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Clearing Rochester’s Sidewalks of Snow is Not a Problem, It’s an Opportunity

March 11th, 2015

When a lot of people are living in a small area, and all of those people own cars, we run out of places to put them. A winter like this one just makes us feel the pain a little more. [PHOTO: Joseph Crescente]
The following is a guest post submitted by Jim Mayer, Rochester NY.
Submit your story today.

Density of people is good for cities. Density of cars is not external link. More people create more demand for local shops and services, which, in return, attract more people. Businesses seeking talent are attracted as well, and the city benefits from increased sales and property tax revenue and by increased utilization of its existing infrastructure. On the other hand when a lot of people are living in a small area, and all of those people own cars, we run out of places to put them. A winter like this one just makes us feel the pain a little more…

In the long run, the answer that seems to work best is to create an environment where people need fewer cars. [PHOTO: Ted Eytan]
In the long run, the answer that seems to work best is to create an environment where people need fewer cars. Cities like New York and Toronto have this down pat: many affluent residents choose not to own cars or only own one car per family. Unlike Rochester, however, these cities never lost their density. New York and Toronto have thriving, walkable, neighborhoods and city cores that attract talent and corporations from around the world. Their transit infrastructure focuses on efficiently and conveniently taking people where they want to go.

There are many wonderful things about Rochester, and there are exciting developments happening downtown and in some of our neighborhoods. At the same time, we have not been good stewards of our region's center. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
There are many wonderful things about Rochester, and there are exciting developments happening downtown and in some of our neighborhoods. At the same time, we have not been good stewards of our region’s center. Rochester’s downtown is just starting to recover after years of decay and neglect and many of our neighborhoods suffer from extreme, concentrated, poverty. The city schools are a mess. Our public transit infrastructure delivers only a shadow of the service it provided a hundred years ago external link. Fixing these problems will be hard external link and will take a long time.

Neighborhood businesses in areas like the South Wedge where I live get a lot of local, walk in, traffic. I almost never drive to a restaurant, I just walk. The businesses in the Wedge do a great job of keeping the sidewalks on South Avenue clear, but the residents on the side streets have struggled to keep up this winter. [PHOTO: George Cheatle]

In the short run, though, we could start by clearing snow off the sidewalks:

  1. We must recognize that sidewalks and bicycle trails are part of our transportation infrastructure and they should be cleared of snow by the city. Rochester has some good bus routes, especially if one is going to or from downtown, but it’s hard to use them if the sidewalks and bus stops are choked with snow. Brighton manages to plow sidewalks for about $25 per house per year. Rochester charges about $40. The situations are different, but if, for the added cost of a new pair of sneakers, the city could do a good job of clearing the sidewalks so that I can get my latte and my neighbors can get to their job and my older neighbors can not break their hips and people living with disabilities can not be shut up in their houses for three months of the year it would be money well spent. Just raise my taxes already and be done with it.
  2. Neighborhood businesses in areas like the South Wedge where I live get a lot of local, walk in, traffic. I almost never drive to a restaurant, I just walk. The businesses in the Wedge do a great job of keeping the sidewalks on South Avenue clear, but the residents on the side streets have struggled to keep up this winter. Clearing the sidewalks isn’t just about making life pleasant for city residents, it’s a way to support local businesses.
  3. One of the single best anti­poverty measures within the city’s power to implement is to make it less difficult for people to live without a car. Over a quarter of city households do not own a car. For those of us with cars impassible sidewalks are annoying. For people who need to walk, bicycle, or take transit to get to work impassible sidewalks are a disaster. Impassible sidewalks not only make it hard to get to work, they also make it more dangerous and increase the likelihood of arriving late, which, especially in low­wage industries, can cost a job and plunge a struggling family into deep poverty external link. Car ownership is also a financial drain external link on families: if 25% of our households don’t have cars external link, we can be pretty sure that in car­dependent Rochester many families that do have cars can’t really afford them. While access to a car can open up new job opportunities to people living in poverty, cars are extremely expensive to purchase, maintain, insure, and operate. Furthermore, most of the money spent on cars leaves the community, while money that stays in the community supports local jobs and businesses.

There are so many problems that the City of Rochester simply cannot take on by itself. One of the few things that the city does control is our local streets, side walks, and bicycle trails. The city should milk that for all it's worth. [PHOTO: Brenda Massie]
There are so many problems that the City of Rochester simply cannot take on by itself. One of the few things that the city does control is our local streets, side walks, and bicycle trails. The city should milk that for all it’s worth.

• • •

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 at 9:30 am and is filed under Opinion, Transit + Infrastructure. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “Clearing Rochester’s Sidewalks of Snow is Not a Problem, It’s an Opportunity”

  1. Bridget Watts says:

    Agree completely. Also, it isn’t enough to keep sidewalks clear if it is impossible to cross the street. There needs to be a plan for clearing access to crosswalks after the street plow goes through and erects a wall of compressed ice and snow. The fact that this doesn’t happen shows that walking isnt really considered a serious form of transportation. I try to run errands on foot when I can, but this winter I could not safely reach the drugstore or library that I usually walk to, because of the condition of the crosswalk at Culver and Bay. This iis a major intersection that a lot of people need to cross to reach a bus stop, and it has been ridiculously dangerous for at least a month and a half. I have the option of driving, but I know there are people in the neighborhood who don’t.
    Property owners do need to do more to clear their sidewalks, but the city needs to take responsibility for the clearing of crosswalks. It should be as routine as making sure the streetes are navigable by cars.

