Rochester, NY bolsters bicycle plan

Honorable mention from League of American Bicyclists lights a fire

In 2009 the City of Rochester, New York received an honorable mention from the League of American Bicyclists in its ranking of cities on their hospitality to bicyclists. Some might consider it quite an achievement, especially in Rochester, an older city with tree lined streets that are short on space for bike provisions.

Rather than sitting back and savoring the accomplishment, however, city planners and local groups looked to how Rochester could achieve the League’s full bicycle-friendly status. “We had gotten the honorable mention a few years back,” Erik Frisch, a transportation specialists for the City of Rochester, told BikeRadar. “It gave us an extensive to do list to get full status.”

One of the key steps was to get an actual master bicycle plan that set the stage and for the city to actually follow through, said Frisch.

The city had to identify what was missing, says Richard Desarra, who works with the Rochester Bicycling Club board as road & trail advocate, and is responsible submitted the report to the League, which resulted in the honorable mention. “They wanted to see more bicycle facilities, programs and amenities,” said Desarra. “It was basically that we were missing more of what we were already doing. We didn’t have bike lanes, and they wanted to see bike lanes and more shoulder space.”

Bike paths actually presented a problem given that Rochester, while not an overly large city, is a well-developed city. “We have constraints of being an older city, and that meant we couldn’t move curbs or take away parking, but we looked at building bike boulevards on the side streets and through the residential neighborhoods,” he said.

Frisch adds that Rochester was also blessed with good off street bike paths. “We have good east to west, and north to south trail network, and we have great riding along the nearby Eric Canal.”

What the city didn’t have, however, was good on street riding, and often no markings on most streets. The master plan was there to provide for on street riding, as well as to consider future bike storage options and even bike sharing initiatives. “Our big effort was to get the bicycle master plan written,” says Desarra. “Then we could implement the various programs and reach out goals.”

Plans have to start somewhere and the focus was on the street routes. The city called in help from Sprinkle Consulting, which helps communities determine bicycle programs.

Frisch says that so far the city is moving in the right direction. “We are assessing what we can do, and right now we are prioritizing our investment in creating the on street networks,” but adds that it isn’t a perfect world, because some areas are being left for a later date. “In a perfect world we would have true connections with the existing network, but the realities are that it doesn’t make sense to re-strip a street that will need resurfacing in the next couple of years.”

Moving forward Rochester is heading towards its goal of being a bicycle friendly city. “We’re in the process of implementing 16 direction miles of exclusive bike lanes and shared use facilities, and these are going in right now,” says Frisch. “We have a pretty good amount of funding, and we’ll see upwards to 50 to 60 miles by end of next year. And the plan is to continue on until we have the full network.”

Desarra agrees, “We’re a city in transition. We’re a rustbelt city, but we are moving forward. We have the city and county on board and we’re moving forward.”

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