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For the second time in a week, The Democrat and Chronicle has published a flawed real estate article. This one is titled, “Walkable neighborhoods are in demand.”

The first red flag is that the piece features a picture of a street with no sidewalks.

 

Screenshot, Democrat and Chronicle website, 5/16/15

Screenshot, Democrat and Chronicle website, 5/16/15

Two of the neighborhoods featured in the article are decidedly not walkable.

The Estates at Beaver Creek in Farmington backs up to a trail. That’s apparently enough for real estate agents to sell this as a walkable neighborhood.  But WalkScore, a website rating a place’s walkability, gives this neighborhood a 6 out of 100 points, an indication this area is about as car-dependent as it gets. This tiny, semi-rural development is surrounded by high-speed roads with no sidewalks. There are virtually no amenities, such as restaurants, stores, libraries and schools, within walking distance. It’s also not accessible to public transit.

Another featured neighborhood is the Black Watch subdivision in Perinton. WalkScore gives this neighborhood 23 out of 100 points, saying almost all errands require a car. While many houses are within one to two miles of businesses, these streets do not have sidewalks or streetlights. The winding roads in the street grid mean people have to walk longer distances to get from Point A to Point B. The businesses sit on high-speed, five-lane roads. This neighborhood is also not well-served by public transportation.

The other neighborhoods featured are more walkable. Roselawn in Brighton has a WalkScore of 60, meaning it’s somewhat walkable, and it’s also somewhat well-served by transit. But Spencerport and Scottsville villages, while wonderful, get scores in the 30s, probably because they’re surrounded by more semi-rural areas.

Just because you enjoy going out for a stroll, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood. Just because you have a trail in your backyard, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood. Just because you can and do walk around your neighborhood, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood. Just because there are parks and amenities nearby, doesn’t mean you have a walkable neighborhood.

Walkable neighborhoods value pedestrians. They have sidewalks, crosswalks, lower speed limits, narrower roads and streetlights. They have destinations. They are denser. They are not designed solely around cars. They have life and activity. Pedestrians feel safe. They have places to go. They enjoy the experience of walking. These neighborhoods have almost everything one needs.

The East End scores a 91, Park Ave. scores a 75, South Wedge scores a 78, Village of Pittsford scores a 74 and Village of Fairport scores a 70. Jeff Speck wrote a whole book about what it means to be a walkable place and why these places are so valuable. It’s an awesome read and could change the way you think about how we’ve designed spaces around cars.

The D&C article was right. Walkable neighborhoods are hot. But the paper and the real estate agents seriously misrepresented what it means to be walkable. It’s not a small error, as walkability means so much to people who are passionate about making our communities more accessible and vibrant.

Note: Earlier this week, I fiercely defended the D&C for standing up for access to information. Later in the week, I took the paper to task for two bungled articles. I love the paper. If I didn’t value the institution, I wouldn’t bother writing about its work. Accountability is important for all journalists, myself included.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– You don’t often see $1.6 million homes in the Rochester area.

– The Village of Pittsford’s politics are truly insane. Twenty-five percent of its budget is for legal fees?

– If you grow up in Monroe County, you’re less likely to be married by age 26.

– Binge drinking has increased in many places, including Monroe County.

– Syracuse police have a pattern of withholding information.

– Is there science backing up Chipotle and Whole Foods on GMOs?

Here are the highest-paid CEOs of 2014.

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

 

A new report from the U.S. Census has some insight into why we don’t walk more. According to Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable Cities,” in order to encourage walking, the trip has to be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

The Census data is based on 2013 samples. The area has 414,400 households.

Fewer than half of households – 47 percent – reported walking or biking. Most people didn’t give a reason why they don’t walk or bike. But top responses from those who answered were health reasons, traffic issues, lack of adequate sidewalks, not owning a bike and no place close enough to walk to.

As for adequate sidewalks, two of five households reported not having adequate sidewalks present. That’s 179,100 homes in neighborhoods without sidewalks. That’s 179,100 homes where people have to walk in the road to enjoy a leisurely stroll.

Only 11 percent of households reported having bike lanes in their neighborhoods.

Many householders were correct in saying walking and biking won’t get them to their destinations. Of the people who walk or bike, two-thirds said a grocery store was accessible. Fewer than half said retail shopping was within walking or biking distance. Little more than a third said they could get to health care services. Only one-third said they could bike or walk to school or work. (Check out Brookings’ study on distances between jobs and homes.)

Twelve percent of households reported using public transportation at least occasionally.

