Reconnect Rochester, Rochester Cycling Alliance join forces

Reconnect Rochester and Rochester Cycling Alliance this week said they would merge operations. Both groups work to promote transportation alternatives in Monroe County.

“People tend to attach themselves to their vehicle of choice, but it’s not about bike people versus bus people versus car people,” said Mike Governale, founder of Reconnect Rochester. “Our hope is that by bringing the groups together, we can begin to break down ‘mode silos’ and encourage the community to view transportation options as an interconnected system. Transportation planning is about moving people, not vehicles.”

Reconnect Rochester was founded in 2009 by a group of individuals who saw a need to create a more multi-modal and robust transportation network that prioritizes people, regardless of their mode of transportation. Over the last decade, the organization has engaged the community and local leaders to create more robust public transportation, more complete streets and safer transportation alternatives.

The Rochester Cycling Alliance (RCA) began in the summer of 2008 with the goal of uniting local bicycling advocates, enthusiasts and organizations to provide a public voice for all cyclists. RCA has promoted the use of bicycles as transportation, sport, recreation and health. The organization advocates for improved cycling infrastructure, education, programs and legislation.

“Under the leadership of the late RCA co-founder and past president Richard DeSarra, the RCA has been instrumental in helping create bicycle/pedestrian master plans in the city of Rochester and the multiple surrounding municipalities, introducing bike share to our community and expanding bike lanes and infrastructure to keep moving us toward the goal of being a top tier bike friendly community,” said Scott MacRae, immediate past president of RCA. “It was Richard DeSarra and others who envisioned combining forces of the two organizations synergistically.”

Reconnect Rochester, a nonprofit, added Jesse Peers as cycling coordinator this summer. He joined the organization’s Director of Planning & Development Mary Staropoli as its second official employee.

Bill Collins, Brendan Ryan and Susan Levin joined Reconnect Rochester’s board of directors as representatives of the RCA, whose membership will continue their bike advocacy efforts as a work group of the larger organization. Reconnect Rochester’s other active work groups will continue to concentrate on furthering bus system innovation, rail transit and pedestrian safety, officials said.

Governale has stepped into a new role on Reconnect Rochester’s board of advisers. In January this year, Renée Stetzer was named president and Pete Nabozny moved into the role of vice president. The board added Michael Damico as its new pedestrian workgroup chair. He joined longtime board members Brenda Massie, Jason Partyka, DeWain Feller, Dan Speciale, John Lam and Daniel Cordova.

The combined organization is planning a celebration on Dec. 12 at Fifth Frame Brewery Co.

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Complete Streets Makeover winner announced

A team of engineers and organizational leaders have chosen a North Clinton Avenue neighborhood for a Complete Streets makeover.

The block of North Clinton Avenue between Hoeltzer and Sullivan Streets will be the Complete Streets Makeover focus area.
The block of North Clinton Avenue between Hoeltzer and Sullivan Streets will be the Complete Streets Makeover focus area.

Working with Reconnect Rochester—a not-for-profit organization that works to improve transportation choices in the region—individuals from the city of Rochester, the state and Monroe County departments of transportation, Stantec Inc. and others have chosen the El Camino neighborhood of North Clinton Avenue between Hoeltzer and Sullivan Streets as the project’s focus area.

Officials said the location presented the right mix of community support, evidence of safety concerns and potential for a street redesign that would create “real, transformative change for the community.”

A complete street is one that is designed and operated to allow everyone, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation, safer access on that street, Reconnect Rochester officials explained. A complete street is a shared street, one that is shared by pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists.

It reflects and serves the surrounding community and neighborhoods.

Rochester and a number of surrounding towns have Complete Streets policies. A Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of transportation networks, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Last year’s Complete Streets winner was Parsells Avenue in the city’s Beechwood neighborhood, an area known for speeding traffic. Volunteers spent the day painting an intersection with bright colors and beautifying the area.

Temporary curb extenders were installed and on one entrance to the intersection a temporary speed table is being used. Roughly the width of a crosswalk, a speed table inclines slightly to slow drivers and then declines slightly.

This year, officials said, the community response was “tremendous.” Nearly 160 nominations for 31 locations in Monroe County were pored over by a steering committee of 14. The South Clinton Avenue area between South Goodman and Henrietta Streets was named a finalist in the contest, as was Monroe Avenue and Sutherland Street in the village of Pittsford.

The design team at Stantec will provide each of the finalists with a conceptual drawing of street design improvements. The neighborhoods can use the illustrations as a launch pad for community discussion and a tool to help advocate for changes that would make the streets safer for everyone.

the project will be timed to dovetail with plans already underway for that corridor. Officials will work with Ibero-American Development Corp. and other community partners in the El Camino neighborhood to be part of the development of the International Plaza, which recently received funding from the city of Rochester that will drive the project forward. (Photo provided)
The Complete Streets Clinton Avenue makeover project will be timed to dovetail with plans already underway for that corridor. (Photo provided)

As for the North Clinton Avenue Complete Streets Makeover, the project will be timed to dovetail with plans already underway for that corridor. Officials will work with Ibero-American Development Corp. and other community partners in the El Camino neighborhood to be part of the development of the International Plaza, which recently received funding from Rochester that will drive the project forward.

