Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Blumenauer talks up investment in bike-pedestrian infrastructure

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 5:06 PM

When it comes to bike-oriented cities, Portland, Oregon, is the community that usually comes to mind. And rightfully so: citywide, cyclists make 6 percent of all vehicular trips. That sounds small, but it's not. In the Rochester region, that number was about 1.1 percent in 2011, according to a survey by the Genesee Transportation Council.

Earl Blumenauer speaking to the Genesee-Finger Lakes Active Transportation Summit.

It took years of effort, careful planning, and education to get Portland where it is. And city officials' goal is to increase bicycle trips to 25 percent of all vehicular travels by 2030. (The city's bicycle counts page is available here.)

House Representative Earl Blumenauer, whose Congressional district includes Portland, says that if his city can become a bicycling mecca, so can Rochester. And Rochester's path to a more bikeable city may look something like Portland's. Blumenauer says his city's efforts began 20 years ago with a bicycle master plan and since that time, the number of people cycling has quadrupled. Blumenauer was Portland's commissioner of public works at the time.

Rochester completed its first bicycle master plan in January 2011, and it's been fairly aggressive in implementation. The effort helped the city earn recognition from the League of American Bicyclists as a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community.

The Rochester area also has a core of highly engaged cycling and active transportation advocates. In fact, Blumenauer spoke this morning at the Genesee-Finger Lakes Active Transportation Summit (GFLATS for short), which was organized by a coalition of transportation, advocacy, and health groups.

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Local drone protesters arrested

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 10:42 AM

This is a corrected version of this blog.

More than 30 members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars were arrested this week after participating in a protest outside the Hancock Air National Guard Base near Syracuse. Some of the US military’s killer drones are operated and flown to targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries from the air base.

Three of the arrested protestors are from Rochester, according to a statement from the anti-war group, and about 275 people participated in the protest. The coalition staged a mock funeral procession, carrying coffins labeled with the names of countries where US drones have been blamed for civilian casualties.

Arrested protestors were arraigned in the De Witt Town Court with bail ranging from $500 to $3,500, according to the statement.

President Obama’s use of unmanned aircraft for information gathering and aerial attacks is among the most controversial decisions of his presidency. While some military analysts say the drones are more precise, less expensive, and highly effective at killing known terrorists, others disagree.

Critics say the drones are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, including women and children. And using them violates international law, they say. Drones are capable of crossing borders almost undetected in pursuit of targets.

The coalition also warns of technology creep, and how soon the drones could be used by law enforcement for domestic surveillance and killing. Worse, the drones are fomenting even more mistrust and hostility toward Americans in some parts of the Muslim world, the protesters argue.

The coalition's protests more than a year ago drew regional and national attention to Hancock National Guard Base, but many local residents are still unaware that drones are flown from Hancock Field, activists say, making upstate New York a potential target for reciprocation.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Rocking the cradle in Syria

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 3:44 PM

After drawing a line in the sand warning Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons, President Obama is now in a precarious place. The unimaginable may have happened. Detailed accounts of Assad’s use of the weapons are not clear, but several reports of Assad’s army using chemical weapons began to surface last week. And there are counter reports of the Syrian rebels using them, too.

Obama never said exactly what the US would do if Assad crossed the line. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain immediately called for the Obama administration to follow up the tough words with action. And while Graham and McCain can’t resist putting the country on perpetual war footing, they were short on specifics or solutions.

And that’s the conundrum. There are no quick, easy, or inexpensive options when it comes to dealing with Assad. Everyone knows this, including Assad. But again, we're hearing from some Washington officials that taking no action would give countries like Iran and Korea the idea that the US is nothing more than a paper tiger.

There are few countries with as rich a history as Syria’s. Ancient Syria once included portions of Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. Ruled by the Turks under the Ottoman Empire, a French colony for nearly half of the 20th century, and more recently, caught under the tyrannical thumb of Assad, Syrians are no strangers to violence and bloodshed. And the wrong step now could cause the chaos within Syria to spread outside the country's borders.

The Obama administration shouldn’t expect much help from Russia or China in the matter. Russia doesn’t want increased tension with Islamic separatists inside its borders. And China needs energy to fuel its growing economy.
That leaves the US and Israel to do...what? Impose a no-fly zone? Bomb air bases and chemical weapons sites? Send in troops?

You would think that most Americans would be firmly against US involvement in another war. But a recent Washington Post poll suggests otherwise.

