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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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Be Prepared To Stop

The American Society of Civil Engineers grades the condition and performance of America’s transportation infrastructure as a ‘D’ or worse. Our roads and bridges are crumbling; Over 35,000 people are killed on our highways every year; Our transit systems are unable to keep up with demand. And the U.S. lags behind the rest of the developed world in infrastructure investment.

This week Reconnect Rochester hosted a screening of Be Prepared To Stop, a documentary film that talks about these challenges from the perspective of the freight transportation industry. We asked a panel of local experts in infrastructure policy and sustainability for their views on what America needs to do to put ourselves on the road to sustainability.

Watch the trailer and panel discussion below…

Moderator: 

Elissa Orlando
Senior VP for Television & News
WXXI Public Broadcasting

Panelists:

Enid Cardinal
Senior Sustainability Advisor
Rochester Institute of Technology

Jim Hofmann
Principal & Office Leader
Stantec

Richard Perrin
Director of Planning (eastern U.S.)
T.Y. Lin International

James Stack
Executive Director
Genesee Transportation Council

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How to Bike in Winter… with Mona Seghatoleslami

For Rochester Street Films this year we asked local filmmakers and ordinary citizens to share their perspective on what it’s like to get around Rochester without a car. No rules; No restrictions; No filter.

Rochester NY in February. It’s 19ºF and the ground is slick with snow and ice. But Mona Seghatoleslami, host of WXXI Classical 91.5 FM will brave the cold attempting to ride her bike from her home in Brighton to her job in downtown Rochester (about 4 miles). Afterwards, Mona heads to Tryon Bike shop to find out what type of gear she’ll need for serious winter cycling…

We’d like to ask for your help getting these films in front of as many people as we can. If you would like to host a mini screening of Rochester Street Films in your neighborhood, please contact us.

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Understanding “Car Culture”

For Rochester Street Films this year we asked local filmmakers and ordinary citizens to share their perspective on what it’s like to get around Rochester without a car. No rules; No restrictions; No filter.

Alex Freeman has previously made several films about local cyclists. With this project Alex attempts to understand why the automobile has had such a grip on the hearts and minds of Rochester commuters – and if there’s any room for understanding…

We’d like to ask for your help getting these films in front of as many people as we can. If you would like to host a mini screening of Rochester Street Films in your neighborhood, please contact us.

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You Can’t See This in a Car

For Rochester Street Films this year we asked local filmmakers and ordinary citizens to share their perspective on what it’s like to get around Rochester without a car. No rules; No restrictions; No filter.

Nate Butler grew up around cars. Learning to work on them with his dad as a kid, he just figured that cars were the only way to get around. Now a student at R.I.T., Nate has taken up cross-country running and he’s learning something new about his community with every step…

We’d like to ask for your help getting these films in front of as many people as we can. If you would like to host a mini screening of Rochester Street Films in your neighborhood, please contact us.

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Getting Around with a Disability

For Rochester Street Films this year we asked local filmmakers and ordinary citizens to share their perspective on what it’s like to get around Rochester without a car. No rules; No restrictions; No filter.

Ericka Jones, a Systems Advocate at Center for Disability Rights, focuses on a segment of our population often overlooked. For people with disabilities, Ericka shows us how running a simple errand requires careful planning days in advance. Ironically, even the streets themselves can become barriers to living a productive life…

We’d like to ask for your help getting these films in front of as many people as we can. If you would like to host a mini screening of Rochester Street Films in your neighborhood, please contact us.

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Rochester Street Films 2017

Rochester Street Films 2017

We are all very busy. Our days are filled with places we need to go, people we need to see, things we need to do. Almost like a movie, we bounce between different scenes of our daily lives. But unlike a movie, we can’t simply edit out all of the time in between those scenes. We don’t think much about our time in transit. But the way we use that time may say a lot about who we are.

Are you the type of person who takes time to enjoy the journey? Or is the journey something you’d rather fast forward through?

What if you could bring a film crew with you on your commute to work? What if a camera man followed you on a trip to the grocery store, or to pick up your kids at school? What might we learn by watching that movie? Would it be something you’d want to share with your friends on Facebook? Or would it make better material for an upsetting Michael Moore documentary?

That was the idea behind the latest installment of Rochester Street Films. We asked local filmmakers and ordinary citizens to share their perspective on what it’s like to get around Rochester without a car. No rules; No restrictions; No filter.

Last night 200+ people gathered at The Little Theatre for the kickoff of Rochester Street Films 2017 season. Over the next few weeks we’ll share those films with you here.

And we’d like to ask for your help getting these films in front of as many people as we can. If you would like to host a mini screening of Rochester Street Films in your neighborhood, please contact us.