Teaching English and Cycling in Kazan

Karen shows a student in Kazan the finer points of bicycle maintenance.

An update from Karen Lankeshofer, longtime Cycling Alliance member and Henrietta resident who is teaching in Kazan, Russia:

In July 2017, I got an email from a former ESL student of mine asking me if I wanted to teach English at her friend’s private school in Kazan, Russia. I jumped at the chance and was here within 7 weeks. If any of you are soccer fans, you will know that Kazan hosted many of the World Cup matches during last summer. The city lies about 500 miles east of Moscow and is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, a state in the Russian Federation.

The population is about half Tatar and half ethnic Russian. Signs are written in the Tatar and Russian languages, sometimes also in English. The city is dotted with mosques and orthodox churches and without a doubt is the most tolerant city I have ever experienced.

Tatarstan is a very wealthy area with oil and chemical production. Being so far from Europe, it has been mainly influenced by Persia, Mongolia, China, and other eastern parts of the world throughout its history. Genghis Khan controlled the area for many years.

With its considerable wealth, Tatarstan realizes it needs to have more people who are proficient in English to function better in European marketplaces. That’s why my school has me teaching a group of 3- and 4-year-olds English. It is a total immersion program; my aides and I only speak English with these children. It was difficult at the beginning last September because the kids knew no English and were used to getting their own way. Parents were also skeptical until they started seeing results about this time last year. Now they are true believers. The older kids use full sentences which are sometimes grammatically incorrect, but still perfectly understandable. Even the younger ones understand everything and repeat individual words or phrases. It’s been a rewarding one and a half years in the classroom, but it’s also strenuous.

My first purchase in Kazan was a folding bike, which I take on the subway when I’m headed downtown and use to get all over the city, except in winter. The weather is extreme here and, even if I could ride through the deep snow, I don’t relish slipping on the ever-present ice and breaking a leg.

Last February I attended the Winter Cycling Conference in Moscow and met some officials from Kazan who are really motivated to improve the cycling scene here in the city. I thought, “If they can do something, so can I!”, and convinced my school to let me start a bike club.

It’s been a huge success. The mountain biking champion of Russia gives bike lesson to the littlest kids on small bikes without pedals, and I give lessons to the first graders, mostly talking about safety but also taking excursions on trails in the woods. We involve all the kids and have had a family riding day; plus, the head of the Rotary Club here, who just completed a bike trip around the world, has come to talk to our kids. He and I are now working together to spread my school’s program to other schools. And the parents are ecstatic that their kids are leaving their bikes at school all fall to ride on the track we painted on the school courtyard. One parent told us his kid’s bike usually sits in the cellar all summer.

All in all, this has been a great experience for me. I have friends from around the world with whom I undertake a lot of different adventures here in Russia, and I see that they bike revolution is truly an international phenomenon.

I’ll be home in August to start patching inner tubes again. Keep up all your good work and I’ll see you then.

Karen L.

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Riverway Trail getting lots of use

The Genesee Riverway Trail is getting lots of use, as shown by new data from the Genesee Transportation Council. Check out the chart: at the Ford Street Bridge, the east and west branches of the trail together support as many as 6000 pedestrians and cyclists each week! In a city of 210,000, that’s a tremendous number of people. We at the Rochester Cycling Alliance are cheering that the Rochester community has these great trails for pedestrians and cyclists, and we’re cheering that so many are making good use of them. Keep it in mind next time you talk to elected officials and city/county/state employees: people use these trails, and expanding the trail network will bring even more users.

Weekly counts of pedestrians and cyclists using the Genesee River Trail near the Ford Street Bridge since October 2017. The total count (pedestrians + cyclists) is also plotted. A counter on the west branch was installed in September 2018.

This rich set of data tells many stories about the Riverway Trail. Usage varies with the weather, as you’d expect: many more people are on the trail in the summer months than in the winter. (But the count can’t be entirely accurate, because I personally biked the trail on the east side twice a day all winter, on my daily commute.) The east side supports more cyclists than pedestrians, except in winter, whereas the west side supports more pedestrians than cyclists.