  2. Martin Edic says:

    Great post. I’m a pedestrian and I use public transit. You have really hit all the issues. I wonder if our tone deaf mayor knows that 25% of her constituent households don’t own cars. According to her, sidewalk plowing is a ‘favor’ the city confers on us, even though there is a line item on our tax bill for it. East Ave’s sidewalks, where I live, was not plowed at all in February, our worst winter month since records started. Yet this week all the snow downtown was removed for a one day celebration of white trash drunkenness. Those of us who live and work downtown and support local businesses year round dealt with unsafe sidewalks for months but a bunch of parade watchers who are here one day a year drinking green beer at nine in the morning get clear sidewalks. It is outrageous.

  3. Jim Mayer says:

    One of the Facebook comments mentioned walking to school. If 25 percent of city families don’t have cars, and if kids who live within a half mile of school don’t get bussed, then shouldn’t we as a community make sure the sidewalks are clear? I don’t see how this can happen unless the city picks up the job.

  4. Renee says:

    Great post, Jim. My husband and I walk to work every day along East Avenue and the sidewalks there have been a mess since the very first snowflakes fell, long before the big deep freeze hit the area. On this lovely sunny day, I slipped twice due to icy conditions (conditions that wouldn’t be present if the sidewalks wouldn’t have been neglected). Bridget was right on when she said walking isn’t really considered a serious form of transportation by the city. If it was, more attention would be paid to clearing the sidewalks. Some of us stubbornly continued to be pedestrians through it all by choice. But mass transit/walking is not a choice for many. Our city should be accessible for all people year-round, regardless of the mode of transportation they take.

  5. Jim Mayer says:

    Martin, I don’t particularly blame the mayor for the problem. The city has never done more than “supplemental” plowing, and a lot of cities don’t even do that much.

    Poverty in the city is a big problem and is one that Mayor Warren knows and cares about. I really believe that there is an opportunity here to help people pull themselves out of poverty while at the same time helping small businesses and making the city more attractive to urban friendly millennials and boomers.

  6. Martin Edic says:

    Jim, the Mayor’s office has repeatedly brushed off questions from citizens and the media about sidewalk plowing, even in situations that presented a public hazard such as the section of State St that had three feet of snow on the walkway, forcing pedestrians to walk in the road at a very busy spot. I have lived here all my life and in the past two years the sidewalk situation has been the worst I have ever experienced. Glibly throwing this onto real estate owners is not the answer. We are one of the snowiest cities in the country so we not ‘like’ other cities.
    As for the Mayor’s compassion, give me an example. Her direct order to bulldoze the homeless tents so it would look nice for a road race? Her constant excuses for nepotism and inappropriate behavior? She plays out of Gantt’s playbook and during his tenure Rochester has become the poorest city, per capita, in the country and this has continued to get worse over the past two years. Sorry, but until I see a clear indication that she truly cares about the city, I’m not buying it.

  7. Gary says:

    After sustaining expensive car damage from unmaintained potholes this winter, I gave up driving my car. What I have since learned about navigating the city has been depressing. RTS is worse than I expected. A simple crosstown trip can take hours one way. Recently I wanted to catch a movie at the Eastman House and used the RTS online trip planner. It lied. My connecting ride was gone by the time my bus arrived at the Transit Center. I could either wait an hour or walk to the Eastman House on a below-zero night. I walked because otherwise I would have missed the film. Then I walked home rather than spend an hour and a half waiting for buses. The trip planner often suggests I walk, in fact, even for a mile or two. If I wanted to walk, I wouldn’t be using the planner.

    Walking has its own issues. Most sidewalks are blocked, so I finally reconciled myself to walking in the streets with traffic. I don’t understand why my transportation needs are respected only when I’m in a polluting ton-and-a-half vehicle. It seems pedestrians’ needs have no value (same for bicyclists). While there have been close calls, I have so far escaped injury. Both street plows and private driveway plows push snow into the sidewalks and leave it there, making them unusable. I could even be fined for shoveling snow back into the street.

    Finally, you mention an issue that I haven’t seen discussed previously. In this impoverished city, many people who can’t afford to own cars are nonetheless forced to do so in order to find work, shop or otherwise survive. The cost of maintaining a car guarantees they remain in poverty indefinitely. But the alternative is to limit themselves to transit inadequate for their needs. Many Rochesterians are forced to do this. It’s a lose-lose choice for many. If we are to leave embarrassing poverty behind, both the city and RTS will need to become part of the solution. Currently, both are part of the problem.

  8. C K Childs says:

    I am an avid walker and cyclist, using either means to get around anytime I can. But I agree with everyone that the sidewalks this winter have been a total mess. It makes no sense to depend on residents to clear the sidewalks – not everyone is physically able to do that. I can barely keep my driveway cleared, much less the sidewalk in front of my house. And even if residents do keep their sidewalks clear, the plows plow it all back in. I love Rochester. I love living here. In general, I think we have a great quality of life (for those with some means), but the sidewalks in winter are a glaring problem. I know everything costs money, but keeping the sidewalks clear would make the City so much more accessible and pleasant for everyone.


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