served by buses every 2 hours versus one served by buses every 20 minutes. Frequency information is not captured on a typical system route map (see for example these maps by Reconnect Rochester and this article by Jarrett Walker).
School routes (currently designated with an X) should not add complexity to the published schedules.
Provide basic amenities for transit riders at all bus stops.
Safe and accessible sidewalk connection from curb pick-up
Route map and information
Provide enhanced amenities for transit riders at heavily used stops and hubs.
Work with municipalities to enact a maintenance plan for all bus stops.
Provide riders with real-time information
Countdown clocks with real-time information should be installed at all major transit stops and hubs (i.e., URMC, colleges, Airport, Rochester Intermodal Station, Irondequoit Plaza, etc.).
Work with municipalities and property owners to display real-time information screens at highly visible locations such as schools, shopping centers, arenas, office and apartment buildings (i.e., TransitScreen).
Provide additional off-board and cash-free fare payment methods (i.e., kiosks at major transit stops where passengers can buy Tap & Go cards, mobile ticketing via the RTS app or a 3rd party app such as Token Transit, etc.).
Explore ways to allow boarding at both front and rear doors.
5. Stay competitive through innovation.
A business succeeds by staying ahead of the competition. Beyond the recommendations outlined in sections 1-4, it will be imperative for RTS to:
Continually monitor customer needs and local market conditions in order to identify areas for improvement, industry trends and opportunities to attract new customers.
Offer classes or seminars on “how to ride the bus.” Many people are reluctant to try the bus, in part, because they are unfamiliar with it.
Have a bike rack mock-up device so people can practice loading a bike into the rack without the pressure of a bus full of people watching.
Expand offerings by studying the feasibility of new systems and upgrades such as:
Fixed guideway and/or bus rapid transit on core routes
Smaller self-driving vehicles for local or on-demand service
Work with the City and County to manage land use in a way that complements service patterns. Future service can then be planned based on land use decisions.
Work with municipalities, key neighborhood groups, and large employers to establish Transportation Demand Management entities and co-promote public transit as a solution to congestion and costly parking.
Step up marketing efforts and always maintain a fresh image reflecting the unique selling points of RTS.
Develop example language/assistance for municipalities, event planners, retailers, employers etc. that highlight the ability to use transit to access the event. Too often events or meeting notices provide parking information without information about public transit. Rochester International Jazz Festival does a good job of this.
Share Your Suggestions
We hope our suggestions will give you a framework from which to craft your own thoughts for RTS. Please feel free to steal our list straight away. Or if you have ideas not mentioned above, we’d love to hear them in the comments section below.
We also urge you to attend the first public meeting for this project on October 25th from 6:00-7:30PM at the Brockport Metro Center. And don’t forget to visit www.myRTS.com/reimagine to submit your comments and stay updated on this important project over the next 12 months.
Moments ago RGRTA announced plans to study sweeping changes to the RTS (Monroe County) transit system. The effort is being called Reimagine RTS and the goal is to develop a set of recommendations to address the community’s mobility needs, increase transit ridership, and position RTS for long-term financial sustainability.
This week RTS introduced a new Tap & Go! RTS Fast Pass. The new fare card lets customers simply tap it on the fare box (on the bulls-eye) when boarding. When the fare is accepted the fare box will beep or you will hear “fare deducted” to know you have successfully paid your fare.
If customers make use of the new Tap & Go! cards they should make boarding a lot faster which would be a good thing for everyone. Currently, riders insert their fare card into a slot and then must wait a moment for the card to pop back out – or worse, fumble for change. And when you serve thousands of riders every day, those seconds add up.
In addition to quicker boarding times, RTS CEO Bill Carpenter says the new technology at the fare box also lays the groundwork for improved payment options in the future. “The information and experience we gain from the Tap & Go! passes represents the first step toward technological improvements that may include refillable bus passes, fare boxes that accept credit card payments, mobile payment options on smart phones, and a Tap & Go! smart phone app.”
For many of us transit fans, those features can’t come fast enough. But for now, here is what customers need to know about Tap & Go!:
Tap & Go! passes are available for purchase online at myRTS.com, or one of the ticket vending machines at the RTS Transit Center or the RTS Administration Building.
