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A Naturalist’s Ode to Urban Density

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

I grew up doing a lot of hiking and backpacking in the woods of Alabama. Being outside connected me to a world that seemed more fundamental, more enduring, less corrupted by the mistakes of humankind. I felt empowered by the ethos of backpacking especially, that my own two feet could take me through the world from one beautiful place to another, and when I was gone, I would leave no trace, so others might enjoy the same beauty. I could forget daily stresses in favor of long conversations with friends, basking in sunshine and endorphins. I was (and am) a naturalist. I chose a college in the Appalachian mountains, and spent summers back in the Alabama woods, a counselor at Camp McDowell, quick to volunteer to lead kids on hikes.

Over time, my passion for being outdoors led to an idea that seemed surprising at first: for a naturalist like me, who wants to spend as much time outdoors as possible, the best place to live is not in the woods but in a densely-packed city center. Urban density allows me to live close to my workplace and commute by bike or public transportation, so I’m outdoors for an hour every day, routinely, without committing extra time. Urban density means there’s a small market a block from my house, a pharmacy two blocks beyond, a library within five blocks, a hardware store and supermarkets easily accessible by bike, and a huge number of restaurants, cafes, bars, and coffee shops nearby. In a city center, sidewalks and bike lanes and bus routes offer dense connections. When traveling to all these places and more, I can be outdoors, enjoying the same sunshine and exercise as on those Alabama trails, years ago.

Headed home from work on the River Trail, I enjoy fantastic views of downtown Rochester daily. (Credit: Doug Kelley)

Without urban density, neither I nor my neighbors — who I see often on sidewalks and porches — could benefit from so many amenities. If lots were bigger and residences weren’t arranged with as much density, our destinations would be pushed further away, often too far for walking or biking. In fact, many destinations would cease to exist. Markets and restaurants and shops are businesses that rely on having enough feet cross their threshold daily. Urban density puts customers close. Or, from the customers’ point of view, urban density puts businesses close.

A naturalist’s first instinct might be to live far outside the city center, near trails and hills and streams. Wistfully I can imagine myself stepping out of a house abutting Mendon Ponds Park, a favorite place to ski and hike and cycle, ready to start an outing without even getting in a car. But to gain that privilege, I would have to trade away countless hours of outdoor time enabled by my city life. Living by those trails, I’d be cooped up in a car every time I commuted, every time I needed groceries, every time I wanted a restaurant meal. RTS buses don’t go that far out. Altogether, that life would allow me far less time in the outdoors I love. Much better to drive to the trails and live in the city.

A favorite hiking destination at Camp McDowell was St. Christopher’s Pool, at the head of a canyon and beneath a waterfall near the edge of the property. But in those years, St. Chris’s was badly defaced, its rocks and water turned a sickly shade of orange by runoff from the coal mine upstream. The Rev. Mark Johnston, executive director of Camp, waged a legal battle that ultimately brought the mine’s owners to remediate the stream, largely restoring St. Christopher’s. Mark also reminded campers and staff often that though the mine owners were culpable for property damage, all people are responsible for being good stewards of shared resources, and we ourselves contributed to the damage when we used the electricity produced by that coal. It was a tough lesson, and an important one.

That lesson, too, leads naturalists to value urban density — because it seriously reduces our own contributions to the human damage of natural places. New York City has the highest population density of any large area in the United States, with 27,000 residents per square mile. New York City also has a vastly smaller per-capita carbon footprint than typical American places: in 2015, an average resident produced emissions equivalent to 6.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide, less than a third of the national average of 19. Likewise, an average New York City resident uses far less energy and produces far less waste than an average American. It’s no coincidence that urban density reduces carbon footprints, energy use, and waste. Density enables car-free transportation, which burns little or no fossil fuel. Density also makes residences more efficient, because apartments are insulated by their neighbors, and because smaller residences almost always require less heating and cooling. And as anybody who’s cleaned out their garage knows, having more space inevitably leads to accumulation of more stuff — not all useful!

Reflecting more deeply, the lesson of stewardship and the naturalist’s leave-no-trace ethos are fundamentally about equity, and urban density promotes equity, too. Beyond leaving natural places untrammelled and less-damaged by climate change, density makes healthy and pleasant lifestyles available to all, even those who never spend time in the woods, either for lack of interest or for lack of opportunity. Regardless of social and economic status, almost everybody can walk and bike, which opens a myriad of possibilities in a well-designed city center. Public transportation is more broadly affordable than personal automobile ownership. And density matters even more for people with disabilities, for whom nearby amenities are no mere matter of convenience.

Rochester, NY (Credit: Joe Wolf on flickr)

Obviously, Rochester is not as dense as New York City, but at 6100 residents per square mile, its density exceeds many American cities, including Austin, TX (3200), Cleveland, OH (5100), and even the famously bike-friendly Portland, OR (4800). Most of Rochester proper and some suburbs boast sidewalks and gridded streets, making walking and biking easier and more enjoyable. Gems like the Canal Path and River Trail connect pedestrians and cyclists to more amenities over greater distances. Regional bike infrastructure is being steadily improved and expanded. Many neighborhoods in our region are great places for the urban naturalist lifestyle.

Some of Rochester’s density was automatic, because the city predates personal automobiles. But now, building and maintaining people-friendly city centers requires conscious choices, good policies, and ongoing input from citizen-naturalists. Reconnect Rochester has made major efforts to encourage urban density and make outdoor city life more pleasant and equitable. The work continues, and you can help. For starters, Rochester’s zoning laws have put limits on density, but are now being reviewed for revision, so leave a comment supporting urban density. Urge leaders to implement and expand bike master plans. Nearly every local municipality has one, thanks largely to the Rochester Cycling Alliance (for example, see the City of Rochester plan). Or get involved with Complete Streets Makeover for hands-on projects making outdoor urban spaces more practical and beautiful. Get plugged in to Reconnect Rochester’s work so you can learn about opportunities to volunteer for hands-on projects, attend public meetings, sign petitions, and be part of the effort.

The tulip trees on Oxford Street are among the many everyday delights of my bike commute, made possible by urban density. (Credit: Doug Kelley)

In the end, my bike commute may not have the same grandeur as summiting one of the Adirondack High Peaks, but doing it every day makes it more important to my life, health, and peace of mind. On the River Trail in the morning, I see groundhogs and rabbits frequently, and also deer, turkeys, hawks, and occasionally a fox or heron. In the afternoon, I enjoy a grand river vista of the Freddie-Sue Bridge with downtown buildings towering beyond. For one precious week every spring, I revel in an explosion of color when the Oxford Street tulip trees bloom. And knowing that urban density not only helps me enjoy the outdoors, but also helps me leave no trace and allows many others the same benefits — that makes these natural experiences sweeter still. 

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Bike Week 2021

The cycling season in Rochester continues with Bike Week 2021, spanning two consecutive weekends from May 7 to 16 and offering cycling events for all ages and levels of expertise.

The purpose is to celebrate biking in Rochester and expand the use of bikes as practical, daily transportation. With many people taking up biking during the pandemic, Bike Week welcomes new riders and demonstrates the great community and infrastructure available to cyclists in Rochester.
For the second year, Bike Week will present a new themed Ride of the Day (ROTD), with a suggestion for a destination, group ride, or photo op. This is your chance to just get out there, using your own creativity and bikes. Look for our ROTD posts every day on Instagram and the other social media platforms.
Bike Week is put together by Reconnect Rochester and its cycling arm, the Rochester Cycling Alliance, but is truly a grassroots effort in that each event is organized individually. Information for the rides is below, along with a specific contact for each ride. Once again, masks will be mandatory at each event.