To gather this data, GTC installed counters on both branches of the trail. As you can tell, the counter on the east branch was installed months before the counter on the west branch. The counters have infrared beams that are interrupted whenever anybody passes, indicating a trail user. The counters also have hollow rubber tubes across the trail, so that when passing cyclists run over the tubes, the counters can sense puffs of air. These counters are great for urban planning because they give us real information about trail use, so we can plan and advocate accordingly. Big thanks go to GTC for gathering the data–the counters are still there, and the counts are still running. We at RCA will be glad to share the data as it comes in.

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Over 1000 ride with Bike to School Day

Here’s a great perspective on school.

Here’s exciting news for those of us who promote bikes and alternative transportation: more than 1000 people, including many community leaders, rode in Bike to School Day events at ten different Rochester-area schools on 9 May. Those events were among thousands nationwide, all held on the same day to promote biking and walking as great ways to get to school.

Biking to school has lots of benefits. At a time when childhood obesity continues to grow as one of our country’s greatest health risks, getting kids biking regularly can keep them in better physical health and form habits for a lifetime of good health. Biking is great for emotional and mental health, too. Biking builds community by allowing neighbors to get to know each other and see the impact schools have on neighborhoods. Biking is brilliant for sustainability because it burns no fossil fuels and emits no carbon dioxide. And of course, biking is fun–one student rider in Brighton said, “Biking to school is so much better than riding the bus!”

Bike to School Day rides took place all over the Rochester area this year. In the city of Rochester, School #23 drew 55 riders, and School #58 drew 50. In Honeoye Falls, Manor Intermediate School had 70 riders. In Pittsford, Calkins Road Middle School had 25 riders, Park Road Elementary School had 40, and Jefferson Road Elementary School had 150. In Brighton, Council Rock Primary School encouraged students to ride all week, French Road Elementary School had 240 riders on 9 May, and Twelve Corners Middle School had over 300. Finally, Indian Landing Elementary School in Penfield had nearly 300 riders.

Community leaders came out to support Bike to School Day in a big way. Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams of the Rochester City School District rode in the event at School #23 and invited her entire cabinet to ride along. Many did, including Carlos Cotto, RCSD Director of Physical Education. RCSD School Board President Van White joined the School #23 ride as well. Penfield Town Supervisor Tony LaFountain and Brighton Town Supervisor William Moehle both greeted students at the event at Indian Landing, along with Penfield School Board President Catherine Dean and School Board Member John Piper. Principals and teachers rode along at many of the events, too. We are grateful to our leaders for taking the time to support kids biking and walking to school!

More thanks go to the area police departments who accompanied riders to ensure traffic safety; to businesses and organizations that donated snacks or prizes, including Park Avenue Bikes, Wegmans, and Common Ground Health; to Zagster for providing Pace bikes, and to school staff who supported the events.

Over 1000 people rode last Wednesday and had a great time. Let’s capture the momentum to get more kids biking and walking to school in the Rochester area! Think about organizing a Bike to School Day event at your own school sometime soon. Organizing requires surprisingly little work, and those of us who’ve done it before would happily serve as resources, so send us an email. Help your own kids bike to school everyday. If the ride seems too much for them to handle alone, talk to neighbors about organizing a bike train: a group of five or ten kids can ride safely together with a couple of grownups to guide them. Ask teachers and school leaders to include bikes in the physical education curriculum if they aren’t already included. You can contact the New York Bicycling Coalition for a ready-made curriculum. And consider doing more of your own daily travel by walking or biking. One teacher in Honeoye Falls said, “I’ve started biking to school myself because I’ve seen your kids doing it.” There’s a great example to follow.

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Our recommendations for ROC the Riverway

A city & state initiative to improve Rochester’s riverfront, focusing on design that is oriented to pedestrians, bicyclists, boaters, and recreational enthusiasts.

