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Bike Access to Nature

By Jesse Peers, Cycling Manager at Reconnect Rochester

I say this on my history bike tours a lot: If I could temporarily time travel back to one decade, it’d be the 1890s. In this decade, the up ‘til then economy-minded City of Rochester started a massive investment in the public realm: it developed its world-class park system and with the electrification and extension of the trolleys, residents could hop on a streetcar and visit our parks and beaches at their leisure. The 1890s is also renowned as the greatest bike boom in history and automobiles hadn’t yet dominated our streets.

Bike History Books
Rochester’s bike history is featured quite prominently in these four recent books

One of the bicycle’s greatest selling points at the time was the ability to access these newly developed parks and to escape the city into nature whenever you wanted. The world was at your fingertips – just a short pedal away! In the early twentieth century, Rochester cyclists would make that access to nature and the surrounding countryside even easier by pioneering a system of sidepaths through Monroe County. For a while, cyclists came to Rochester from afar to see top-notch bike infrastructure!

In Rochester’s early days, the city center was surrounded on all sides by “verdant nurseries and blooming orchards.” Visitors to the Flower City were awed by the “seemingly endless acres of blooming rose bushes, tulip beds & fruit trees, encircling the city.” Before those areas were taken over for housing, Rochester’s early Parks Commissioners proposed a park boulevard 300 feet in width encircling the city with a number of small parks scattered along its route. Instead, priority was given to two large parks straddling the river: “South Park” (Genesee Valley Park) and “North Park” (Seneca Park).

That original idea, though, kept resurfacing as subsequent mayors toyed with the idea of connecting the growing park system. Like many, we are mesmerized by this 1911 vision for Rochester. Because Rochester’s large parks were “comparatively remote,” planners felt their usefulness could be “much enhanced by narrow, extending arms reaching out into the surrounding territory and forming park-like approaches to them.” These connective parkways  would “multiply in effect the extent of park area conveniently available to the community.”

Map of Rochester

Sadly, the costs were too prohibitive and the project was dropped. (Two small beginnings though were made towards its realization: Seneca Parkway in Maplewood and Genesee Park Boulevard in the 19th Ward). For an example of a peer city that got much closer to achieving a similar vision, check out Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisville Loop Overview
Though they are still working towards its full realization, Louisville, Kentucky’s Olmsted Parks are connected with Parkways. Learn more about the Louisville Loop.

With another bike boom happening, the recent adoption of Rochester’s Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, the expansion of the City’s Bike Boulevard network, and the simultaneous creation of Active Transportation Plans for the city and county, we thought it a good time to revisit this concept of bike access to nature and our parks. Using the 1911 vision as our guide, let’s examine our modern bike network as connective tissue to our stellar parks.

Rochester's Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights

The Highland Crossing Trail, which many residents don’t know about since it hasn’t been incorporated into Google Maps’ bike layer yet, was a unique collaboration between Brighton and Rochester. With the Erie Canal Trail, it connects Genesee Valley Park to Highland Park. These trails together with the Genesee Riverway Trail make a wonderful seven-mile recreational loop we recommend you try sometime.

Bike Route Map
Bike Route Map

Recurrent calls in the early twentieth century to secure the Pinnacle Hills as parkland connecting Highland Park and Cobbs Hill Park were unsuccessful but today’s Bike Boulevard through Swillburg and Upper Monroe does a good job of connecting them.

Bike Route Map
Bike Route Map

Connecting Cobbs Hill to Irondequoit Bay and what is now Ellison Park is harder. The 1911 planners called for an extension of Richs Dugway Road but today’s railroad tracks present a significant barrier, as does the area around Wegmans and the “Can of Worms” interchange. For now, Browncroft Blvd, Blossom Rd and Highland Ave can be used. Living in the Culver and Merchants triangle, my kids and I are a 10 minute bike ride away from Ellison Park – a ride we cherish, especially in the Fall. We turn off of Browncroft onto Shaftsbury and Corwin Roads for a low-stress approach to the Park.

Bike Route Map
Bike Route Map

Though a parkway or trail extending east to west “along the low land just south of the Ridge Road” and today’s 104 isn’t possible, the El Camino Trail and the new Bike Boulevard through 14621 can connect Seneca Park to Irondequoit Bay.

Bike Route Maps

To connect the Genesee River and Seneca Park to Durand Eastman Park, the 1911 plan called for a connection westward “up one of the little valleys” to the northerly end of Seneca Park. Check out this creative route by Pam Rogers.

Bike Route Maps

To connect downtown with Edgerton Park and further north, we all know Lake Avenue must be avoided at all costs by bike. But the new Bike Boulevard along Plymouth parallels Lake Avenue and gets you all the way up to Kodak Park in a low-stress manner through the gorgeous Maplewood neighborhood.