Friday, May 7

7:45pm: Light Up the Night Ride (131 Elmwood Ave)

This fun ride to kick off Bike Week begins after sundown and cyclists are encouraged to light up their bikes with glow sticks and bike lights. Gather at the Genesee Valley Sports Complex parking lot after 7pm; kickstands up around 7:45pm. The ride then proceeds through city streets and some trails, at a slow but enjoyable pace. Total distance 11 miles, but there will be shorter loops of 2-5 miles for younger cyclists as well. Dress warm and bring an extra layer for when the temperature creeps down after dark. Contact: Jesse Peers, jesse@reconnectrochester.org

ROTD Bike to a Body of Water. Kick off #rocbikeweek with our the first Ride of the Day! Bike to a body of water. Use your imagination! Lake Ontario. Genesee River. Erie Canal. Mendon Pond. A fountain in a local park.

Saturday, May 8

10:00am: ROC Freedom Riders 2021 Season Kick-Off (Franklin High School)

The ROC Freedom Riders organize big, intentional, action-oriented rides highlighting Black spaces, Black places, and acknowledging Black faces, in the spirit of the original Freedom Riders of the 1940s and 1960s. Contact: RocFreedomRiders@gmail.com

ROTD Bike to Dessert. Are you ready for today’s sweet ride of the day? Ride to dessert! Enjoy an after-meal treat, and bonus for getting there in fresh air and under your own power.

Sunday, May 9 

10:00am: Black Girls Do Bike Mother’s Day Ride (REI parking lot)

Join Black Girls Do Bike Rochester for their first annual Mother’s Day Women’s ONLY Bike ride. Meet in the REI parking lot, where their casual paced canal pathway bike ride will start. Contact: Kecia L McCullough, bgdbrochny@gmail.com

10:00am: Flower City Family Cycling Mother’s Day Ride

Join Flower City Family Cycling on Sunday, May 9 at 10am for an all-ages, family-friendly, social ride to kick off our season! This will be their 4th Annual Mother’s Day ride and they’ll be meeting up in Perinton for a short wetland walk before they hit the trails on their bikes. For details on this ride and a schedule of all their 2021 rides around the Rochester area, join them here: www.facebook.com/groups/flowercityfamilycycling. Contact: Brooke Fossey, brooke.taylor@gmail.com

ROTD Mother’s/Parents’ Day. How about a ride with your kids, or with your mother, or grandmother? Or to your mother’s house? Or meet your mother for brunch. Or any parent, actually. What a nice excuse to ride.

Monday, May 10

7:30-9:00am: Bike to Work Day pit stop, University of Rochester (Elmwood cycle track across from main hospital entrance)

Our region’s largest employer is a wonderful bike destination! Situated along the Genesee River and near the Erie Canal, you’re sure to encounter some scenic spots along your route. The University of Rochester earned a silver “Bicycle Friendly University” award in 2018 and had Rochester’s most used bike share station during Pace’s tenure. To thank people cycling to the River and Medical campuses on May 10, they will have snacks to share in a safe manner. Swing by, fuel up, and talk cycling with their staff partnering and some of our dedicated volunteers. Contact: Tracey Austin, taustin7@parking.rochester.edu

ROTD Bike to Work or School. Start the work week with a practical ride, which you are already heading to anyway. Ride to work or school. If you are working or learning from home, ride around the block back to your “office” or “classroom” and create a new fun commute.

Tuesday, May 11

ROTD Bike to a Susan B Anthony or Frederick Douglass Statue. Celebrate Rochester’s most famous citizens and honor them with a bike ride. Visit any SBA or FD statue and ponder the great things they did for our community. Since it’s Tuesday, traditionally Election Day, may we remind you to make sure you are registered to vote.

Wednesday, May 12

5:30pm: GROC Pizza Party Ride ( 230 Tryon Park)

Come for a chill ride at Tryon/Bay Park West. No drop ride, all are welcome! Just bring a good attitude, a desire to ride bikes and eat pizza and have a beer after! Thanks to Lindsay Card for setting this up and donating pizza afterwards! Schedule: 5:30 to 7:30 – Meet at Tryon Parking Lot for a ride. 7:30 Pizza and beverages after at Salvatores on Main!

7:00pm: RBK Wednesday Night Cruise (Ice Rink, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park)

The Rochester Bike Kids are a dynamic, informal group of mostly young people who bike together regularly. All bikers are welcome. Their signature ride is the Wednesday Night Cruise (WNC). They congregate around the ice rink at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in downtown Rochester every Wednesday at 7pm and roll out at 7:30. More info at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rocbikekids Contact: Bryan Agnello, bagnello@gmail.com

ROTD Run an Errand by Bike. Do something by bike you needed to do anyway: a grocery stop, the bank, pharmacy, etc. Feel the freedom of finding easy parking right at the front door.

Thursday, May 13

ROTD Bike to a Bridge. As a way to “bridge” the work week and the weekend (see what we did there?) we suggest Pont de Rennes, one of Rochester’s most scenic, with a spectacular view of the falls. If that’s out of your distance ability, choose another bridge – over a path, stream or highway.

Friday, May 14

6:30-10:00am Bike to Work Day pit stop (Genesee Riverway Trail, just south of the skate park)

If you’ve never tried biking to work, this is the week! Rochesterians are very fortunate to have an average 4.1-mile commute to work, which is about 25 minutes by bike at a casual pace. To thank people cycling to work on May 14th, the Rochester Cycling Alliance will have munchies to share and celebrate those who get to work on two wheels. Swing by, fuel up, and talk cycling with our dedicated volunteers. Contact: Jesse Peers, jesse@reconnectrochester.org

7:45pm Light Up the Night Ride redo (131 Elmwood Ave)

This fun ride begins after sundown and cyclists are encouraged to light up their bikes with glow sticks and bike lights. Gather at the Genesee Valley Sports Complex parking lot after 7pm; kickstands up around 7:45pm. The ride then proceeds through city streets and some trails, at a slow but enjoyable pace. Total distance 11 miles, but there will be shorter loops of 2-5 miles for younger cyclists as well. Dress warm and bring an extra layer for when the temperature creeps down after dark. Contact: Jesse Peers, jesse@reconnectrochester.org

ROTD Bike to a Park. Pay homage to the Flower City with your choice of destination, as long as it’s got flowers. A park or garden or even a cemetery. Stop and smell the roses! 

Saturday, May 15

9:00am-noon Exercise Express Bike Ride & Wash (200 West Avenue)

Come celebrate Bike Week with Exercise Express LLC at their first annual bike ride & wash. Kickstands up at 11am. They will ride through the 11th & 19th Wards promoting unity and community engagement. Towels, buckets, soap and water provided by Exercise Express. Donuts & water will be served. Contact: Karen Rogers, krogers@theexerciseexpress.com

10:00am-noon George Eastman Bicycle Tour (900 East Ave)

See Rochester in a new way. A nod to George Eastman’s own love of cycling, the George Eastman Bike Tour will take you to ten different locations related to the life and work of this pioneer of popular photography and famous Rochesterian. You will see buildings and sites that shaped Eastman’s life—or were in turn shaped by him. $25. Must buy a ticket to participate: eastman.org/biketours

3:00-5:00pm Beechwood Community Ride (530 Webster Ave)

Please join us for the 4th Annual Beechwood Bike Ride — a community bike ride around the Beechwood neighborhood! It’ll be a slow and leisurely ride around our neighborhood lasting about 1 hour and followed by a picnic in Grand Ave Park. Route details coming soon to https://www.facebook.com/events/170554108260366 Those who aren’t able to ride are encouraged to join afterwards for the picnic at 4:00pm. Snacks and beverages provided! We have a small number of bikes available to loan out for the ride, so comment if you’d like to use one. Ride kicks off at the Ryan Center and ends at Grand Ave Park. Please spread the word to your Beechwood friends and neighbors!

