No Comments

Winter Cycling

Jesse Peers (white man) stands in front of Reconnect Rochester door at the Hungerford Building.

By Jesse Peers, Cycling Manager at Reconnect Rochester

Before we get too far, we have to put a plug in for one of our upcoming events: a free Winter Cycling Class on Saturday, December 10! Join us at 11am in the CDCR’s Gallery (1115 E Main Street, Door 3B) to learn more about biking in the snowy season (hot cocoa provided).

____________________

Transportation parity in Rochester, New York can’t ignore winter. It’s not good enough or equitable to have a multitude of transportation options in the spring, summer and fall, and to have to resort to driving a car of your own in the winter. That’s why Reconnect Rochester has been championing better plowing of sidewalks and the clearing of bus stops so transit users don’t have to wait in the street for a bus.

Convincing people to bike in the winter is admittedly a harder sell. At first glance, who wants to bike in the cold? And especially when there’s snow?! I’d concede to you… EXCEPT, city after city after city after city after city shows that normal folks will bike in the winter, especially if dedicated bike space is kept clear. Let’s go over some facts and misnomers. Even if you choose to never bike in winter, at least you’ll realize why some choose to.

1. Winter biking doesn’t have to be an extreme sport! In fact, it used to be pretty normal. NBD (no big deal). 

Browse old bike periodicals and you’ll come to the same conclusion. Granted, once we entered the Eisenhower and Robert Moses era, winter biking became less common but that was due to the surge of automobiles dominating the roads, not the existence of winter itself.

Winter cycling in action; Road to Perdition
The opening scene of Sam Mendes’ film Road to Perdition gives us a glimpse of how ordinary and nonchalant biking in the winter used to be.

2. There’s no difference between a 10-minute walk in the cold and a 10-minute bike ride in the same elements.

Lots of people take a regular walk outside in the winter. Perhaps they’re a dog owner taking their pet out on their “daily constitutional.” Or someone taking a walk in their neighborhood or further afield to enjoy nature. Those aren’t “extreme.” Neither is biking in the cold for a finite amount of time. In fact, biking in the cold tends to be more comfortable than walking because:

3. Biking makes the temperature feel about 15° warmer.

Because of the moderate “work” you’re doing turning those pedals, your body warms up. You can literally make three months of 30° feel like three months of 45°! That’s why cyclists and joggers wear less layers than they would otherwise when the temperatures drop. This outdoor exertion warming your body up makes winter more bearable for many. Necessary side notes:

  • Body-temp-wise, biking is more comfortable than waiting at a bus stop.
  • That “+15° thing” is why summer can sometimes be the least comfortable time to ride.
  • Give it 5 minutes; the first 5 minutes are the most uncomfortable before you get into a rhythm.
  • Layering is key: You want to be cool when you bike at all times – not cold, not warm, certainly not hot. Sweat is your enemy when biking in the winter.

4. As snowy as Rochester is, most winter days are cold temps and clear streets.

If someone chose to leave their bike at home on days when arterials have snow on them and biked only when those primary roads were clear, they’d be biking the majority of winter. Increasingly, I’ve found that we tend to get most of our snow during a handful of big events each year. The rest is pretty manageable. My experience is that altogether there are maybe 5-7 workdays a year when biking is completely inadvisable because the roads are flat-out unsafe. Not too bad for one of the world’s snowiest cities! Working from home in those instances is not an option for everybody, but it’s more common than it used to be. Of course there are times when an alternate mode, such as bus or taxi, might be the way to go.

5. Biking in the winter isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.

Extending one’s biking season happens by degrees. All cyclists start as fair weather cyclists, and that’s okay! When folks want to bike more, they first acclimate to riding at night or in the rain. Then they might extend their season to riding in the 50s. Then the 40s. The next step is 30s with clear streets. Then 20s with clear streets. Last of all is biking when there’s snow on the ground or when temps are super frigid. If you never get to those later phases, no worries! But it is possible due to studded tires, one of the best investments a Rochester cyclist can make.

Winter biking accessory: studded bike tires

6. The City of Rochester knows it needs to make progress in terms of clearing bike infrastructure in the winter.

It’s a challenge to do so, but the Rochester 2034 Comprehensive Plan acknowledges strides must be taken. After all, Buffalo’s Department of Public Works clears their bike lanes and shoulders.

For starters here, Reconnect Rochester has advocated for the Genesee Riverway Trail be cleared from downtown to the University of Rochester. Since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, let your councilmembers know that clearing of some bike infrastructure in the winter should be prioritized.

Winter Maintenance excerpt from Rochester 2034 Comprehensive Plan: "While it may not be reasonable to expect complete winter maintenance of all bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the near future, strides must be taken to work in that direction"

In Sum…

If you don’t want to bike in Winter, you don’t have to! But it’s probably easier and more feasible than you think. Those who choose to bike in Winter, taking advantage of Rochester’s average 4.1-mile commute, deserve better accommodations and to be passed safely and courteously as the law requires.

Average Commute Distance graphic for Rochester, NY. Average is 4.1 miles. Highlighted portion: "commute travel makes up only one-sixth of daily trips in the region. Other trips are typically shorter"

Want to Know More?

If you’re interested in learning more, come to our free Winter Cycling Class on Saturday, December 10 at 11am in the Community Design Center’s gallery space (1115 E Main Street, Door 3B). It’s chock full of practical tips to get you started.

If you want to learn more on your own, these two books are highly recommended:

2 Comments

Car Lite Rochester: From Car-Free to Car-Lite, Three Years Later

car lite logo

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out the t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: From Car-Free to Car-Lite, Three Years Later

By: Calvin Eaton

Calvin Eaton is a disabled scholar, author, cultural curator, content creator, and social entrepreneur. He founded the theglutenfreechef brand and website in 2013 and founded 540WMain, Inc. in 2016.

Calvin Eaton
Photo Credit: Adam Eaton

Whew! It’s been a long time since I last checked in! Can you believe it’s been three years since my last blog with Reconnect Rochester? And what a time we’ve had in three years. We’ve survived an incessant global pandemic and  I’ve survived two bouts of COVID-19, vaccinations, boosters, masks, and so much more. With so much change you would think we would be closer to realizing neighborhoods and streets that are more universally designed, pedestrian friendly, and less reliant on the all-powerful automobile. This is hardly the case. So much has changed yet when it comes to a culture that is less reliant on cars so much has remained the same. Still it’s not all doom and gloom. There’ve been lots of positive changes in the realm of more bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure in recent years. Before I dive into that let me update you on what’s been happening with me.

New Bike, New Me

I got a new bike in 2021. Actually, a very kind friend gifted me a brand new bike. It was a complete surprise and I am forever grateful. After what seems like decades of lamenting about how I needed to get a bike, I just wasn’t making it a priority. One day in early summer 2021 I reached out to my Facebook community to ask if anyone had recommendations for a decent used bike and next thing I knew I received a brand new bike on my doorstep. What a thoughtful and amazing gift. I was able to test out my new bike just in time for the 2021 edition of the Juneteenth Roc Freedom Ride through Rochester. Tapping into the robust bike community and the dedicated bike trails has been key for me since I still don’t always feel comfortable riding my bike solo on the city streets. Even though fibromyalgia prevents me from cycling as much as I would like, having my new wheels has been amazing.

Calvin with a friend at a community bike ride

Rochester’s affinity based cycling communities have grown throughout the pandemic. These communities are important to me because they break down the stereotypes and bias that Black people don’t bike or can’t bike. Amazing transformative leaders like Rashad Smith and the Roc Freedom Ride initiative are a beautiful homage to the bus desegregation movement of the 1960s and parallel the modern day desegregation of “cycling culture” in Rochester and other cities around the country. Cycling culture in Rochester like most cities looks very homogenous (i.e white) and groups like Roc Freedom Riders, Black Girls Do Bike, Conkey Cruisers, and the Flower City Feeling Good bike rides are some of the initiatives that have grown over the past few years that diversify and bring equity and inclusion to cycling culture in Rochester. This work is priceless. Despite this progress, bike legislation and biased enforcement has led to over policing, racial profiling and pretext stops for Black and brown cyclists. Group bike rides provide a measure of support and safety for those of us that are new to cycling as a regular form of transportation.

