We have all been stuck in Rochester traffic, or sworn at the bus that stops right in front you or the cyclist traveling 12mph on a narrow section of Goodman. We want to get to where we are going quickly because after all, we have jobs and bosses and deadlines and families and… You get the idea.
But the fact is, Rochester is a very car-friendly town. Compared to other cities, we have relatively low instances of regular traffic, plenty of parking (yes I assure you we do), and a multitude of expressways for speedy travel. While car sales around the country have tapered over the years, Rochester’s car sales continue to thrive.
For people like me who champion city life and developing a relationship with the surrounding urban environment, this is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, there is an enormous amount of data available to show that getting out of our cars and walking, biking or using public transportation to get around our city is better for Rochester and better for our physical and mental health.
I get it. This is not always the easiest city in which to use alternative transportation. Our bus system can be a little confusing for the occasional rider. Bike lanes are sporadic. And instituting true walkability as a priority is still a challenge here, with the exception of a few neighborhoods. But this can change if more of us make the effort to, even occasionally, get out of our cars and realize the personal and community benefits of using other forms of transportation.
Studies show that walking or cycling 30-60 minutes a day drastically lessens your chances of suffering a heart attack. Walking and cycling lengthens your lifespan, lowers blood pressure, increases flexibility and about 100 other health positives.
Furthermore, studies have shown that these are all NEGATIVELY affected the more you drive, and that this negative effect increases with every commuting mile per day.
Perhaps you live far away from your work and are unable to reasonably commute by bike or foot. Consider “splitting the difference” by parking far away and walking the last mile. Going to a Red Wings game with the family? Avoid the traffic by parking in a different area and walking to Frontier. While on foot, look around and enjoy your beautiful city!
Most people realize that commuting by bike and by foot is better for your physical health than traveling by car. But did you know research has shown cyclist and pedestrians are also happier people? It’s true. Physical propulsion seems to generate more endorphins and a general healthier mindset than driving. Moreover, a study showed that happiness decreases with every mile we commute, so living closer to work and choosing alternative transportation actually makes for a happier, healthier you!
This one is obvious. The less you drive, the less gas you put in your car, the less wear and tear is placed on your vehicle. Common sense. A study showed that the number of vehicles registered in Portland Oregon is down 7 percent, and automobile usage is down 8 percent. This may not seem like much, but it is estimated that residents saved over $54 million simply by driving 8 percent less!
Widening Your “Vision Cone”
Did you know that the faster you drive, the more your vision “tunnels?” It’s true… your “vision cone” of field of vision that your brain pays attention to narrows with every mile per hour increase. This is one of the biggest arguments against inner-city highway systems like the Inner Loop. When we move past our downtowns at a high rate of speed, our brains simply “overlook” the new restaurant or shop that just opened, or the beautification project on the street corner. We dismiss anything except for what’s in front of us, a sort of speed-induced “blinder.”
When cycling and walking, we generally move at a slower speed, allowing our brains a chance to take in our city surroundings. Furthermore, we are more “connected” to other senses that our cars cancel out, such as hearing and smell. Drive by Dinosaur BBQ, then get out and bike by it… the smell overtakes you and reminds you “hey, I haven’t been there in a while!”
Easier on City Infrastructure… and Your Wallet
Very few people understand how much a bridge costs to maintain, or how much it costs to pave a beaten highway. I assure you, it’s a lot more than you think. Remember the data I cited about Portland Oregon above? While Portland’s car sales have dropped significantly, Rochester’s auto sales were at a 12 year high in 2015, up 3.4 percent from 2014. Cars and trucks cost money, and not just in monthly payments, fuel, insurance and maintenance costs, but they cost us more in taxes as well. More cars means more daily wear and tear on our roads, bridges and highways, which equates to more taxpayer dollars and higher taxes for all of us. A single car or truck weighs 15-20 times as much as your average bike, and travels significantly faster causing far more damage to our local infrastructure. In addition, buses and light rail carry more passengers per pound, causing less stress on local roadways. The average full bus, 30-35 passengers, weighs between 30,000-44,000 pounds. Compare that to 30 people driving 30 cars weighing 80,000-120,000 pounds.
Connecting With Your Fellow Rochesterian
Our cars really are giant bubbles, cutting us off from the experiences of our surroundings and other people. For many, this is a welcomed time of relaxation and reflection on the day.
However, our cars disconnect us from each other, cutting us off from potential spontaneous meetings and encounters. Studies have shown that part of what makes a happy person is the pleasure of positive spontaneous encounters with strangers. Whether it’s a casual conversation on the bus about the economy of Rochester, or a friendly exchange with a fellow cyclist at a stop light, opening up our world to spontaneous encounters with other citizens strengthens our views of the cities we live in.
Productivity and Public Transit
When I travel across New York State, I enjoy taking Amtrak or Greyhound whenever possible. Many are puzzled by this and inevitably ask “why don’t you just drive?”
It’s simple. I work for the University of Rochester 4 days a week while photographing weddings, portraits and events the rest of the time. On top of this, I have two very successful blogs. It is absolutely essential to maximize my time.
I ride the bus to and from work when I can, simply because it allows me time to answer emails from clients, send invoices, blog, pay bills or even do some photo editing on my Surface laptop.
And I’m not alone. With the advent of mobile technology and its ability to make us more productive on the go, more and more young people are choosing public transportation options that allow them to work freely while en route to their jobs or other destinations.
As I stated before, Rochester is particularly “driven” by the automobile. Because of this, the city infrastructure is not always conducive to other options when commuting for work or traveling for play. This is slowly changing as more and more examples across the country show the citywide value of the seven items in this blog entry. But for Rochester to effectively transition, we have to understand that the way we commute affects our city, and that in turn affects us as happy, healthy individuals.