ROTD Bike to Someplace New. Find a new trail or neighborhood you’d like to visit.

Sunday, May 16

11:00am: Keeping It Classy Cycling Club Flower Pedal Populaire

Rochester Bike Week 2021 culminates with this 10-13 mile fancy-summery-dress themed ride, which will depart at 11am and take a leisurely pace through and around the city. Plan for a picnic afterward in one of our lovely local parks and fun with local cyclists! For more details, check out facebook.com/KICCCRochester Contact: Dan Slakes, danos.711@gmail.com

ROTD Choose Your Own Bike Adventure. It’s about the journey, not the destination. As a close to Bike Week, find a friend to ride with and just enjoy the glory of getting around on two wheels.

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The Great Bike Boom of 2020

A Behind the Scenes Retrospective

As bike advocates in dialogue with federal, state and local officials about safe spaces to ride, Reconnect Rochester and the Rochester Cycling Alliance often cite the “bike boom” that took off during the COVID pandemic, using it as justification for open streets concepts and investment in top-notch bike infrastructure. But the bike boom that was creating so much buzz nationally was hard to quantify: Yes, we saw that new bikes were hard to find (hence the enormous interest in used bike sales) and we heard that shops had a hard time obtaining common parts like bike tubes. But what did that look like at the micro level? So we reached out to our good friends at DreamBikes and asked Paul and Eric for a boots-on-the ground perspective of what they saw in Rochester during one of the strangest riding seasons ever. Here’s the story they told us.

All images were provided by and belong to DreamBikes.

2020 was a strange and unique year for us all, and this especially rang true for the bike industry. At the end of 2019, we at DreamBikes put together a plan of action for the coming season; how many bikes would we need to have refurbished and ready to roll at the beginning of the season, how many additional bikes would we need on hand to maintain stock throughout the year, what parts and accessories would be the hot sellers of the year, etc. While we thought we were well prepared and on track for a stellar 2020 cycling season, we did not know what was to come. 

As Covid-19 started to spread into the Greater Rochester area and lock-downs were put into place we initially thought we would be “dead in the water,” and that the spring season was going to be chalked up as a lost cause. Fortunately, State Officials saw how imperative bike shops are and we were quickly deemed an essential service that is necessary for transportation. Hope was not lost, but we quickly had to adapt and change operations not only to be in compliance with state guidelines, but to also be able to provide our customers with the level of support and customer service that we pride ourselves on. We put together a new plan; offering sales though various digital facets and service on an appointment only basis. This plan was continuously modified throughout the year, but it made for a good starting point when we did not know what was going to happen next. It was only a matter of weeks, if not days, before the craziness commenced.

In the early stages of the pandemic we immediately saw a huge boost in the number of children’s bikes that we were selling. With kids out of school and many families now working from home, parents were looking for any way to get the kids out of the house, and what better way to do so than with a new bike? In the first couple of weeks of lockdown, we had already sold through a huge chunk of our kids bike inventory.

Then came the second wave of bike sales. With gyms closed, many people were looking for other ways to maintain their fitness and stay healthy; again, what better way to do so than by riding a bike? Sport-hybrid and road bike sales started to take off. If you thought you saw more people out riding bikes last spring, you were right. Spin classes may have been cancelled, but you don’t need a large group and a stationary bike to keep those legs moving.

As the weather started to break and the traditional riding season for most Rochesterians was kicking off, bike sales continued to skyrocket. We were now seeing entire families looking for bikes. Parents and kids all needing new bikes meant that we were flying through our inventory and we started to realize that the game-plan we put together back in the fall of 2019 may not have been sufficient. Hybrids, cruisers, and kids bikes were the hot sellers at this point, much as they are almost every spring, but this time we were selling 3, 4, 5, even 6 bikes on a single transaction. While our inventory was starting to take a significant hit, it was so awesome seeing entire families getting out together for a fun family ride!

New bike sales continued to hold strong and steady and we were ready to kick things into high gear with our usual “the weather has finally broken” rush on tune-ups and service. We saw many familiar faces at this point as well as many new ones, but did not think too much of it as service orders generally tend to take off right around this time. We were in a groove and cruising now with service and sales, but really this was just the start of the chaos. Usually in the bike industry, service work starts with a boom that tails off a bit after the first few weeks of nice weather. This year, that tail-off never seemed to arrive. A steady flow of bikes were being dropped off to the shop for repairs and the service queue continued to grow. 

By mid-May, bikes were in short supply across the nation. Folks were looking to purchase any bike that fit them, and those that could not find a new bike were digging their old bikes out of their garages and basements. Service queues grew and grew and even with our mechanics doing their absolute best, it seemed like we could never get ahead of the game. Soon, DreamBikes was booked out 3 weeks for repair turn-around and we heard rumors of some shops across the country utilizing multiple shifts to keep their mechanics wrenching 24 hours a day and still having lead times of several weeks. Little did we know, the service work was not going to slow down.

By mid June, it was nearly impossible to find a new bike. The show-floor at DreamBikes was sparse at best, with just a couple of oddball bikes in stock, and some bicycle manufacturers had already run out of stock that they expected to last throughout the entire 2020 season. People were willing to buy any bike regardless of style, size, color, etc; if it had two wheels and could be pedalled around, they would buy it. We saw an influx of bicycles being brought in for repair that had not been ridden in years or even decades, but the owners just wanted something, anything, to ride. This was the case across the country, and soon distributors were running out of stock on repair items just like they had with complete bicycles. It started with innertubes, then it was tires, then chains, soon after brake and shift cables, brake pads, patch kits, you name it and we probably could not get it; bike shops were unable to order the parts necessary to complete repairs. This was perhaps the most depressing part of the entire season for us; having to turn away a customer just because we could not get the parts we needed to repair their bike.

By August, we slowly but surely got back to a more normal pace and practice around the shop. While new bike supply was still very low, we were able to salvage many bikes and pilfer parts from other bikes that were beyond repair. It was still a challenge to get bikes on to the show floor as they seemed to sell almost as soon as we added them to inventory, but we were starting to gain some traction. Parts and accessories were finally coming off of back-order and making their way to the shop. Our shelves were filling back up and our service queue was back to our standard 48 hour turn-around. We could finally catch our breath! 

The entire summer was a bit of a whirlwind and every day posed a new challenge for us. We kept our heads high and our noses to the grindstone and did our absolute best to ensure that we could get as many people on bikes as we possibly could. The ripple-effect of the pandemic will likely be felt in the bike industry for some time still, but hopefully the chaos of the 2020 cycling season is behind us for good!

Reconnect Rochester is optimistic that the bike boom will continue into 2021 and beyond. Whether it’s kids getting out of the house, adults riding to stay healthy, or residents biking to work, riders of all ages and abilities are discovering the joy and freedom of getting around on two wheels.

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

2020 has been a year like no other.