Car-Free to Car-Lite

In my last blog I shared my journey to a car-free lifestyle and three years later I’ve migrated from car-free to car-lite. The short story version is that during the pandemic my brother purchased a used car from Geva’s fleet of cars for performers and then gifted the car to me. It all happened very quickly but I do remember needing a week or two to think about the implications of bringing a car back into my life. This was at the top of 2021 and at the time I was teaching as an adjunct at St. John Fisher University and we were migrating back to in-person learning. After three years of being car-free, having access to my own vehicle again didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Reimagine RTS

My final decision came down to convenience. Even with the many improvements to bicycle infrastructure, and the reimagine RTS initiative I would be being disingenuous if I didn’t admit that having a car is simply more convenient in our city. Owning and maintaining a car is a privilege, this I must admit. Getting reacclimated to car life and taking care of the administrative details like registration, insurance, and transferring the title was relatively easy for me to do and I recognize this immense privilege. As someone living with a disability my lifestyle lends itself to far less driving than the average car owner. Due to the disability that I live with, each month my car sits idle in the driveway for multiple consecutive days. More often than not, I don’t have the stamina or energy to drive. The majority of my work happens online and I hold many meetings remotely via zoom. Even on my good days having a car for me isn’t essential. Understanding this privilege I recently was able to loan my car to a car-free friend who was taking a road trip for a couple of days.

Winter sidewalk in Rochester, NY

For me having a car during the cold winter months is most helpful. And I notice and advocate for improvements in how our streets and sidewalks are plowed during the winter months. Anyone that uses a wheelchair or power chair is figuratively and literally stuck when the snow starts to accumulate and this is simply unacceptable. There remains much work to be done in this regard.

Transportation Justice is an Ongoing Movement

Despite my return to life with a car, I remain an active and vocal advocate for safe streets, increased and improved bicycle infrastructure, and better accessibility for our roads, public transportation and the built environment for disabled people. My journey has taught me to have more compassion and empathy for everyone’s choice to own a car or not and to spend less time making moral judgements about people’s decisions and more time advocating for a city that includes all perspectives and voices. There have been lots of additions that allow more transportation choice in our City like the HOPR bike and scooter share, bike clubs, electric vehicle sharing, renovations to the RTS station, road diets, improvement along East and West Main streets, and the advocacy and education presented by Reconnect Rochester. Still we have so much work to do to reimagine and redesign our city to be more pedestrian safe and friendly.

1 Comment

Car Lite Rochester: Small Decisions Become Core Values

car lite logo

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: Small Decisions Become Core Values

By: Tracey Austin

It’s interesting to think through why your life includes (or excludes) something that most other American families find normal. I would say my family’s car-lite life was born from necessity. We never really made a conscious decision on a particular day to be car-lite, yet it has become one of our values. And it has amazed me how such a seemingly small decision has shaped our life.

After college, my sister and I wanted nothing more than to get an apartment together in the City of Rochester. We shared our college car, and since my job was downtown and closer, I was the one who got to take the bus, ride my bike, and walk. I learned so much about Rochester during that time of my life because I used these multimodal ways of getting around. They weren’t an alternative for me; it was just what I had to do, like most people who don’t have access to a car.

After I got married, there was no question whether we would also live in the city near friends and our jobs. Proximity to work and “life things” has always been a natural priority for us. I love this city. I have spent the past 20+ years exploring some of its best short cuts. Back in the day, my favorite shortcuts were through the old midtown building and the enclosed path you could take from MCC to the other side of Main Street – glory days!

I love bike commuting, and the bus has helped in a pinch. But I prefer to walk most places. If I’m short on time, I bike. But walking is a form of therapy for me, especially before and after work in the winter. It’s always a peaceful way to start and end the day. And when I worked downtown it was always a good excuse to pick up coffee on the way into work without having to wait in a drive thru or park my car. I guess all of my life’s decisions usually come down to coffee access.

For these combined reasons, we have been able to get by with one car (even now with a teenage driver also sharing it!). My husband prefers the bus to biking or will walk sometimes when I need the car. And all of us are now very used to asking friends and co-workers for rides. I wish that was more normalized. I even have close neighbor friends who always anticipate my request for a ride if we are both invited to the same event. Most people don’t mind at all, especially if you help pay for gas or bring them something freshly baked. ☺

We manage, and we manage well. Although I sometimes agree with my youngest son’s wish that “we at least had a newer car,” I don’t frame it as a necessity and I never will. What started as an economic decision continues to be one: I could never stomach paying a car payment on a new car, let alone two. And paying for parking when the job or event is fairly close to my house seems silly. I am happy that my kids prioritize material things less, since the necessity of cars wasn’t modeled for them. And sometimes I make a point to say things like, if we had two cars to pay for we wouldn’t be able to go on this trip or pay this bill. As they get older, I hope they will prioritize adventure and healthy budgeting over something that ties them down.

I suppose my story isn’t going to be a huge revelation to most readers. But my car-lite life has revealed a lot to me—about myself and about my city. I choose to interact with it daily in a more tangible way by how I travel through it, and that in turn helps my bank account and our environment. That makes me happy. So as long I have physical mobility to travel the way I prefer, I will do just that. And I hope I can help some friends to try it along the way.

2 Comments

Car Lite Rochester: Family Style

car lite logo

Car Lite Rochester is a blog series that highlights the stories of Rochesterians living a car-lite lifestyle. The term “car lite” encompasses a variety of multimodal transportation lifestyles, featuring little dependence (but not NO dependence) on a car.  It typically looks like sharing one car within a household or only using a car when absolutely necessary.

So, we hope you’ll continue to follow along.  Maybe you will be inspired to join our bloggers in living a car-lite lifestyle!

Wanna rep it? Check out our newest t-shirt in our online shop.

car lite t-shirt

Car Lite Rochester: Family Style

By: Doug Kelley

Doug Kelly smiles in a helmet next to the Genesee River

It was early 2015 when my transportation lifestyle hit rock-bottom. Rochester’s winter had been especially cold and snowy that year. I was still bitter over the cancellation of the RTS route that had shuttled me, all through the prior winter, directly from my own block to my job at the University of Rochester (anybody else have fond memories of the 52 line?). With my children in elementary school and my wife and I both working new jobs, busy-ness and frustration led me to break my routine by buying a parking pass and commuting in a car all winter. It seemed logical enough, especially since my wife and I happened to own two cars for the first time since our daughters had been babies.

But by March, it was clear that car commuting had been a terrible blunder. I found myself much more grumpy, fussing over traffic and parking and gas prices. I was out of shape and feeling lethargic. Canceling the built-in exercise of walking to the bus or biking to the office, and eliminating the routine that gave me quiet outdoor moments for reflection twice a day, had made me miserable — both physically and emotionally. The writing was on the wall: I crave exercise and the joys of active transportation more than I hate the cold. I swore I’d never buy another winter parking pass, and I never have. We soon got rid of that second car.

Once we did, the benefits piled up. For starters, living a car-lite lifestyle can be a big financial help for a young family. Driving less meant we spent less on gas, of course — and today’s high gas prices would increase the impact. Dropping my parking pass saved us a few hundred bucks a year. (Shout out to the University’s free Occasional Parking Program!) But the real financial payoff came with getting rid of that car altogether: no car payments, no insurance, no oil changes, no brake jobs or belt jobs or worries about what would break next. Our car-lite lifestyle continues to save us thousands of dollars each year.

Cost of a car diagram
Diagram from EPA

Other benefits are less tangible, but for a family, maybe more important. Exercise is one of the best things anybody can do for physical and mental health, so building exercise into daily transportation routines is great for parents and kids alike. Biking and walking make my family and me happier, more focused at school and work, and ready to enjoy time together more fully. Burning less fossil fuel and emitting less carbon make my wife and me feel better about our climate impacts, not only for our own sake but also for our two teenage daughters. After all, they will live through more repercussions of climate change than us, and going car-lite now will empower them to be more adaptable and less dependent on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, strolling and rolling around the neighborhood weaves all of us more tightly into our community. The kids bump into classmates; my wife and I see friends and neighbors.

Maybe the best perk for families who go car-lite is one we hadn’t anticipated back in 2015: it has made parenting easier for us. Teaching our kids to walk to elementary school saved us countless hours idling in carpool traffic jams. More importantly, living car-lite lets children gain freedom and learn responsibility in baby steps, as appropriate for their age. In second grade, our girls were big enough to walk by themselves to the playground across the street. In third grade, they could walk to a friend’s house down the block, or another around the corner. Soon, they could bike to see more friends or walk to music lessons. By the time our daughters reached middle school, we found ourselves living a year in Copenhagen. There, great public transportation, world-beating bike infrastructure, and negligible crime rates meant the girls could go nearly anywhere in the city without setting foot in a car. We didn’t own one there anyway. Back in Rochester, though the infrastructure doesn’t match Copenhagen’s, our daughters have the skills and confidence to go many of the places they need, walking to school and work, biking to the pet store and thrift stores. Restricting their childhood transportation to cars alone would have robbed them of the chance to gain agency and independence, steadily and surely, through all those years. Our older daughter will get her driver’s license this fall, and I shudder to think what would have happened if she’d been handed car keys and set loose to drive two tons of high-speed steel without first having learned how to find her way around the world, independently, on foot and on bikes and on buses and trains.