What are your favorite low-stress ways to visit nature by bike? Let us know! If you agree with the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights declaration that every Rochester child should be able to “safely explore their community green spaces” and nearby parks, we’d ask you to advocate for continuous, high-comfort bike infrastructure for all ages and abilities for the City and County’s Active Transportation Plans this year.

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Floshare: “EVening” the Playing Field

Guest blog by Bree-Ana Dukes, Floshare Program Manager at Mobility Development Operations & Board Member at Reconnect Rochester

According to the 2018 Transportation and Poverty in Monroe County commissioned by Reconnect Rochester, “most households (88%) in Monroe County have access to a vehicle (74% in Rochester). This leaves 12% of households in the county (35,000 households), and 26% of households in the city (22,000 households) without access to a vehicle,” about a third of all city of Rochester households.

Flower City Carshare (Floshare) is a partnership between Mobility Development Operations (MDO) and the City of Rochester and is the first electric vehicle (EV) car sharing program in New York. The carsharing program targets chronically economically distressed areas and neighborhoods where there are low rates of car ownership.

Happy Floshare Customers

“We had a BLAST with the car. My son told everyone everywhere we went that the car we were driving was ‘TOTALLY ELECTRIC MAN.’ Thanks again for helping me get this started, I cannot wait to rent it again.” (Rachael Boelens)

The lack of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) in many of Rochester’s neighborhoods echoes the historical disenfranchisement of marginalized communities and the disparities that have resulted from centuries of disinvestment. Carsharing services alone cannot solve the systemic issues around transportation for the poorest segments of the City’s population, but community-controlled EV carsharing will add a new mobility option to the transportation landscape for those without access to a personal vehicle. Through intentional collaboration with community based organizations, the transportation sector, and social service agencies addressing these EVSE gaps, Floshare hopes to better connect residents to the city and surrounding areas.

Carsharing means community residents have access to a network of electric vehicles located in close proximity to them everyday of the year at any time of the day. This certainly won’t solve our transportation issues, but while funding is on the table we have to consider the lack of car ownership and how marginalized communities are able to benefit from the EV movement from an economic, social, and public health perspective. Much can be debated about the state of transportation within Monroe County, but the fact is that accessibility is not equal for those historically disenfranchised, specifically, for Black and Indigenous people of color.

Targeting EV Investment to the Disenfranchised

Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations are a huge topic of national conversation following the Biden-Harris Administration’s release of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program Guidance. States will be responsible for allocating $5 billion toward electric vehicle charging infrastructure with the goal to “put the United States on a path to a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030 and ensure a convenient, reliable, affordable, and equitable charging experience for all users.”

The Administration’s Justice 40 initiative commits to allocate at least 40% of all funding and investments to “disadvantaged communities”. This is an important distinction because history has shown that without intentional investment in marginalized communities, subpar or disinvestment will continue to widen the racial inequality gap. Some opponents to this commitment will cite the lack of EV ownership as a reason to not invest in marginalized communities, but that is precisely why it is important to do so. Arguments about whether certain communities deserve targeted investments are tired! It is this type of rhetoric that continually blocks BIPOC from opportunities to benefit from social and economic development and revitalization.

A conversation that would be more productive is one that acknowledges the root causes of “carless” homes as well as the inability to afford an EV as outcomes of systemic racism. Centuries of genocide, slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, redlining, and a host of other discrimanatory acts continue to plague our organizations and institutions of governance. So, we must never forget what’s ever present in the zeitgeist that makes commitments like Justice 40 necessary.

Sign Up for Floshare’s Expanding System in ROC

The Floshare program provides access to fully electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for a low cost rate of $5/hour or $40/day. The program has been beta testing since September 2021, with locations at the Rochester Public Market and St. Mary’s Campus and more locations coming soon! About two dozen residents have gone through orientation to test the vehicles and its technology, in preparation for a launch event this summer. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to sign up by downloading the Miocar Networks app.

Charging Floshare Vehicle
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Hey ROC, Mind the Gap!

In Rochester, bike riders have a lot to be grateful for: world-class trails, an average commute of 4.1-miles across mostly flat terrain, and a vibrant bike community. Something we need to work on, however, is the lack of connectivity in our bike network. Too often, road projects are done in a piecemeal fashion and little attention is paid to overall connectivity.

The new regional bike map from the Genesee Transportation Council shows just how fragmented our local bike network is. (Note: the map doesn’t consider sharrows on arterials as bike infrastructure). Reconnect Rochester wants to see continuous, non-interrupted, low-stress bicycle routes. As the City and County gear up for their Active Transportation Plans this year, we are advocating for “a fully connected spine of high-comfort bikeways” that can be built upon for years to come. When gaps are filled, ridership will increase and Rochester can eventually “level up” from bronze to silver in the rankings of Bike Friendly Communities.

With that in mind: Reconnect Rochester, in a play on words, is proud to present the first annual Mind The Gap vote campaign! We took a look and identified ten of the most obvious gaps in our bike network that, if filled, would be a huge connectivity improvement. 