The Complete Streets Makeover will kick off with a community input session in June, facilitated by the Community Design Center, to hear from the residents of the El Camino neighborhood about their experiences and ideas. Based on feedback from this session, the complete streets design team at Stantec will draft conceptual design improvements of an improved streetscape.

The Complete Streets Makeover team will rely on volunteers and equipment from the Healthi Kids traffic-calming library to lay down the temporary design on the street. The design will be brought to life through a temporary on-street installation in September.

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Coalition to lobby for transportation funding, emissions legislation

Representatives from several local transportation groups will travel to the state Capitol Tuesday to lobby for increased funding to improve public transportation in the Rochester region and in Upstate New York.

Our Streets Transit Coalition will meet with state legislators in Albany and urge them to support budget items and legislation, including a 50 percent increase in state operating assistance for upstate transit systems over the next five years, as called for by the statewide New Yorkers for Better Public Transit campaign, beginning with a 10 percent increase in the 2019-20 state budget.

“Rochester needs a transit system that serves its citizens in a meaningful way,” said Reconnect Rochester’s Jason Partyka, chairman of its Bus Work Group. “When just getting back and forth to work takes two hours a day and an evening trip to Wegmans means another two hours, this is a real time burden on Rochester’s families.”

Our Streets Transit Coalition officials said they are encouraged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included a 5.3 percent increase in his budget, but said that creating “truly robust” public transportation systems requires a more transformational financial investment.

“We advocate for the growth of the public transit system as both a necessity for black, brown, working class and other marginalized communities in Rochester, and as a necessary step in building a sustainable, living-wage economy,” Metro Justice’s Aaron Michaeu said. “Rochester’s development should promote mass transit, pedestrian and cycle transport as a means of providing mobility for all while moving away from fossil-fuel dependency.”

In addition to funding, the coalition is calling for support of legislation that would require major transit authorities in New York State to have transit and paratransit rider representation on their boards, as well as legislation that would place a tax on carbon-based fuel emissions.

“In New York State, emissions from the transportation sector account for 34 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions,” said Heather O’Donnell of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition’s transportation committee. “Creating a high-functioning, sustainable and equitable public transportation system is one of the most meaningful steps we can take towards mitigating climate change and improving air quality in our communities.”

Coalition members include Reconnect Rochester, Metro Justice, Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, Community Design Center of Rochester, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 282, Mothers Out Front, Rochester Cycling Alliance and Roc City Coalition.

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Transportation system called inadequate for low-income workers

bus-public-transportation-seats-373978-1A new transportation and poverty report commissioned by a number of area organizations involved in Rochester’s anti-poverty initiative suggests that the city’s transportation system reinforces the disparities that already exist in the community, rather than helping to reduce them.

Transportation and Poverty in Monroe County: How Land Use, Job Locations and Commuting Options Affect Access to Jobs found that changing patterns of residential settlement and location of jobs have made it increasingly difficult for people, especially low-income people, to access employment.

“This report makes it clear that transportation is a structural barrier that forces people living in poverty into impossible choices, and that the situation has been exacerbated by increased decentralization of jobs over time,” said Reconnect Rochester President Mike Governale. “The transportation needs of our most vulnerable workers should not be an afterthought in land use management and regional economic policy decision making.”

The report’s findings, he said, should be a call to action to improve the coordination between public and private dollars invested in transportation, economic development and anti-poverty efforts.

The report, prepared by the Center for Governmental Research Inc., notes that in 1910 more than three-quarters of Monroe County’s population lived within the city limits. A century later, that had dropped to just one-quarter. And from 2002 to 2015, the share of county jobs located in the suburbs grew, while the share in the city declined.

The report notes that while the overall number of jobs declined slightly, the changes in income levels of the jobs available have been more dramatic. From 2002 to 2015, Rochester saw a 29 percent decline in low-income jobs and a 32 percent decline in its mid-income jobs.

While low-income jobs are concentrated in a few tracts in the city and in Henrietta, the workers who work those jobs often commute from elsewhere in the county, the report notes. Low-income workers’ residences are much more widely scattered across the county than the locations of their jobs, which makes getting to those jobs more difficult.

The report concludes that “the state of the transportation options in Monroe County and Rochester pose an equity issue for the community, both in terms of race and income. Drivers (who are whiter and wealthier than transit riders) face easy commutes and a wide access to jobs. Those who ride the bus face very long commutes and limited access to jobs.”

The report was commissioned by Reconnect Rochester, in partnership with the city of Rochester, Connected Communities Inc., ESL Charitable Foundation, Genesee Transportation Council (GTC), Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA), Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI), the Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. ESL Charitable Foundation, United Way and CGR funded the project.

The report will be used to inform the strategy and focus of the RMAPI transportation policy work group, which will work to translate the findings into policy recommendations and action.

“Funding constraints limit public transit’s ability to meet the changing needs of the community and customers we serve,” RGRTA CEO Bill Carpenter said. “This report shows the impact of limited funding on access to jobs, education and health care and how barriers to transportation reduce quality of life in our community.”

GTC Executive Director James Stack noted that the organization’s long range transportation plan supports development that considers and integrates transportation needs.

“This report highlights the need for employers to consider the transportation options that potential employees can afford on the anticipated wages,” Stack said. “Employers should consider the benefits of reduced turnover that locating near reliable transportation can provide.”

The full report can be read here.

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