Last week, I had the opportunity to attend BikeTexas‘ Shifting Gears: 2011 Transportation and Health Policy Luncheon and hear a presentation by international livable cities expert Gil Peñalosa. He’s the executive director of 8-80 Cities, an organization with a powerful mission to create vibrant cities and healthy communities.
Peñalosa’s presentation was both thought-provoking and inspiring. He said that most built environments are designed for an athletic 30 year old. Why don’t we build our infrastructure to accommodate our eight-year olds and our 80-year olds?
Why don’t we build our streets in a way that places the greatest emphasis on the needs of pedestrians, then bicyclists, then transit, and *lastly*, on cars? Peñalosa showed hundreds of photos of complete streets that did just that, with dedicated spaces for walkers, bikers, buses, and cars.
He placed special emphasis on the benefits of providing a physical barrier between bicycles and cars. Separating the two with merely a line of paint is a start, but it doesn’t substantially increase the number of cyclists on the road; however, a physical barrier, like a raised curb or parked cars, encourages many more people to feel comfortable cycling as an everyday mode of transportation. I know I would feel more comfortable on my bike if that one stretch of Airport Blvd I must navigate in order to get to work (and everywhere else I like to go) had a dedicated, protected space for bikes.
Peñalosa went on to highlight the benefits to communities that have implemented complete streets programs, including significant benefits to health, safety, the economy and mobility. But beyond the benefits, the impressive photos and the statistics that speak to the value of complete streets and livable cities, what really stirred me was his challenge to be a “doer.” He asserted that real change doesn’t happen by consensus. It happens through political will and leadership, and a whole bunch of doers working together. I want to be a doer!
Complete streets legislation has been filed in both the Texas Senate (SB513 by Senator Rodney Ellis) and the Texas House of Representatives (HB1105 by Representative Linda Harper-Brown). If passed, the legislation would require local, county and state transportation agencies that receive state or federal funding to include bicycle, pedestrian and transit accommodations in their projects. You can learn more about the concept of complete streets from www.completestreets.org.