2010 marks a decade of change and the ten year anniversary of the National Bike Summit. This was my third year in attendance and the first where the ideas of creating transportation equity and healthy, livable communities were the buzz words of the politicians; not just the advocates.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated on his blog “People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” This talk has now translated into policy with the release of the new U.S. Dept of Transportation Policy: Bicyclists, Pedestrians and Livability, which according to Secretary LaHood, would begin integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects, discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians and encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements providing facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
The Summit also marked the launch of Google’s addition of bicycle directions to it’s much used maps program. Yes, that’s right – you now have a choice to determine your best routes when on two wheels. The program highlights multi-use pathways as well as on-street bicycle facilities but also provides streets with low auto volumes to choose from. For fun you can also check out other cities and see the inter-connected bicycle systems they have in place such as Madison, Wisconsin (another city that gets snow). One of the cool features includes the ability to adjust your route simply by dragging the cursor to a more desired connection. If you were unsure about riding your bicycle before out of concern for the best way to go this new feature is a great tool.
Let’s go back to Madison; the seat of Wisconsin is located on an isthmus. Surrounded by two bodies of water and very flat there are some similarities between this gold level bicycle friendly community and Buffalo – it’s flat, surrounded by water and yes, get this – it gets snow! I sat in on a panel session which included the director of the local advocacy organization, CEO of a prominent local business and their Mayor. I have to say, every city that has extolled the benefits of livable communities, worked to create them and sits as a model community for the rest of the country all have this mix. Something we are still working on here in Buffalo but the momentum is building. When asked what they do in the winter, the answer from the Mayor was simple yet profound – all bicycle lanes and trails are plowed by 7am. It has not been overnight to make Madison such an incredible city, and it probably helps that Trek Bicycle Corporation has their headquarters there as well. However, it does highlight that with a commitment to the values of providing healthy, environmentally sustainable and community friendly transportation options from these three key sectors working in tandem, becoming a bicycle friendly and livable city is very achievable.
On the legislative side there is exciting bill in both the house and the senate which Buffalo has been a leader on: The Complete Streets Act. Similar to Buffalo’s ordinance, it would ensure ALL potential road users are taken into account in the planning, design, operation and maintenance of ALL roadways. An effective, enforceable and measurable complete streets policy, consistently applied to all transportation projects will ensure that our transportation system addresses the needs of the entire population at no extra expense. In fact, the center of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Capitol Hill will soon be retrofitted with separated bicycle lanes to create a “Complete Street” in DC.
Building on the progress over the last ten years, this year’s National Bike Summit was exciting. Getting to talk to people from around the country working to make their communities better is always inspiring and refreshing. These venues allow for new ideas to percolate and best practices to be shared through highlighting triumphs accomplished and obstacles that must still be overcome. This year marked a major difference though, the excitement and enthusiasm for things such as complete streets is not just on the lips of advocates, let the momentum continue….
Image: This picture © J. Maus of Bike Portland