Here’s where you come in, ROC cyclists. We want your vote! Take a look below at the locations we’ve nominated this year and tell us which gaps you think are the most important to fill.

The gap that receives the most votes will be declared the winner and Reconnect Rochester will give this segment special attention with our advocacy efforts. Specifically, we’ll approach the relevant municipality with our community support evidence in hand to make the case that it is a crucial gap to fill.

Some quick notes:

    • You’ll be able to cast votes for three gaps.
    • Think we missed something? There’s a fill-in-the-blank option that will help us with nominations for future years’ contests.
    • We didn’t nominate the Genesee Riverway Trail through downtown. The City is well aware of this obvious gap and through the ROC the Riverway initiative, is addressing it segment-by-segment as funding becomes available. (Someday we will have a continuous riverway trail through downtown to High Falls!)
    • Ideal nominations have somewhat comfortable biking on each end with a relatively short, awkward, or uncomfortable gap in the middle that can hopefully be remedied to have an enormous impact for a great number of riders.

(Ready to vote before reading on? We like the enthusiasm! Click here.)

Without further ado, here are this year’s nominations:

  1. EAST MAIN STREET BETWEEN UNION STREET AND DOWNTOWN The bike lanes between Union and Goodman are okay, though clearly not what was envisioned during the 2015 E. Main & Market District Plan. The cycletracks under construction further east between Goodman and Culver will be a huge step up. But once cyclists from the east side approach Union, reaching downtown is quite stressful due to the awkward 490 turn-off. Cyclists have to move left in the bike lane just as motorists next to them merge right to get on the Inner Loop. This weak spot – an intimidating tenth of a mile! – deters cyclists from what could otherwise be a decent bike corridor. Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. ST. PAUL STREET FROM DOWNTOWN TO BREWER STREET Though there are bike lanes for much of this stretch, the Genesee Riverway Trail deserves better: Protected bike lanes on St. Paul Street from downtown to Brewer Street (or a tad bit further to Carthage Drive for those who don’t want to descend into the gorge only to ride back up), would open up this pride of Rochester to cyclists of all ages and abilities. As it is now, some bravery is required on St. Paul. This stretch is only one mile! Once cyclists reach Brewer Street, there’s comfortable biking up to Ontario Beach Park. Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. WEST MAIN STREET FROM DOWNTOWN TO BULLS HEAD PLAZA Since 2015, Rochester cyclists have biked to Bulls Head Plaza on West Main Street to participate in the weekly Unity Rides. Though the ride itself is joyous and comfortable thanks to the escort, getting there is often a stressful experience. At the moment, there’s no bike infrastructure on West Main and motorist speeds are very high. From downtown to Bulls Head Plaza is only 7/10 of a mile! Fixing this stretch would also make biking to Susan B. Anthony house and Nick Tahou’s easier. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT
  1. MONROE AVENUE FROM CANTERBURY ROAD TO DOWNTOWN The City’s first bike boulevard was installed along Canterbury Road in 2015 to help cyclists approach downtown from Brighton and the southeast side. But once Canterbury ends at Monroe Ave, cyclists are forced to constantly meander left and right, in and out of bike lanes and sharrows all the way to Chestnut Street downtown. This stretch is only one mile. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT
  1. THE APPROACH TO MONROE COMMUNITY COLLEGE (HENRIETTA CAMPUS) Monroe Community College, our area’s largest institute of learning, is very uncomfortable to get to by bike. Though bike lanes have been installed on East Henrietta Road from Westfall south to 390, the bridge over 390 is terrifying. Students, faculty and staff approaching MCC from the north deserve a better approach. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT
  1. STATE STREET FROM ANDREWS STREET TO MORRIE SILVER WAY Trust us. Biking to Frontier Field is the best way to get to a Red Wings game. There’s ample, free bike parking right next to the gates and security guards are there the entire time – a huge deterrent to bike theft. When the game ends, you unlock your bike and ride. You’ll likely be most of the way home before those who drove get out of the congested parking lots nearby. Andrews Street is a wonderful east to west thoroughfare for cyclists, but once you get to State Street, you’re immediately uncomfortable. Steve Carter and Red Wings fans deserve better. The short stretch is only 3/10 of a mile! Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. “THE JOSANA TRAIL” A critical connection the City intends to make someday is between the Colvin Street bike boulevard and the soccer stadium, where the Plymouth bike boulevard continues north all the way to Kodak Park. This is especially important as this area sees the most cyclist-motorist collisions. The intended connection is via the abandoned railroad tracks and would be called the JOSANA Trail. Things always get complicated when CSX is involved, but if this gap wins the contest, perhaps it’ll give the City a sense of urgency in acquiring right of way and finding the funding to implement the planning work that’s already done. This segment of the trail is only a half mile. Jurisdiction: CSX (City of Rochester in the process of purchasing)
  1. THE APPROACH TO EAST AVENUE WEGMANS Biking to the East Avenue Wegmans and locking up your bike next to the front doors is often way more convenient than driving there and searching for a parking space. But Wegmans could certainly be more approachable by bike on each side. From the southwest, cyclists can bike along the comfortable Canterbury/Harvard bike boulevard to Colby Street. But once you get to East Avenue, that short 1/10 of a mile to Wegmans is quite busy. Surely something can be done in this area too to better connect the Harvard/Colby bike boulevard and Wegmans to the future bike boulevard across from Artisan Works on Marion Street that’ll go all the way up to Tryon Park. Jurisdiction: NYS DOT (East Avenue) and City of Rochester (Winton and Blossom)
  1. UNION STREET FROM EAST MAIN STREET TO THE PUBLIC MARKET Riders of all ages and abilities enjoy the new Union Street cycletrack, but its shortcoming is that it’s too short and doesn’t connect anywhere. Though no doubt it’ll extend and curve northwest someday as part of the Inner Loop North transformation, it would make a huge difference if dedicated bike infrastructure continued a half mile north to the Public Market. We know from our marker campaign that the market is a popular desired destination by bike, but that short stretch of Union Street north of Main is intimidating. Jurisdiction: City of Rochester
  1. ELMWOOD AVENUE FROM THE CITY LINE TO 12 CORNERS Rochester’s second cycletrack was installed along Elmwood Ave in 2020 to connect the University of Rochester Campus to College Town. In 2022 and ‘23, the cycletrack will be extended to the Highland Crossing multi-use Trail just across from the Al Sigl Center. In June 2021, it appeared that the further extension of the multi-use trail along Elmwood all the way to Twelve Corners was a sure thing, but the project has since stalled and it’s uncertain whether it’ll proceed. Brighton residents definitely deserve this low-stress bike connection to Rochester’s largest employment hub. Jurisdiction: Monroe County DOT

