Walk, Bike, Smile, Thrive:
a report on the first
Greater Rochester Active Transportation Symposium.
Jon Schull, Ph.D.
RIT Center for Student Innovation
Scott MacRae, M.D.
Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science,
Flaum Eye Institute, University of Rochester
Walking and biking is good for your health, good for your state of mind, and good for Rochester. And its about to get better.
Less than a year after the newly-formed Rochester Cycling Alliance began advocating for comprehensive bike-friendly planning and development, the City of Rochester has developed and released a Bicycle Master Plan that will encourage better bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, and urban trails, and stimulate similar developments in neighboring municipalities. The Town of Brighton has just received a planning grant from the federally funded Genesee Transportation Council to develop a plan for bikeable and walkable connections between the University of Rochester, RIT, MCC, and downtown Rochester.
And on April 27, 2011,over 200 forward thinking planners, leaders, and citizens came together for the first Greater Rochester Active Transportation Symposium, to celebrate a rich set of geographical and demographic assets, ripe for integration.
The Greater Rochester Active Transportation Symposium featured national and local leaders who understand that active transportation planning in cities like Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota has made roads safer, expanded transportation options, and increased community livability and attractiveness, especially for young people who are so important for regional vitality and growth.
Consider the facts. The average Rochester family spends 19% of its income on transportation--about $8,000 a year. Yet half of our trips are 3 miles in duration or less--perfect for biking. If even a fraction of our car commutes became bike commutes, effective family incomes could increase by thousands of dollars, and most of those dollars --hundreds of millions of dollars!--would circulate in Rochester's economy, rather than Saudi Arabia's. And by the way, mental alertness and fitness would increase along with life expectancies and productivity (cyclists live 2 years longer on average and they lose 15% fewer days off work due to illness).
As planned and expected, facts like these were discussed and affirmed at the April 27 Symposium, along with a review of existing opportunities and initiatives such as Safe Routes to School, healthy-living and accessibility programs, and the prospect of connecting Rochester's 19 universities and 80,000 students via a regional active transportation network and regional bike-share program.
But then the unplanned and the unexpected happened. Attendance exceeded expectations. Good intentions became determination. "Should" became "shall". In the words of one of our visiting luminaries this was "The Day It All Began". Rochester has the resources, the will, and leadership to reinvent itself as a model of healthy, sustainable, active transportation planning. We're determined to do this.
Rochester's leaders and planners from government and higher education attended the symposium because they were ready, willing, and able to listen and respond to forward-looking cyclists, walkers and community builders. They were impressed by what they heard and by what they saw: a growing and motivated constituencies that support and understands the incredible potential of active transportation planning for Rochesterian cyclists and non-cyclists alike. With continued community encouragement and support, it will happen.
So here's how you can help make this vision a reality.
Understand it. Attractive bikeways and walkways create and preserve thriving communities populated by energetic and forward thinking citizens. Energetic and forward thinking citizens create and sustain livable cities with rich transportation options, less obesity and heart disease, lower carbon footprints, less dependence on foreign oil. (It's not rocket science. Its better.)
Know that realizing this vision need not be expensive. Portland Oregon's entire cycling infrastructure was built for less than the cost of a single mile of urban expressway (and Portland now saves twenty times that much money per year in miles not driven).
Ask for it. While the health benefits of cycling outweigh the safety risks 20 to 1, those benefits today often go to those who are willing to brave scary and unappealing roadways. Ask civic leaders for better walkways and bikeways.
Vote with your feet. Join us during bike week Rochester May 20-27th. There's something for everyone among the festivities listed at (http://www.rochestercyclingalliance.org/bikeweek2011/.
Bike more, walk more, smile more. Marry an emerging global vision with emerging local opportunities. You'll feel better, and you'll help the community thrive.