The ROC the Riverway Program, jointly supported by the City of Rochester and the State of New York, will soon bring major changes to Rochester’s riverfront. The Rochester Cycling Alliance is cheering loud for our community leaders, who made the right choice when they wrote the Project’s first design principle: “Focus on design that is oriented to pedestrians, bicyclists, boaters, and recreational enthusiasts”.

That said, the details of the Project haven’t been decided yet, and for cyclists and pedestrians, some of the draft ideas are better than others. We at the RCA urge community members to give feedback as planning continues. Here are some important points to think about:

  • The cycling community should oppose the Aqueduct Reimagined (“AR”) project, for the following reasons:
    1. The new protected bike lanes across Broad Street would be destroyed. The plan calls for no bike lanes on the pedestrian plaza that would replace it, and the current design has no bike or ADA accessible access to the east part of Broad Street. The City has consistently opposed protected bike lanes on Main, and no plans for protected bike lanes are active for Court Street, therefore our only safe east-west corridor is demolished.
    2. Current AR plans call for north-south pedestrian/cycling paths along the river, but there is no method for north-south bike traffic to avoid massive conflicts with east-west pedestrian flow in the plans.
    3. The AR project takes up a majority of the State money allocated for all the projects ($35M out of $50M), starving other projects that better promote cycling transportation and urban living.
  • The following are projects we feel should be considered top priorities based on both their importance to cycling as transportation, and to increase the number of downtown residents who would likely use active transportation. We recommend advocating for them to be included in “Phase 1” of the project:
    1. Recharging the Trail ($5M): The current River Trail is in appalling shape as regards to pavement quality, and badly needs repair. In addition, it is too narrow to adequately serve both pedestrians and cyclists (especially pedestrians with dogs on leashes). Improved River Trails will bring additional people downtown from the southern neighborhoods and U of R without adding to parking and traffic problems.
    2. Riverside Development and Arena on the River (~$8M): This is great location for mixed use commercial/residential development, with nice views of the cataracts and easy access to events at the arena. Residents of this development would be very likely to use active transportation, and the entrance to the River Trail here would be improved.
    3. Riverfront Reborn ($10M): (same as above, but with easy access to High Falls area as well)
    4. Welcome Connection ($40M): A better connection to the High Falls and MCC area from Downtown through State Street, which is currently very repellent to both pedestrians and cyclists.
    5. Preserving Pont de Rennes ($9M): Preserves an essential connection between east and west sides and the entertainment/pedestrian flow between MCC, High Falls and the Genesee Brewery.
    6. Running Track Bridge ($5M): Completes the El Camino Trail and allows residents from the northeast neighborhoods easy and safe access to the High Falls area. (Note: While this project would allow access from northeast neighborhoods, and the existing River Trails give access from the southern neighborhoods, there are currently no proposed projects that provide safe access from the northwest neighborhoods. There is an equity issue here.)
  • In addition, we believe that the Mill Street Connection and Bridge the Loop projects, which together total $19M, should be replaced by a project to infill the northern part of the Inner Loop, which has long been planned anyways, would cost the same or less money, would provide better connections between High Falls and Downtown, with has the added advantage of creating additional taxable land.
  • Please send your feedback right here.

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    Rochester Bike Week 2018

    It’s that time of year again: kick off the summer cycling season with Bike Week 2018 in Rochester. The week (plus bonus days) spanning May 11-20 is jam-packed with bike events, and it’s a great time to get involved. You can find out about biking at the Public Market or at the Red Wings game, learn bike repair skills or just borrow a stand and some tools, watch professional racers at the Twilight Criterium, ride to honor injured cyclists, ride for racial reconciliation, ride to Rochester’s abolitionist and suffragette landmarks, ride with kids, ride with churches, ride in seersucker, or ride after tacos. All these events and more are on the RCA calendar, and you can subscribe so they will appear on your calendar, too. Come out and ride!

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    Copenhagen, Vanguard of bike transportation

    Lots of bikes at the main train station in Copenhagen! Notice double-decker parking at the far end of the lot.