So, what do you think?

p.s. We got some of our ideas from you with the informal polling we’ve done around town. Thanks for sharing!

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The Road Ahead for Reconnect

Big developments are underfoot at Reconnect Rochester: a major gifta new path forward, and a leadership announcement. We want to share all the excitement with you!

A Gift of Great Magnitude

Many of you know Dr. Scott MacRae as a long-team leader in the cycling community and champion for active transportation as a key to community health. As past President of the Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA), Dr. MacRae worked for many years alongside Richard DeSarra and others to urge improvements that have made our region a more bike friendly place.

When the RCA joined forces with Reconnect Rochester in 2019, Dr. MacRae was an enthusiastic supporter and made a financial commitment that allowed the combined organization to hire a dedicated Cycling Coordinator. Coming together has given our collective multi-modal efforts a huge boost as we have combined our person power, ideas and energy. 

We’re honored and humbled to announce that Dr. MacRae is doubling down on his investment with a transformative financial gift to further support and grow Reconnect Rochester’s mission.

This funding will help us continue our existing programs and advocacy work, and expand our staff capacity so we can do more and be more.

When asked what inspired his gift, Dr. MacRae shared: “Rochester has been very generous to me. This is a great opportunity to give back and honor my good friend, the late Richard DeSarra, who dedicated 25 years to making Rochester biking, walking and transit-friendly. As a lifelong cyclist, with an interest in health and quality of life, I hope to see a mature network of biking and walking friendly streets and trails for all to enjoy and travel safely on.”

Here’s Our Plan

Dr. MacRae’s gift couldn’t come at a more perfect time. A break in programming over the last year due to the pandemic allowed us the time to take a step back and set our future course. Over 10 months, our Board of Directors and a nine-member work group, including Dr. MacRae, worked to craft a Strategic Plan.

We had help along the way from all of you who took the time to share your perceptions and feedback through our stakeholder survey. Your ideas and encouragement were just what we needed.

We are happy to share with you Reconnect Rochester’s 2021-24 Strategic Plan. It’s our first ever, and we’re pretty proud of it.

We started with our destination. What do we want our organization and our community to look like in 25 years? We articulated the answer in a vision statement that captures our hopes and dreams. We hope you share them!

Hallmarks of the plan include expanding our staff capacity, strengthening our influence and community presence, and centering mobility justice in our work.

We extend deep thanks to the ESL Charitable Foundation for the financial support that allowed us to do this, and Mary Hadley at Causewave Community Partners for her expert facilitation of the process.

Interim Leader Appointment

With all this growth and excitement will also come change, and change can be hard. An effort that began with a small group of passionate community activists back in 2009 is evolving into a larger, more structured effort. Retaining the energy and involvement of all those who have played a part in the organization’s success, while bringing in more capacity and expertise in staff positions, will be a delicate balance to achieve.

We’re thrilled to announce that Mary Staropoli, MPA, has been appointed Interim Executive Director to lead the organization through this period of growth and transition.

