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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.

Everyone should read Jeff Speck’s “Walkable Cities: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

Look at the areas of Rochester where homes are most valuable. They’re in walkable neighborhoods including Park Avenue, Corn Hill, Browncroft, Lower East End and Highland. Speck writes there are four things that make a place walkable: The walk has to be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.

The problem is we don’t have a lot of walkable places anymore. “In most markets, the demand for walkable urbanism dramatically outpaces the supply…more Americans are desirous of vibrant urban living than are being offered that choice, and those cities that can satisfy that unmet demand will thrive.” That is true in Rochester, where it is expensive to rent or buy in walkable neighborhoods.

Why don’t we have walkable places anymore? We’ve destroyed them with cars. “The car has reshaped our landscape and lifestyles around its own needs. It is an instrument of freedom that has enslaved us.”

Speck is no fan of widening streets and highways. “Traffic studies are bull—-…As long as engineers are in charge of traffic studies, they will predict the need for more engineering…Stop doing traffic studies. Stop trying to improve flow. Stop spending people’s tax dollars giving them false hope that you can cure congestion, while mutilating their cities in the process.” Speck points out induced demand fills up these new lanes quickly, erasing the intended benefit of smoother traffic. He also says people speed on wider streets, no matter the speed limit. Ford and Exchange streets are good examples of downtown Rochester streets built like highways – and that’s how people drive on them.

We’ve allowed cars to ruin our downtown. “In the absence of any larger vision or mandate, city engineers – worshipping the twin gods of Smooth Traffic and Ample Parking – have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to, but not worth arriving at.” Speck says downtowns are vital, because they belong to everyone. Cities are judged based on the viability of their downtowns. “A beautiful and vibrant downotwn…can be the rising tide that lifts all ships.”

Of course, we need cars. But Speck says, “The key is to welcome cars in the proper number at the proper speed.”

He talks a lot about the high cost of free parking. Even your mall parking is not free. You consume gas to drive to the mall. A lot of trees were mowed over for those vast parking lots. Speck writes free parking “worsens air quality and water quality, speeds global warming, increases energy consumption, raises the cost of housing, decreases public revenue, undermines public transportation, increases traffic congestion, damages the quality of the public realm, escalates suburban sprawl, threatens historic buildings, weakens social capital, and worsens public health, to name a few things.”

More than a half billion parking spaces are empty in America at any given time. Does every store and business need their own lot? Can there be more sharing? Think about all of the lots gated after-hours in Rochester. When you visit Next Door Bar & Grill, signs in the empty Pet Smart lot threaten to tow restaurant patrons. We have a lot of asphalt in this region so everyone can have their own parking.

parking - featured 220x165

Downtown Rochester’s many parking lots.

Speck writes a lot about the need to price downtown parking appropriately and hide parking lots and garages as much as possible. Rochester’s downtown has a lot of “missing teeth,” parking lots between buildings that are ugly and break up a pleasant walk. He also writes about the importance of biking and public transit to walkable places.

Speck makes a compelling argument for making places walkable. He says we need to toss tax incentives to lure businesses. You want economic development? Make walkable places. You want healthier people? Make walkable places. You want fewer car crashes? Make walkable places.

Rochester could learn from this book! You won’t think about downtown, driving and parking the same.

Links of the Day:


– Hamburg. N.Y. wrested control of its Main Street from the DOT. Instead of widening the road, it was narrowed. A pedestrian-friendly Main St. has led to more development. (Penfield should take note.)

– The crackdown on “left lane hogs” strikes me as encouragement to speeders and road ragers.

– Bicycling takes off in Texas. “People who are trying to attract people and businesses to their cities get it.”

Tom Richards has a huge lead over Lovely Warren, 55-28.

– Trulia says Buffalo and Syracuse are among the safest U.S. cities from natural disasters. Not Rochester?

– A stunning interactive of the way New York City changed during the Bloomberg years is probably a glimpse into the future of digital newspapers.

– Waste some time today watching amazing videos of Serengeti lions.