Family of four (two parents, two children) with bikes on a Copenhagen street
The Kelley Family in Copenhagen

Though living car-free in Copenhagen was a breeze, our family has never lived car-free in Rochester. Looking ahead to a time when all four of us will have driver’s licenses, we’re transitioning now from owning just one car to owning two — but certainly not four! The car-lite lifestyle is a pleasure we will continue.

Our chosen lifestyle is made more enjoyable by a few practicalities we’ve figured out along the way. First, we chose to live in a neighborhood with ubiquitous sidewalks and good bike routes to many places, especially our most common destinations, including my workplace, the kids’ schools, grocery stores, gyms, a bank, a pharmacy, a bakery, and a library. If you live near good routes to work and everyday destinations, by bike or bus or walk, transitioning to a car-lite lifestyle could be almost seamless. If you are among the millions working from home nowadays, going car-lite is even easier. If not, and if you’d like to commute by biking or walking, ask whether your employer has a shower. (Pro tip: U of R has many at the medical center, many at the gym, and at least two others on River Campus.) By providing a little extra power, an e-bike can be a key enabler of a pleasurable car-lite lifestyle, especially if you have health or mobility limitations, your commute is a little longer, or you frequently find yourself hauling young children and groceries. Cargo bikes and trailers are wonderful for families, not to mention backpacks and panniers. When children are old enough to pedal themselves but not yet old enough to navigate to school independently, a great solution is a bike train, in which just one or two parents bike along with a group of neighborhood classmates. Carpools are another great way to go car-lite, whether to school or to work. You can find great routes using RTS’s Transit app or browsing Rochester’s Bike Boulevards. When winter weather makes roads and sidewalks slick, you can pull on some microspikes on your way to the nearest bus.

Microspikes make car lite easier
Microspikes are a great way to make walking in the snow less treacherous!

Finally, you can help make a car-lite lifestyle more possible and more pleasurable for your own family and for everybody else by communicating its importance to public officials. A great way to start is by giving input for the City of Rochester’s new Active Transportation Plan and for Monroe County’s new Countywide Active Transportation Plan

1 Comment

Welcoming Jahasia Esgdaille!

Reconnect Rochester is excited to announce the hiring of Jahasia Esgdaille, Community Engagement Manager!

We’re so glad that Jahasia has joined our dynamic and growing staff team that works day-in and day-out to improve mobility in our community. In her role, she will act as Reconnect’s conduit to the community by developing strong relationships with people and organizational partners, and by conducting on-the-ground outreach. Get to know Jahasia and find out what drove (no pun intended) her to this work in the message below.

P.S. You may recognize Jahasia from one of our Car Lite Rochester blogs

Jahasia Esgdaille stands outside the Reconnect Rochester office door, smiling!
JAHASIA ESGDAILLE

Hello friends and fellow advocates! I’m so honored to step into the Community Engagement Manager position at Reconnect Rochester. The mission of Reconnect Rochester very much aligns with my upbringing growing up in New York City as multi-modality was a part of my family’s everyday life, which I discuss more in my car-lite blog here.

My interest in advocating for mobility justice and transit equity initially began as an environmental sustainability steward where I focused heavily on the ways that I could reduce my personal impact on the planet by swapping car trips for walking, biking or taking the bus. This interest, and admittedly newfound passion, quickly grew into a more encompassing lens on how access to multi-modal transportation options affect everything from our environment to economic opportunities, and more.

I look forward to listening, learning, contributing to and advocating for a sustainable and equitable transportation system for all of our community members!

No Comments

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.

8 Comments

A Resident’s Proposal for a New Mixed-use Trail in Irondequoit

If you’ve ever navigated the world without a car (whether that be for necessity or recreation), you’ve probably had a, “Why can’t I get over there from here?” moment. Guest blogger, Jack Rinaldo, had so many of these “moments” that he actually wrote up a proposal for a new mixed-use trail in Irondequoit, which would connect the eastern edges of Norton Street and Ridge Road. Curious? Read on for the nitty-gritty details in his own words.

Guest Blog by Jack Rinaldo

If you want to walk or bike to or from Southeast Irondequoit, you need to cross 104. There are only three locations to do so, highlighted in red in the picture below. Goodman Street and Culver Road have intersections with on/off ramps for 104. Both of these locations are dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, no matter if they are on the road or the sidewalk. The other option is Bay Shore Boulevard. This street is calm, but it has huge hills at either end of it, making it unusable for most people.

These barriers cut off the southeast side from the rest of Irondequoit. Would you let your kids use any of the three current routes? I am an experienced and confident cyclist and I will not ride on those sections of Goodman or Culver.

Current map, annotated

The proposed new trail would run from Norton Street north to Ridge Road. As seen in the picture below, the trail would start just east of the Norton Street/590 onramp. The trail could run very close to the 590 onramp, similar to the Brooks Avenue/390/Erie Canal Trail setup as shown below. It would then run north, connecting with the road that the new Irondequoit town Department of Public Works (DPW) is on. This half mile section would potentially be the only new construction needed.

Once connected to the DPW road, trail users could use that road to reach Ridge Road. Additional sections of trail to the side of the road could be added as well if they are determined to be needed.

This trail would be similar to other local trails near highways such as the Route 390 Trail in Greece, and the Route 104 Trail in Webster.

Proposed trail connection map
Example map
Brooks Avenue, 390, & Erie Canal Trail

This new trail would easily connect to the Sea Breeze Drive trail as seen in the picture below. Once at Ridge Road, trail users go 1000 feet west to Kane Drive. Kane Drive is a nice calm street. Once at Kane Drive, they would proceed north until they met the Sea Breeze Drive trail at the Titus Avenue roundabout.

The new trail would also easily connect to the City of Rochester’s Bicycle Boulevards. Heading south, traveling 700 feet west on Norton Street brings you to Helendale Road. Helendale Road is another calm street. Once in the Laurelton neighborhood, use Spencer Road and Whittington Road to directly access the Bicycle Boulevard system on Farmington Road.

To connect the new trail to the other systems above, all that would be needed would be signage directing users along the route.

Proposed trail connection map

The newly expanded trail system would also connect all six of the schools in the East Irondequoit School district. Students and families could use the trail to access school facilities for class and extracurricular events.

  • Irondequoit High School is 400 feet from the Kane Drive/Ridge Road intersection, and a path to the school’s athletic facilities is on Kane Drive.
  • East Irondequoit Middle school is 1200 feet west of the Norton Road/Helendale Road intersection, then 500 feet up Densmore Road.
  • Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School is 1700 feet from the Norton Road/Helendale Road intersection.
  • Helendale Road Primary School is directly on Helendale Road.
  • Durand-Eastman Intermediate School is almost directly on the Sea Breeze Drive trail.
  • Ivan Green Primary School is 1 mile away by safe neighborhood roads from Kane Drive.

The newly expanded system would connect many parks such as Irondequoit Bay Park West, Tryon Park, Durand-Eastman Park, the Lakeside Trail, SeaBreeze Amusement Park, Irondequoit Bay State Marine Park, and the beach at the Irondequoit Bay outlet.

Here is a link illustrating the new trail and it’s connectivity to the town: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1CTSRzSTvziHLSrxeJaSAt5wvJEjHc9Sd&usp=sharing (best viewed with Google Maps’ cycling layer turned on)

Irondequoit can look at the successes other towns have with trails, such as the new Brickyard Trail in Brighton, as well as the continued use of miles of trail that already exist in the region. Creating the new trail would be a great opportunity for the town to take unutilized land and better connect residents and neighborhoods, while promoting healthy and environmentally friendly transportation. The half mile of construction needed to achieve all of this would be very worth it.

1 Comment

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
1 Comment

THIS is Why: How a Multimodal Lifestyle Makes You Immune to Rising Gas Prices

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

I didn’t start biking to work because gas was too expensive. I did it because I had this evolving sense of the world based around the central premise that the mode of transport I had spent my whole life worshiping was the very thing that was in conflict with everything I loved.

When I was 18, my friends and I made a stupid little club called “The Anti-Carpoolers Of America.” I made and printed badges on my computer, featuring a minivan with a slash through it, which we all taped to our dashboards. I purchased a brand new 2000 Honda Civic EX and after the Fast And The Furious series came out, I began modding out my ride with things like a cat-back exhaust, a cold-air intake, performance rims and tires and a bevy of visual additives that announced to the world that I was an immature kid who had no idea how to spend his money. I was born in Chicago and I loved public transit, but I hadn’t yet put together the whole “cars destroyed public transit” narrative that I know and tout today.

My buddy bought a Subaru Impreza WRX, maxing out his financial capacity just to have a car that made him the unquestioned alpha in our group of friends. A base model Impreza, a Dodge Neon with a cold air intake and a “grape fruit shooter” muffler, a lightly-modded out Nissan Maxima, my Honda Civic… they all became financed expressions of ego that propelled all of us forward as we tried to express ourselves in a “keeping up with the Jones’s” automotive mentality. I prided myself on the fact that I drove 100,000 miles in four years. To put that in perspective, I have driven approximately 100,000 miles in the last fifteen years. It’s March 8th of 2022, and I have driven a total of 600 miles this year. And that’s only because the snow has kept me from using other forms of transportation as much as I would like.