Mary’s five years with the organization as the Director of Planning & Development and 20+ years of experience in the nonprofit sector uniquely position her to help guide us on the road ahead.

Mary will lead an all-star staff team that includes Cycling Coordinator Jesse Peers and Development & Communications Specialist Monika Reifenstein, and we plan to”power up” with some additional staffing in the fall.

We don’t know exactly what’s around the corner, but we hope that you all will be in our corner. We will always need collective energy to keep driving change in our community — one street, one mind, one trip at a time.


Vision Statement

Reconnect Rochester will work tirelessly to make our community a place where everyone can easily and safely get around, regardless of age, ability, income or mode of transportation. We will help shift our community’s priorities to place people first, rehumanize our streets and integrate them with our neighborhoods.

We will connect transportation to equity, health, the economy and the environment. We will educate our community leaders and boldly advocate for a transportation system that provides mobility options and resource access for everyone. Reconnect Rochester’s work will help combat poverty, reduce climate change, improve the health and well-being of people in our community, and bolster our local economy.

We will inspire and empower people to use various modes of transportation and experience the joy and freedom of getting around by bus, by rail, on bike or on foot. We will educate, motivate and amplify community efforts to call for equitable and safe streets in our neighborhoods.

We will be the leading local advocacy organization and recognized source for transportation facts and knowledge. We will highlight national mobility trends and ideas to inspire our community about what’s possible. We will have a seat at every table where transportation decisions are made and will hold government and local leaders accountable.

Funders will want to invest in Reconnect Rochester because they hold trust in our organization and see clear evidence of our impact. Community partners will seek to collaborate with us to work toward our shared goals.

We will work with community leaders and decision-makers to create a region renowned for a robust transportation network made up of people-centric streets and public transit that integrates rather than segregates.

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The Books That Changed Me: Terra Nova & Green Metropolis

by Jesse Peers, Cycling Coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned how Reconnect Rochester’s ROC Transit Day inspired me to try getting to work on a bike for the first time. I’m so grateful to Reconnect for providing that initial inspiration. I owe further credit to Howard Decker’s blog which introduced me to Eric Sanderson’s book, Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs. If ROC Transit Day got me on a bike for the first time as an adult, Terra Nova kept me on my bike. When the only car I’ve ever had bit the dust while reading this book, I was so inspired by what I was reading that I donated my car to charity and haven’t had a car since.

I’m a bookworm concerned with climate change and on occasion I tackle thick, scholarly books. Maybe due to its length, Terra Nova isn’t for everybody, but to this day it’s the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it! In 2015 I was pleased to discover a great companion piece to Terra Nova: David Owen’s Green Metropolis, a very similar book which is shorter and more readable for most people. Together, these two books examine what got us into this climate mess and how we can get out of it. When one learns about our climate crisis, it’s easy to get discouraged. These books however offer a doable approach that leaves you feeling hopeful and encouraged. We can do this.

Lessons Learned

What both authors make clear is that a cleaner, sustainable future requires an investment and turnaround in three areas of life: energy, land use and transportation (and more generally, our habits). One can pay quite a bit of attention to the climate movement and really only hear about energy, as if all we need is a simple 1:1 substitution between gasmobiles and electric vehicles (EVs); between natural gas and solar. But it’s not that simple. As Evan Lowenstein of The Climate Accelerator points out in this recent blog, tech alone like EVs and solar won’t solve our problem. Part of that is due to energy load: “A million drivers plugging in their cars when they get home from work…would strain the power grid.” We’re simply not ready for that. Besides, fuel efficiency just incentivizes driving more. And we don’t need more traffic and traffic deaths. Status quo car-dependency and the enormous health and financial costs that go with it aren’t the way forward.

The other reason is because as Owen states, “the power we don’t use is more important than the power we do.” Take hot summer days for instance. Nowadays when we’re hot, “we adjust the thermostat rather than identifying the source of the problem and looking for a low-tech remedy.” Let’s instead do “what our parents and grandparents did: opening windows at night, to cool the entire house, then shutting the windows in the morning and drawing the curtains in the sunny rooms, to keep them from rapidly heating up again.” I’ve found that this works on all but the hottest Rochester days. In the same vein, the transportation power we don’t use is more important than what powers our vehicles.


“The transportation power we don’t use is more important than what powers our vehicles.”


Similarly, “we must significantly reduce the number of miles we drive, not merely replace one motor fuel with another one.” As Owen reminds us, “the main job of any car is moving the car itself.” Driving is the least energy-efficient way of getting around and society must start discouraging single-occupancy car trips by making it costlier and less pleasant (and by making the alternatives faster, reliable and more pleasant). We respond to incentives and disincentives. “In the long run, miles matter more than miles per gallon. A  car’s fuel gauge is far less significant, environmentally speaking, than its odometer.”