    What’s revolutionary about Copenhagen is how absolutely normal it all seems. In this, the world’s most bike-friendly city, bikes are just not a big deal, because bikes are everywhere. Copenhageners take it for granted that every street has a cycle track, up the curb from cars and separated from sidewalks. Copenhageners think nothing of seeing a street carrying more bikes than cars, because it’s almost impossible to find any street that isn’t. None of the two million residents of the Danish capital notice that school buses are totally absent, because kids pedal to school, or ride in a parent’s cargo bike, and always have. Bikes in Copenhagen aren’t flashy or fast, don’t have shocks or carbon fiber frames, don’t even pretend to be sports equipment. They are simply transportation, with fenders and racks and baskets, and their dominance in this city makes it wonderfully vibrant, alive, and real.

    Those of us who want our own cities to become wonderful in similar ways have to ask: What makes Copenhagen work so well? For sure, there is critical mass, a culture in which everybody bikes by default, and to do anything else puts you outside the norm. But that cultural psychology isn’t accidental, and is empowered by choices, initiatives, and above all, infrastructure. On a recent business trip, I had the happy opportunity to see it in person, and can share some observations.

    For starters, in Copenhagen, you can bike with confidence that nearly every street will have a dedicated cycle track separating cyclists from both motorists and pedestrians, like this one in front of the stock exchange. Traffic signals for bikes (a la Montreal) keep things flowing smoothly. Danish cyclists follow the signals and follow the rules, not only because Denmark has a culture of orderly conformity, but also because the infrastructure makes it easy. In Copenhagen, crossing a bridge on your bike isn’t harrowing or dangerous; in fact, you’ll find more bridges for bikes than for cars. The new Inderhavnsbroen Sliding Bridge gives cyclists and pedestrians a harbor crossing that’s unavailable to motorists. The Bryggebroen gives another, and upon reaching the west side of the harbor, cyclists ride a graceful sky bridge that swoops above the public swimming pool and connects them directly to a large shopping center, without interfering with either pedestrians or cars.

    The main entrance to the shopping center, of course, is flanked by a parking garage–for bikes! In Copenhagen, you can also be confident that there will be sensible and convenient bike parking. My wife and I visited the shopping center on a day with temperatures near freezing and steady snowfall, which is unusually harsh weather for that coastal city, but the garage was full anyway. At stately Rosenborg Castle, where the Danish royalty lived for centuries, the bike racks are tastefully tucked behind hedgerows–but certainly there are racks. Bike parking seems to go forever at the Norreport metro station, and at the main train station, the bikes are stacked double-decker (just like in Trondheim).

    My favorite place to park a bike in Copenhagen is Maersk Tower, not only because the tower enjoys a fantastic view of the city, but because it features an underground bike parking garage with a door that opens automatically when you pedal up to it. Wow. The tower is a new addition to the University of Copenhagen, and has no equivalent garage for cars. I’m told that when the Dean responsible for its construction was questioned about the design, she replied that she’s in her sixties, and bikes an hour each way to work everyday, and that everybody else can bike, too!

    I haven’t even written about the food in Copenhagen, which is fantastic. Nor have I written about the parks, which are everywhere, or the museums or the attractions. That would be another article. But taken as a whole, Copenhagen is not just a clutter of tall buildings that happen to stand on the same patch of earth, but rather a coherent and interwoven city, a place where humans live that functions on human scales, and bikes are a key factor to its successes. Let’s learn all we can from it, and improve our own cities’ quality of life accordingly.

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    Talking about road diets on Connections with Evan Dawson

    Cycling Alliance President Scott MacRae joined Brighton Town Board member Robin Wilt and Heather O’Donnell of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition to talk about road diets on Connections with Evan Dawson. A road diet means narrowing or eliminating lanes from roads with excess car capacity–leaving more room for bikes, pedestrians, and human-scale transportation. A section of East Avenue in Brighton and Pittsford is scheduled for a road diet this year and will be reconfigured to have one travel lane in each direction along with a central turn lane, instead of two travel lanes in each direction. The question is whether bike lanes get installed as well. The Cycling Alliance enthusiastically supports designing all three travel lanes to be narrow enough to leave the legally-required five feet for a bike lane on each side of the road. Slower cars and more bike lanes make for a safer, healthier, and more sustainable community! You can hear the conversation, read more about the East Avenue road diet and sign a petition supporting bike lanes on that section of East Avenue.