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

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

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


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

#10

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

#9

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

#8

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

#7

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

#6

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

#5

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

#4

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

#3

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

#2

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

#1

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


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

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

Just imagine what we can do in 2021!

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American Convenience Culture and the Effect of Exclusive Personal Mobility

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

In a 2017 piece, I wrote about the impact of “independent automobile transportation” on our community environments. To take it one step beyond the idea that we have built a nation around exclusive personal mobility, it’s important to acknowledge the devastating effects of our “convenience culture” here in the United States.

Let’s begin with the assumption that the most important lessons we learn, the most transformative journeys we take, and the most powerful experiences we have are rarely “convenient.” The things that make us better are usually the things that require us to dig a little deeper and find something in ourselves that makes us truly feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. While convenience is a welcomed privilege, what makes us who we are usually requires a modicum of effort, or self reliance, or shared effort. If this is not your experience, then this post may not be for you.

Comfortable Bus

For the rest of you that are still with me, let’s talk about the assumption mentioned above with regard to our communities. Do we make the hard choice to bike to work instead of drive in an effort to reduce pollution, make our community safer, and advocate for a more sustainable mode of transportation, or do we simply drive? Do we conveniently order from Amazon, or do we seek a similar purchase that might strengthen our local economy? Do we use Grubhub, or do we contact our favorite local establishment directly to ensure they get the most from every order? Do we use Uber or do we see if there is a public transit option that might get us to where we need to go?

European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are notorious for prioritizing less “convenient” forms of transportation in favor of bikes and public transit, which empower us and expose us to sociocultural diversity. The lessons learned via anti-exclusive mobility are the true soul-resurrecting elements that we can all benefit from. In other words, if we truly support the definition of strength through adversity, we must embrace the less convenient avenues of mobility, commerce and lifestyle.

And yet, in a country of perpetual chest-thumping, relentlessly championing the illusion of toughness and grit, we look for the closest parking space at the gym. We curse the driver that takes an extra second to make a left turn, delaying us during our commute. We berate the local business that doesn’t have the “in-and-out” convenience parking we ravenously crave. This America of “strength” is suddenly brought to its knees when we can’t find a parking space within a few hundred feet from our destination.

This is the sociological construct that is created when we over-prioritize the most “convenient” (and most exclusive) form of transportation. For example, of the 37 OECD nations, the United States has the second lowest gas tax behind Mexico, which has no gas tax. In fact, the US gas tax is almost exactly one-quarter of the OECD average per gallon. The lack of significant fuel tax in the US is an under-realized financial lubricant for the proliferation of the automobile as an affordable choice instead of the exclusive one. In essence, we have made it financially easier for people to get around using the most inefficient, unsafe and environmentally unfriendly mode of transportation this planet has ever seen.

Couple this with more than a half century of urban demolition, residential displacement and racially-diving highway creation, and you get a mode of transportation that is so convenient AND exclusive that few other modalities have a chance.

And it’s not just cars. It’s mega stores like Walmart that, ironically, we welcome into our rural and suburban worlds on the promise of jobs and inexpensive merchandise, when the reality is a monopolistic machine that pays unlivable wages and makes it impossible for small businesses to compete. The end result is actually a loss of American jobs and a culture that is built around a one-stop-shop solution that is highly subsidized and simultaneously damaging to local economies.

Services like Grubhub make it easy for consumers to order from local restaurants. But these third-party food delivery services can take up to 30% of each sale, creating a no-win scenario for restaurants. Choose to use Grubhub and have your profit margins stripped, or go it alone and receive extremely limited exposure based on the public’s lack of desire to look beyond their favorite apps to fulfill their cravings. Grubhub has quietly become one of the most powerful “pay-to-play” constructs in our local economy.

These are just a few examples of convenience culture and how this unsustainable model of commerce is slowly eliminating the chance for small businesses to thrive. The more we subscribe to the convenience economy, perpetuated first and foremost by the drastic over-prioritization of the automobile, the more we feed into our own undoing. Whether you’re a rural American who loves the convenience of Walmart, or an urban American who just wants to find the closest parking space in front of your favorite farm-to-table restaurant, remember that true patronization often takes effort. With this in mind, let’s be fine with parking a quarter mile away and getting some exercise on the way to our destination. Let’s pay a little extra to shop at our local market instead of lining the pockets of billionaires who are fleecing our small business cultures. Let’s look at the notion of what our American spirit really stands upon… the idea that if we all work a little harder and a little smarter, we can overcome the temptation of convenience culture and reclaim our community strength by doing what is more difficult.

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When Streets Were Equitable

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

“Dude, get out of the road,” you yell in an enraged state fueled by someone’s blatant disregard for the fact that you woke up late and are traveling 10mph over the speed limit only to encounter a man “jaywalking” across the road in front of you. Your displaced anger bubbles over as you find yourself inconvenienced for a whole 9 seconds.

We’ve all been there… getting behind a car that’s traveling 10mph under the speed limit, trying to pass a cyclist with no shoulder, or yelling at a pedestrian who crosses the road outside of a crosswalk with no regard for your time.

Let’s step back in time to 1906. Jaywalking, or the illegal crossing of a street in a non-designated crosswalk, was 20 years from being a thing. The automobile was just beginning to assert itself as a semi-regular addition to city streets that accommodated a multi-modal construct. Can’t imagine what this looks like? Let’s look at this amazing digitally remastered video of a 1906 San Francisco street car ride.

The most important thing to note in this video is how diverse the street traffic is. Horse and buggy, trolley, automobile, bicycle, pedestrian… they all move at approximately the same speed. The well-to-do owner of the car travels at a speed that is similar to the pedestrian and cyclist. While the driver may be able to enjoy an independent, stress-free commute, he or she is subject to the street congestion caused by many different forms of mobility. And while this low-speed chaos would likely be psychologically catastrophic to the car commuter today, it presents some incredibly meaningful lessons with regard to our streets and their effect on society.

Multiple Modes of Mobility

Trolleys, carriages, bikes, cars and pedestrians… count the number of different forms of mobility in this video. The streets were truly for everyone, regardless of speed, size or socioeconomic status.

Similar Speed

Equitable transportation is rooted in the idea that anyone can access jobs and resources equally, regardless of their socioeconomic status. In this piece of video, pedestrians, mass transit and cars move at a similar speed. The difference in velocity between the most exclusive form of transportation and the most humble form of transportation is negligible. Today, the average 15 minute commute by car is likely to be over an hour by bus. The prioritization of the automobile has completely eradicated equitable access to jobs and resources.

Density and Community

Slower, more equitable mobility leads to greater, more efficient urban density. Suburban sprawl has created an inequitable construct based on “pay-to-play” access of upwardly mobile resources. When multi-modal transportation is encouraged, more efficient and equitable communities are possible.

In the video above, the fastest form of transportation, the cars, are moving about 2-3 times the speed of pedestrians. Sure, that difference might be a great deal more on an open road, but the top speed of between 30 and 50 miles per hour for the average Ford… not to mention you needed oil every 250 miles, and the fact that highways were just a glimmer in the hopeful eye of an urban enemy. A humorous note, just two years earlier, a driver was given the first speeding ticket in Dayton Ohio for going 12mph in a 5mph zone.

At such low speeds, the prospect of “sprawl” was horribly impractical. As a result, cities remained unquestionable centers of equity, efficiency and productivity. Because cars were just a slightly faster mode of transportation in a sea of other mobility options, 15-20 mile car commutes were simply not possible.

But cars became faster. Car and oil companies became the dominant lobbyists in the United States. Highways were built to allow for greater sprawl, all subsidizing people’s desire to create exclusive communities outside their city centers.