Mobility independence
One of my first bike rides to work in 2014

But now, there is more incentive than ever for me to flex my human and electric powered micro-mobility options. As someone who owns 4 bikes, 1 ebike, a Onewheel, an electric skateboard, 2 kick scooters, 2 electric scooters, and more skateboards than I would like to admit, I have been an advocate of micro-mobility for nearly a decade. When promoting alternative transportation to the general population (and not just urbanists), I have typically tried to appeal to the intangible “feeling” of independence, as well as the daily exercise. To this point, gas has remained cheap enough that it was impractical to include fuel cost savings in my advocacy argument.

Obviously, this has changed quickly and drastically. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused gas prices to skyrocket toward record highs in the US and even higher in Europe. There has never been a time more ripe for a louder dialogue around human powered transportation, electric micro-mobility and public transit. While much of the country is blaming government for the regulation of fossil fuel drilling and delivery, people like myself continue to advocate for an alternative to our dependence on a single form of energy that is also tremendously damaging to our planet. True energy and mobility security does not come from greater access to a finite supply of oil, but rather a diversification of power sources, including human power.

Steven Senne/AP

In short, THIS is what all of us crazy cyclists, scooter riders, and electric micro-mobility junkies have been saying for a long time. At some point, a day like this was going to come, where the price of gas would literally make people hesitate before using their car for this or that. People have made choices — like buying a large vehicle or a house that’s 30 miles from their job — on the assumption that driving a car was always going to be affordable, despite the truth that at some point, fossil fuels would become scarce, prices would rise or circumstances would change. One of the central tenets of urbanism is simply that embracing density means we are not at the mercy of any of these variables.

As I’ve stated in the past, my wife and I live in an apartment that is just a few miles from each of our workplaces. I went years without a functional car, just recently splurging for a used compact car. Still, most days you’ll see me using a bike, a scooter or any number of other micro-mobility options for my commute and for running errands. Living a couple miles from Downtown Rochester also means we are closer to stores, shops and entertainment options. Literally, everything we need is within a few minute’s drive, a walk, a bike ride, etc.

This was a conscious decision and one we made because, among other reasons, we did not want to deal with the temporal or economic costs of living far away from our jobs and resources.

Pumping gas

So gas prices went up. I am almost completely unaffected. Nor are my friends that share my desire for mobility independence. Even my wife, who drives every day, is impacted far less than most because of our close proximity to everything, including her job. Because really, we don’t necessarily need to be anti-car to limit the impact of variables like gas prices on our weekly budgets. Simply living a “denser” lifestyle ensures that we have everything we need with fewer miles in between.

I’m not a market economist, and I am certainly no international relations expert… who knows where this terrible conflict happening in Ukraine will end, and what will happen as a result. Back home, the fact that our worst fear lies in rising gas prices just shows how detached we are with what is happening elsewhere on our planet. And even more trivial is the notion that we continue to rely on a single form of energy for a huge percentage of our day-to-day mobility.

Living closer to cities, using public transit and micro-mobility means that market fluctuations have less of an impact on our wallets. It means that we can choose how to move about, rather than relying on the car alone. While the automobile has always been a symbol of American freedom, a simple market shift based on events elsewhere in the world means that freedom can quickly turn into a financial hurdle that many are struggling to afford. THIS is why we urbanists advocate for a life less dependent on cars, and thus, on fossil fuels.

1 Comment

Deconstructing the Intractable Issue of Snowed-In Bus Stops

By Arian Horbovetz (The Urban Phoenix)

It’s a sound only heard on the coldest mornings.  The thunderous crunch with every step in my massive boots was deafening as I stumbled over the freshly plowed sidewalk snow.  Over a foot of newly-fallen snow glistened in the streetlight.  I peered through the steam from my latest breath and saw the bus stop in front of me.  But as I stumbled closer, I discovered that any chance of relief from the biting breeze was going to be a challenge.  The drifting snow, combined with the wall of white stuff created by sidewalk plowing made accessing the bus shelter a difficult proposition, even for a person like myself who is physically capable and adequately protected.

My aforementioned bus stop

Later that day, I watched as an elderly woman stood in the partially-plowed bike lane on East Henrietta Road, where drivers routinely reach 50mph.  The woman was waiting for a bus.  The sidewalk adjacent to the perfectly cleared roadway was not only unplowed, the road plows had slung an additional foot of dirty snow on top, making the sidewalk adjacent to the bus stop literally impassable, even for the most agile pedestrian.  With each car that passed the woman, I winced, knowing that a single distracted driver could mean disaster.

These observations are the norm rather than the exception in snow-stricken cities like Rochester.  Nearly 80 inches of snowfall annually, coupled with the tremendous lack of funding for non-automobile mobility, marginalizes and often endangers residents who rely on the bus.  For the 25% of Rochester residents who do not have access to a car, for the elderly who may not have adequate support, and for our disabled citizens, heavy snowfall means an inability to access essential resources.  

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

It’s important to note that the issue of bus stop snow removal is symbiotic with the issue of sidewalk snow removal.  The City of Rochester code 104-11 clearly places the role of sidewalk snow removal on the adjacent property owner.  But too often, property owners are unwilling, unable or unaware of their responsibility to maintain the adjoining public right of way.  And while infractions are reportable, they are often not addressed in a timely manner.  As in most cities, the snow melts before enforcement leads to a positive outcome.

A Rochester resident scales a snow pile

Additionally, the city provides “supplemental” snow removal of 878 miles of city sidewalk when storms deposit more than 4” of snow.  While this is a welcomed service that most cities do not provide, a lack of continued sidewalk snow maintenance means that private driveway plowing companies and icy walking conditions caused by the packing of snow by pedestrians, still makes for treacherous or impassable on-foot experiences.  

And finally, nowhere in the code is snow removal from bus stops or bus shelters mentioned specifically.  In a recent report by WHEC News 10, RTS Spokesperson Tom Brede “asks” that property owners clear a path to the adjacent bus stops as part of their responsibility to clear the sidewalk.  But with the ambiguity and subsequent lack of accountability, any regular bus rider will attest that this action is rarely taken.

How Does It Work In Other U.S. Cities?

As much as Rochester residents are frustrated by winter sidewalk conditions, a 2019 article by Streetsblog USA called Rochester the “clear leader” when it comes to sidewalk snow removal, citing the city’s aforementioned efforts to plow nearly all of its sidewalks in the wake of a heavy snowfall.  This is not to downplay the fact that far more needs to be done here in the Flower City, it is more to show just how few cities have the funding or the will to accommodate those who rely on sidewalks and access to public transit.

A snowy bus stop in Rochester

In a February 2022 WGRZ Buffalo, NY story, NFTA Spokesperson Helen Tederous stated that Buffalo’s code places the responsibility of bus stop snow removal on abutting property owners.  But a review of Buffalo’s Article VIII 413-50 “Snow and Ice Removal” resulted in no clear reference to this claim.  

While Syracuse has only recently begun taking partial sidewalk snow removal responsibility, The Salt City recently finalized an agreement with a contractor, and will spend up to $650,000 to plow 100 miles of sidewalk.

In Minneapolis Minnesota, if a property owner does not clear their adjacent public sidewalk, the city sends them a warning.  If the owner does not comply, a city crew is dispatched to do the job themselves, and a bill is sent.  If the bill is ignored, the cost is included in the owner’s next property tax bill.  City inspections also commence 24 hours after each snowfall, giving legitimacy to the requirement.  The fact that the city takes at least some responsibility in the process of reporting violators is a rare but welcomed level of sidewalk snow removal enforcement.

Our Neighbors To The Northeast

Montreal, Canada has long been heralded as the undisputed champion of snow removal.  As one of the snowiest large cities in the world, Montreal is faced with the same challenge that many major U.S. cities incur, but the process in removing the snow is just as robust.  A large piece of this process is based on the fact that the city actually removes the snow from streets, sidewalks and bike paths in large trucks and transports it to more than two dozen designated locations around the city.  This monumental task begins with signage and notices prior to the storm, warning residents not to park their cars and bikes in the streets or sidewalks.  Instead, residents are encouraged to use a system of parking lots and garages free of charge.  During and after the snow storm, a fleet of 2,200 snow removal vehicles are dispatched to clear the 10,000 kilometers of roads, sidewalks and bike paths.  Yes, that’s right, over half a million Montreal residents use their bikes for transportation rather than recreation, likely due in part to the fact that year-round bike commuting is made more practical by the Titanic snow removal efforts that Montreal employs.