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    Report from the Winter Cycling Conference

    by Karen Lankeshofer

    Karen at the Winter Cycling Congress in Moscow.

    It’s my good fortune to be teaching in Kazan, Russia this year because it afforded me the opportunity to attend the Winter Cycling Congress in Moscow. The 4-day conference was held from Thursday, February 7 until Sunday, February 11. It wasn’t just about cycling when it snows, it was about making cities more livable. (Copenhagen removes snow from the sidewalks and bike paths first and only then cleans the streets. The snow is then dumped in parking lots. Motorists understand that they are not the top priority. Ya gotta love it!)

    From all the sessions I attended, one thing was abundantly clear: change starts at the bottom and it always starts small. Whether it was passing out LED lights to school kids in Finland so they could ride to school through the dark or the Austrian-Polish couple who rides their tandem all over Europe and invites mayors of the cities they stop in to take a ride with them, all the initiatives were from the bottom up and not top down. These stories underscored for me the continued importance of grassroots efforts and constant advocacy work. To see how advocacy can work well, check out Slow Roll Chicago and Equiticity. Obai Reed is making things work.

    Two other important take-aways for me were that poorly constructed or insufficient infrastructure is the cause of many otherwise avoidable crashes. Markings have to be clear for all traffic participants, surfaces have to be non-slippery and all infrastructure should be built with the assumption that it will be used in winter and constructed accordingly. The second thing is that Vision Zero in Sweden is now 20 years old. The goal of the program is being revised to not just reducing traffic deaths and injuries, but to increasing life expectancy.

    One unexpected bonus for me was that I met the delegation from my Russian province of Tatarstan there. They are very interested in improving biking conditions through bike education in the schools and creating better infrastructure. I was able to connect them with my school, and my administration is already making plans to install a covered bike rack in spring and working together with the delegation to hold bike education classes at Bala-City School.

    The WCC closed on Sunday with a bike parade through snowy Moscow. There were between 3000 and 4000 participants. Winter cycling is not a passing fad. It’s a part of a growing awareness that urban areas have to change their way of thinking if they want to survive and remain viable.

    Next year’s WCC will take place in Calgary.

    The Moscow traffic center, as seen during the Winter Cycling Congress in 2018.

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    Notes from Norway

    Translation: Share the road. Seen while touring among farms and fjords in Inderoy.

    Translation: Share the road. Seen while touring among farms and fjords in Inderoy.

    I might have expected Trondheim, Norway to have lousy bike infrastructure. After all, its latitude is just shy of the Arctic Circle, it’s a city of only middling size, and Norway is a petro-state with a trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund earned almost entirely from oil. But I would have been dead wrong.

    I had the privilege of visiting Trondheim on a recent business trip and was glad to find a thriving, lovely haven for bikes as transportation. Anecdotally, there seemed to be more bikes on the roads than cars. The cycle path in front of my hotel headed straight to city center and was constantly busy. Across the street was a double-decker covered bike rack serving the residents of an adjacent apartment building. Strolling around the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, I found every entrance to every building surrounded by tremendous bike racks — and the racks were overflowing. Students pedaled. Businessmen pedaled. Grandmothers pedaled. Researchers attending the conference with me told stories about how much faster it is to get anywhere in Trondheim by biking than by driving, even despite the city’s steep hills.

    For that matter, most of the people who weren’t biking seemed to be using public transportation. Trondheim has no subway, but the buses come constantly. Even buses to the airport, nearly an hour away, run once every eight minutes, with multiple stops in the city.