Perhaps your workplace is too far away to walk, bike or take a bus to. Okay, you’ve gotta drive. But what other regular destinations are near your home? (The grocery store, library, pub, kids’ school, etc.) Sanderson estimates that most people are willing to walk to destinations within a half-mile, bike or scoot up to 2.5 or 3 miles, and take transit to destinations within 5 miles. That’s a great place to start! Reconnect Rochester’s 20 Minutes by Bike map shows where you can get to from downtown Rochester in 20 minutes riding at a casual pace. (Stay tuned to our blog for more area maps to come!)

We must also “contract the distances between the places where people live, work, shop, and play.” This is where land use comes in. Mixed-used development and zoning changes are crucial. This does mean reimagining the suburbs a bit. Both authors make clear that the suburbs as we have known them in terms of car-dependency, can’t last. The societal and environmental costs are too great.

Finally, we’ve gotta deal with our overconsumption. “The average American single-family house doubled in size in the second half of the twentieth century” as family sizes plummeted! Rather than move every seven years to an ever-larger house farther away (only to fill it with more stuff and become even more car dependent), we would do well to develop a philosophy and “economy of enough” as climate activist Naomi Klein notes. Check out Rochester’s old trolley neighborhoods, where most lots don’t have original garages since residents used to walk to the end of the street and take a trolley every morning. Because today’s bus routes still more or less follow those old trolley lines, these neighborhoods have pretty reliable transit.

As you can see, whether it’s resisting the temptation to blast your AC all the time, biking to a destination, or choosing to live closer to work (Rochester remains one of the most affordable communities in the country to live car-free), Americans will have to change habits to meet the climate crisis. We’ve gotta go beyond focusing on what powers our stuff and reexamine how we settle and how we move. It’s important to note many of these lifestyle changes aren’t sexy. Rather than being high-tech and Jetsons-esque, many solutions to the climate crisis are old-school and therefore sustainable footprints and everyday life will look much like how our great great grandparents lived: That’s a good life!

Watch Saga City for more on the crucial role of land use and transportation in building a sustainable future.

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A Climate Solutions Blind Spot: Seeing Beyond Electric Cars

Guest blog by Evan Lowenstein, Director of Communications and Membership at the Climate Solutions Accelerator

Remember when you learned how to drive? You learned about the blind spots to the left and right of your vehicle, those spots where another car might be, hidden even from all your mirrors. That there might be things there you aren’t seeing. 

There’s another blind spot putting us at risk here in car-centric America: the one that prevents us from thinking beyond the automobile as we strive for climate solutions and a truly sustainable society.

Image Credit: State Farm on Flickr

The rise in concern about climate change in society and industry is encouraging, and happening not a second too soon. But the well-intentioned efforts run the risk of falling way short because of our perilously persistent belief that we can achieve a climate-safe, sustainable future simply by running our cars on something besides fossil fuels.

Transportation accounts for 40% of our climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, and converting vehicles from fossil-fuels to more cleanly-generated electricity surely can reduce those vehicles’ emissions. But the way they are fueled is just one of many environmental, economic, and equity problems caused by our cars — and just one of the problems inherent in our prevailing transportation model and mindset. 

Thus, there is an inconvenient truth hidden in our blind spot: as we seek transportation modes and systems that are better for the environment, for the economy, and for equity, electric vehicles are the next-worst option to the fossil-fueled ones. 

Why Electric Vehicles Aren’t Enough

The switch to electric cars as a solution to climate change depends simultaneously on a massive transition to renewable energy, such as wind and solar, happening at an unprecedented speed. If we don’t transition to renewables as fast as we transition to electric cars, electric vehicles won’t produce any real progress on climate change. The switch also means a massive increase in demand on our already-strained electric grid; in addition to the cost of putting up that much renewable energy, we then have to upgrade the grid to carry it all.

And electric cars are still cars — machines that produce environmental impacts such as water pollution from tire and brake residues, and leaks of toxic materials from millions upon millions of compromised vehicles; pollution from extraction of materials needed and energy needed to make them; gargantuan fossil-fuel expenditures needed to transport them from manufacturer to individual buyer. In addition, the massive road and storage infrastructure (parking lots) needed to accommodate individual cars as a primary transport choice has titanic environmental impact: polluted runoff, biodiversity loss and roadkill from fractured habitat, etc. Having to maintain all this outsized, inefficient infrastructure forever also creates enormous financial challenges for governments, and prevents resources from being used more wisely.  

The Cost of Personal Vehicles 

Speaking of roadkill — cars also kill a lot of people too, upwards of 60,000 annually in our country from crashes and illness from fossil-fueled air pollution. And many people killed by cars are low-income and people of color, forced into walking or cycling in car-centric communities without adequate provisions for pedestrians or cyclists; and/or forced into living in places with the worst auto-borne air pollution.

