by Meredith Cockerham, 5/6/2014
Video: Gil Penalosa - Creating 8-80 Cities, from thinking to doing:
Copenhagen is, of course, a landmark of great transportation change over the past two decades.
But it wasn’t always that way. A pedestrian way was initially proposed to get people on the streets and cars off. Citizens refused, saying that walking was not for them. It was not a part of their culture.
However, following the installment of the pedestrian way and bike lanes, there was an immense growth in walking and biking. Car use vastly decreased. At least 18 surface parking lots were turned into people places, and currently about 38 percent of people in Copenhagen use bikes as a mode of transportation.
Can such a high percentage happen in other bustling cities as well?
In Gil Penalosa’s TEDxCarlton talk (above), he discusses five steps a community needs in order to create more positive, people-friendly streets: a sense of urgency, political will, leaders, doers, and public participation.
Sense of urgency: The amount of drivers on the road will only grow if nothing is done to control and decrease the numbers.
Political will: Some politicians need to let go of what their constituents are saying and do the right thing.
Leaders: This goes along with the previous step. Nothing can get done without leaders guiding the movement along.
Doers: These are people who go out into the community and make things happen on their own and have people follow their movement.
Public participation: This is the support from the community and an active participation in policy regarding transportation.
With each step, Penalosa, the executive director of Canada’s 8-80 Cities, identifies an example of people or cities that have attempted to make a change for the better regarding the roles of streets or public transportation. For example, new bike lanes may not be put in place until more than one cyclist brings the idea to the government’s attention that bike lanes are necessary for the safety of bikers and drivers alike. If there is no sense of urgency or political will, bike lanes will not be installed no matter how many cyclists speak up.
If more pedestrian ways and bike paths were installed, perhaps using Copenhagen as an example, people will respond. In the Washington D.C. region, street construction is present everywhere, expanding lanes and changing traffic patterns to control the growing amount of drivers coming in and out of the area.
However, if there were greater access to bike lanes, public transportation, and people places – as well as even harder-to-find inexpensive parking spaces – would there be a decrease in single-occupancy vehicles? Taking away or reconfiguring parking spots would increase the safety for bikers and could encourage people to think more carefully about their transportation mode of choice. Metro might become a more attractive option and, with an addition of bike lanes (especially protected bike lanes), many may seek to bike the next time they visit Georgetown, for example.
Look, humans adapt. Penalosa says “change can be hard, but it offers wonderful opportunities.” Copenhagen is probably Exhibit A as to how any city can change. People may be upset, but over time, changes in the environment will become the norm.
In the greater D.C. area, the public and its politicians need to focus on continuing to improve our transportation options. We will adapt to people-friendly streets, so why not start now?mobilitylab.org