Elton Hills Drive Reflection

Elton Hills Drive (EHD) has been effectively tabled for a number of years, but I do want to look back on the facts that were established, a number of logical fallacies that I saw play out, and what should happen in the future. When I say facts these are all verifiable statements or numbers. There isn’t much in hear about bikes because this really is too much about them.

5 Facts

Fact #1: Elton Hills Drive currently has 2 confirmed serious problems.

One of the first criticisms that was we were presenting a solution in search of a problem. We verified two serious issues a serious speeding issue and a high crash rate and a number of intersections. The speed limit on EHD is 30 MPH in most places and the 85th Percentile speed was between 35 & 38 MPH. Speeding is a problem throughout the corridor but when 85th percentile speeds get to be 20% or more above the posted speed, is is a serious problem. In some places 9% of the traffic was going 40 MPH or faster and 1% was beyond 50 MPH.

Secondly, There were 4 intersections which showed higher than expected crash rates, which is consistent with the poor design of a 4 lane road. 70% of all the crashes occurring in these places are far less common in a 3 lane design.

Fact #2: Despite city growth, traffic on Elton Hills Drive is not growing

There is a belief that as a community grows so will the traffic volume, but for a number of reason this tends not to be true. In reality; traffic on EHD has stayed at about 11k vehicles per day for 15 years with a spike when some other major roadways were under construction.

Fact #3: Unanimous professional consensus stated a 3 lane design was best.

There was passionate opposition from a majority of neighbors which ultimately delayed the project, however we can note that every single trained professional engineer who has looked at the EHD issue has come to the same professional conclusion: 3 lanes is better that 4. A 3 lane roadway would not create congestion, would improve safety for all users, would make crossing the street safer, and would greatly reduce speeding in the neighborhood.

Fact #4: Despite the unsafe conditions far more cyclists are already using Elton Hills Drive than I would have expected.

I was stunned when I heard 40 cyclists were already using EHD over a 13 hour period. Everyone knows how unsafe that roadway is and yet the actual number of cyclists exceeded everyone’s expectations. To put this figure in perspective we have over 500 public roads in Rochester that don’t see this much car traffic daily.

Fact #5: Road Diets are good for emergency response.

This was a frequent talking point and thoroughly debunked. Other similar places have shown where this exercise was completed it helped emergency response. Our Fire Chief went so far as to verify with 2 departments which have been mentioned is some studies.

Here is the presentaion that was presented to the City Council.

Fallacies / Poorly Thought Out Arguments

Outlandish Cost

A figure of 2+ million was in there as a placeholder, but the painting of lines is cheap, things like redoing curbs and adding signals is incredibly expensive.

Fix with Enforcement

This is incredibly expensive and doesn’t really work over the long run. And no, tickets can not and do not even come close to paying for the exercise. We have great officers, but they are also really expensive and there time is better spent on more serious criminal matters, especially when easy solutions exist.

Abuse of “Common Sense”

This one is particularly frustrating for me. Basically the qualified professional scientists, at your behest have taken a look at this problem and your points. After understanding and doing this they came up with the same solution that almost community is coming up with. They thoroughly debunked many of your false talking points like saying this is less safe, will create congestion, and is bad for emergency vehicles.

Conspiracy of Scientists

No the trained professionals are not a part of some conspiracy to push bad science. Knock it off…

“You’re not listening”

We listened incredibly well and when the facts showed that the majority of out spoken voices were wrong we were accused of not listening. Actually we listened very well, however a majority does not bad false claims correct. People were not actually mad at us for not listening, but rather not obey their bogus science.

Lack of fatalities indicates no issue

A potentially deadly logical fallacy. If a car has a design defect that causes it to roll over, every vehicle gets recalled and fixed, not just those ones that will roll over. Every 4 lane roadway shares the same design defects that make them the most dangerous type of road. In some places that capacity is needed, it is not on EHD. I don’t believe anyone wants to see serious injury or death, but the decision to knowingly go forward with a less safe design does significantly increase the likelihood of death. I have personally been on the scene of 2 such fatalities on similarly designed roads.

Majority don’t want this, so you should represent us

This is just lazy logic. Candidates and elected officials who subscribe to this should be disregarded. While far more grave in nature, the Civil Rights Act was deeply unpopular. It took visionary leaders to do the right thing. We are a republic and not a democracy, we need to elect competent officials who can weigh ideas and pick the unpopular ones when necessary. When you do the right thing people will come around. Huge majorities want lower taxes, better amenities, and faster service, but you can’t just do all 3.