For advocates of walking and biking, this data is hugely discouraging. Our community is set up for cars. This has consequences for poor people, the environment, crash rates, land use and more. It also has consequences on our wallets. The study found households spend an average of $726 dollars a month on their cars, including gas, insurance, car payments, maintenance and parking.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The demand for homes is high, but inventory is low in the Rochester region.

– “New York State legislature celebrated the Eve of April Fools by making a bad teacher evaluation system even worse.”

– Five of twelve charter schools that have opened in Albany have failed.

– “Is comedy supposed to offend people sometimes? Absolutely. Safe comedy is both more boring and less insightful.”

– I hesitate sharing this dumb, clickbait column from the D&C. This writer thinks we take out-of-town guests to Wegmans at the expense of other attractions. She sets up a false choice and comes off as very patronizing.

 

Check it Out:

 

People who live in poor neighborhoods are more likely to be killed in a pedestrian-car accident. That’s according to Governing magazine:

No published national data assess income or poverty status of those killed in traffic accidents. But according to a Governing analysis of accident location coordinates for the more than 22,000 pedestrians killed nationwide between 2008 and 2012, poorer neighborhoods have disproportionately higher rates of pedestrian deaths. In the nation’s metro areas, the bottom third of Census tracts, in terms of per capita income, recorded pedestrian fatality rates twice that of higher income tracts. The same holds true for high-poverty communities.

Why is this happening? Poor people are more likely not to own cars and have to walk places, including walking to the bus stop. Main thoroughfares are more likely to run through poor neighborhoods, as little thought was given to their quality of life when the roads were built. (For example, East Ave. is not a six-lane speedway.) Finally, despite the fact more poor people don’t have cars, cities are lagging in putting pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in their neighborhoods. This isn’t only a city issue. Many low-income people live in the suburbs, which are not known for walkability.

 

Source: Governing

Source: Governing

 

The Rochester metro area shows a pattern similar to the national data. Poor people are more likely to be killed while walking. In the Rochester metro, the death rate between 2008 and 2012 for pedestrians was 5.6 per 100,000 people. In census tracks with poverty rates above 25 percent, the five-year death rate was 9.5 per 100,000. There were 60 pedestrian deaths in this time period.

Perhaps showing that it’s more dangerous to walk in outlying areas, Monroe County’s pedestrian death rate during this period was 4.7 per 100,000. But in high poverty neighborhoods, it was 7.4. In neighborhoods where poverty was less than 15 percent, the five-year death rate was 3.9.

Here’s a map of Rochester area fatalities between 2008 and 2012:

 

Source: Governing

Source: Governing

 

What should we do with this information? It’s important to focus on road design, which includes lowering speed limits and placing crosswalks where they are needed. It’s also not acceptable to blame “jaywalkers.” They shouldn’t have to pay for a mistake with their lives.  Nearly 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in Rochester were pedestrian deaths. We’re so focused on the needs of drivers, we’ve forgotten about the needs of pedestrians, many of whom are poor.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The NFL is pushing new stadium for Bills during sale talks. Great, let the NFL pay for it.

– Food stamp use keeps rising among Erie County’s older population.

– New York farmers, grocery stores and food manufacturers oppose GMO labeling.

– Find out how a parent who’s a plaintiff in lawsuit against teacher tenure defines a “bad teacher.”

– As government PR machines grow, reporters are more challenged to confirm information. And these PR people are powerful. A survey found 40 percent of public information officers admitted they deny specific reporters access.

– Pregnant women fight to keep jobs through “reasonable accommodations.” If men bore babies this would not be an issue.

– Seriously? Doctors can’t show pics of babies they’ve delivered because of privacy concerns.

– A fund has been set up for the Rochester mother who was stabbed and her son who is going to college.

 

30-mph-speed-limitSan Francisco is joining the growing number of cities seeking to lower their default speed limits. New York City recently got state approval to lower its speed limit to 25 m.p.h.

The reasoning is simple: lower speed limits save lives. Lower speed limits also improve the experience for pedestrians and bicyclists. There’s a UK group called “20 is Plenty” that advocates for 20 m.p.h. speed limits. The group’s website has an extensive briefings section taking on every possible criticism of lowering the speed limit, from blaming pedestrians to drivers not obeying the limit.

Should the speed limit be lowered in the City of Rochester? As someone who walks a lot, I think it should be explored. Thirty miles an hour feels very fast on residential streets. It even feels fast on Park Avenue, where there are numerous people crossing the street mid-block. It feels fast when I park on a main road, such as East Ave., and try to avoid cars whizzing by as I exit my vehicle. When you spend enough time outside of your car, everyone seems to be going too fast.

