May 23, 2014

This Makes Sense – Ped-bike advocates and urbanists: Get together

Excerpts from an opinion piece by Robert Steuteville, executive director and editor of Better! Cities & Towns:


Bicycle and pedestrian advocacy has become a huge movement, with more than 220 state, provincial, and local advocacy organizations that are members of the Alliance for Biking & Walking. The alliance recently published out its annual Bicycling and Walking in the United States, 2014 Benchmaking Report. …

Yet this report also reveals a big hole in this movement — many ped-bike advocates rarely talk to urbanists and vice-versa. …  The chapter on levels of bicycling and walking examines many factors but fails to mention the form of the built environment.

Take Bicycling and Walking on bike sharing, for example …  Bike sharing is a game-changing technology and trend. It is also entirely dependent on place-based development — a fact that you cannot discern from this report. A reader may get the opposite impression. …

The report, interestingly, focuses on central cities and mostly bypasses what is happening in suburbs — which comprise 90 percent of metropolitan areas. Most of the data comes from the 52 largest cities and a sampling of mid-size and smaller cities.

Yet the report doesn’t have much to say about what makes central cities different from most of their suburbs, or how dense and compact cities differ from the sprawling ones. All of the cities that perform well are of the former group. Boston, for example, has the highest rate of walking to work of any major city — 15 percent. Boston is also the safest large city to walk. Jacksonville, on the other end of the spectrum, has one of the lowest rates of walking to work of any major city — 1.3 percent. …

The real difference is the way these two cities are organized. Boston is built to be walkable and bikable, and Jacksonville is not.

The solutions offered in Bicycling and Walking in the United States make sense as far as they go. We need more bicycle lanes. We need crosswalks. Complete streets policies are a good first step. Policies, in themselves, don’t do any good unless they are implemented and implemented well. And that’s the rub. Many of them are not being implemented.

Moreover, it’s not just about what is between the curbs. It’s about placement of buildings and parking lots and street trees. It’s about the codes that determine how streets are designed and buildings interact with the public space. It’s about street networks and size of blocks and how it all fits together. It’s about creating a place.

I don’t expect bicycling and walking advocates to fix these things. Most of them are not professional planners, urban designers, developers, or elected officials. But I am hoping that the 2015 Benchmarking Report includes a lot more data and awareness of the connection between walking, bicycling, and place. …

The nationwide and international network of advocacy groups for bicycling and walking  … need urbanists, who can deliver the higher Walk Scores, and urbanists need them. Bicycling and walking advocates represent a powerful force for change in the built environment. It would be a good idea for urbanists and ped-bike advocates to team up on this report and future projects.


So: Has Vancouver (or your city) achieved (or is working on) that kind of alliance?

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  1. That’s not appeal to team up: that’s an appeal for establishment ped/bike advocates to get with the holistic urbanism program, and stop being so engineeringy, silo’d and happy with ugly slim pickings. Which is a call I’d endorse, but the author could have been more honest about it.