In Conclusion

I shared this video with a number of friends. The comments back marveled at the clothing, the trolleys, the horses, the man sweeping horse droppings, and the maddening chaos of multi-modal traffic. But when I look at videos like this, I see what cities were like when mobility was far more equitable. Sure, our cities were dirty, crowded, smelly and sometimes scary. Sanitary amenities, cleaner energy and a host of other legal and environmental issues were still hurdles for cities 1906.

But the power of the city as the social, economic and equitable hub of humanity was far greater than it is in the U.S. today. Architecture hasn’t changed all that much, save the skyscraper. Street layout is pretty much the same. The big difference is the fact that the formally diverse streets featuring slow traffic have been replaced with exclusive automobile access, allowing those who own cars to speed to their destinations while those who must rely on public transit are subject to maddeningly underfunded networks, long wait times and inefficient commutes.

The video above shows what streets were meant to be. They were havens for diverse mobility instead of space that is solely dedicated to speed and exclusivity. Our cities have paid the price for this massive mistake, and as a result, equity and upward mobility continue to lag compared to much of the rest of the industrialized world.


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Rochester wants to get more residents on bikes

by Jesse Peers, cycling coordinator at Reconnect Rochester

“The bicycle is in many ways the easiest solution to a multitude of problems.” – Anna Brones in Hello, Bicycle

As a bicycle instructor, I love teaching bike classes and presentations in our area. (If you want to book a lunch n’ learn presentation for your workplace, library or community group, let me know at cycling@reconnectrochester.org). Before going in depth on any subject, I spend a few slides at the beginning highlighting the benefits of biking. It’s not enough just to tell people how to bike safely. You have to inspire them to bike in the first place. There are powerful financial, health and environmental benefits that accrue from biking. And although it only takes one of these reasons to get on a bike, you and society will benefit in a variety of ways for doing so.

My hope with this blog is not only to “preach the cycling gospel,” but to familiarize readers with Rochester’s goals and policies, particularly its groundbreaking Rochester 2034 Plan. As I’ve gravitated towards bike advocacy in recent years, I was pleased to discover that my hometown also sees the benefits of getting more citizens on bikes. The City of Rochester has many plans in motion to better our city and many of those plans incorporate getting more people on bikes.

Choice, equity & “complete streets”

In line with New York State, Rochester adopted its own Complete Streets Policy in 2011, in which it “recognizes that our streets should accommodate a wide range of transportation modes…Our streets are a reflection of our community…” According to the most recent US Census Bureau American Community Survey five-year estimates (2017), 25.3% of all households in the City of Rochester do not have access to a private vehicle. In some neighborhoods like JOSANA, over 46% of households do not own automobiles (Source: JOSANA Study). 

The City defines a complete street as one that “accommodates all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and persons with disabilities.” Moreover the recent 2034 Plan expresses clear concern for “an overly car-dependent culture” and acknowledges that residents want choice when it comes to transportation.  “The City’s statement of support for these values helps set the bike community up to advocate for specific projects and improvements.

‘Justicia Urbana’ by Fabian Todorovic

Household & Society Finances

Each fall, the American Automobile Association (AAA) puts out an updated estimate of the average annual cost of car ownership. As anyone who’s ever owned a car knows, this cost goes beyond just paying for the vehicle itself: interest, insurance, gas, maintenance, registration and depreciation add up considerably. Though we can expect Rochesterians to spend less than the average ($9,282 a year for a new car), in a city where the per capita income is well below the national average, $6,000 or more a year to spend on a car is too big a piece of the household financial pie. By biking for some trips, Rochesterians can save serious money.

In addition to the financial burden cars impose on households, we also need to recognize that society loses money from prioritizing and incentivizing car travel. As our friend Arian Horbovetz points out so well, every form of transportation is subsidized. No form of transportation pays for itself. It stands to reason then that municipalities, especially those with limited funds in hard times, ought to prioritize infrastructure funding for modes of travel that are available to everyone, not just those who can afford to own a personal vehicle.

“It is pure poetry that a 19th-century invention is capable of solving complicated 21st-century issues.” – Mikael Colville-Andersen in Copenhagenize

As Lynn Richards, the President & CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, told us last year in her Reshaping Rochester talk for the Community Design Center, downtowns with abundant, cheap parking have city halls that struggle to pay the bills. A frequent line from those administrations is “Yeah, [your idea] is great but we don’t have the money.” Vibrant downtowns use valuable urban real estate to make money, put a price on parking and incentivize other modes of travel. Next time you hear someone say good bike infrastructure is too expensive, remind them that “One mile of a protected bike lane is 100x cheaper than one mile of roadway” and that by prioritizing cars, they are prioritizing the mode too many residents can’t afford.

City documents and plans that support these values:

  • The 2034 plan asserts that “increasing the ability of residents to bike will provide residents who don’t own cars with an alternative to get to work or the store.” 
  • Rochester Bicycle Master Plan: “Improving bicycling conditions is a cost effective way of optimizing existing public infrastructure.”
  • Bike Rochester webpage: Increased disposable income can result in increased spending in the local marketplace, which would boost the local economy.
  • 2034: Vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods with strong economies “limit auto-oriented uses and design.”

Health

As Peter Walker points out in How Cycling Can Save The World, “the health incentives for cycling massively outweigh the perils…Every year about 700 Americans die on bikes, a figure that could and should be significantly lower. But over the same period at least 200,000 of their compatriots die from conditions linked to a lack of physical activity.” And don’t forget that “more Americans have died in car crashes since 2000 than in both World Wars.” 

Moderate biking “has been found to have an almost miraculous effect” on health, “in part because it is so easy to incorporate into everyday life…Cyclists don’t just get extra life years, they’re more likely to remain mobile and independent into older age.” A recent UK study found that bike commuters had a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer.

City documents and plans that support these values:

  • Evaluation of Trail Entry Conditions and Recommendations for Improvements: The City of Rochester proudly promotes healthy communities and lifestyles. 
  • 2034:  Residents bicycling instead of driving incorporate exercise into their daily routine, which increases overall health.
  • 2034: The City wants to improve public health by making Rochester more walkable and bikeable
  • 2034: On-street bike networks allow residents to access to recreation, world-class trails and parks improves public health

Climate Crisis

UC Davis found that if only 14% of urban trips worldwide were taken on bikes, we’d reduce emissions enough to meet the Paris Climate Goals. This is so doable! If people used their cars for when the weather was bad, when the distances are too long and when there’s more than one occupant in the car, we’d live in a different world. If you only hopped on a bike for short solo trips in good weather, it’d make a massive difference.

By the way, any idea where the most polluted air is concentrated? Where the unhealthiest air is to breathe? It’s around our schools every morning and every afternoon. “Pick-up and drop-off times create clouds of invisible yet toxic diesel fumes” as buses idle.

