Help Advocate for Safe Streets in Rochester

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This evening (10/25) the City of Rochester will be holding a public meeting to present their plans to incorporate bicycle lanes into the city’s transportation infrastructure. That includes utilizing the public sidewalks as designated bike lanes which creates some hazards for Blind and Disabled pedestrians, including one at our front door! Even more frustrating, the City’s documents indicated that they would address ADA access issues “as feasible”. When CDR first became aware of the plan in August, we reached out to the City to express our concerns about their plan.

The City responded on Monday, October 23rd. They are addressing the concerns related to our block of State Street, but the concerning design elements remain – including having a bike lane intersect with pedestrian traffic at a location with an obstructed view of pedestrians.

Here are CDR’s prepared comments.

The City’s plan seems almost entirely focused on the addition of bike lanes, and does not provide sufficient information about addressing the access needs of people with disabilities. In fact, the draft documents we reviewed indicated that the needs of people with disabilities ADA accessibility issues would be addressed “as feasible”. Frankly, this is offensive. People with disabilities are a protected class who face barriers to full participation in society and the Americans with Disabilities Act has been in existence since 1990. The City has no excuse for failing to address these issues.

For example, it is unclear whether the City intends to address concerns about the condition of the sidewalks in this project. CDR is concerned that the city may only be addressing the condition of sidewalks where it is adding bike lanes to those sidewalks rather than address problematic sidewalks in the designated project area.

Although the plan clearly impacts parking, there is no information to indicate whether parking spaces are or will be designated as accessible and how drivers with disabilities will be able to access the public right of way from those spaces.

Although the plan modifies multiple intersections, there is no indication in the plan documents whether the City of Rochester intends to upgrade the audible crossing signals.

The major focus of this plan is the installation of bicycle lanes. CDR supports the expansion, but after reaching out to the city multiple times, we still have some serious and unaddressed concerns about how the City is implementing this. Specifically, we are concerned that adding bicycle lanes on the sidewalk creates potentially dangerous conditions for Disabled pedestrians and cyclists. CDR acknowledges that – after we pointed this out – the City appears to be addressing this concern on the block where our offices are located. This eliminates a particularly hazardous situation where cyclists had an obstructed view of pedestrians – Disabled or not – who could be crossing their path of travel at our front door.

Although we sincerely appreciate efforts to mitigate this risk at CDR’s offices, we see other locations where cyclists would have an obstructed view and would have minimal warning that a pedestrian would be crossing the bike lane to cross the street.

Consequently, this plan presents a risk for cyclists and all pedestrians. We believe that this creates an unnecessary access barrier for Blind and Disabled people and puts our community at specific risk.

An example of this is the intersection of State Street and Morrie Silver Way. At that intersection, cyclists would be riding southbound on State Street while pedestrians – who would be entirely obstructed from view by the raised plaza – would be potentially crossing into the pedestrians’ path of travel. Although such circumstances would be dangerous for most pedestrians and the cyclists, it is particularly hazardous for Blind and Disabled pedestrians.

This will be even more dangerous if the City designates a 9-foot shared bike lane/pedestrian sidewalk as opposed to designated lanes. In that case, cyclists could be riding along the sidewalk next to the Kodak Tower while pedestrians would be entirely obstructed from view by the raised plaza until they had already crossed into their path of travel. There would be literally no warning to the oncoming cyclist.

If the City intends to incorporate a designated bike lane on city sidewalks, CDR doesn’t understand how it plans to communicate the presence of the lane and potential hazard to Blind pedestrians. This is a particularly complex issue because CDR is unaware of any protocol or guideline that addresses this specific scenario. This is problematic because Blind pedestrians would not see the painted lines and – because utilization of the sidewalk as a bike lane would be inconsistent – Blind pedestrians wouldn’t necessarily know where such hazardous locations would be. This is particularly problematic because some approaches (like adding a separator curb which has been suggested) create a tripping hazard and access barrier for individuals with mobility disabilities.

CDR is concerned that the City’s plan fails to address serious safety concerns raised by the Disability Community. We call on the City to set up a workgroup to engage cyclists and Disabled advocates in a dialogue which establishes principles for ensuring that bike lanes do not create unsafe conditions for people with disabilities in this or any other project.

Finally, although it falls outside the scope of this project, CDR believes that there are other steps the City should take.

First, the city could establish an ordinance extending white cane law protections to cover Disabled individuals and other devices used for travel because the state’s White Cane Law only addresses the need to protect Blind pedestrians from motor vehicles.

Second, the City should do in an awareness campaign to help educate people about the importance of making our streets safe and accessible for Disabled people. The City of Boston has a great model for this named “Boston Brakes”.

Finally, because we are discussing awareness, the City should better incorporate people with disabilities in its promotional video about our city. Frankly, the current video lacks any significant representation and is rather ableist.

It appears that only one Disabled individual is in the video and their image is used to describe Rochester’s “legacy of caring”. Disabled Rochesterians are more than objects of “care” and need to be presented as such. We think the city that has one of the oldest disability-led, activist organizations in the country (the Regional Center for Independent Living) can do better. Here is information about Rochester’s history:

We are happy to work with the city to discuss how the video content can also be presented in a more accessible and inclusive manner.