Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around December 9th, 2009
Last night, Bruce Katz, Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, moderated an interesting discussion among three rock stars (sorry, couldn’t avoid saying it) in the world of urban bicycle policy at the Newseum. The panel was composed of David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, Earl Blumenauer, House Democrat from Oregon, and Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner for NYC Department of Transportation.
Byrne led the night off by taking attendees on a visual walk through his cycling travel memories. I purchased a signed copy of his book, Bicycle Diaries, which chronicles these travels. Having not yet read the book, I’m hoping it will offer more insights then were gained during his portion of the lecture, which amounted to a vacation slide show, that I found to be a little bit shy on content. To be fair, Byrne contributed more during the Q&A session and he was sharing the stage with some intellectual and political heavy weights. Regardless, it is great to have a celebrity advocate for the cycling community. He obviously cares strongly for the cause despite the lack of articulation during last nights’ discussion. Admittedly, I did have to Wikipedia the Talking Heads to familiarize myself with his work – sign of my age I suppose.
The second talking head (da dum tsh! I’ll be here all night, folks.) to take the stage was the Honorable Earl Blumenauer. Blumenauer is one of the strongest voice for the cycling community in the Federal Government. He has helped to make cycling part of the national policy debate for issues such as healthcare, childhood obesity, and foreign oil dependence. Coming from Portland, Blumenauer’s discussion had a frequently west coast slant but he did bring up some great local ideas. These ideas included bike lanes along Pennsylvania Ave, stating that the most iconic boulevard in the US needs to be a place where all modes of transportation are accommodated. I’d have to agree, making PA Ave a “complete street” would be a powerful and symbolic action. In discussing Portland’s approach to automobiles, Blumenauer said “we haven’t made war on the car, but we are not going to surrender to it” emphasising the importance of giving people SAFE and balanced choices of transportation.
Third at the lectern was Janette Sadik-Khan from New York, New York. JSK has been responsible for huge push to increase bike lanes around the city, as well as the “pedestrianization of Times Square.” She is a progressive among progressives, who has passion for pushing the envelop (her favorite five letter word is PILOT). Echoing Blumenauer’s statement, JSK underlined the importance of increasing cyclist safety in enhancing the number of riders — “make it safe and they will come.” Further, she indicated that NYC may soon get its own bike sharing system. Next time you are in NYC, watch out for the new yellow checkered bike sharing fleet that might be joining their checkered cabbie friends. Last but not least, JSK announced the launch of Cities for Cycling which is a coalition of member cities aimed at updating the antiquated design standards to reflect the current needs of cities. Their website includes a very interesting series of “best practices” for bicycle facilities that is worth reading over.
The main call to action was just that: DO SOMETHING, TALK TO SOMEONE, MAKE CYCLING AN ISSUE IN YOUR COMMUNITY.
I’ll leave you with few quoteables from the evening:
David Byrne: “Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect, but thank god he didn’t get to be an urban planner.”
Earl Blumenauer: ”How many people are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bike at the gym?”
”Our goal was to make Portland America’s best European City.”
“The only way to get around New York City is to be born there.” “Getting cross-town in NYC is impossible – so the only way to get to the West Side is to be born there.”
Bruce Katz: “I’m glad Brookings was shamed tonight” regarding the institutes lack of bicycle facilities.
tags: bicycle, capitol hill, commute, DC
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