The Rochester Improvement Society and the Rochester Young Democrats at RoCo

A while back I got involved with a small group called The Rochester Improvement Society. We basically meet once a month, really informally, and just shoot ideas around. Simple as that.

This month, the "instigators" of our group got together with the The Monroe County Young Democrats and decided to meet at The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) The idea was to "make art" for the upcoming 6x6x2012 show, to talk about art and the community, and to chat with councilmember Dr. Elaine Spaull, Ph. D..

Right off the bat, I was a bit puzzled to see "Sam's Choice" soda and cookies which come from Walmart or Sam's Club. I wondered if I was a the right event — our Improvement Society always meets at a locally-owned business, so I kept looking at the cookie boxes to see which local bakery they came from, only to find they didn't. Well, okay …

Then it came around to art in the community. It's obvious that nobody in the room knew what art was. Here we were ostensibly creating 6×6 works as a fundraiser for RoCo, and the goal was to bang something out in an hour with arts-and-crafts tools (e.g. non-toxic markers, glue, magazines for collages). I just did a little abstract piece which really was very lousy, but I felt guilty just throwing it out so I submitted it.

I just kind of listened.

Elaine Spaull spoke a bit on the topic at hand. She mentioned the bus garage and how it was controversial, but failed to see why: that it does not improve bus service, that it will be (as a friend pointed out) essentially a quonset hut that will be loud as hell and reek of diesel exhaust, and that it should be built as an intermodal station supporting train service. Instead she kind of shrugged it off and touted that it will have art in it.

She then talked about improving neighborhoods with art. She made a point of mentioning that the goal was to remove graffiti and to install art in its place. Now, graffiti comes in two forms: tagging and street-art, both on their own spectrum of quality. Tagging is a call for attention, filling a need to have a voice and a place in a community. Street-art is a desperate outlet for creativity: lacking a legal outlet for their voice, the street-artist turns to graffiti. Removing graffiti and installing art from somewhere else is just a big "fuck you" to the local community, reinforcing isolation.

I gathered that what she meant by "art" is "pretty things", specifically to differentiate from "practical things" like factories and office buildings. But factories and buildings can look good and be integrated into the urban landscape, fulfilling the need for "pretty things". Art  is more about communicating a message: the story arc of creating, presenting, observing, and interpreting. Especially interpreting: that's really important in art.

The young democrats hungrily consumed her words. If they disagreed at all, I couldn't sense it. All these bright young faces, excited to be part of making a better tomorrow, and all absolutely clueless. It was incredibly disheartening.

And then I understood what it was that bugged me about the outsourced refreshments: it was an incredibly shallow understanding of community. The family who runs Genesee Bakery (1677 Mount Hope Ave.) are my neighbors. By visiting them, I'm visiting my neighbors. And by spending my money there, I keep it in the community — and that's important because it's the transfer of money that is an economy, so sending it away stalls the economy.

So the money they saved with the cheaper snacks was really a burden they placed on  their community, their neighbors, their family, and ultimately themselves.

But they could only see the numbers on the receipt.

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Taking the Bus

I've been working on migrating my travels to alternatives to the car — as you'll recall, I took my Civic off the road (so now I've got our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon and Ali's Saturn, neither of which I want to rely on for day-to-day tasks). Tonight was The Rochester Speculative Literature Association (R-SPEC) meeting at Barnes & Noble (3349 Monroe Ave.) so I thought I'd try taking the bus. I've used the buses on rare occasions in the past, but this was the first trip that required a transfer and that I didn't really have a backup plan (aside from calling Ali, even though she loaned her car out to our friend Christina for the day).

The meeting was at 7 p.m. so I wanted to get there a bit early. According to The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA)'s trip planner on the website, I should take the #24 bus at 5:56 p.m. downtown to Court and Clinton, then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:40 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes. I did my own analysis of the schedules and decided instead to take the #19 bus at 5:38 p.m. to 12 Corners then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:09 p.m. — total trip time: 31 minutes. I arrived early enough to get some dinner at Benucci's (3349 Monroe Ave., in the Pittsford Plaza) … nothing particularly exceptional, but still perfectly fine.

So after the meeting, the RGRTA trip planner suggested I leave on the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or a similar trip starting at 9:38 p.m.) and take it to — get this — Irondequoit Plaza (2133 Hudson Ave.) to get the #5 bus back to my house at 11:51 p.m. — total trip time: 2 hours, 57 minutes. I analyzed it myself and determined I could take the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or an identical trip starting at 10:02 p.m.) to Clinton and Main then hurry to meet the #5 bus going south at St. Paul and Main and get home by 9:37 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes.

As it turned out, the meeting ran a bit long and I stayed to try and find that book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbuilt which they did not have. I took the 10:02 bus which arrived pretty much on time. I made it to the #5 which didn't leave for a few minutes anyway and made it home fine.

All told, it worked out okay. I bought a "Freedom Pass" which gets you rides for a day for $3 (as far as I could tell, I would have had to pay $4 for the 4 bus trips … there's probably a secret to transfers or something, though). The bus stop nomenclature is confusing — for instance, the stop nearest my house for the #19 bus is "Crittenden and East" which identifies an intersection. There are 2 stops within 20 yards of that intersection and I wasn't sure which one was right. The trick is that the first street is the main street and the second is the cross street, so it would be much clearer to say "Crittenden at East" but once you get used to it, it makes sense. You also have to know which direction your bus is going — for instance, there are 4 stops at the Elmwood and Mt. Hope corner.

It's also annoying that the stops have advertising on them rather than information: the bus stop signs only specify how much the trip will cost. If only one route uses a particular stop, the sign will identify the route number, but if the stop serves multiple routes, it will just say that it serves multiple routes and not specify which ones. There are no maps or clues as to where to go or when.

But it's that routing system that is the worst. What good is it if you can do it yourself and get better results — and with relative ease at that? The biggest obstacle is to get the bus route information from the site as it is no longer available as tidy PDF's of the route tables, but as dynamically generated pages where you can specify your stops. It would make much more sense to, say, get all the bus route tables for stops within a few blocks of your starting and ending points and figure it out from there.

It's too bad that RGRTA has a government sponsored monopoly because with a little competition, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a better system. One thing that I've been toying with is the idea of a "superway" — a system that's like a subway, but instead puts buses on the network of highways to cover the large distances quickly. So, for instance, there would be stops along each exit on 490, 590, and 390 with buses running frequently along those routes. I could walk 15 minutes to 390 and East Henrietta Rd. then take a bus to the Monroe Avenue exit off 590 in 3 minutes (maybe more like 6 minutes counting a stop at Winton), finishing up by walking the remaining 19 minutes to Pittsford Plaza. All told, it would take about about 40 minutes but I could do it pretty much any time I wanted to; the walking time on my trip out there added 10 minutes for a total of 41 minutes on the way out and 53 minutes on the way back and also limited to the whims of the bus schedule. Throw in a few extra routes to cover the parts of the city farther than a mile from a highway exit, and you're in business.

Anyway, the bus is now an alternative for me to use. But once I get a bike ready, I can cover the 5 miles to Pittsford Plaza via the canal path in about 20 minutes or so. And do it any time.

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