That many Americans seem to have already forgiven George W. Bush for taking the country to war in Iraq under false pretenses isn’t so surprising; that was evident from the coverage of the opening of the Bush library. But forgetting the enormous human and fiscal costs of the Iraq war, as well as the war in Afghanistan only underscores how dangerously detached most Americans are from these conflicts.

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Week Ahead: RCSD budget, College Town groundbreaking, active transportation summit, food truck in Henrietta?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 10:13 AM

This is an updated version.

The Rochester school board will meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, for a final review of Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s proposed budget for the 2013 to 2014 school year. This could be the last opportunity for board members to listen to parents, teachers, and students about the impact of the budget on programs and school operations.

The board will meet again at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 9, to vote on the budget. Both meetings will be held at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. Tim Louis Macaluso

A groundbreaking is planned for the Mount Hope College Town project at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 2. The $100 million project includes a hotel and conference center, offices, grocery store, Barnes & Noble bookstore, and street-level retail with apartments above. The project, initiated by the University of Rochester, will span 16 acres on the west side of Mount Hope between Elmwood Avenue and Crittenden Boulevard.

City officials talk up College Town as Rochester’s biggest project next to the revitalization of the Midtown area. But some people question the amount of public assistance given to the College Town project, including tax breaks through COMIDA and funding through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. Christine Carrie Fien

House Representative Earl Blumenauer, whose district includes Portland, Oregon, will a keynote speaker at Tuesday’s Genesee-Finger Lakes Active Transportation Summit. Jeff Olson, a former manager of the state Department of Transportation’s bicycle and pedestrian program and author of “The Third Mode: Towards a Green Society,” is the other speaker.

The summit starts at 8 a.m. and will be held at the Radisson Hotel Rochester Riverside, 120 East Main Street. Speakers and sessions will focus on human-powered transportation, including walking, bicycling, inline skating, skateboarding, and public transportation. Register here. It costs $50 to attend.

During his many years in government, including a stint as Portland’s commissioner of public works, Blumenauer has built a reputation as a cycling advocate. As a House representative, he founded the Congressional Bicycle Caucus, which includes Democratic and Republican members. The New York Times profiled Blumenauer in 2009.

A biography on Olson’s site says that he teaches the country’s first university course in bicycle and pedestrian planning. His career as a planner has included extensive work in bicycle and pedestrian planning, the bio says.

The Henrietta Town Board meets at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and could take up Brick-N-Motor’s application to operate a food truck at an office park in the town.

An agenda for the meeting is not yet posted on the town’s website. But on April 17, the board held a public hearing on a permit application. And Brick-N-Motor’s owners expect that the board will address the application in some way at the May 1 meeting.

The truck was operating at the Eagle’s Landing Business Park for two days a week for six months, prior to March 15. The town told owners Paul Vroman and Nathan Hurtt to stop operating until they get a permit.

Henrietta officials have opposed past applications for mobile food vendors, but this time may be different. Two board members, Bill Mulligan and Jack Moore, have indicated support for Brick-N-Motor’s application. Jeremy Moule

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

'Spider-Man' forces changes to city bus routes

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Regional Transit Service will change bus routes during the filming of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 in Rochester from April 30 through May 9.

RTS buses will bypass all stops and service on Main Street between Chestnut Street and Plymouth Avenue. Bus transfer points at the intersections of Main Street and Clinton Avenue and Main Street and St. Paul Street will be relocated to the Broad Street bridge between the Blue Cross Arena and the Rundel Library. The detours are necessitated by the closure of a large section of Main Street — from Chestnut Street to Plymouth Avenue — to accommodate filming.

Due to the extent of the detours, RTS’s “Where’s My Bus?” feature, which provides real-time information on bus arrival times and locations via email or text, will not be in service during the filming period.

Detailed information and maps related to the RTS detours are listed on the RGRTA website at rgrta.com/spiderman and RTS staff members will be available along Broad Street daily to assist bus customers. Customers may also call RTS customer service at (585) 288-1700 for assistance.

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Commission sides with politicians on Indian Point power replacement plan

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 9:50 AM

The state Public Service Commission appears to agree with upstate elected officials who say that the ratepayers they represent shouldn't bear costs associated with closing the Indian Point nuclear plant.

At issue is a plan submitted by Consolidated Edison and the New York Power Authority to replace the power generated by Indian Point, if the plant is shut down. The plan submitted to the PSC makes upstate ratepayers responsible for $200 million of the cost to replace the power supply. Federal licenses for Indian Point Energy Center's two operating reactors expire soon: one at the end of September, the other in 2015. And some state officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, do not want the reactors re-licensed.