They are available as a 5-Day Unlimited, 31-Day Unlimited, and stored value pass.
The pass is activated with the first tap on the bus.
Customers can check their card balance at any RTS ticket vending machine.
Tap & Go! RTS Fast Passes are not currently refillable.
The old magnetic fare cards in other denominations are still available.
Also… New Text Message and Email Alerts
And in case you missed it, last month RTS introduced another way for customers to receive service and schedule announcements: via email or text message. Transit riders with smartphones and the RTS Where’s My Bus App already receive timely alerts and information through the app. Text and Email alerts now give customers another option.
Or simply text the words “OPT IN RTS ALL” to (585) 433-0855. If you only want alerts for a specific route, replace the word “ALL” with your specific route number. For example, to sign up for text message alerts for the Route 1 Lake, text “OPT IN RTS 1.”
You can also opt-in for information outside Monroe County. Simply follow the same instructions above, but use your county code listed below:
RTS Genesee: “OPT IN GEN ALL” or “OPT IN GEN 1”
RTS Livingston: “OPT IN LIV ALL” or “OPT IN LIV 1”
Recent articles have highlighted Rochester’s dependency on parking, and have illustrated how our over-reliance on parking is limiting downtown development. This is in turn limiting how many jobs can be located in the city, and many people are beginning to make the connections between the location of jobs, access to jobs, and our debilitating poverty problem.
Reconnect Rochester envisions a community connected by a robust transportation network that makes it easy for everyone—regardless of physical or economic ability—to get around. To achieve this vision, it is important for us to prioritize our goals, and focus on activities that have the greatest potential to advance those goals in a measurable way. You can help us by answering this quick survey…
New York’s 2016-17 state budget contains increases in appropriations for transit operating and capital aid, and also includes a commitment to fund a 5-year capital program for Non-MTA transit systems, the first multiyear capital program in many years. The final budget provides significant increases in transit capital and operating aid over last year’s levels and addresses a number of NYPTA’s priorities…
As Gridlock Sam Schwartz told us this past Wednesday, Rochester is a city ‘on the cusp’ and improving its transportation network is critical in keeping the momentum. The Community Design Center’s upcoming ReShaping Rochester lecture titled Mobility: Transportation as a Leveler will likely build on that message. It is exciting to us at Reconnect that these progressive transportation leaders are making their rounds through Rochester to share experiences and (hopefully) spark some action!
Given Rochester’s appalling poverty rate, ensuring access to goods, services, jobs and education through public transportation is especially important. Around 28,000 low-income households in our area have no vehicles. Transportation can be a huge barrier to accessing jobs, education, healthcare and other essential services…
The map above shows Rochester’s public transit network. Looks impressive with all of its lines stretching out across Monroe County. From Webster to Chili; Greece to Penfield; there’s a bus or two to get you there. On the other hand, if our transit network were really as good as it looks on this map, why are less than 2% of all trips in Rochester made using public transit?
Hmmm… Maybe because parking is cheaper than air here in Rochester?
Well, yes. But also, this map might be overstating the effective reach of RTS. Remember, a transit system is only good if it’s there when you need it…
RTS customers will soon see improvements and added service to the Henrietta-Jefferson Road corridor in the Town of Henrietta. Existing bus routes being modified are 24/24A Marketplace Mall/East Henrietta and 101 Avon. New routes will be designated 23 Jefferson Rd., 83 Calkins Rd. and 124 Marketplace Limited. The changes are expected to streamline service and provide greater access to key retail, business and residential destinations. Changes will go into effect on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. RTS has scheduled six information sessions for customers and community residents to learn about the route changes…
ROC Transit Day is next week – Thursday, June 18. Rochester will be going car-free in support of a healthier community and we’ve lined up a fun day to celebrate… bus rides for you and the family, a street dance competition , city-wide treasure hunt , music all afternoon outside Rochester Central Library. Oh, and did someone say flash mob ?
So if you haven’t already, pull together a team of friends or co-workers and hop a bus on June 18. And if you need fare cards, contact us now . See the full event schedule…