My hometown of Rochester has about 5 decent months of outdoor weather in any given year. The other seven months are filled with freezing temps and about 100 inches of snow. So you can see why it’s important to enjoy the fruits of our city in the short time that the sun graces us with something resembling direct rays.
Because of this, Rochester packs a year’s worth of outdoor festivals into a few short months. Arts festivals, neighborhood festivals, cultural celebrations, outdoor food and music events and the always popular Jazz Fest make every week/weekend in Rochester from May through September a party. During these events, it’s not uncommon to see scores of bikes along the streets and bike racks packed to the gills. This might not be uncommon in Portland or Minneapolis, but it is a relatively unusual sight in Rochester, New York. A car friendly city with a bike infrastructure that is still very much in its infancy, Rochester’s cycling culture is one based more in recreation than connectivity… in other words, people here ride for pleasure and fitness, and rarely as a transportation solution.
Earlier this month while I watched the 4th of July fireworks from a bridge over the Genesee River, more bikes than I could count whizzed past, and even more were chained up as riders joined the crowd to watch the show.
Again, like so many other large-scale gatherings and events in the city, Rochestarians were choosing to walk or bike over driving.
The reason for this is easy to see… people are more likely to choose to walk or bike to a location if doing so means they don’t have find a space to park or fight through heavy traffic. They are more likely to do so if they see these options as less frustrating and more convenient than driving to the event they are attending.
Big crowds for happenings in city centers mean unwanted hassle and dire parking straits for all. Even in cities like my own where driving is relatively trouble-free, these situations often open the floodgates for event attendees to ride rather than drive.
Cyclists can slip through the traffic, park at a bike rack or even the nearest street sign, all for free and all without the hassle of waiting in congested streets and paying $10 for parking, if you can find any.
Events such as summer festivals paint a clear picture of what happens when we make our streets less favorable for cars and more practical for cycling and walking. More people will make the suddenly practical choice to use alternative forms of transit, and ultimately make our cities safer, healthier, quieter, less congested and thus more enticing places to be.