Montreal Snow Removal, courtesy of Zvi Leve

When sidewalks and bike paths are cleared, this allows residents of all socioeconomic levels to access transit with greater ease, creating a more inclusive urban environment.  While Canada’s tax structure and municipal funding practices are very different from the United States in many ways, it is encouraging to see that effective snow removal is possible, and leads to better access.

Calming The Storm

While Rochester is considered a leader in sidewalk snow removal, there is still room for a great deal of improvement.  One of the key starting points is a more robust definition of who is responsible for bus stop snow removal, and a greater communication to property owners regarding this expectation.  Like Minneapolis, regular city-wide snow removal inspections coupled with greater enforcement would likely also improve outcomes.  Finally, advocacy is always an important factor in creating change.  Consider joining organizations like Reconnect Rochester in their efforts to make our streets, sidewalks and public transit systems accessible and equitable.  Together, we can make our city a place where mobility for all is accommodated and uplifted.

No Comments

Welcoming New Energy on our Staff & Board

Reconnect Rochester kicked off the new year by ushering in new leadership and energy onto our staff team and Board of Directors.

James Dietz joined our dynamic and growing staff team that works day-in and day-out to improve mobility in our community. He’ll be spearheading our advocacy activities, expanding our community outreach, and running the Complete Streets Makeover and Rochester Street Films programs. Find out how James landed here and what inspires him in the message below.

At our Annual Meeting in January, Victor Sanchez was elected our new Board President, taking over from Renée Stetzer who will stay on as an active Board member. We also welcomed three new Board membersBree-Ana Dukes, Bo Shoemaker and Erick Stephens. Get to know them and what they bring to the table in the profiles below.

Welcome James, Bree-Ana, Bo & Erick! We consider ourselves very lucky to have this kind of talent join our work to champion transportation choices in Monroe County.


JAMES DIETZ

I’m so excited to be Reconnect Rochester’s new Advocacy and Outreach Manager! Originally from Buffalo, I moved to Rochester in 2015 to attend the U of R, where I obtained my BA in Political Science. It was during my time in undergrad that I moved off of campus and began to call Rochester my home. I sought out opportunities to work with community organizations, which led me to become an AmeriCorps VISTA shortly after graduating. I spent a very rewarding year working on housing and economic justice with City Roots Community Land Trust, and urban agriculture with Taproot Collective.

Not having a car of my own, I quickly learned to navigate taking the bus and riding my bike to get around. It made me realize not only how important a good, robust public transportation system is, but also how much better Rochester’s transportation infrastructure could be, especially for those whose car-free lifestyle isn’t a choice but rather a necessity. I remember the first time I found myself in the old abandoned subway tunnels thinking to myself, “Why would they ever get rid of this?” My hope is that the work I do with Reconnect Rochester will bring us closer to a vision of Rochester that is more equitable, healthy, and sustainable for everyone.


BREE-ANA DUKES

Bree-Ana is a Rochester native and serves as the Program Coordinator for Rochester’s electric carshare program, Floshare. Bree-Ana holds a Bachelor degree in Social Science Interdisciplinary and a Masters degree in Higher Education Administration. She brings passion and experience in advocating for a good quality of life and the welfare of societies through accessibility to healthy food, transportation, education, medical care, and housing. In her role at Floshare, Bree-Ana coordinates the operations and member services of Rochester’s first 100% electric vehicle carsharing service. Bree-Ana is honored to be serving on the board of Reconnect Rochester and most looking forward to have the opportunity to further serve and engage the multi-modal transportation interests of Rochester residents.

BO SHOEMAKER

Bo is an avid trail runner, road runner, history run leader, cyclist, and triathlete. After completing law school at Syracuse University College of Law, he has worked as an attorney for Monroe County, the regional appellate court in Rochester, New York City, and now, Genesee County. Bo lives in the North Winton Village neighborhood of Rochester. He is currently leading a segment-by-segment running exploration of The Crescent Trail, is well into planning for his next run through Rochester History Runs, and after several Covid-related delays, plans on running the New York City Marathon this coming November!

ERICK STEPHENS

Erick is the Parent Engagement Specialist for Healthi Kids at Common Ground Health. In this role, Stephens provides technical assistance and support to schools to strengthen and improve parent engagement efforts. He also works directly with parents training them on advocacy and connecting them to opportunities to impact policy, systems, and environmental change in schools. Erick served as a Youth Service Assistant at the Phillis Wheatley Branch Library in Rochester’s Southwest and was the Parent Liaison at James P.B. Duffy School #12, where he now volunteers and runs a program to help develop leaders at the school through mentoring.

No Comments

Top ten things we’re most proud of in 2021.

2021 is coming to a close. In the realm of transportation, this year brought a mix of positive progress and setbacks. At Reconnect Rochester, we strive to be innovative and to pivot fast when we see input opportunities to capitalize on, or mobility issues that need attention.

Despite the uncertainty and challenges of our times, we moved our mission forward with intensity. Below is “Top 10” list of accomplishments we’re most proud of this year.


TOP 10 THINGS WE’RE MOST PROUD OF IN 2021
(In no particular order of importance.)

#10

Legislative Advocacy

In March, we made a virtual trip to Albany to champion public transit and safe streets for Rochester area residents (and all New Yorkers). In April & May, we made the rounds to meet with our federal legislators. Among other things, we asked for Phase 2 funding to build the station that long-distance bus riders deserve. Here’s our team meeting with staff from Senator Gillibrand’s office.

#9

More Cubes on the Ground

Thanks to the City of Rochester and many other people and partners (you know who you are), we installed 16 more fiberglass bus stop cubes in the 19th Ward & La Marketa neighborhoods. That brings the total to 31 bus stops where RTS riders now have a respectable place to sit while they wait. Here’s a birds eye view from the balcony of Teen Empowerment on Genesee Street.

#8

Weighing In on Projects & Plans

Through our Advocacy Committee, we submitted written input, attended public meetings and served on advisory committees on countless infrastructure projects and community plans. We urge planners and decision makers to create a connected community with streets and spaces designed for people. This kind of hyper-active advocacy work results in big wins, like the cycle track you see emerging here on E. Main Street, a project we weighed in on in 2019.

#7

Supporting Public Transit

We continued to play an active role in what’s happening with public transit in our community. We partner with RTS to advocate for increased funding that will allow them to make service improvements and expand bus stop amenities. We support mechanisms that will give riders visibility and voice around decision making tables. When there was an unexpected rollback in service in September, we made a strong statement and tried to keep the community informed.

#6

Spotlight on Pedestrian Safety

At our November edition of Rochester Street Films, we brought together our safe streets community partners, victims of road violence, community leaders and concerned citizens to have a community conversation about the silent epidemic of pedestrian injuries and fatalities on our streets. In case you missed it, watch the recording to catch up on the conversation!

#5

Informing the Electorate

Leading up to election days in June & November, we surveyed all candidates for Rochester Mayor and City Council to learn where they stand on issues related to transportation and mobility. Questions were designed to learn about their opinions, ideas and vision for a well-connected and accessible community.

#4

Making Monroe County Bike Friendlier

We continued to exponentially expand cycling-focused programs, advocacy, education and outreach. In fact, there are so many accomplishments that we had to create a CYCLING TOP 10 LIST. These efforts are led by Cycling Manager Jesse Peers with support from countless passionate people and partners working to make our community a safer and more bike friendly place.

#3

Supporting New Mobility Options

We helped educate the community and promote HOPR’s first season in our area, and we celebrated the installation of 8 new HOPR stations to expand bike & e-scooter access in Rochester’s underserved neighborhoods. We also spread the word about the launch of Floshare, an electric carshare pilot that offers an option for low income residents that can’t afford to own a personal vehicle.

#2

Blog Content That Inspires

We amped up content on our blog and enlisted guest blog writers to help us provoke thought and community engagement about things like transportation climate solutions, urban density, and designing streets for people. We’re especially proud of our 20 Minutes by Bike blog series.

#1

Strengthening Our Organization

Reconnect Rochester took some big leaps forward in 2021. We completed a 3-year strategic plan that charts our path ahead, announced a transformative investment by Dr. Scott MacRae (pictured above) that will enable us to expand our staff capacity, and appointed Mary Staropoli as Interim Executive Director to lead us through this period of growth and transition. In case you missed it, you can catch up on all the excitement here.

Just imagine what we can do in 2022!

No Comments

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.

No Comments

Rolling Out the Changes: A Transit Ambassador’s View on the New RTS System

Guest blog by Nicholas Russo; an RIT graduate, civil engineer, & passionate urbanist

On May 17, 2021, a re-imagined Regional Transit Service kicked off in Rochester. As a hired Transit Ambassador for the first week of the rollout, I had a firsthand view of how the new bus routes and infrastructure were set up and how they functioned, and also got to hear the thoughts and experiences from transit users. In this post, I’ll recount my time visiting three of the new Mobility Hubs around the metro area, as well as my car-free week in Rochester! I am currently living in Massachusetts, so I was excited to have an excuse to visit my old college town, and get paid for it!