City documents and plans that support these values:

  • In its Climate Action Plan, the City acknowledges the urgent need to “reduce vehicle miles traveled” along with “single occupant vehicle trips.” 
    • Transportation currently accounts for about a quarter of GHG emissions in Rochester. Policies and actions that make it easier to make trips by foot, bicycle, and transit, can help the community reduce transportation-related GHG emissions.
  • 2034: Installation of various bicycle infrastructure elements (bike lanes, protected lanes, bike boulevards, bike share system, bike parking/storage, bike maintenance stations) to encourage this cleaner, healthier mode of transportation.
  • 2034: Single-occupancy vehicles are detrimental to the environment…Motor vehicles are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, alternate modes of transportation, such as walking, biking, riding the bus, or carpooling can greatly cut down on the environmental impact of traveling.
  • 2034: The more trips made by bicycle means fewer motor vehicles on the road, which decreases congestion on our streets, lowers the demand for parking, and decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere. 
  • 2034: Bike infrastructure encourages cleaner modes of transportation
  • 2034: The more trips made by bicycle means fewer vehicles on the road, which decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere. 
  • 2034: The City Department of Environmental Services is a bringing more green infrastructure to the city and is pursuing an aggressive plan to reduce Rochester’s carbon footprint.

Anytime we advocate for safer, more equitable streets and better bike infrastructure, we need to point to Rochester’s goals and plans and how the whole community will benefit from encouraging bicycling. And when City Hall delivers, let them know your appreciation!


Join Us!

Join us for a virtual screening of the inspirational Dutch film Why We Cycle on Thursday, September 10, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Zoom. Following the film, there will be a live panel discussion with community leaders and advocates. We’ll use the film as a springboard to reflect on how we can get more Rochesterians on bikes. See event details and register at www.ReconnectRochester.org/streetfilms.

“The Dutch and their bikes are inseparable. It’s not a form of transportation, it’s a way of living.”Holland.com guide for visiting the Netherlands

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The American Automobile And Racial Exclusivity

The “Pay To Play” cost of the automobile might be the most racially exclusive component of American society.

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

I saw something today that blew my mind. The average new road vehicle retails for $37,876. Can we say that again? Americans are purchasing cars, trucks and SUVs to the tune of $38,000. In a time when we are asking questions of equity and “pay-to-play” constructs in our American culture, is there anything more exclusive than the automobile?

Most of our focus in life revolves around three basic things… our home, our work and how we connect the two. After World War II, the Federal Government subsidized the construction and purchase of homes outside of city limits in areas now referred to as “the suburbs.” But that wasn’t enough… with major employers still entrenched in urban cores as a matter of practical business, the same administrations facilitated the creation of automobile expressways that allowed white Americans, who could afford cars to access jobs while living in racially exclusive suburbs, to commute efficiently to their employment epicenters. And as no surprise, these highways doubled as a way of demolishing “blighted” black neighborhoods, segregating white from black, and rich from poor in our cities.

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Redlining and racial property covenants (among a host of other elements of institutionalized racism) ensured that people of color could not transcend their circumstance, creating an un-traversable economic fissure between wealthy white and struggling black citizens in highly polarized and segregated counties.

Car, oil and rubber companies furthered the plight of inner city America by lobbying for wider roads, campaigning for “jay-walking” to become a public offense and famously purchasing the private city street car companies, only to immediately disband them. All this to ensure that the most expensive and exclusive mode of transportation was virtually the only mode of transportation. And of course, this was all done to the tune of billions of dollars in subsidies for auto-related manufacturers and the building of automobile infrastructure that a huge percentage of the country simply could not afford.

How do you disenfranchise an entire group of people? Simple. Tell them they can only live in one place, (which we as a country did) then incentivize everyone else (and thus American jobs) to move away from that place… and for the final touch, make it too expensive for the disenfranchised population to access good jobs, public resources and any hope of upward mobility. The perfect purposeful recipe for racial, cultural, economic and social isolation.

The Connection Between Transportation in Rochester, NY.

Let’s go back to the cost of the average new vehicle, $37,876. The average Black household in the U.S. earns $41,511 (2018), less than $4,000 more than the cost of the average American automobile.

Can Americans purchase a used car for much cheaper? Absolutely. But a huge percentage of disenfranchised communities still struggle with high interest rates and all the “extras” that go along with car ownership (insurance, fuel, maintenance, registration fees, etc.). When the process of conveniently commuting requires 40% of your income, something is seriously wrong.

“The financial burden that the car-centric American narrative places on our families is stifling. … Those who can purchase and maintain a car win…everyone else loses.

As someone who purchased a used car 6 years ago for $7,500 and still occasionally uses that car today, I am in absolute awe of the amount of money my friends spend on cars, trucks and SUVs that I would consider “luxurious.” The financial burden that the car-centric American narrative places on our families is stifling. The amount that middle class American families are willing to spend for the convenience of two SUVs is staggering. But the myth that this choice is a necessity is one of the most racially and socially exclusive economic and psychological constructs in American culture. I would argue that the toxic level of “pay to play” exclusivity in this country is and always has been the veiled mirage of the automobile as the only means of convenient transportation. Those who can purchase and maintain a car win… everyone else loses.

When the average cars costs $38,000, equity is not possible. When the average commute of 23 minutes by car is an hour and twenty minutes by bus, equity is not possible. In a nation where Black Americans were disallowed to thrive in our urban cores, this same social and economic rift occurs today with regard to transportation and the convenient access of jobs and services.

Redlining derailed black neighborhoods by placing a financial ceiling on their communities. Property covenants and other restrictions disallowed people of color from moving to other neighborhoods. The war on drugs targeted black males in a conscious effort to disrupt black families. Today, in a world where mobility is such a strong determinant for success, the century-long subsidization of the most expensive and exclusive form of transportation continues to add yet another wrinkle in the fabric of blatantly racist agendas that our country has supported.

“Want to make the United States more equitable? Support public transit that serves everyone.”

It’s time to realize that the American automobile, and the immense infrastructure that facilitates its transportation dominance, might be one of the most toxically racial tools this country has ever seen. Want to make the United States more equitable? Support public transit that serves everyone. Support walkability and infrastructure projects that limit automobile speed and prioritize pedestrians, especially in traditionally minority-based neighborhoods. Support urban density that considers the needs and desires of Black Americans. The American car/truck/SUV has pummeled the core of U.S. urban density… let’s realize this as a mistake and get aggressive about building a more equitable future of mobility in our urban centers!


A few related notes and resources from Reconnect Rochester. . .

We appreciate this excellent piece by Arian at The Urban Phoenix that makes new and insightful connections between mobility and racial & economic justice.

Over the past five years, Reconnect Rochester has been part of an effort to examine the relationship between transportation and poverty in our community, to better understand the problem so we can identify possible solutions, and act on them. Resources this effort has generated can be found here on Reconnect’s website and include:

Our efforts continue through the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI)’s transportation work group. In collaboration with many community partners around the table, we work to translate the report learnings into systemic policy recommendations and actions that can create real change.

Bus Stop Cubes: A place to rest while you wait

Anyone who has ever used public transportation in Rochester is painfully aware of two things:  At some point you will have to wait for your bus, and when you do, you will probably be standing. 

For senior citizens, people with disabilities, and parents with young children, being made to stand for any length of time can be less than ideal. Even for those passengers who are physically capable of standing, having no place to sit while waiting on the side of a busy roadway can cause anxiety and discomfort.

Our bus system is the only transportation mode that requires its passengers to stand while waiting for the service. Not an ideal situation if we're trying to encourage folks to use public transit.

Why is our bus system the only transportation mode that requires its passengers to stand while waiting for the service? The single biggest issue is the sheer scale of the system. There are thousands of bus stops in the RTS network, and the resources of the transit authority are already spread thin. 

If this issue could be remedied, not only would we make the lives of current riders a little easier, but we might also encourage more people to use public transportation. This is why Reconnect Rochester has decided to make bus stop seating a priority for our community.

