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ROC Cycling: Knowing Our Weaknesses, Building On Our Strengths

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

When I saw the trailer for Why We Cycle years ago, I instantly knew how special this film was. Finally someone had made a gorgeous film about the myriad of reasons why people all over the world choose to traverse their communities by bike. I’m glad we were able to screen the documentary for a Rochester Street Films event in September 2020 and use it as a springboard to discuss local values and goals.

If you haven’t seen the film or weren’t able to take part in our panel discussion, watch them here.

Rent (or buy) the film

Watch our panel discussion

As our moderator, Mona Seghatoleslami, wrapped up the great discussion that evening, she said, rightly so, that “this is just the beginning of a lot of things.” Let’s examine several takeaways from the film itself, the chat amongst viewers, and our panel discussion, and where we go from here.

Culture at Large

Some participants felt our screening of this Dutch film was too lofty and dreamy. In terms of culture-at-large, we agree. Comparing the Netherlands and ROC is apples to oranges. Dutch culture is indeed vastly different! The Netherlands prides itself on having an egalitarian society, in which they strive for everyone to be shown respect. If you haven’t noticed, the U.S. has much room to improve in this regard to say the least. But that doesn’t mean we have to overturn societal values before we can become a more equitable community in terms of mobility, though that won’t keep us from trying. Other cities of all sizes surpassing Rochester in the national bike rankings proves this.

Being Vigilant and Showing Up

Our panelists made clear that to attain better bike infrastructure, it takes being involved in the process, showing up at meetings (even virtual ones these days) and organizing ourselves. As the old adage goes, “if you don’t do politics, politics will do you.” If the bike community was under the impression that after the adoption of the 2034 Plan, which encourages implementation of “complete streets” designs that accommodate ALL modes of travel, that this would happen overnight with no need for continued advocacy, we were mistaken (see State Street).

One of the words that was spoken over and over during our panel discussion, particularly from Brighton’s Robin Wilt, was “demand.” Just as the Dutch rose up in the 1970s to demand safer road conditions and greater accountability, the active mobility community is going to have to demand safer streets that are designed for all modes of travel, not just cars. We have to keep our leaders accountable to the 2034 Plan, remind them of their values and goals, and when opportunities arise, vote for leaders who stand behind this progressive, multimodal vision.

The Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) does our best to get the word out about public input sessions and other advocacy opportunities. Please make sure you’re on our mailing list and take those opportunities to provide input.

Rochester’s not a bad biking city!

There were varying opinions held by viewers about Rochester’s bikeability — some negative, some positive. Let’s look at the bright side first and identify some of Rochester’s advantages participants took note of in the chat: We are blessed to have the Genesee Riverway Trail, Erie Canal Trail, and an abundance of water and stellar public parks in our community. People pay a lot of money to come from all over the world to Cycle the Erie and we have free access nearby! Overall Rochester is pretty flat, which makes getting somewhere by bike less arduous. And the average city resident has a 4.1-mile commute to work, a journey that can be done by bike at a casual pace in less than 25 minutes.

As several people pointed out in the chat, Rochester has an impressive bike culture for a city of our size. There’s a wide variety of groups with different riding styles, and open-invite group rides take place most evenings during the riding season.

Rochester was awarded a bronze level status as a Bike-Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists in 2012, 2016 and 2020. That’s not bad! A bronze status means we’re on the right track. Yes, there is a lot to be improved if we want to reach silver or gold, but we are a decent biking city already. In fact, I firmly believe Rochester could become the best biking city in the Great Lakes. It’s more within reach for us than other cities due to the advantages noted above. I know many people who are already of the opinion that Rochester is one of the #BikeLife’s greatest secrets. There are affordable neighborhoods within a 15-minute ride of downtown where car-free living is absolutely attainable. If biking on busy, main thoroughfares isn’t your thing (we don’t blame you!), often there are parallel side streets through residential neighborhoods that will get you to your destination in a timely, less stressful way. If you want to get more comfortable on your bike, consider signing up for one of our on-bike classes sometime.

Our Biggest Weakness: Not Zooming Out

Yes, Rochester is making progress in expanding our bike infrastructure. But there was a consensus on participants in the chat that the current process doesn’t work. As it is now, bike infrastructure is installed “where possible” along small, segment-by-segment stretches. Each self-contained project is overseen by a different design firm and it’s apparent there is no overall network vision guiding this process along predetermined priority routes. Because of this, we get a piecemeal, patchwork result where you can bike on one street for several miles and encounter bike lanes, sharrows or nothing at all.

Even the gorgeous cycletrack along Union Street got knocked pretty hard during our chat: It sure is pretty, but what’s it supposed to do? It doesn’t go anywhere and, as bidirectional cycletracks on one side of the street often do, it creates awkward transitions for those on bike.