Car-culture also creates and perpetuates more inequity like this. Cars are already expensive to own, maintain, insure, and fuel. Low-income people without the means to own cars are shut out from many needs and opportunities (jobs, education, recreation, culture) that are accessible only by car. In addition, most low-income people rent instead of own their housing, and even if they were able to access electric vehicles, they likely wouldn’t have easy access to charging. If the shift to electric vehicles makes car ownership even more out of reach for low-income people, the equity gap exacerbated by car-culture will grow even wider. 

Building a Multi-Modal Future

We must start seeing what’s in the blind spot–the fact that a switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles cannot be the primary push as we strive for sustainability. Instead, we must understand that the best car trip for climate and sustainability is not an electricity-powered car trip, but the absence of a car trip.  

Then, we must focus our planning and funding to make it easier for more people to transport themselves by bus, rail, bicycle, and foot. Note that an electric bus or train uses ten to twenty times less electricity per passenger mile than an electric car does — no matter how clean or dirty the electricity supply is, they are always that much better. And even if buses and trains aren’t electrified, they produce less overall impact than electric private vehicles as a whole, simply by transporting more people over less distance. Walking and bicycling for transportation — if done safely using adequate infrastructure provided for it — produces positive health benefits along with the environmental benefits.

Seeing what’s in the blind spot also means developing land and our communities more efficiently so that transit, bike, and pedestrian transportation modes are viable for a lot more people. Community design with this location efficiency in mind will also save energy, land, and natural resources, meaning that planning for car-free lives enables climate solutions well  beyond the transportation modes themselves. This location efficiency also makes it more feasible for car sharing and carpooling — putting more people in each car is a super-sensible and affordable climate solution as well. 

The hard truth is that climate solutions, sustainability, and equity cannot be achieved solely through intention, but rather through execution. And executing requires plugging all the key facts into our designs of policy and place. We cannot let this big blind spot — an overemphasis on electric cars — run us off the road to our destination: a cool, carbon neutral planet.

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Pave and Plow: The Next Standard For American Trails

Written by Arian Horbovetz and originally published on The Urban Phoenix blog

I’m pleasantly surprised with the amount of trail creation that is occurring across the United States. Urban paths, trails from former railroad beds, and neighborhood connectors… people are hungrier than ever to explore a new pedestrian or cycling experience. And for those like me, the ever-growing network of trails that can potentially remove us from the dangers of automobile encounters is so incredibly vital.

But as always, I’m going to challenge our townships, counties and cities to think bigger. I’m not spitting in the face of real progress, I’m asking everyone, especially in our denser communities, to consider two standards with regard to trail creation, use and maintenance going forward.

Pave Your Trails

I am so proud of my home city of Rochester and the surrounding towns for making trail creation a priority. There are so many new trails that have popped up in our area, and it’s truly a testament to a handful of amazing people with great vision for healthy recreational use and sustainable transportation. But most of these new trails are unpaved “cinder paths.” While cheaper to construct, they are far less convenient for thin-tire bikes such as road bikes and fix-geared bikes. Furthermore, the new rage of electric micro-mobility (e-scooters, e-skateboards, etc.) has the potential to change the way we move about our communities. But most of these vehicles have small, hard, unforgiving wheels that perform poorly on unpaved surfaces.

For many who are reading this, the response to the sentence above may very well be “GOOD!” The pushback against electric micro-mobility is substantial. But my take is that anything that gets Americans out of their cars is positive. If you want to retain young people in your community, allow for the recreational and practical proliferation of electric micro-mobility. Build for a community that welcomes as many forms of transportation as possible. Only then will a mobility-progressive future be possible.

Plow Your Trails

This is a message specifically directed at northern states that receive significant snowfall. Creating trails that are unusable for 4-5 months during a year is, frankly, a denial of the potential for trails to be year-round public resources for transportation and community health.

Paved trails can be plowed easily, providing local residents a year-round outlet for exercise and safe mobility. In the Greater Rochester New York area, the Empire State Trail (Erie Canalway Trail) is partially paved, but goes unplowed during the harsh winters that can see upwards of 100 inches of snow. The brand new Highland Crossing Trail, which I happily take every day to get to work, is unpaved and unplowed, forcing me onto the busy streets on my bike during the winter months. Again, I appreciate my local governments for being proactive in creating a community resource. I do, however, blame a century of one-dimensional transportation prioritization in the United States that has created the belief that the only way to practically access jobs and resources in our community is via the automobile, the most exclusive, unsustainable and individualistic form of transportation available.

If we truly acknowledged the importance of inclusive mobility, we would readily pave and plow all of our trails, new and old. But as of now, we as a culture would rather see trail creation as a seasonal recreational nicety instead of a legitimate year-round alternative transportation solution. This must change with regard to the future of mobility in our country.

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With Our Own Eyes and Lungs: The Benefits of Reduced Motor Traffic

Guest blog by Doug Kelley, Associate Professor, University of Rochester.