A Solution

In 2014, Reconnect Rochester set out to find a solution. What we came up with was a design for a bus stop seat that is a simple 2’x2’x2’ cube. Our bus stop seating cube comes in 4 primary colors (red, green, yellow, and blue) that add beautification and brightness to the street landscape. The compact size allows the seat to fit easily within areas where space is at a premium – such as tree lawns or that little bit of space between the street curb and sidewalk. 

This woman says her legs have a tendency to give out on her, and the CUBE is the perfect height for her - not to low to the ground.
RTS riders enjoy our temporary, seasonal solution to the dearth of seating at local bus stops.

In 2017, after 3 years piloting seasonal bus stop cubes made from high-pressured wood, Reconnect Rochester set out to find a permanent, year-round amenity for bus riders. In our research, we came upon a local manufacturer of fiberglass — a nearly indestructible, weather resistant material that was perfect for the job!

In September 2020, Reconnect Rochester installed the first 15 fiberglass cubes on Parsells, Lyell and Monroe Avenues (read more in this blog post). Stay tuned to our blog and social media for updates on our current efforts.

Cubes for Your Community

Reconnect Rochester will continue to work with RTS, local municipalities and community organizations throughout Monroe County to add bus stop cubes at stops that are well utilized but lack seating. 

Would you like to see bus stop cubes at stops in YOUR neighborhood or community? Contact us  and we’ll do our best to work with you to secure funding and make it happen. 

Are you from outside the Monroe County area and interested in purchasing bus stop cubes for your town or city? Contact us and we’ll put you in touch with the manufacturer. Reconnect Rochester receives a sales commission that helps fuel our effort to put more bus stop cubes on the ground locally.


The Bus Cube Birth Story

The bus cube was born in 2014, when Reconnect Rochester set out to come up with a temporary solution to the dearth of seating at local bus stops. Here’s how we did it…

We could just chain a plastic patio chair to a bus stop sign, but to be honest, we're not fans of plastic furniture. And we really don't think the neighbors would appreciate this look very much.

We spent countless hours brainstorming. We scoured the internet. And we even met with a local furniture designer, Staach (we really admire the way those guys balance form, function, and sustainability). But we needed something that would be relatively inexpensive and easy for regular people like us to build and duplicate. It would also need to be compact, sturdy, and weather resistant.

We could have simply taken a page from the guerilla bus stop seating playbook and chained a plastic patio chair to a bus stop sign, but to be honest, we’re not fans of plastic furniture. And we really didn’t think the neighbors would appreciate this look very much.

Then one day, almost like it happens in the movies, the solution hit us like a lightning bolt…good old-fashioned children’s blocks!  It’s amazing how sometimes the best ideas are inspired by the simplest things. Children’s blocks. Durable, easy to use, easy to construct – and what could possibly be more fun? Quite fitting for Rochester, the home of the National Toy Hall of Fame!

Our bus stop CUBE seat was inspired by ordinary children's blocks.

We put pencil to paper and designed a simple 2’x2’x2’ cube. The compact size allows the seat to fit easily within areas where space is at a premium – such as tree lawns or that little bit of space between the street curb and sidewalk. Our prototype was constructed using pressure-treated lumber and decking materials for a total cost of about $100 per cube. 

We put pencil to paper and designed a simple 2’x2’x2’ cube to fit easily within areas where space is at a premium.

We tested the prototypes at two locations within the city of Rochester: The PriceRite at Dewey & Driving Park and N. Union St. at the Public Market. The results were very positive. Interviews with transit riders and passersby can be viewed in this video.

The idea quickly won community support as well as accolades from RTS which encouraged the effort. Over the next three years (2014 – 2017), in partnership with the City of Rochester, Flower City Habitat for Humanity and many neighborhood and community organizations, we built and placed a fleet of over 30 bus stop cubes at bus stops all around the city. 

The seasonal cubes go out on the street in May and are brought back in and stored in October. As the fleet grew, the job performed by Reconnect Rochester volunteers of placing, removing and storing the cubes each season, became harder to manage. That’s when we decided it was time for a permanent, year-round solution. 

It took about three years (2017 – 2020) of stops-and-starts to research, design and manufacture the fiberglass model that you see today. But we’ll save THAT story for another day.

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Bike Share Will Rise Again in ROC

by Arian Horbovetz, Reconnect Rochester Board Member and author of The Urban Phoenix blog

If you’re like me, a firm believer that public transit, walkability and bike Infrastructure can make our city better, the last few months have been grueling.  Empty buses, the encouragement of single-passenger automobile ridership, and the loss of Zagster’s Pace bike share here in Rochester have us all wondering about the future of multi-dimensional mobility in our city.

Zagster’s abrupt departure from Rochester’s landscape earlier this year was a shock to many who believed that bike share made The Flower City a better place.  The freedom of grabbing a couple bikes while enjoying an evening downtown, or filling the last mile gap on your daily commute is suddenly absent.  

The hope had been that 2020 would bring a fresh new season of bike share, and possibly scooter share to the Rochester transportation network, but the pandemic that is upon us had other plans.  Shortly after it was announced that the start of the Pace bike share season would be delayed, Zagster abruptly pulled the plug on the program altogether, stating that the company was “reassessing its business model.”  While Rochester actively searches for a new bike share vendor, here are some key points to understand about the Zagster/Pace departure.

It’s Not Our Fault

Zagster is a venture capital company, which is a business model that can quickly rocket a good idea to soaring heights.  The downside is an increased level of volatility, which can lead to these kinds of aforementioned “reassessments,” or even closures without warning.  The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 crisis has caused a massive ripple in our nation’s economy, one that has caused every business to make drastic changes and hard decisions.  This was noted as a key reason for Zagster’s departure from Rochester, as well as ceasing operations in other mid-sized cities like Norfolk, VA. On May 27, Zagster formally announced its closure as a company.

Rochester’s Ridership Was Remarkable

Over the past three years, Pace bikes settled into our local culture as an easy, convenient way to get around. Over 22,000 Rochester residents activated accounts over the three years Zagster was operating in our city, and those customers took a remarkable 116,951 trips.  

At Zagster’s end-of-season report in November 2019, it was reported that “Pace Rochester continues to be Zagster’s most utilized bike share fleet in the country, with 189 trips taken daily!”  Rochester riders totaled more than 40,000 trips in 2019 alone. Company representatives often described Rochester as Zagster’s “flagship” mid-sized city for our ridership numbers.

An end of year user survey in 2019 revealed that “half of all trips replaced the use of a personal or shared vehicle,” highlighting just how important the service was to the transportation landscape in the City of Rochester. And ridership mapping suggests that many Rochesterians heavily used the bike share to get to suburban job locations, like Marketplace Mall in Henrietta.

Bike Share Theft Happens Everywhere

Midway through the 2019 season, empty bike racks and “ghost bikes” (bikes that appeared on the Pace App but were not physically present) revealed a rash of rampant bicycle theft.  Nearly two-thirds of Pace’s Rochester fleet was stolen, leading to a sea of bad press and public doubt.  

While the stories of significant theft, followed by Zagster’s subsequent departure caused many Rochester residents to believe the two were related, it’s important to remember that bike share theft happens everywhere.  Wherever there is something of public value, there will always be a select few in any community who will try to pilfer it.  While the theft of Pace bikes in Rochester was difficult, it was not at all uncommon.  The onus is on the bike share provider to anticipate this construct and design their equipment with safeguards.  But the lack of a GPS tracking device on Pace bikes made solving the problem through recovery and prosecution of theft nearly impossible. The next vendor will need to have more anti-theft technology built into their bikes.