For those who may be unfamiliar, the Reimagine RTS initiative began several years ago, with the ultimate result of more efficient bus routes, including three new Crosstown lines (which I made extensive use of during the week), and an all-new On Demand service. The On Demand service is like micro-mass-transit, with shared vans that can be called for pickups and drop-offs anywhere inside specific On Demand zones. There are no fixed routes or bus stops in the On Demand zones. 

The existing fixed-route bus service is named RTS Connect. The RTS Connect fixed-route services that run to On Demand zones now terminate at Mobility Hubs. These are more formalized bus connection points that are all served by an On Demand zone, as well. Here’s the map to help you visualize the new system.

The Week Begins

My journey started at the Albany-Rensselaer train station, where I finally got to try the roll-on bicycle storage service. I packed a week’s worth of supplies into my camping backpack, and climbed on board the train. Once I arrived in Rochester, it felt great to throw my backpack on, hop on my own bike, and get myself over to my host’s house for the week. No waiting for an Uber or walking to the Transit Center. I was very grateful to also make it to the Flower Pedal Populaire Sunday bike ride to kick off my week. It was great to catch up with so many people, and see how the city has grown over the past few years!

On-board bike storage on the Empire Service

My RTS Transit Ambassador schedule for the week was one for the early birds: 5:00am-1:00pm for Monday and Tuesday, then 6:00am-9:00am the remainder of the week. Reporting for 5:00am at the Hylan Drive Mobility Hub meant that I needed to plan my alarm time for the 45-minute bike ride to Henrietta with a little buffer time, and time to get out of bed and get ready for the day. 3:30am it was. My bike rides took me mostly on a straight line along Winton Road, which was eerily quiet at 4:00 in the morning.

The standard Ambassador uniform for the week was a blue RTS-branded apron, black RTS-branded mask, and a lime green RTS-branded visor. Hopefully it was clear that I wasn’t someone just loitering all day at the bus stop. Each Ambassador also received a small swag-bag with sunscreen (thank you!!), sanitizer, and information about the new bus lines and On Demand zones.

Showtime

Monday morning started quiet, dark, and empty at the Henrietta Transit Hub on Hylan Drive, where I was assigned. The Hub consists of two metal and plexiglass shelters facing each other across the street at the Wegmans driveway entrance. The shelters are enclosed on three sides, with the side that faces the street open except for a center plexiglass slat. 

For being on a suburban arterial, it was incredibly quiet and peaceful watching the sunrise and listening to the hundreds of seagulls and geese making their morning rounds. As the way went on, though, the traffic and noise levels became dangerously high at times as cargo trucks zoomed by at 40 miles per hour no more than twenty feet away from my seat. I would honestly suggest flipping the shelters around and having the opening face away from the street. Keeping the noise and fumes out would create a much better ride experience.

My home base for the first half of the week

The first customer of the morning was a recent graduate from RIT, and an even bigger fan of transit than I was. He informed me as he walked up to the bus shelter at 5:50am that he wanted to be the first customer to try the new On Demand service. The On Demand hours begin at 6:00am, and at that hour two RTS-branded passenger vans drove up and staged at the far edge of the Wegmans parking lot. The customer boarded and went off to continue riding the new bus system for the day.

I was also happy to be joined by fellow Ambassadors across the street, and an RTS supervisor who was on duty for the day at the Hub to make sure things ran smoothly. As the morning progressed, I was extremely grateful that he was there and had direct access to dispatch communications, as I’ll explain.

Connection Hub-Bub

Many of us are used to having first-day jitters, bugs, and hitches with new programs and initiatives, and Reimagine was no exception. Being a completely new service, On Demand had a quiet start on Monday morning. Those who did try out the passenger vans sometimes found themselves waiting at the Hub long beyond their scheduled pickup time, but with no clear reason why. When someone called customer service, the representative found that they were indeed scheduled to be picked up at the Hylan Connection Hub at their specified time. But the On Demand vehicle was nowhere to be seen. 

Luckily, RTS’s supervisor who was assisting us that day was able to speak directly with dispatch and the operators. It turned out that the location of the Connection Hub was incorrectly placed on the vans’ GPS units as being at the terminus of the bus routes (at Walmart on Clay Road), and not at the Hylan Drive shelters. So, operators were driving to Walmart when instructed to pick up a passenger at the Hylan Connection Hub. This was ironed out as the week went on.

Another change that was unexpected by some passengers was RTS Connect bypassing the Marketplace Mall entrance, which was where the fixed-route buses previously would pass through. The new routes were laid out to run directly down West Henrietta Road to Hylan Drive, without diverting into the mall property. While this was more efficient from a bus scheduling standpoint, the change proved to be less efficient for many passengers who were taking the bus to the mall. They now had to walk from the Hylan Drive Hub, and then halfway around the outside of the mall, to get inside. This feedback was passed along to operators who then updated the route by Tuesday morning to once again pass through the mall entrance.

Hopping Around Hubs

I offered my flexibility to the Ambassador supervisors during the week, and they took me up on the offer. Besides Henrietta, I helped to staff the Connection Hubs at Dewey Ave & Ridge Road, and Irondequoit Plaza. Each offered their own unique logistics that show just how diverse the neighborhoods around Rochester are. 

On Wednesday and Thursday morning, Dewey Ave proved to be an important Connection Hub for commuters who work at the industrial centers on the west side of the city. This hub really served as a stress-test for the On Demand service, which had an On Demand zone comprised of all of the industry on the west side between Ridge Road and Lyell Ave. The flexibility of the On Demand service meant that pick up and drop-off times were not guaranteed, and it became apparent early in the week (before I was at that hub) that passengers would need to book additional “buffer” time for pick-ups and drop-offs to be on time for work. It was an evolving situation as the week went on. 

Another piece of the puzzle involved the “long” and “short” fixed-route lines that served the Dewey Connection Hub. The long and short lines are basically overlapping bus lines, with one line running all the way to the far end of Dewey Ave at Northgate Plaza, and another stopping short at the Dewey Ave Connection Hub at Ridge Road.

My bike at a bus stop with a Reconnect Bus Cube

Irondequoit Plaza was the quietest hub of the week in my opinion, mostly since I was stationed there on a Saturday morning. There were not any commuters to speak of in this bedroom neighborhood, and a smattering of early-morning Wegmans shoppers did alight from the fixed-route buses that terminated here. It was a good opportunity to chat with some of the bus operators as they laid over at the hub.

Finally, I ended my week on Sunday morning back where I began, at the Hylan Drive Connection Hub in Henrietta. 

As I reflected on the week during the sunny and quiet Sunday morning, I was grateful to be on the ground to see how this system worked in the real world. As someone from a city so small that our buses only run once an hour, it was so much fun to get fully immersed in a city-wide bus system serving thousands of passengers a day. I’m looking forward to my next return visit, when I can be a full-time passenger on the RTS buses, and remember how vital our public transit is for a healthy and strong city.

2 Comments

Shamokin Dam, PA: No Pedestrians Allowed

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

Last weekend my wife and I enjoyed a quick overnight trip to one of our favorite cities, Philadelphia, PA. In an effort to avoid toll roads, we took Route 15 for much of the way through the Keystone State, marveling at the beautiful rolling hills while skirting the Susquehanna River.

But in many places along the way, Route 15 transitions into Big Box Store Islands. One such place is in Shamokin Dam, home to massive parking lots servicing Best Buys and AutoZones, featuring every restaurant chain from McDonalds and Burger King to Pizza Hut, Chipotle, Denny’s, Red Robin, Applebee’s and more. What caught my eye on this particular journey through the minimum-wage wasteland was the total lack of sidewalks.

Let’s unpack this for a moment. We have a sea of low paying retail jobs that literally cannot be reached on foot or by bike. If you can’t afford a car, you don’t get a job here and you don’t get to shop here, plain and simple.

Furthermore, and this is my favorite… not only do they not have sidewalks, the local signage actually forbids pedestrians!

And beyond that, I tried to see if there might be a public transit option so that residents of nearby Selinsgrove, for example, might be able to access this area without owning a car. Spoiler alert, there is no public transit option.

A similar collection of big box retailers and chain restaurants exists south of Rochester, New York in the suburb of Henrietta. And while the land use and development strategies in this area are hideously car-centric and exclusive, at least it has sidewalks on both sides of the road and regular transit access.

Jefferson Road, Henrietta, NY

Shamokin Dam, on the other hand, is an island of minimum wage jobs that is only accessible by the most expensive form of transportation. Pennsylvania’s citizens living in this area must own a car and all the incredible costs that come with it in order to access these retail opportunities, either as an employee or as a customer. This is a perfect example of how flawed and shortsighted our U.S. development patterns and land use constructs truly are.

