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Lake Avenue is Not Built For Everyone

Guest blog by Rachel Barnhart, who represents District 21 on the Monroe County Legislature and has been a longtime advocate for safer streets.

A driver struck and killed a woman walking on Lake Ave on September 17. She was at least the 90th pedestrian or cyclist injured or killed on Lake Ave in the mile-long stretch between Driving Park Ave and Lyell Ave over the last decade. That’s an average of nine people hurt every year in a distance we can walk in less than 20 minutes.

It’s time to make Lake Ave safe for everyone, particularly the people who live there.

About half of the people who live in the two census tracts on the west side of Lake Ave between Driving Park and Lyell live in poverty. More than one-third of the households do not own cars. They are using other means of transportation — walking, cycling and public transit. Yet Lake Ave is not built for the use of the people who call the surrounding blocks home. 

Lake Ave is built for speed. The road has 11-foot-wide lanes, 3-foot shoulders, recessed bus stops and turning lanes. These are all design elements conducive to high speeds. The speed limit on Lake Ave is 35 mph, a speed at which pedestrians have a 45 percent chance of being killed when struck. Speed data indicates that between Emerson St and Lexington Ave, half of drivers are going above 36 mph, and one in seven drivers is going above 42 mph. Driving on Lake Ave can be stressful, with tailgating, aggressive lane changes, and, yes, speeding.

A portion of Lake Ave, featuring six lanes.

When examining crash data over the last decade, it’s evident Lake Ave does not have enough traffic lights and they are not timed properly. There are not enough crosswalks, as you have to walk nearly a half-mile in one location between Driving Park and Lyell before encountering a designated place to cross. Lake Ave also takes pedestrians time to cross — it’s six lanes in some spots! In many locations, drivers can turn right on red and they can make left turns everywhere, further endangering pedestrians.

Imagine being a pedestrian or cyclist in this environment, especially on a cold, snowy or rainy day. You just want to cross the street to get to your bus stop, the grocery store, your job, or your friend’s house. But Lake Ave is not built for you. 

Despite the carnage, there is predictably no outcry to make Lake Ave safer for all who use the road. Lake Ave’s crash history sadly shows the correlation between poor street safety, race and poverty. Our culture is oriented toward the needs of drivers, no matter the collateral damage. We have an intense bias reflected in news stories that regularly use the passive voice to describe crashes. A pedestrian is “hit by a car,” not the person driving the car. We blame pedestrians for not following the rules of the road, even though drivers on Lake Ave routinely disregard traffic laws, such as the speed limit.

We can make Lake Ave work for everyone by redesigning the road. Unfortunately, drivers will fight for their ability to speed through neighborhoods, like when public opposition killed a road diet planned for a northern section of Lake Ave in 2014. There are still ideas on the table, such as Reconnect Rochester’s concept to make the Phelps Ave intersection safer.

A design rendering by Stantec for the intersection of Lake Ave & Phelps Ave, which came out of Reconnect’s 2018 Complete Streets Makeover program.

City leaders kicked off a Pace Car program on Lake Ave in 2016, which encouraged drivers to be more mindful of pedestrians and cyclists. That effort faded, but should be revived as part of a more comprehensive Vision Zero plan, which focuses on road design, enforcement and education to reduce crashes. 

Lake Ave is not built for everyone, but it could be one day, if we value the safety and quality of life of everyone who uses this corridor.

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Top ten things we’re most proud of in 2020.

2020 has been a year like no other.

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.

If you haven’t already, we hope you’ll take a look at the membership levels and gift options and make a donation toward our 2021 Membership Drive so we can hit the ground rolling in 2021!


TOP 10 THINGS WE’RE MOST PROUD OF IN 2020
(In no particular order of importance.)

#10

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!

#9

Installing 15 fiberglass bus stop cubes on Parsells, Lyell & Monroe Avenues to give RTS riders a respectable place to sit while they wait, and celebrated at a ribbon cutting event with City officials and project partners. Check out the Channel 8 news story and more photos of the ribbon cutting event.

#8

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.

#7

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.

#6

Joining forces with Rochester Cycling Alliance to weigh in on an untold number of transportation plans and projects, like the Priority Bicycle Boulevards plan, GTC’s Long Range Transportation Plan, and infrastructure projects all over the City and County. Our favorite win this year was a final design for E. Main Street that includes dedicated bike lanes, a result of working alongside neighborhood partners to advocate for a street design that accommodates ALL users.

#5

Publicly expressing our solidarity with the movement toward racial justice in our community by signing on to the community statement that Racism is a Public Health Crisis. We also committed to reflect and actively work on holding ourselves accountable for living up to our professed values of equity and inclusion, and centering anti-racism in our work.

#4

Exponentially expanding cycling focused programs and outreach led by the Rochester Cycling Alliance during the first full year of our organizations coming together. A film screening and panel discussion of the Dutch film Why We Cycle, a virtual update on the City’s bike infrastructure, on-bike classes at the Rochester Public market, a bike law refresher video for Rochester Police Department officers, and many more accomplishments too numerous to name.

#3

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.

#2

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!

#1

Traveling to Albany to meet with local legislators and advocate for a legislative platform to improve transportation in our region, developed in partnership with Our Streets Transit Coalition member organizations.


…and that doesn’t even count the ways we spark community engagement and conversation every day through social media shares and blog posts about things like the survival of public transit, the benefits of reduced motor traffic, or the automobile and racial exclusivity.

We think that’s a pretty darn good Top 10 list for a disrupted kind of year.

Just imagine what we can do in 2021!