We Will Have Bike Share Again

Fear not… Rochester will have bike share again.  And very likely, e-bikes and e-scooters will be added to the menu. The City Of Rochester is actively searching for a new operator with which to partner, and word on the street is that we may see a limited launch for a few months this fall, and a fully operational system in place by spring 2021.  

This Is Not Another Fast Ferry

While we may fall victim to the Fast Ferry narrative of “this is why we can’t have nice things,” we must realize that the challenges that walk hand in hand with bike share are not unique to our city.  Zagster’s departure should not be seen as a failure to retain a valued resource, but rather a chance to connect with a new brand that is better equipped to handle the nuances of bike share in mid-sized cities.  So before we internalize the loss of Pace bike share as a Flower City Failure, let’s remember the big picture that was three years of successful bike share utilization in our city.  

We know one thing for sure… Rochester’s stint with Zagster showed us all how vital a role bike share plays in the transportation fabric of the city.  While also serving as a tremendous recreational draw, bike share’s ability to connect residents and visitors to work, home, destinations and other modes of transit makes it a powerful piece of transportation infrastructure for Rochester. 

Bike Education Classes

Get the confidence you need to enjoy cycling more by taking a 2.5-hour Smart Cycling class! Classes are typically held at the Rochester Public Market or the Artisan Church parking lot (1235 Clinton Ave South) and are being offered:

No upcoming dates. Check back in Spring 2022!

Many people like the idea of biking more, but they don’t feel safe mixing it up with cars. In this class, students will learn the rules of the road and proper roadway position. We’ll examine safe cycling techniques and ways to make cycling easier and more enjoyable. The class will incorporate classroom learning, parking lot maneuvering drills and a short group ride navigating different traffic scenarios.

Cost:  $25 per person

SPACE IS LIMITED — RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • These classes are for folks who already know how to balance and ride a bike. For more information on private learn-to-ride classes, contact cycling@ReconnectRochester.org.
  • Participants must come with their own (tuned-up) bike.
  • Participants must wear a mask & helmet.
  • The class will go on rain or shine. In the event of rain, the classroom portion will be extended to cover more Smart Cycling curriculum.

QUESTIONS?

Contact Jesse Peers at jesse@ReconnectRochester.org or 585-270-1095.

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Blocking Walking: When Pedestrians are Forced to Find Another Way

Blog by Arian Horbovetz. Arian is a Reconnect board member and the creator of The Urban Phoenix, a blog focused on conversations around the elements that create healthy cities, neighborhoods and communities today. Arian covers walkability, public transit, financial solvency, bike infrastructure, smart development, public space, public pride and ownership of our futures. While he discusses issues of public policy, legislation, statistics and money, The UP specializes in addressing public perceptions and how they affect the way we see our cities.


Your heart sinks when you see that orange symbol of uncertainty. You grip the wheel tighter, curse, and check your watch to see if the impending redirection will inevitably make you late to your destination. We’ve all experienced this frustrating dilemma, brought about by that never-welcomed sign that reads “DETOUR.”

While detours encountered on the road may be frustrating, fear not! The Department of Transportation has outlined the most convenient alternative navigation for you to traverse instead. Abundant signage will guide your new direction, showing you exactly where to go in order to continue along your new route. Your safety on this detour has been considered. The new route will accommodate all vehicles, from small cars to big trucks. While inconvenienced, a tremendous amount of thought has gone into ensuring that your detour will be as impact-free as possible.

But what happens when you’re walking down a city sidewalk and you see a sign like the one below?

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What happens when you’re rolling down an urban bike trail and you encounter a piece of construction equipment blocking your path?

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This piece of machinery was blocking a trail in Buffalo, NY while the operators were on a lunch break. “Oh sorry, I was about to move that” one of the workers said as I snapped a photo…

Or maybe you’re making the trek home from the bar on foot, only to encounter this blocking your path…

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Finally, you and your family are taking a winter evening stroll in your neighborhood. While the street you’re on is perfectly plowed, you can’t help but notice that your children are struggling to stay on their feet while traversing the icy sidewalk.

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Walkability is something we talk about with regard to healthy communities and neighborhoods these days. And for good reason… areas that are more walkable have higher property value, and have shown to be better for business growth and proliferation. But even with all the positives that come from strong pedestrian connectivity, construction projects, infrastructure maintenance and good old fashioned Mother Nature can lead to sidewalk closures and/or unsafe walking environments. Most of these can be remedied with proper planning and foresight, but that foresight is often lacking. Developers and workers don’t always understand the importance of pedestrian prioritization, and this is, to some extent, understandable. It is only just now that we are beginning to realize the importance of giving pedestrians welcoming, connected, comfortable and safe environments to traverse neighborhoods on foot.

When sidewalks are closed due to nearby construction, pedestrians must find a way around. This either means backtracking to the last crosswalk, or worse, venturing out into the a potentially busy street in order to cross, or walk in the road along the blocked sidewalk until they pass the construction area. It is important for everyone to understand that people on foot, like drivers, will often choose the most convenient option, even if it is not the best or safest.

This cement truck was not only parked in a crosswalk leading from Rochester’s Genesee Riverway Trail, it completely blinded pedestrians from being able to see oncoming traffic on South Avenue

Construction companies should do everything in their power to ensure that a pedestrian right-of-way is not impeded by their work. Actions should be taken to ensure that pedestrians don’t have to find an alternate route. Sidewalk sheds and scaffolding, much like the ones we see in larger cities, should be built to keep the sidewalk functional and protect those on foot.

Furthermore, construction site and maintenance workers should be trained to ensure that equipment, machinery and other barriers never block a sidewalk or path. Workers may not realize that blocking a sidewalk, even for a short while, could put pedestrians in an inconvenient, or even dangerous situation.

Even plow companies need to appreciate the negative impact of moving snow out of our streets and into the direct path of our pedestrians.

This sidewalk leading to Rochester’s new Amtrak station is completely blocked by
plowed snow

Failing to mind these amenities is even more detrimental to the safety of persons with disabilities. A closed sidewalk can make for a precarious situation for those in our community with mobility issues, and/or folks in wheelchairs or motorized scooters.

Finally, blocking sidewalks is not just inconvenient and unsafe for pedestrians, it sends a message that this vital piece of infrastructure is not important. When car traffic is moving smoothly while the adjacent sidewalk has been blocked, torn up or interrupted, it clearly signals that those who choose to walk or have to walk are not welcome, and seen as less important.

While Rochester’s Nathaniel Apartments were being constructed, pedestrian access was accommodated on the building’s north side with a pedestrian tunnel. The East side of the building, however, did not effectively accommodate foot traffic during construction.

Meaningful accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists are out there. In our most dense urban areas where walkability is more appreciated, these accommodations are plentiful. But even in our smaller cities, there are excellent examples of developers making every attempt to ensure sidewalk use is unaffected during construction.

This construction project not only accounts for pedestrians and cyclists, the circled signage clearly instructs both on the appropriate path to use while traversing this stretch

Sidewalks are the connective tissue in our urban communities. They are the final link between homes and public transit. They are the needle the weaves the fabric of our neighborhoods together. They are are the highway for those who cannot afford a car, or make the choice not to own one. In our cities, sidewalks have a level of importance that often goes unrealized and under appreciated in our car-centric world.  Accommodating and maintaining their convenience, their appeal and their safety is of paramount importance to creating a healthy, walkable environment for all of our citizens.