A healthy Rochester is more than great health care

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Sure, Rochester has two great health care systems and many skilled health care providers, from caring nurses to nationally-renowned specialists.

But wouldn’t it be better if they had less work to do?

There is a growing understanding that improving health outcomes for our region means preventing disease and injury before an individual needs to see a health care provider. That’s why Common Ground Health has been working to promote healthy environments in neighborhoods and communities in ways that make it easier for individuals to monitor their health, eat better, and be more physically active. As part of these efforts, Common Ground Health and 15 local partners are teaming up to reduce pedestrian and bicycle injuries and deaths.

Local research conducted by Healthi Kids found that unsafe traffic is a major barrier to walking, biking and playing in Rochester neighborhoods. Residents’ perceptions of unsafe streets are not unfounded. Nearly 4,000 injuries and deaths involving motor vehicles and bicyclists/pedestrians occurred in Rochester from 2010 to 2017. (Check out this interactive map of Monroe County crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists). A pedestrian or cyclist is involved in a crash 1.3 times a day in Rochester. A 2018 survey showed that only two out of five residents feel very safe while walking and only one out of five feel very safe while bicycling locally.

These injuries and fatalities are not random events. They are preventable—driver error contributes to nearly all (94 percent) of these crashes. Sure, pedestrians and bicyclists do foolish things and put themselves at risk. But drivers have the most power on the road. A driver crashing into a pedestrian or bicyclist has a high probability of injuring or killing them. If struck by a vehicle traveling 40 mph, only one in 10 pedestrians will survive a crash. But if struck by a vehicle traveling 20 mph, nine out of 10 pedestrians will survive. In a recent survey, more than half of Monroe County drivers admitted that they frequently exceed the speed limit.

Persuading drivers to slow down is only part of the solution. In addition to more rigorous enforcement of speed limits, traffic engineering and better education can make pedestrians and bicyclists safer. Curb bump-outs, raised crosswalks and buffered bike lanes are physical changes to the roadway that can slow traffic and reduce the risk of injury and death.


Our new initiative focuses on education. Sixteen local groups, ranging from health organizations and cyclist groups to government, have banded together to launch a community campaign aimed at reducing the number of crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists. The effort features a new media campaign that asks drivers to remember the three S’s of safe driving:

■ Slowing down
■ Scanning for pedestrians
■ Spacing their vehicle at least 3 feet away from bicyclists

The campaign’s website—https://www.drive2bbetter.com—features important safety tips for drivers.

With Causewave Community Partners, Common Ground Health has spent the last two years building a coalition that includes AARP, Center for Disability Rights, the city of Rochester, Rochester Police Department, Genesee Transportation Council, Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Rochester, Monroe County Department of Health, Monroe County Department of Public Safety, MVP Healthcare, Reconnect Rochester, Regional Transit Service, Rochester Cycling Alliance, School 19-Rochester City School District, and the United Way of Greater Rochester.

Rochester advertising agency Antithesis Advertising donated time and talent totaling more than $80,000 to develop the campaign’s advertising and social media presence.

The advertising features attention-grabbing images of pedestrians and bicyclists who’ve taken extreme measures to be noticed on the road.

The copy asks drivers a very straightforward question: “What will it take for you to notice me?” Nearly 30 Rochester-area media partners will contribute free space and time for the campaign through Causewave Community Partners. Campaign materials will start showing up across the community in the coming weeks.

More than a quarter of Rochester households do not have access to a vehicle, so many residents don’t have a choice whether they walk, bike or use a wheelchair on sidewalks or streets. If we can get drivers to slow, scan and space their vehicles every time they’re behind the wheel, lives will be saved. And our health care providers can spend their time addressing health issues that aren’t preventable.

Mike Bulger is the Healthy Communities Project Coordinator for Common Ground Health.

One thought on “A healthy Rochester is more than great health care

  1. At 55 years old, I started biking again after a 38 year break. As things are now, I can easily say I will never bike on local streets. It’s just too dangerous.

    I bike for pleasure and exercise and stick to using the canal path and other walking/biking paths. This area is lucky to have the Erie Canal path as a major east-west route for cyclists. This area needs to build off of the canal path with other bicycle-only routes.

    Bogota, Columbia built a great cycling infrastructure with a grid of bike paths separated from both cars and pedestrians with tall curbs. Any city serious about the future of cycling as transportation should take a look at Bogota.

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