Yesterday, State Senator Ted O'Brien and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle sent out a press release highlighting recent PSC findings on the proposal. It says the PSC agrees with elected representatives' arguments — O'Brien and Morelle submitted comments on the proposal, as did Senator George Maziarz — that upstate ratepayers shouldn't be on the hook since they won't see any benefit from the new power supply.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Breathe easier, Rochester

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Each year, the American Lung Association ranks the air quality of the country's largest metro areas. And this year's State of the Air report has good news for Monroe County.

The Lung Association gave the county high marks on its air quality. The county received an A grade for ground level ozone, and a B for short-term particle pollution. The report, which is based on averages from 2009 to 2011, says the county had no days with high ozone levels and a less than one day when short-term particle pollution was a problem.

The numbers in this year's report are a far cry from just four years ago, when Monroe County received an F on ozone pollution and a C on short-term particle pollution. Both of the pollutants are the result of burning fossil fuels, particularly coal and diesel gasoline. And they can pose risks to people with respiratory or cardiovascular problems.

The Lung Association says that, nationally, particle pollution is down because of cleaner diesel formulas and advances in engine technology. It's likely that local residents also benefit from Rochester Gas and Electric's decision to shut down the coal-fired Russell Station power plant in 2008.

Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and communications for the Lung Association's Northeast office, says the same factors would contribute to a decrease in ozone. He says actions that decrease one air pollutant often decrease others, too.

But the association says that the federal government still needs to enact tougher ozone pollution standards, particularly limiting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Ozone is generated when certain emissions react with each other, which generally happens on hot days. And since 2012 was very hot, I don't think the low average will hold.

A table published by the state Department of Environmental Conservation says that Rochester exceeded federal ozone standards twice this past summer, though it came close on several other days. When it did exceed the standards, however, it never exceeded what the Lung Association considers "unhealthy for sensitive populations." Sensitive populations include children, the elderly, people with asthma, and people with cardiovascular disease.

Seilback says that if climate change results in longer or hotter summers, elevated ozone levels could be present during more days per year.

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Neighbors rally to save School 10

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Parents, residents, and members of several southwest city neighborhoods are waiting to hear schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s latest recommendation to the school board regarding Schools 10 and 1. They held a rally last night at School 10, also known as Dr. Walter Cooper Academy, to protest Vargas’s proposal to close the school.

Vargas proposed combining Schools 10 and 1 at the School 1 location in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood when he unveiled his plan for the next phase of the multimillion-dollar schools modernization plan.

School 10 is a citywide school, but it has a high draw from the southwest. It is located, according to residents, in one of the school district’s densest student populations. Residents say that it makes no sense to bus the children from Congress Avenue all the way over to Cobbs Hill in the southeast section of the city, particularly when the district spends about $55 million on busing annually.

School 10 is also the only school in the southwest that offers Expeditionary Learning, a specialized teaching model that is extremely popular with city parents. Vargas said earlier this year that the program would be moved with the students from School 10 to School 1. But parents want the program to remain in their neighborhood.

And they’ve received some support from school board members. At a recent meeting, board President Malik Evans said School 10 is ideally located near the University of Rochester. Not only do many parents work there, but city students can also actually see college as a goal.

The southwest residents also received support from most members of City Council. In January, they sent a letter to Evans and Vargas expressing their concerns about closing elementary schools in the southwest and the “further erosion of neighborhood-based home schools.”

The letter, which was signed by all Council members except Elaine Spaull, also cited studies that showed School 1 near Cobbs Hill as more suitable for redevelopment than School 10. When school buildings are retired, they are returned to the city, and figuring out what to do with them becomes the city’s problem.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

[UPDATED] Democrats endorse Tom Richards

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 1:24 PM

UPDATE#2, Wednesday, April 24, 9:30 a.m.: Monroe County Democratic Committee chair Joe Morelle sent out a press release last night, responding to the statement from Warren's camp. His statement follows Warren's at the end of this blog.

UPDATE, Tuesday, April 23, 4:15 p.m.:
Lovely Warren's campaign has responded to the MCDC's endorsement of Tom Richards. The statement appears at the end of this blog.


Tom Richards has won the endorsement of the Monroe County Democratic Party in his quest to serve a second term as Rochester mayor. The county’s Democratic Committee sent out a press release this afternoon, making the announcement.

Tom Richards

Lovely Warren

Richards was challenged for the endorsement by City Council President Lovely Warren, who will now have to petition to force a primary in September.