“There’s a consensus emerging in the bike world that it’s more about quality of bike infrastructure than quantity (how many miles of bike lanes doesn’t matter as much as how safe & stress-free those miles are).” ~Brent Toderian

Furthermore, though the City is chipping away at its Bike Master Plan, albeit in small, often disconnected pieces, the suburbs for the most part have yet to get on board. Cyclists might be somewhat comfortable on some city streets with bike infrastructure and lower speed limits, but once they cross the city line into surrounding towns, that infrastructure disappears too much of the time.

Instead of a city full of bike lanes which are uncomfortable for most residents, we need to focus on less mileage but higher quality (protected!) bike lanes along strategic routes. Rochester and Monroe County could also use a more top-down “let it be!” approach when it comes to a usable bike network.

“The fast implementation of projects proved to be far more effective than the traditional model of attempting to achieve near unanimity on projects even when you already have consensus that the status quo doesn’t work. Efforts to reach an idealized consensus have resulted in years of indecision, inaction, and paralysis-by-analysis.” ~Streetfight (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow)

Getting local leaders out of their cars

This next topic brought up by participants is probably unrealistic, but holy moly would it move the needle like nothing else! (And it was discussed on September 12th): Getting elected officials, engineers and planners out of their cars. I suspect that many people in our governments and design firms who design and approve bike infrastructure, may never use that bike infrastructure themselves. If officials had to bike solo in rush hour through every segment of infrastructure they approved, we’d likely see very different bike infrastructure.

“In my perfect world, anyone working on bicycle infrastructure or planning should be handed a bicycle and told to ride it in their city for a month…That would certainly force the issue in the minds of the inexperienced or skeptical. We have been thinking car-first for decades, and that worked out pretty well for motorists and the engineers who cater to them. Now it’s time to switch it up.” ~Copenhagenize (Colville-Andersen)

More than a quarter of Rochesterians don’t drive everywhere, either by need or by choice. How incredible would it be for elected officials to show solidarity with their constituents and get around town a quarter of the time without their cars?

“When I look around the world at the growing list of cities that are once again taking the bicycle seriously, I can identify one primary factor: political leadership. Advocates and activists continue to do their part, pushing from the bottom upward. At the end of the day, though, it seems that policymakers exercising top-down leadership are the catalysts for real change…Politicians may notice…a personal brand boost when they take matters to the next level.” ~Copenhagenize (Colville-Andersen)

Representing All

Finally, panelist Mitch Gruber urged Rochester’s active mobility and bike community to do a better job of outreach to neighborhoods that don’t look like us – of listening to people who use their bikes in different ways than we do. This is something Reconnect Rochester is committed to working on. Our recent signing of the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group’s statement that Racism is a Public Health Crisis was only a start.

Going into 2021, join us in being vocal about the benefits of biking to elected officials, stay tuned for advocacy opportunities, and join us for one of our workshops and cyclist gatherings in 2021.

Want to join the RCA email list to stay abreast of these opportunities? Drop me a note at jesse@reconnectrochester.org and request to be added!

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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!

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Riding United

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

Cyclists are often lumped together, yet it doesn’t take long to discover that the bicycle community is a vastly diverse community. There are so many people out there biking for different reasons. Some ride for casual, fun recreation; others ride because it’s their only option for getting around. Some really concentrate on the fitness and efficiency aspects of cycling; others don’t pay attention to their speed or efficiency. Some get a real high from joining group rides; others view the bike simply as their preferred way of getting from one place to another.

Despite this incredible diversity, it’s easy for the public and community leaders to dismiss cyclists as fringe, recreational hobbyists. Many don’t understand the full picture of who cycles in our community, for what purpose and how many people rely on bikes as transportation. We are people from all walks of life who ride bikes and want safer conditions for our families.

Most bike clubs and advocacy organizations have been primarily represented by white males, with efforts focused on those who have a choice to ride. That narrow focus is quite incomplete and has left large segments of the cycling community under-represented, and even invisible at times. For example, recent data tells us that “lower-income people of color are the largest cohort of U.S. bicyclists and represent the fastest growing demographic in bicycling.” Yet much of the bike advocacy in this country has not been aimed at neighborhoods where improving safety and accessibility could benefit that largest cohort.

This shortcoming is something the Rochester bike community must wrestle with, as we strive to create a more equitable transportation network in our region. We live in one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the nation, and we see this unfortunate divide reflected in our own bike community. Some bike groups say they welcome everyone, yet their lack of representation may create a perceived barrier to entry.

Achieving diversity is going to take work.

At Reconnect Rochester, we admit we’ve got work to do. Reconnect was founded more than 10 years ago to champion transportation choices that enable a more vibrant and equitable community, and yet our membership, board, staff, and leadership are not representative of the Rochester community. As an organization, we are reflecting on how we can hold ourselves accountable for living up to our professed values of equity and inclusion, and how we can center anti-racism in our work. As a first step, we have signed the Greater Rochester NY Black Agenda Group’s declaration that “Racism is a Public Health Crisis.”

