Wednesday, December 9, 2009

David Byrne at the Newseum

It was a full house last night at the panel discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institute that included musician and cyclist David Byrne, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner, New York City Dept. of Transportation.

David Byrne is the author of the new book "Bicycle Diaries [which] chronicles David’s observations and insights — what he is seeing, whom he is meeting, what he is thinking about — as he pedals through and engages with some of the world's major cities." His talk was more about liveable places and less about bicycling. In his first slide of Columbia, MD he noted that his parents moved there several years ago and now that they don't drive, find it very difficult to get around. "They're stuck." As are many people who have depended on driving for much of their lives and now need other ways to get around.

He mentioned some of his favorite books about places including Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, and The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander.

After discussing cycling in various cities of the world he noted the transformation of Portland, Oregon into a bicycle-friendly city. Merchants who at first resisted removing on-street parking for bike corrals, are now requesting them. Replacing two on-street parking spaces makes way for 25 bike parking spots. And instead of having a van blocking the view of the store, motorists can clearly see through the bikes.

Congressman Blumenauer continues his efforts for cyclists, whom he sees as indicator species for liveable communities (Sadik-Kahn says that families on bikes are indicator species for bicycle-friendly communities). He has a vision of kids, who aren't obese and who once again get to school under their own power. He hopes to expand the Safe Routes to School Program to include high schools.

The bike industry in Portland, which Blumenauer has represented in Congress for 10 years, is worth $100 million in economic activity each year. Families there spend $2500 lees for transportation each year. To foster active transportation choices in the U.S. he plans to sponsor the Active Transportation Fund of 2009 bill in Congress. (See the proposed legislation (pdf)). Portland "has been able to increase its bicycle mode share by 400% in the last two decades for the cost of one mile of freeway."

The final speaker was Janette Sadik-Khan who has lead the transformation of New York City streets. Noting that bicycle standards documents haven't kept up with some of the more innovative bicycle facilities being implemented in Portland, New York City and elsewhere, she announced the formation of Cities for Cycling "a project of the National Association of City Transportation Officials to catalog, promote and implement the world's best bicycle transportation practices in American municipalities."

Both Blumenauer and DDOT director Gabe Klein mentioned that the powers that be need to hear from cyclists. Blumenauer issued a call to action by saying "we've been too accepting of the status quo. We need to agitate more." We need to challenge people who say we shouldn't be spending money on more bike and ped facilities because most people drive. About 1/3 of us don't drive, the disabled, elderly, young, and those who choose a different path. We're not spending 1/3 of our transportation dollars to accommodate them and we should.

I hope Congressman Blumenauer is correct when he states "You will be stunned by what happens in the next 10 years" in the way of bicycle infrastructure improvements.

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