Richards clinched the endorsement last night by winning the support of the 28th and 7th city legislative district committees. The committees represent the ground level of Democratic politics in the City of Rochester and have been meeting over the last several weeks to make their endorsements.

Richards has won 72 percent of committee members’ votes so far, says the press release. Three committees have yet to meet.

Richards’ designation will be made official at the Monroe County Democratic convention next month.

Warren’s loss in the committee process probably isn’t much of a problem. Rochester’s last two mayors before Tom Richards: Bob Duffy and Bill Johnson, weren’t the party’s “chosen” candidates and both forced — and won — primaries to become the Democratic candidate in the November general election.

The loss might even work to Warren’s advantage by reinforcing her “outsider” status: the candidate of the people versus the candidate of the city’s business interests.


“I am astonished by this statement released today by [Democratic leader] Joe Morelle, and frankly surprised that Mayor Richards would sign on to it. What the release does not reveal is that the three committees left to cast their designating votes are the 22nd, 25th and 27th LDs. These committees represent the city’s largest and predominantly African American neighborhoods, and in fact, the 27th LD represents the largest Democratic voting population in the City. In effect, what Joe Morelle and Tom Richards are essentially saying is that the votes and voices of the people in these neighborhoods don’t matter in this process. The diversity of our great party that Mayor Richards referred to is not even close to being reflected in the vote taken thus far.

African-American voters are very aware and very sensitive to that fact that in many places throughout this nation — historically and right up to today — there are those who have worked to discourage black voters from participating in the democratic process; and in many places, people have worked to affirmatively suppress the vote. This lack of understanding, this disconnect, is permeating our city and clearly, our party. Many of the people in our neighborhoods have reported this to be so, as evidenced by the Democrat and Chronicle’s UNITE poll and the ACT Rochester Report. This disconnect, this lack of understanding — this tone-deafness — is among the reasons why many members of the Democratic Committee whose votes have not yet been cast, as well as people in the city of Rochester have embraced Lovely Warren’s campaign."

"We made our statement to announce Mayor Tom Richards had attained the requisite total amount of weighted committee votes to clinch the designation. He has so far received 72 percent of the total votes and has ensured no matter what the result of the remaining committee designation meetings he will end up with at least 52 percent of the total weighted vote. It was a simple statistical fact.

"The committees set their own schedule for when these designation votes occur. The three committees in question chose to go last, leaving the door open to the possibility that the designation would be clinched before they had the opportunity to vote. I would hope Ms. Warren will understand this was procedural and resist the urge to be divisive."

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Scouts in a changing America

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 10:44 AM

I can’t help feeling sorry for boy scouts: they’re caught in the middle of something they probably don't understand. No matter how many badges they earn or how many ways they learn to survive in the wilderness, it’s humankind they will have to learn to live with daily. And Boy Scouts of America’s leadership is losing sight of this.

In the BSA’s ongoing saga concerning the sexual orientation of its members and leaders, the organization says it's considering changing its policy. Young gays would be allowed to join the Scouts, but gay adults would not.
The policy revision is based at least in part on a survey of its members: older members want to keep the organization’s ban against gays, while younger members think the ban should be abolished.

If the policy is approved by members at its national council meeting next month, the Scouts will enact a hybrid of the US military’s failed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Scouts would learn from the BSA that gay adults should be avoided, even feared. The 1950’s stereotype that depicts gay men as weak, untrustworthy, secretive, and predatory could be kept alive.

Scouts would learn a one-dimensional definition of masculinity and manhood. They may never learn how to accept friends and co-workers whose sexual orientation is different from theirs. Worse, they may not learn how to respect and care for the adult gay man who turns out to be a cousin, a brother, an uncle, a friend.

Those young gay scouts who are accepted into the BSA fold would learn that there is something wrong with growing into healthy gay men. They may have to be careful not to behave in ways that some might consider too feminine or too gay because that might arouse anxieties in other scouts.

And just as many LGBT organizations are trying to convey to young school-age gays that they can survive bullying and they don’t have to resort to harming themselves because “life gets better,” an iconic American organization would contradict that message.

The BSA is not just trying to preserve its organization with this new policy proposal; good people are trying to protect the safety of children entrusted in their care.

But scouts need to know that some gay men break the law just like some straight men, and society doesn’t make sweeping assumptions about a whole group of people based on the actions of a few.

It’s a blessing and a curse that scouts are growing up in a world of changing attitudes. But if we’re going to help all scouts mature into healthy, happy, and prosperous adults in the 21st century, we have to prepare them for a world that barely resembles the one their predecessors encountered.

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