In my first few long bike rides this spring, I’ve been bowled over by the beautiful views. And it’s not like I’m visiting new places. I pedaled these same routes last summer, when I first came to Copenhagen for a yearlong sabbatical and was eager to explore. But never were the vistas like this! Now, the hills and buildings of Sweden, 10 miles across the waters of Øresund, are not just blurry shapes, but clear and distinct and colorful. Now, looking southwest from the gorgeous seaside bike path in Naturpark Amager, I can see the towns of Køge and Strøby across the bay, nearly 20 miles distant and never visible before. First noticing these fantastic vistas, I gave thanks for the end of the dark and rainy Danish winter. Then I remembered that visibility was never this good last August or September. Something else must be happening. That something is probably covid-19.

The coast of Sweden, bright and clearly visible across Øresund from a marina north of Copenhagen. Clearer air, improved respiratory health, and lower carbon emissions all come when motor traffic is reduced, as the pandemic is showing us. 

The pandemic is causing profound suffering worldwide, through death and sickness, through separation and hardship. I would not wish it upon anyone. The pandemic is also giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced. Few are driving, which means less air pollution, and we can see the improvement with our own eyes. It’s visible all over, not just on my weekend bike routes but in places like London, Delhi, Wuhan, and Los Angeles. My wife tells me her lungs feel better now as she strolls along formerly-busy roads. Back home, nitrogen dioxide emissions in Rochester are down 30%. NASA data shows similar trends all over the world. Social media is awash in before-and-after photos picturing how much better our views have gotten thanks to reduced motor traffic. Mount Kenya is spectacular. 

“The pandemic is giving humankind a unique opportunity to see — firsthand — what our lives look like when motor traffic is significantly reduced.

With those views come other important benefits. The micron-scale airborne particles that mar our vistas also wreak havoc on our health. They are the most harmful form of air pollution, penetrating deep into the lungs and blood to cause heart attacks and respiratory disease. One study found that for particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, every airborne concentration decrease of 10 micrograms per cubic meter comes with a 36% decrease in lung cancer. Another study estimated that reducing particle pollution by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would prevent 34,000 premature deaths per year in the United States. So ironically, reduced motor traffic due to the pandemic may actually save as many lives as are lost to covid-19. That’s a speculation, but given what we know, entirely plausible. 

Moreover, the health benefits of reduced traffic tend to be greatest for the very people who are suffering most in the covid-19 pandemic. Air pollution links to higher covid-19 death rates and almost certainly plays a role in black Americans dying of covid-19 at higher rates than white Americans. Even aside from the virus, low-income people suffer disproportionately from respiratory diseases, including asthma. Substantially reduced particle pollution is good for everybody — and especially good for those with the most urgent health needs. 

Substantially reduced particle pollution is good for everybody — and especially good for those with the most urgent health needs.

Reducing motor traffic also comes with the obvious benefits of reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will be 8% lower worldwide in 2020 than in 2019, mainly due to reduced motor traffic and airline travel. Climate change is a long-established scientific fact, and its extreme weather and eerily warm winters are now nearly as evident in firsthand experience as the vistas on my bike rides. A one-year, 8% drop isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.

A one-year, 8% drop [in greenhouse gas emissions] isn’t enough to solve the world’s climate change problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Clear views of the coast of Sweden, in the distance across Øresund, on a sunny May afternoon at the beach in Denmark. Holding onto our reduced-motor-traffic lifestyles would mean better health, lower carbon emissions, and more beautiful days like this.

Living through this historic moment, when we literally see the good of reduced motor traffic with our own eyes, I can’t help but wonder: What if we hold on to the good, and hold on tight? As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic? What if we reboot our economy and jobs and schooling without ruining our own vistas and attacking our own lungs?

As social distancing eases and we venture out of our homes more often, what if we do it without so much motor traffic?”

The pandemic has taught us that for many jobs and in many cases, we can work from home just fine. The pandemic has taught us that some travel is more trouble than it’s worth. What if, instead of using the pandemic as an excuse for more pollution, we enact laws and regulations that clean our air? What if we go more places by walking and biking and public transportation? What if we build on our momentum? It would mean new thinking about topics like achieving social distancing on buses and trains. It would mean living in a new way. But the lifestyle adjustments involved are far smaller and simpler than the ones we have already achieved, surviving this unprecedented pandemic together. 

We can get started right now.

Here are a few ways to build on great work already happening in our region: 

The benefits would be huge. Cleaner-feeling lungs, fewer respiratory diseases, better quality of life, reduced chance of climate change causing harder times even than the covid-19 pandemic. And big, clear, beautiful vistas. I think we can do it.

There are many more ways to take action. Leave comments below with your own suggestions.

Read more about the Kelley family’s Danish experience in an earlier blog post: Copenhagen transportation: A day in one family’s life.