2 Comments

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.

No Comments

Big Houses and Long Commutes, Not Smart Phones, Eroded Community

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

Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone 35+ on social media feeds gripe about how the smartphone has ruined the fabric of communication and togetherness in our country. The irony, of course, is that 95% of these posts are from someone using a smartphone app. And while mobile technology has certainly changed the way we engage with information, as well as one another, the catalyst of disconnection and isolationism in this country began long before cell phones were a twinkle in someone’s creative eye.

As we move farther away from jobs and resources, and as the amount of time we spend in our cars increases, the opportunities to spontaneously connect with strangers is significantly lessened. In a country where individualistic transportation is subsidized and prioritized above all else, Americans are incentivized to take up residence farther away from jobs and resources than ever before. By default, more people must rely on single-occupancy car travel as a means of daily mobility.

In his book Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg states that in 1950, U.S. houses averaged 985 square feet of space, while in 2000 that number exploded to 2,200 square feet. This astonishing shift toward more square footage, combined with the fact that the American family is shrinking in size while the number of bedrooms per household is increasing, sets the tone for a disconnected, individualistic narrative where personal space is king and a sense of community within the home is negated.

I distinctly remember a conversation I had with an old friend in which she told me that, when she was a teenager, her family moved from a small house in the city to a large, cookie-cutter suburban house. Her parents thought that more space for everyone to sprawl would mean a happier and more comfortable future. But, she recalled, the opposite became true. Where the family was forced to share space in their former small home, the new and larger home allowed everyone in the family to come home from work and school and go their separate ways. Walks became car trips, and family nights on the couch became a thing of the past. While individual family members had a far greater opportunity to pacify their desire for personal space, the family cohesion created by the constant need to share ones own space with others quickly eroded. The family drifted, conflicts arose, and the parents eventually filed for divorce. To this day, my friend largely blames this disillusionment of her family on the move to a bigger house.

Image Credit: Jen Doyle

While this is just one anecdotal example, it speaks to the notion that increased square footage rarely equates to the greater sense of happiness and stability that we think it does. Far more often, true contentment and a feeling of togetherness is created when we are forced to share and manage space with others.

One of the most interesting determinants of personal contentment is closely related to commute times. Research clearly shows that longer commutes have a decidedly negative affect on mental and physical health. One study in England found that adding 20 minutes to ones commute equated to a 19% pay cut with regard to job satisfaction. Clearly, the time we must travel to reach our place of employment is a huge determinant of our overall health and happiness.

While this might surprise hoards of suburban-dwellers who champion the fact that their hour-plus round trip car commute means they can live a happier life apart from urban environments, market-rate housing prices in major employment sectors tell the real story of the value of commute times. In major metros like New York City, Washington DC, Boston, LA, Seattle and San Francisco, it is nearly impossible for the average worker to find affordable housing within a 2-hour round-trip commute radius. If you’re a fan of “market rate” pricing as a means of economic and societal value, look no further than the metric of housing cost in relation to employment accessibility in major metros to tell you that commute times are a capitalistic variable.

Image Credit: Alekjes Bergmanis

The smartphone certainly has its place in the sea of human disconnection. But it is a symptom, rather than the cause, of community erosion that we, as Americans, have been fostering for decades. The blatant desire to isolate the variables of human interaction by creating our own spaces and realities that negate the outside world is nothing new.

Through racially driven land use, and suburban sprawl, the prioritization of car culture, the glorification of big box stores and eventually online retail, and a million other movements away from street-level community involvement, America (specifically white America) has gone all-in on individualism and exclusivity. The smart phone is but a symptom of a social shift that has been gaining momentum for over a century. Before we go blaming the smartphone for the end of real human interaction, perhaps we need to look at the history of the American desire to separate, isolate and divide.

2 Comments

Bike Safety: It’s more than just bike lanes

Guest blog by Rochester resident, Sarah Gerin

I bought my first bike at a local pawn shop when I was nine, after finding a fresh $100 bill on the floor of a K-Mart earlier that day. Obviously I “invested” the rest (i.e. putting it in the Garfield cup in my room that held my fortunes). As a kid, my experience with biking was minimal, taking short rides around my neighborhood and learning how to ride “no hands” because I thought it looked cool.

I didn’t ride bikes again until 2018, when I spontaneously decided that I wanted to “get into road bikes” as a hobby. I dove head-first into learning as much as I could about the biking world, including different bikes and the local “bike scene” in Rochester. Inevitably, that meant that I ended up visiting – I kid you not – every single bike shop in Rochester to learn from the experts and enthusiasts what bikes made the most sense for what endeavors, and I even got “fitted” for a bike, which at the time felt like the most legitimate thing you could do as a cyclist, especially a novice one.

During my three-week escapade of research, I learned that the local cycling scene in Rochester was robust and the community here is not only knowledgeable, but welcoming and genuinely amazing. People really love to bike, and I think I grew to love it simply from my conversations with people about everything from the best gear to the best trails and the local meetups that happen each weekend.


“I biked for leisure, I biked to work (most of the time), I biked to see the city I’ve lived in for over a decade with fresh eyes.”


I eventually landed on my “entry level” road bike, with plans to work my way up in expertise. Once I made my purchase, my commitment to hitting the road remained consistent and spirited. Biking around Rochester became my official summer activity. I biked for leisure, I biked to work (most of the time), I biked to see the city I’ve lived in for over a decade with fresh eyes. During that time, I had never really considered the gaps in safety for cyclists that exist here because, frankly, the fear for my own safety didn’t ever cross my mind. I felt so free on the road and I took the necessary safety precautions as a cyclist, so what could go wrong?

In September 2019, the occasional thoughts regarding safety suddenly became very real and necessary, when a casual ride down East Ave turned into a not-so-casual ride to the ER after getting clipped and catching my fall with my face, which was thankfully protected by a helmet (wear your helmets, people!!). I honestly don’t recall many details of the incident before I found myself monologuing for hours on end in the ER and entertaining the nurses on the night shift. (Unfortunately there is no evidence of what could have been a GREAT Netflix comedy special, but there is evidence of me trying to walk to my friend’s car like a newborn deer.

What I do know is that the crash happened on the busy stretch of East Ave that doesn’t have a bike lane, which forces bicyclists to cozy up to the curb in order to avoid cars passing by on the road. *Note to cyclists and non-cyclists alike – this is NOT the “right” way to ride in the road, and was not typically my riding behavior. Call it a perfect storm, call it fate. Either way, my face smashed into the pavement and it has changed the way I think about riding and cyclist visibility/ awareness. Along with some semi-permanent changes to my physiology…but that’s a whole other blog post entirely.


“Call it a perfect storm, call it fate. Either way, my face smashed into the pavement and it has changed the way I think about riding and cyclist visibility/ awareness.”


Here’s the thing: My experience with biking in Rochester had always felt quite safe and unhindered despite the sometimes noticeable limited infrastructure in and around the city. Despite these gaps, I never felt concerned, namely because of my own safety measures and the fact that my cycling habits were usually during “off hours” and thus lower commute times. That being said, my crash happened on the one strip of East Ave that of course DOESN’T have a bike lane, during a high traffic time – a Friday night during a summer festival. In other words, a time of mayhem.

I have yet to really know how my own cycling behaviors will be influenced by my crash on the road, but I don’t have any intention of stopping. That is, once I build up the courage to get back on my bike (estimated Summer 2021 after nearly two years of recovery). Despite my unfortunate encounter with a giant moving metal object at rapid speed, I STILL think biking is a safe and enjoyable activity and method of transportation. We are a city of bike enthusiasts and have low-to-no road rage here compared to many other cities! I call that a win.


“We are a city of bike enthusiasts and have low-to-no road rage here compared to many other cities! I call that a win.”


Do I think more bike lanes need to be strategically placed around the city? Perhaps. It couldn’t hurt. But “good cycling” on the road often means that you are in the street. My biggest issue as a cyclist is that the burden of safety is always placed on cyclists, the most vulnerable in a collision circumstance, just like in “rape culture” the burden of safety or responsibility is placed on women.

If you do a quick internet search on cycling safety, you will see important things like wearing brightly colored gear, lights, a helmet, riding with the flow of traffic, and traffic signals. However, if you were to survey a randomly selected group of drivers, how many of them know how to safely engage with a cyclist on the road? How many of them know what a straight arm out versus a bent arm means when you see a cyclist doing it? How many times have you seen drivers not looking both ways (with cyclists in mind) when turning onto a street? If the safety measures diligently taken and used by cyclists mean nothing to the drivers who share the road, there will always be disproportionately increased risk.

Might there be ways to increase visibility, and more importantly awareness about cyclists, that aren’t just about creating bike lanes?

