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40 Years Car-Free in the Neighborhood of the Arts

By Joseph Struble

In 1975 I bought my first (and last) car: a gold/tan Mazda RX-3 with white bucket seats and that intoxicating “new-car smell.” I also bought a pair of prescription sunglasses, aviator style, and I thought I was so cool driving back and forth to Graduate School in Richmond, VA, windows open in summer and blasting “Country Roads, Take Me Home” on the radio.

In 1979 I was back home in Rochester and newly wary of my car. It had an unwelcome trick of suddenly losing power, slowing down and coming to a stop, no matter where I was (even on some of those country roads!). Very disconcerting. It also took 10 minutes to warm up in winter and even then I could only start to roll with the choke full out, so it was like holding the reigns of a bucking bronco (though it was a Mazda) for a while thereafter.

A car parked in a parking lot

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I sold it and never looked back.

I did not get my driver’s license until I was 22 and out of college, so the aviator-glasses cool notwithstanding, I think I may have been inclined to be a non-driver early on.

And I well remember how living on St. John Fisher campus for my last 2 years thrilled me in its own small way: “There is everything I want here: friends, food, a pub, a library, Sunday Mass, famous lecturers and even bands come here, candlelight vigils in protest of the Vietnam war…OK the girls were one mile down the road on another campus, but still, this was my “happy place.”

So I simply grafted that formula for a varied and contented life onto the Park Avenue neighborhood, beginning in 1980.

I like to walk. People always tell me how healthy that is, but it is not really exercise, I think, unless you make it so (get your heart rate up, sweat, etc. – and for that, I used to jog and once even ran a marathon).

Walking is merely my mode of transportation [the action of transporting someone or something] and for me, that someone or something is me, myself and I.

I have a good 3-5 mile walking range in all four directions from my place on Strathallan Park and like my college campus, there is everything I want here: The Memorial Art Gallery, George Eastman House (where I was employed for 26 years – a 12 minute walk each way), The Eastman Theatre, GEVA, Blessed Sacrament church. The Rochester Public Library – both Central and Monroe Avenue branches are in my range. I exercise at Harro East on Andrews Street, and love my early morning walk there as others are heading out to work.

A picture containing text, grass, outdoor, sidewalk

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I check out a variety of breakfast and lunch places in my walking range, all staffed with friendly people: wife and husband Evinn and Bill at Crumpets; Will at Calabresella’s Subs; Ramon, Wilfredo, and Erica at Palermo’s in the Mercantile; Jason at POP ROC; and the nice folks at the café in the Art Deco Times Square Building.

Oh and there’s my German class meet-up at Spot Coffee or Matilda’s every Thursday.

I shop at the East and Winton Wegmans, carrying a backpack which $85 of groceries usually fits nicely in. I walk there, but if there are people at the corner bus stop when I leave, I sometimes take the bus home.

I can extend my walking to Pittsford Plaza and even to Charlotte, but it has to be on a beautiful day. Otherwise, either the Monroe and Lake bus gets me there.

A word about RTS. It’s convenient enough. I love the new 41 Culver/Goodman Crosstown bus. I tell people that in my lifetime (73 years) I count three good “bonus” things coming along: Cherry Coke, Milky Way Dark, and the #41 Crosstown bus.

I think I could be very happy living in Manhattan (if I had the income). So I go there often and I have made the trip variously by plane, train, bus, and as a passenger in a car. Amtrak is the best for me, I think. More opportunity for movement, a café car break, and the leisure to read and just think.

Then there are times when a car ride is more essential than just for a psychological boost. I’m glad I have friends with cars and it’s wonderful to hit the road and head out into the country and those wide-open, blue-sky spaces (vs. interestingly cluttered city ones). 

This puts me in the “riding shotgun” seat and for that, I am grateful to GPS, since my map-reading and directional skills are abysmal.

Once in 40 years of non-driving, I borrowed my brother’s car to go to a wedding. It’s true, that like riding a bicycle, once you learn, you never forget. But a lot of things had changed about a car – the door locks, the ignition, other unfamiliar gizmos. So it was dicey. Then there was the violent thunderstorm on the way home.

I worry sometimes that I am so out-of-practice and would be very reluctant to take the wheel in case of any emergency or merely to relieve a fatigued driver on one of those blue-sky rides. I have kept up my license and even became a member of the Automobile Club of America “just in case” but I never really want to drive again. That’s not so good.

I really have no knowledge of the cost of car ownership (but the folks at Reconnect Rochester do!). For a few years, I went to the Convention Center for the Auto Show and yes, the stickers were shocking.

But I do know that since 2000, I have had some disposable income used for 6 flights to Europe where I spent 2 weeks each in a major city. Next time, I hope to take the Queen Mary II across the pond (not as pricey as you might think).

Edinburgh, Scotland, my last big trip pre-pandemic
My last trip to Europe (pre-pandemic) was a two week excursion to Edinburgh.

Although I recycle and dislike seeing a dirty truck belching black smoke drive by, don’t consider me a climate activist. I simply think that living simply with everyday pleasures at hand has been a satisfying lifestyle for me.

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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!

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

2020 has been a year like no other.

Like every non-profit, the pandemic forced Reconnect Rochester to pivot fast to re-tool our planned programs and goals for the year. Luckily, we are small (but mighty), and nothing if not nimble. Despite all the challenges, we managed to move our mission forward with intensity. Check out (below) the “Top 10” list of accomplishments we’re most proud of in 2020.

We also faced financial uncertainty this year as prospects for grants and sponsorships dissipated. You know what got us through? The generosity of supporting members during our last membership drive, especially our sustaining members whose monthly donations proved to be extra crucial this year.

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


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

#10

Releasing a new original short film titled Think Transit First to highlight transportation as a systemic equity issue in our community, and the innovative ways some local organizations are meeting transportation needs. The film premiered at our Nov 12 Rochester Street Films event, which also included a presentation of local statistics and a panel discussion. Please watch and share this important film!

#9

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

#8

Hosting a 3-hour virtual Complete Streets Training attended by 60 local public officials, planners, engineers and advocates. Justin Booth of GObike Buffalo led a discussion about the benefits of active mobility and complete streets, and how we can make our roads safe for people of all ages and abilities.

#7

Rolling out a set of bike education offerings to encourage more people in our community to experience the health and financial benefits of biking to get around, and deliver the information they need to do so safely and comfortably.
p.s. Find out more about classes & presentations you can bring to your workplace, campus, community library or schools.

#6

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

#5

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

#4

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

#3

Getting our Monroe County Crash Map (which had crashed) updated on our website with a fresh new design! The map is a resource for looking up crashes that involve pedestrians and cyclists, and serves as a tool for local advocacy efforts around safe streets in our community.

#2

Adding new multi-modal themed products and designs to our online shop. All sales and proceeds are reinvested to support our work in the community.
p.s. Several new products are available as membership gifts!

#1

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


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

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

Just imagine what we can do in 2021!