So what can you do?

  • If you help organize a bike group or occasional rides, be intentional about reaching out beyond your circle. Bike rides tend not to get more diverse over time and bucking this trend takes serious work. Go to the rides below, make new friends, and tell others about existing rides and clubs. Also give thought to how people get to your ride. Is your ride accessible for people without cars?
  • Support the ROC Freedom Riders and attend their rides. This great local group defines themselves as: “A movement comprising Black people and their allies riding bikes to Black Spaces, Black Places and Acknowledging Black Faces. Our routes are intentional and action-oriented. Our bicyclist ride in the spirit of the original Freedom Riders of the 1940s and 1960s.”
  • Join the Unity Rides in 2020. The City of Rochester is officially behind two bike rides: The Unity Ride, whose 6th riding season starts this week. And Black Girls Do Bike’s new Unity Ride East, which started this week as well. These rides have a police escort and traffic comes to a halt as they roll through. The ride has become an important social cohesive and stand for peace. The Unity Ride has been Rochester’s most diverse ride since 2015.

Let’s ride united.

Theresa Bowick of Conkey Cruisers likes to say, “The City that rides together, rises together.” I agree! Let’s strive together to make our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, schools and streets, more united.

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Get on That Bicycle and Ride

In honor of National Bike Month, we’re sharing this super fun and inspiring music video made by Rochester Cycling Alliance volunteer Laura Mack, along with her sister and partner.

Maker’s Note

by Laura Mack

I have found that during this pandemic, there have been times when I really don’t want to do much of anything. In the morning, I roll out of bed to my bedside table which I have made into my makeshift work desk. I spend most of the work day locked in my bedroom to create a private and HIPPA compliant space so I can talk to my clients who have SPMI (Severe and Persistent Mental Illness). There are days when the emotional toll of my work day is hard to leave behind. Social media and those fighting back against what the experts have to say have made tuning everything out all the more difficult.

I’ve found the cure to cabin fever, a cure I have known all along but sometimes it takes reminding, is riding my bike. Whether it’s riding by a friends house as they’re sitting out on their porch, or heading to the local 7-11 or liquor store to get a beverage for dinner that night, those quick trips make all the difference in my day.

I’m not suggesting you ride 25 miles down to Avon on the Genesee Valley Trail, or ride from Buffalo to Albany on the Erie Canal. I am writing this as a gift to you, to dust off your bike and take it for a ride down the street. Whether you have the intention to swing by a friend’s house to say hi and pick up tomato plants, or to the 7-11 to pick up a six pack of beer, I promise the satisfaction of giving yourself some fresh air while doing something practical and time enhancing will make all the difference in your life.

Your bike does not, and I repeat, DOES NOT have to be in the most perfect shape. Make sure you can come to a complete stop at a stop sign and make sure you’ve got a little air in those tires. If you do not own a bike, lots of folks in our community are selling great ones on Facebook Marketplace. Ask questions and look for something you like.

Decrease your excuses to increase your joy.  I hope our music video will encourage you to get on that bicycle and ride!

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Something to Learn: Cycling as Transportation

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

Journey from Car Driver to Bike Educator

In 2012, I was just as car-dependent as anybody when Mike Governale’s Rochester Subway blog and ROC Transit Day caught my attention. It was Reconnect’s creativity and ROC Transit Day’s great buzz that got me thinking about getting to work without my car. When my uncle gave me his old mountain bike around that time, I gave biking to work a shot. I discovered it was just as quick as driving, but I wasn’t very comfortable and stuck to the sidewalk.

“I wanted to be less frightened on my bike.”

Confession time: Just ask my parents – I’ve always been a risk-averse, shy, non-confrontational person. When you conjure up the mental image of a macho, super-confident cyclist, that wasn’t me! I wanted to be less frightened on my bike, so when I learned my friend Tracey Austin was teaching a two-hour bike class at the Rochester Brainery in 2013, I jumped at the opportunity.

Bike Education Built My Confidence

Tracey, who had been trained as a bike patrol officer through IPMB (International Police Mountain Bike), was very knowledgeable and reached her students where we were at. No question was off-limits or too stupid. After a brief slide presentation on traffic law and best practices, we headed outside. We learned how to inspect our bikes to ensure they’ll operate properly, and we spent 20 minutes or so learning basic handling maneuvers such as the quick stop. Then came the best part: We navigated Rochester’s streets together on our bikes.

It was a beautiful late August evening, and together we made left turns in left-turn-lanes (!), something I had never done before and would never have done by myself, if not for riding in a group. I recall biking across the Pont de Rennes Bridge for the first time with a gorgeous sunset transpiring before our eyes. It felt like we were Hogwarts students riding broomsticks around the city. When the class concluded, something in me had changed. I knew what the simple bike was capable of and I was now confident enough to bike on most streets. That fall, I started biking regularly.