We need 4 lanes to prevent congestion

Again, thoroughly debunked, in hundreds of communities. There are few issues with congestion until you get to 20k vehicles per day. EHD will never come close to this. The benefits gained from the left turn lanes greatly exceed the costs. Many communities will use 3 lane designs well past 20k because the much improved safety so greatly exceeds the cost of any congestion, here that is a moot point because traffic volume is so low.

Things I learned

Number of Cyclists

I was truly surprised that the number of cyclists was as high as it was despite the unsafe conditions.

General Disdain for Parking on EHD

I was surprised that respondents of the survey wanted parking off of EHD. My suspicion is that some of the properties that rely on it on the west end would be pretty upset if the parking went away

Drainage-way / Cascade Street Bike route

This is another option in the future. This route would work well for people who live on the North End of the Elton Hills Neighborhood. Everyone still living South of EHD would still be land locked and not have any safe route to connect with the rest of the system.

Schools were disinterested

The safety data was so stark I am surprised that the 3 schools on EHD made no effort to weigh in on the decision despite the fact that their kids cross the street there.

Better future plans?

The curb to curb distance is 56′ and without parking many new options are on the table. I would hope before any money is spent in the future some sort of a prototype activity is done so people can experience the changes before they are made permanent.

If I were designing this with access to the schools in mind I might consider a cycle track separated by a 4′ curbed buffer from the drive lanes. This would be on the North side of the street. A nice cycle track (bike way) would be 12′ wide. The remaining space would be 40′ which would be a tight 4 lanes of preferable a 3 lane conversion.

An additional note is that I can’t believe the disrespect shown toward CM Johnson relative to how the older male members of the council were treated, I couldn’t believe some of the things I heard. I assure you she is far nicer than I. Some of the comments were straight out of the 1950s. I have mad respect for the patience she showed throughout this.


  1. Here is what I shared with my city councilman:

    My friends at WeBikeRochester, which I am heavily involved with, is trying to help to make the case for making Elton Hills Drive safer for people in cars, people walking and people on bicycles and asked me to contact you.

    I regularly drive on it (once every week I play hockey at the Rec Center, once a week I meet friends for coffee at the Dunn Brothers), and several times a month try to cross it on my bicycle.

    My observations are that almost all drivers drive way too fast on it, if you are driving 30 mph, you are being tailgated and passed. There are three school adjacent to it, and if I were a parent, I’d be very concerned about letting my kids cross it on foot or on a bicycle. I wonder how many parents then choose to drive their kids to school because walking and biking is not safe, and that in itself increases the car traffic and exacerbates the problems.

    It is very dangerous for someone on foot or on bicycle to cross, with 2 lanes in each direction, most cars speeding, and the terribly short sight lines with all the hill and curves.

    I personally would hardly ever ride on it on a bicycle, and if bike lanes were added, I would not likely ride it more than a block or two because of the hills and curves. I know more efficient routes to get across town on a bike and EHD is not one of them. So bike lanes on it is not a priority in my opinion. Others in my group might disagree.

    The priority for us is to get drivers to slow down, and make crossing a lot safer. The road diet makes the most sense to accomplish that, but whatever can be done to slow drivers and make crossing safer should be done.


  2. “We are a republic and not a democracy, we need to elect competent officials who can weigh ideas and pick the unpopular ones when necessary.”

    The problem is, we don’t currently have competent leaders at the city level. We do have greedy ones who vote to DOUBLE their own already generous salaries. Until such a time as we have competent leaders in the city council and the mayor’s office, it’s best to postpone important decisions.

    1. I know Othelmo always has strong opinions and yet he chooses not to actually run for office. In reality the new $50k salary is fair for the full time effort and odd hours required for the position.

  3. I also appreciate this reflection Michael. I sincerely didn’t realize all of what you put on your blog above, all good to know.

  4. I have lived on a side street off of EHD for 15 years and would support this road diet if the bike Lanes were taken out of the plan. A middle turning lane makes sense but adding bike Lanes that are going to constantly crisscross all of the driveways and streets for the 40 people (give or take) that ride bikes on this road a day is a waste of space. With four Lanes I never consider riding bike on the road and use the sidewalks instead. If it narrows down to three Lanes it would be worse than riding a bike downtown at 7am which is terrifying. Bike Lanes make sense on certain roads but definitely not EHD.

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