4 Comments

A Rochester transplant’s perspective: Our city is a fantastic place to bike

Guest blog by Dan Kamalic

As a six year transplant to Rochester, I’ve had some time now to reflect on my experience cycling here versus other cities, and I’ve come to a pretty stark conclusion:  Rochesterians seem to have no idea how good we have it here.

You see, I travel all over the world with my bike (or at least I did pre-COVID) for either my day job or night job.  For the day job, I do computer stuff for decent money.  For the night job, I sing opera professionally for not-as-decent money.  I’ve gone back up from half-time to full-time for the former now that all of my performances for the latter are on hold due to the pandemic, and that’s given me the opportunity to bike ONLY in Rochester for the past year now.  This has only further convinced me that it’s just plain unfortunate that we keep getting ranked lower in “bike friendly city” polls than many cities that, in my experience, are just not nearly as pleasant to bike in. 

Photo Credit: Arian David Photography

Aside from the bounty of beautiful nature just a short ride from the city, the thing that really makes the difference in Rochester is that people are actually friendly, and that includes when they’re behind the wheel of an automobile.  They don’t have to deal with horrible traffic, they don’t seem to be in a terrible rush, and they don’t seem to be generally miserable — they seem to be happy and outgoing in a very “Canadian” way.  

Of course you get a few jerks here and there, but they’re astoundingly few and far between.  I was shocked when I first moved here at how friendly and non-confrontational drivers were to me by comparison with Boston, New York City, or even bike meccas like Portland, Oregon.  It was months before a driver even so much as said a word to me, and when it finally happened, it was to express concern for my safety, not to curse me out.  I’ve joked that I’ll take ten thousand miles on Rochester’s streets with friendly drivers and no bike lanes over ten miles on Boston’s streets with ubiquitous bike lanes and psychotic drivers. 


“What Rochester lacks in bike-specific infrastructure or warm weather, it makes up for tenfold in its unusually low percentage of homicidal drivers.”


Now, this ain’t no Sanibel, Florida (if you don’t know, look it up!), so we can’t do anything about the weather, but the bike success of snowy cities like Minneapolis prove that’s not really an issue.  Rochesterians are hardy folks, and dressing for the weather is second-nature to us.  And the driver attitudes really do make all the difference. 

Photo Credit: Dan Kamalic

I remember when I first moved here from Boston in 2014, that first, incredibly snowy winter, I saw a man sloshing up the bike lane on East Ave in the middle of a pounding snowstorm, towing his child in a baby trailer and running his dog on a leash.  I remember looking over at my wife and saying, “I bet NOBODY has honked or yelled at that guy today, or told him he’s a bad father.” What Rochester lacks in bike-specific infrastructure or warm weather, it makes up for tenfold in its unusually low percentage of homicidal drivers.

Now, if we could only get our infrastructure to be as good as our drivers seem to be, we’d be over the top!  But we’re not going to get there by courting die-hard year-round enthusiasts.  There aren’t enough of those.  And we’re not going to get there by courting people who have convinced themselves that anyone who rides a bike outside of a spin studio has a death wish.  Those people are just too hard to win over, at least at the beginning.  

Photo Credit: Arian David Photography

We’re only going to get there by courting the vast numbers of people who are on the fence.  Especially during the pandemic, these would-be cyclists are finally starting to consider their bike as an option for getting themselves outside, livening up their commute, or getting some exercise.  And these are exactly the people who need to hear that cycling is safe — statistically safer than driving.  They need to hear that there are enough warm months in the year to make biking worthwhile even if you pack it away for the cold.  And they need to hear that the right clothing for cold weather is most likely stuff they already own.  They need to hear that it’s easy to ride in the street, even without bike lanes, and that there are tons of riding groups here — including casual cycling groups like the Unity Rides and Slow Roll — where people can get used to it by riding together with others.

I think this is the key here — we need to normalize bicycling, fighting a cultural shift so powerful that it killed our own subway system.  And the only way we normalize it is by constantly showing regular people that Rochester is a fantastic place to bike.

No Comments

Automobile Evolution and Suburban Sprawl

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

The first car I recall riding in as a child was my mother’s Chevette Scooter, a horribly made car for the family on a budget. Poor quality, no comfort, no AC, a heater that took half an hour to kick in and a crappy radio.

The Ford Escort that followed was honestly not much of an upgrade, and neither was the car that ended up being my first to drive, the Plymouth Colt (which didn’t even have a radio).

1993 Plymouth Colt Interior, Consumer Guide Automotive

Yes, these were bargain basement rides built for my mother’s extremely tight self-employed-music-teacher budget. There were far more luxurious cars in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. But none of these were anywhere near our price range. Thus, we were stuck with cars that just weren’t great to be in for more than short stints at a time. Commutes were a struggle, especially in bad weather. Comfort was something we simply could not afford.

In contrast, let’s look at the 2021 Toyota Corolla. Features include AC, power everything, a touch-screen audio control system with “Amazon Alexa Compatibility” as well as “Android Auto” and “Apple Car Play” standard. You can even get “Sirius XM” satellite radio. The look and feel of the interior resembles something from the future, with painstaking detail to ensure comfort and convenience. Top that off with the fact that the new Corolla has 139 horsepower, nearly double that of the popular Escort mentioned above. And let’s remember, the Corolla is the base-model of Toyota’s fleet. This is the new entry-level car of the budget-minded American today.

When we talk about the “driving forces” (forgive the pun) of American population sprawl away from urban centers and even job clusters, we often cite wider roads, more highways, cheaper rural property, crime rates, employment redistribution and other factors as motivators and facilitators. We rarely talk about the fact that being in a car for long periods of time isn’t quite as awful anymore.

An example of luxurious cars today

The upgrades with regard to comfort, power, tech, audio, safety, all-weather handling, and a host of other creature comforts have made the prospect of a longer commute much more palatable… even inviting. Cars have shifted from uncomfortable, unsafe and unappealing to flashy, exciting and luxurious, even at the base-model-level.

And Americans are willing to spend a greater percentage of their income on this luxury. If you were the average American and wanted to purchase the most popular car in the United States in 1985, you would commit 26% of your annual income to that purchase. If you wanted to do the same today (and purchase the Toyota Camry) you would have to spend 35% of your income.

Car companies have had their finger on the pulse of American psychology for some time. A decade ago, when car sales began to drastically slip with young Americans, the auto industry knew they needed to make a change. Gone would be the days of selling a car based on boring traits like vehicle quality and longevity… instead, a new era of vehicular manufacturing and marketing was built around something young people can’t get enough of: Tech.

From computer-monitored climate control systems to Bluetooth and voice-command applications that tie in with your phone, tech advances in cars have ushered in a new dimension of appeal to the young American motorist. Car interiors have been fitted with futuristic cockpits featuring screens, cameras, colorful lights and flashy graphics. Very few commercials speak to the construction of the vehicle with regard to crash safety anymore… instead they tout the automatic braking systems and auto-piloting features as tech that keep passengers from crashing in the first place.

The ability for a car to sync with a smartphone via voice command is particularly vital. The shifting symbol of freedom in the U.S. is important to note here, as more and more young Americans favor digital rather than (or at least in steep competition with) physical connectivity. Before recent advances in car tech, the automobile was a place where people were legally prohibited any interaction with tech while driving. Taking a bus or a train, however, left the traveler the chance to immerse herself/himself in the digital world while moving about. It is at least somewhat likely that the uptick in transit usage and the downturn in miles driven a decade ago was motivated by the fact that transit allows users to continue their smartphone connectivity throughout their local and regional travels, while cars do not.

Travelers immersed in the digital world, taking advantage of the freedom of public transit

Even prior to Covid, this trend had been steadily reversing. As cars added ways for Americans to stay digitally connected and feel surrounded by luxurious tech, public transit, in most cases, failed to adapt by building on their modest gains. Now that Covid has dealt a cataclysmic blow to transit ridership, the auto industry has never been more vigilant in marketing their product as a vehicle that keeps you connected while giving you a space that is “safe,” warm, comforting and above all, fun.

Pay close attention to car ads today. How many of them really talk about old-school measures like how long the car will last or how the car drives? Instead, look at the attention to tech additives and creature comforts. Today’s cars aren’t being marketed as transportation solutions… they are being branded as blissful islands of escape, with technology and serenity at the center of a newfound automobile obsession.

As urbanists battle against community design that prioritizes automobile utilization above all else, we should all be mindful of the fact that these aren’t the only factors that motivate car sales today. The fact is, cars today are more fun than they ever have been. Even entry-level models boast tech, audio and comfort that bathe the driver in a world apart from the anxiety-inducing reality we live in today.

As we look toward a light at the end of a dark tunnel, we must start planning for the public transportation of tomorrow. One of the considerations we must have is how to compete with the serenity-inducing experience of the car. Public transit’s next step needs to not only focus on how to efficiently move people, but how to do it in a way that pacifies our desire for comfort and need for space in a world that continues to overwhelm us all.