Ditching the Car for Good

Three months after that class, I got rid of my car and haven’t had one since. I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year. In the intervening 6 years, I took two more intensive bike classes that exponentially increased my confidence and knowledge. And in 2017 I got certified myself (alongside some friends) as an LCI – a League Certified Instructor – through the League of American Bicyclists.

“I’m healthier, I’ve drastically reduced my carbon footprint, and I’m saving over $6,000 a year.”

If I Can Do It, Anyone Can Do It

I talk to so many people who say “You’ll never get me on a bike.” “No way will I ever ride among cars.” Listen, I totally get it. I’ve been there. I understand how scary it feels. It took a class for me to get comfortable on my bike and I suspect that’s the case for many.

If you consider yourself “interested-but-concerned” when it comes to biking (most people identify in this category), I urge you to take a class. It’s not boot camp. It’s fun, cheap and some of the best money you’ll ever spend.

This isn’t about “getting rid of your car.” This is about taking opportunities to bike. The low hanging fruit: the majority of car trips which are under 2 or 3 miles. As I said in a recent podcast interview, “We’d live in a different world if we saved our cars for long trips, when the weather is bad, or when there’s more than one occupant in the car. If we only biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.” And honestly, even if you only ever intend to bike on our beautiful river & canal trails away from traffic, you’ll still benefit from a class: You’ll get more comfortable on your bike and cycling will become more enjoyable.

“If we only we biked for short solo trips in good weather, it would change everything.”

Staying Safe is Mostly Up to You

Top-notch bike infrastructure that makes people of all ages and abilities comfortable absolutely has a place in getting more people on bikes. Reconnect Rochester and Rochester Cycling Alliance volunteers are relentless in advocating for that infrastructure.

But I fervently believe that bike education has a crucial role too. Infrastructure alone isn’t enough. Even if Rochester becomes the Copenhagen of North America, there will never be protected bike lanes from your doorstep to your destination. You are going to have to mix in with traffic some of the time. You’re operating a legal vehicle and need to not only know traffic law, but abide by best practices a certified instructor can teach you.

Keep your eye out on the Reconnect Rochester event calendar for bike education class opportunities, like the “Getting Back on Your Bike” virtual presentation I’ll be giving on April 25 for the Central Library. This summer, we hope to have a couple on-bike classes similar to the one I took in 2013. A typical intro class includes a classroom presentation, basic handling drills and a short group ride where we navigate various infrastructure and intersection scenarios together.

Final Two Words: Just Ride

Beyond bike education, I urge you to just ride. Rochester has a wonderful bike scene and there are weekly rides for people of all ages and skill levels that will resume when we get the thumbs-up from officials. Send me an email to subscribe to the RCA’s monthly news, to be apprised of upcoming classes and rides, or if you have any bike safety questions.

A recent study found that people who drive to work would much rather teleport if such a thing were possible. Cyclists, however, the study found, wouldn’t teleport – because they actually find empowerment and joy in the journey.

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Join Our Team!

Part-time Cycling Coordinator Position Available

Do you get excited by the sight of cycle tracks and trails? Do abruptly ending bike lanes and hazardous intersections make you crazy? Are you organized, resourceful, self-motivated and flexible?

Your dream job awaits.

Reconnect Rochester is searching for an individual to spearhead all cycling related events, advocacy, education, and outreach activities for our organization. This person will work closely with our volunteer Cycling Work Group in running all aspects of our cycling efforts, and will work out of our office in the Hungerford building on E. Main St.

The job may be part-time, but the benefits are endless.

To apply, email a cover letter and resume to info@ReconnectRochester.org by March 15th.

 

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In Case You Missed It: Rochester Street Films

Rochester Street Films at The Little Theatre. Thursday, November 19, 2015.
If you weren’t in the audience this past Thursday evening at the first-ever Rochester Street Films, well, you missed one heck of a good time. Maybe you got stuck in traffic and had to turn back. We get it, life happens. While we can’t recreate the energetic live panel discussions, we can at least share a portion of the event with you here…

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Rochester Bicycle Boulevards Public Meeting

Bike Boulevard in Berkeley, CA [PHOTO: Artbandito]
Rochester is planning a network of bicycle boulevards external link to connect destinations throughout the city and give residents a safer bike commute. The plan is being developed by the City of Rochester, in partnership with the New York State Department of Transportation, Monroe County, Rochester Cycling Alliance, and Genesee Transportation Council.

If you’d like to hear more about this project and provide input, please attend the first public meeting tomorrow:

Tuesday, Feb. 11 @ 6pm
Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County NY
Kate Gleason Auditorium
115 South Avenue external link

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