This article was featured in the October print issue of Reporter Magazine.
You don't need a car. It's funny how far college students will cut their expenses, from living off of frozen meals and freeze-dried noodles to spending late nights searching uTorrent for pirated copies of their textbooks, without making this realization. Instead, they'll shell out 100 dollars a year to park on campus, pay monthly insurance fees and drop an untold amount of money into gas tanks if they so much as want to hit a downtown nightclub once a week. All of it could be avoided by just investing in a nice bike and learning how to get around.
For RIT students, the practicality of biking is becoming more and more feasible with the progression of the Genesee Transportation Authority's cycling master plan. Put forward in 2011 to help turn Rochester into a more bike-friendly community, they have added 16 miles of bike lanes in the city. All in all, the Rochester roads are more pedal-accessible than ever.
It all sounds great, doesn't it? Now the streets are safe for bikers and you can save your money by selling off that silly old car, right? Well, not quite. These bike lanes that the master plans have created are often deeply and tragically flawed in ways that seem to suggest cyclists should just disappear in the middle of their ride. A perfect example of this can be found on East Henrietta road, where a mile or so of a perfectly good bike lane simply ends at an overpass, forcing the rider to either move into the road and merge with traffic or hop off onto a rather poorly maintained sidewalk. Even worse are the phantom lanes found in heavily trafficked areas of the city — namely on Monroe avenue. On these, there is no real bike lane. You aren't separated from traffic, as the road is too thin to divide, but rather are given a little biker symbol on the pavement that gives you about as much protection from traffic as a voodoo protection spell.
Some roads in Rochester are better than others and at the end of the day it's up to you, the biker, to be safe. To do so, first figure out what kind of biker you are. Are you a serious speed-junky, a mountaineer or a hippie-chick with a sundress and a cruiser? If you are already accustomed to biking, adapting to the road really isn't difficult. If you're a super laid-back rider, learn how to stay in a position where cars are able to pass you. If you're new to the road, practicing on streets where there are no dedicated lanes is the best way to truly get a feel for how traffic carries out on a bike. It may seem a little backwards, but practicing biking in places where bikes don't have a designated place is a more natural way to learn. Bike lanes, while reassuring, are far from a blanket of safety on the road. If anything, they give a false sense of comfort for both drivers and cyclists. For RIT students, cruising around John street and hitting the side streets is a good way to practice riding.
When this gets old and you're ready to hit the city, head on down: just simply follow East Henrietta road to Mt. Hope road and ride right down to Clinton avenue. While it is a very traffic-heavy and often fast-paced ride, any moderately in shape cyclist can make the ride from RIT to downtown in a half hour or so.
Once downtown, all of the good bars, clubs and restaurants are easily reached on two wheels. Head down to the South Wedge through one of the most bike-optimized streets in Rochester, South avenue, or hit East avenue where bikes can ride with cars almost entirely without fear. Or, if you're up for some urban exploring, nearly the entire inner city, from Dewey avenue in Greece to East Main, has bike lanes that are prominent and well-maintained. So get out there and ride before the snow comes tumbling in and the ground freezes solid — there's a whole world out there just waiting to be ridden.