The Public Speaks at Federal Transportation Town Hall in Rochester

With the public more or less shut out of a planned Congressional forum on the next federal transportation bill in Rochester, NY, advocates stepped in, putting on a “Transportation Equity Town Hall” last Thursday to discuss the transportation challenges, needs and policies impacting the region. Over 30 people from the Rochester area attended, including bus riders, cyclists, and representatives of community-based organizations, transportation advocacy groups, unions, and advocates for the aging and disabled.

The event took place on the eve of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica and Congressman Tom Reed’s scheduled “field hearing” on the authorization of the next federal transportation bill, where public comments were to be by invitation only.  Chairman Mica then postponed the Rochester hearing due to a scheduled vote. A new date has yet to be scheduled.

Among the challenges identified by Rochester residents on Thursday were a lack of affordable transportation options, insufficient access to safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, poor planning by the Rochester Genessee Regional Transit Authority, not enough public participation and accountability in the transportation planning process, and a lack of responsiveness from local politicians and transportation agency heads.

Meeting attendees brainstormed policy recommendations that ranged from prioritizing transit and active transportation funding in the next federal transportation bill to ensuring that local planning consider the needs of bus riders, bicyclists, pedestrians, seniors, and the disabled in rural and urban communities alike.

The town hall event was organized by Reconnect Rochester, Empire State Future and members of the New York State Transportation Equity Alliance, a statewide coalition of 75 organizations (including TSTC) advocating for a more equitable and sustainable transportation system. Event organizers will send comments collected at the town hall to Chairman Mica, New York’s Congressional delegation, and state officials.

“Citizens of Rochester and all New Yorkers deserve adequate, accessible and equitable transportation. Strategic investments to complete our streets and transit systems are critical,” said Peter Fleischer, Executive Director of Empire State Future.

“We are the end users of transportation bills, plans and projects,” TSTC federal advocate Ya-Ting Liu said. “We have to live with the consequences of decisions made about the built environment, often without much public input.  We hope Chairman Mica and NY members of Congress will consider the experience of community groups and users of the transportation system as they deliberate the next federal transportation bill.”

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