But in the city that had a heart attack at the prospect of narrowing Lake Avenue, a haven for speeders, something like this is bound to face opposition. Here’s a bit of the Twitter discussion that followed my tweet about San Francisco’s effort.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Work is under way on a $25 million new home for the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

– Boston students can no longer have a private conversation with their friends on the bus.

– It’s the new tracking. Chicago sorts kids by ability – by using the school choice program.

– As we reflect on the 1964 riots in Rochester, you may enjoy reading this account of a Jewish family on Joseph Avenue. It’s a great history. Here’s Part One and Part Two.

– Watch movies outside in downtown Rochester. Fun!

 

Note:

 

I’ll be filling for Bob Lonsberry Tuesday and Thursday on WHAM1180 from 8 a.m. to noon. Please tune in and call in!

 

LEGO Project of the Day:

 

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

Rochester ranks better than most large metropolitan areas in protecting pedestrians, according to a new report by Smart Growth America. The report, called “Dangerous by Design,” computes a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) by looking at deaths and percentage of people who walk to work.

Sunbelt cities perform the worst on in the study: Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Memphis, Birmingham, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte. These cities boomed post-war and were built around cars.

Rochester ranks 43rd out of 51 areas. We had 121 pedestrian deaths between 2003 and 2012 and a PDI of 33.97. That puts us below the national average of 1.56 deaths per 100,000 people and a PDI of 52.2.

Rochester does slightly worse when ranked by percentage of all traffic fatalities that were pedestrians. Of all traffic deaths in Rochester, 13.8 percent were pedestrians. On this measurement, we come out in 37th place out of 51 metros.

Here’s a summary of Smart Growth’s overall findings:

From 2003 to 2012, more than 47,000 people were killed while walking – sixteen times the number of people who died in natural disasters, but without the corresponding level of urgency. And estimated 676,000 people were injured during this time period.

While pedestrian deaths are labeled “accidents,” the data reviewed here indicate we can prevent the majority of them by taking deliberate steps, through better policy, design, practice and regulation—just as we have done with vehicular deaths. The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on arterial roadways, planned and engineered for speeding automobiles with little consideration for the diversity of people—young, old, with and without disabilities, walking and bicycling—who rely on these streets to get them from point A to point B.

The urgent need to act is compounded by projected demographic changes. The nation’s older population will nearly double in size in the next 30 years. The number of racial and ethnic minorities is also projected to grow significantly. These groups, along with children, are disproportionately represented in pedestrian deaths.

Sweden has an interesting approach to pedestrian safety. They have a law mandating zero pedestrian deaths. A Swedish transportation official said to the New York Times, “You should be able to make mistakes without being punished by death.”

Achieving zero pedestrian deaths would require major cultural mindset change. In the meantime, we can continue to wave flags at drivers and hope they see us.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Here’s a new reason why the Bills won’t be moved out of Buffalo: The NFL doesn’t want pissed off politicians to scrutinize the league. “They’re like the old mafia.”

– A Democrat and Chronicle reporter suggested suburban sports teams adopt city sports teams. At first I thought this was really condescending. But then I thought this could have been written about academics, too. The fact is, many city children are not exposed to their suburban competition in sports or academics – and it shows on the field and in the classroom. I’m not sure this reporter has the right solution, but he made his point.

– “This is a Great Lake city bisected by a river, crossed by a canal and sporting an expansive and picturesque bay.”

– The questioning of Kathy Hochul’s independent streak, along with the suggestion that she should do as she’s told, really irks me.

– When employers share salary information, it ends up hurting workers.

– Have stories about your Rochester Irish ancestors? They could get a large audience this week on Twitter.

– An Armory Square restaurant accused another of stealing its recipes.

 

Census Notes:

 

The U.S. Census released city-level population data last week. Rochester’s population is holding somewhat steady, going from 210,565 in 2010 to 210,358 in 2013. Buffalo’s population went from 261,325 to 258,959. Syracuse declined from 145,196 to 144,669. For more on Monroe County data released in March, click here.

 

Dashboard view looking east on Main St.

Dashboard view looking east on Main St.

 

Woman begins crossing the street.

Woman begins crossing the street.

 

Car does not stop for woman in crosswalk.

Car does not stop for woman in crosswalk.

 

In the fall, the city rebuilt the sidewalks on East Main Street between Gibbs and Scio. The city also put in a crosswalk between the YMCA entrance and the East End Garage. The crosswalk is a natural mid-block location where people cross the street.

But few cars stop. Pedestrians have to wait until the coast is clear or risk getting run over by a car going 40 miles an hour down the street. (The speed limit is 30.) It’s also a difficult crosswalk because of the cars parked on both sides of the street. Motorists cannot easily see people crossing the street.