    How does Trondheim do it? First, they have great infrastructure. I saw plenty of cycle paths, offering cyclists a place to ride that keeps cars on the other side of a curb. Where there weren’t cycle paths, there were bike lanes. Wide bike/pedestrian routes along the river and along the fjord offer quick, quiet, picturesque connections between city center and outlying neighborhoods. That said, by US standards, few neighborhoods are really “outlying”, which is Trondheim’s second secret. Though there are fewer than 200,000 residents, the population density feels to me like it’s similar to Boston or DC. Almost nowhere is too far to bike. Third, bike infrastructure is clearly planned and carefully maintained. Signs mark the way, a bike lift (sykkelheis in Norwegian) helps cyclists up the hills, and automated counters gather vital statistics about how many people travel by biking or walking. Finally, alternative transportation is incentivized. Gasoline sells for about three times as much in Norway as in the US (though the price is actually cheap by European standards). Moreover, according to one of the conference hosts, the Norwegian government taxes car purchases at roughly 200%, making bikes and buses into financial no-brainers. In many ways, Trondheim, Norway has chosen to build a society in which human-scale, human-powered transportation is comfortable, economical, and normal. That’s what really explains all the biking vikings.

    I’ll take one minor point of exception to biking in Trondheim: the city’s bike share program is nowhere near as convenient or effective as Zagster right here in Rochester. City bikes in Trondheim cost about $10/day for tourists and require that the day start and end at the tourism office downtown, from which user cards are obtained. Zagster in Rochester costs just $1 per half-hour ride, with rides starting and any Zagster rack and ending at any Zagster rack. For an extra $1, you can even end your ride in Rochester anyplace within the city limits — it’s wonderfully convenient. (To learn more, see my earlier article about Zagster.)

    Inconvenient city bikes notwithstanding, the main point is clear: Trondheim gives a tangible and unarguable example of a mid-sized, snowy city where human-scale transportation is the norm. Biking and walking and riding buses there are the easiest, most enjoyable ways to get almost anywhere in town, and nearly everybody uses them. The result is a healthier, more human, more sustainable city. Let’s keep working to bring the same quality of life to Rochester.

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    Zagster rolling strong in Rochester

    Seen those white cruiser bikes with blue signs and baskets rolling around neighborhoods in Rochester? So have I–lots of them! Zagster bike share is off to a strong start in Rochester, according to the update given by Aviva Manin, Rochester Account Director at Zagster, at last Thursday’s Rochester Cycling Alliance meeting. The bike share program was started in Rochester in mid-July as a public-private partnership coordinated by the City, owned and administered by Zagster, and supported by a large number of businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations. Using the program is simple: download the Zagster app to your smartphone, use it to unlock any of the 340 bikes at 46 stations around Rochester, and ride for up to half an hour between stations for $1. Even better, for $1 extra, you can end your ride at any bike rack anywhere in the city–Zagster will pick up the bike later.

    Aviva showed up to the RCA meeting with a fat slide deck full of charts and figures showing the fast growth of bike share in Rochester–pretty electrifying for the audience, who are not only bike enthusiasts, but perennial data junkies. I learned a lot. Zagster has 7000 bikes on the ground in 160 cities, but Rochester’s system is their biggest. Already Zagster is expanding beyond the original 46 stations, due to large demand (you can see the current station map). Members have taken more than 6000 rides already, and the Rochester membership is growing steadily at about 800 members per week. Saturday and Sunday are peak days; midday and early evening are peak times. Given the fast growth, Aviva says Zagster is aiming to have 700 bikes in Rochester by spring 2018.

    And though the ridership at most bike share programs is 65% male and just 35% female, in Rochester the demographics are 55% male and 45% female. Aviva told us that in surveys, women point to traffic safety concerns as the main issue that keeps them from riding, so the large numbers of women riding Zagster in Rochester is a testament to good, safe bike infrastructure in our city. If you’ve advocated for that bike infrastructure, give yourself a pat on the back–and let’s keep working to make it even better. Not sure how to get involved? Email the RCA! Always excited to have more bikes on the roads, we’re cheering for the success of Zagster and for the great things bikes and alternative transportation bring to our community.

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