I’ve forced cars to stop for me in the crosswalk, but only if they’re obviously far enough away and going slow enough to stop. I’m not going to risk my life to prove a point. I’d be right, but I’d be dead.

Rochesterians can do a better job sharing the road with pedestrians. Last week, a car making a right on red beeped at me as I crossed the street in the crosswalk with a “walk” sign.

Here’s the law on crosswalks:

(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, except that any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overpass has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles.

(b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.

(c) Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.

Links of the Day:

– So much for the state putting restrictions on retail sales tax breaks. In Genesee County, a Dick’s is considered a tourist destination. Meanwhile, Darien Lake, an actual tourist destination, pitches itself as a business center.

– Even though casino revenues are dropping, Cuomo wants a second one in Niagara Falls.

– The case against State Senator Malcolm Smith, in one chart.

The many faces of Albany political scandals.

Why Rochester is called Smugtown.

20121126-173406.jpg

You may have noticed more roundabouts, curb bump outs, bike lanes and raised crosswalks around the city.

Rochester is trying to calm traffic along many streets. The efforts go way beyond speed bumps.

The streets of the future look like East Ave., St. Paul St. and Mt. Hope Ave. (near downtown). Dewey Ave. has now joined the club. The streets went from four lanes to two lanes. They now have features making it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians. They also have parking lanes in some places.

Drivers, of course, grit their teeth at some of these changes. I spent the morning on Dewey Ave. and heard mixed reviews. Everyone agrees the street is more attractive. But some drivers said at peak times, traffic is at a standstill. Other motorists were confused by the bike lanes.

The changes force us to think about streets differently. They’re not just a way for drivers to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry. They’re also where people live, work, shop, walk, bike and wait for the bus. The mayor explained the rationale this way in a story I did for 13WHAM:

“Dewey Avenue has always been and continues to be a commercial strip, so it provides opportunities for parking. It provides opportunities for people on bicycles. But it also slows down the traffic,” said Mayor Tom Richards. “We don’t want that to be a major thoroughfare. We don’t want expressway going through there.”

These new streets will take some adjustment. But we will have to get used to them. They’re coming to a neighborhood near you.

Links of the Day:

– Rep. Tom Reed backs away from pledge against raising taxes.

– Imagine if Mt. Hope Cemetery got battered by a hurricane. That’s what happened to a historic cemetery in Brooklyn.

– The company owned by the father of Medley Centre owner Scott Congel bought up houses near an Albany area mall and evicted the tenants. The remaining neighbors resent living next to empty houses and say their property values have taken a dive.

– Let’s face it. Mother-in-law jokes are sexist.

– Photo of the iceberg that sank the Titanic is for sale.

Lyell Ave. Wegmans

 

When a Wegmans opened in Columbia, Maryland, there were the usual concerns over how the superstore would impact mom and pops. But there was another concern. With Wegmans less than two miles from a village, residents were interested in walking over. They found it wasn’t easy, Patch reports:

But, at least in Owen Brown–a village center that has two pizza places, a bar, a McDonald’s, and three places to get a haircut–some are talking about how to embrace the new super-retailer, and find a way for residents to walk there.

“There’s not a safe way to walk to Wegmans,” said Howard County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, who represents Owen Brown, along with King’s Contrivance, North Laurel and Savage. “I heard from a lot of residents who are walking distance from Wegmans who would like to walk over there.”

(snip)

Wendy Webster, manager of the Wegmans in Columbia, said she has not heard any concerns from residents about a lack of access, but said they have modified the curb to be more handicapped-friendly and added bicycle racks.

“We’re working hard to make sure that we’re accessible,” Webster said. “If there’s someone from the community who wants to partner with us, if we need to do more, I’d be open to listen.”

But Webster said there are currently no specific plans to change pedestrian access to the store.

Besides East Ave., is there a walkable Wegmans in Monroe County? I would occasionally walk to my job at Driving Park and I would always ride the bus with my grandmother to get her groceries at Midtown. But those stores are history.

Building stores away from villages and cities means you have to get there by car. That’s long been an accepted part of big box shopping. That’s why I thought it was interesting Wegmans’ newest home asked, “Why can’t we walk to Wegmans?”

Links of the Day:

– Like Rochester, Buffalo is cracking down on convenience stores. Buffalo’s efforts have focused on stolen goods, but there are also quality of life concerns.

– Thinking of switching to an ESCO? National Grid data shows customers end up paying more.

– …”when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.

Welcome back to Rochester, John Lithgow.