The Sierra Club updated and approved its Urban Infill Policy in 2019. The Board of Directors then appointed a task force of experts to create a guidance document for activists to use to advocate for smart growth and good infill development in their communities. Being asked to serve on this task force was an honor. To provide meaningful guidance to activists across the country in applying the organization’s Urban Infill Policy at the local level, we included an overview of how land-use decisions get made, how to get involved in the process to ensure that urban infill policies are included in local plans and ordinances, what types of housing and transportation projects, plans, and policies members can support and oppose; and how to guarantee adequate and meaningful public participation, especially by historically underrepresented groups. The task force members worked hard over a period of eighteen months. Urban infill is defined as adding new development to already developed neighborhoods, increasing density through new housing, as well as commercial, retail, and public facilities. It is a key strategy for minimizing sprawl and vehicle miles traveled, both of which are Sierra Club priorities in order to advance climate action, public health, and environmental justice.
The entire planet changed quickly and rather unexpectedly early this year with the global pandemic. The daily routine of our lives shifted from going to work, school, shopping, and socializing with family and friends to Zooming and curbside pick-up. Rates of walking and bicycling shot up in response to fitness centers and yoga classes being cancelled as people looked for ways to stay active and reduce stress. Rates of bicycling increased dramatically even in auto-centric cities like Houston and Los Angeles. Fitness apps like Strava show Houston cycling rates were 138% higher in May 2020 than in May 2019. In Los Angeles the rate increased by 93%. Bicycles and bicycle parts sold out around the country as people rushed to purchase a new bike or they dusted off their old bikes and found they needed repairs.
As a transportation planner and cycling instructor it was clear we needed to be creative in offering support and resources to our community. We created new programs and webinars, conferences went online, and more flexible and creative approaches were adopted in teaching bike skills. We created a new program for kids named Cycling Superheroes. Parents sign kids up, tell us their favorite ride routes, and shared pictures of their rides. Kids get a specially designed Superheroes t-shirt, cycling safety activity books, and a bag to carry it in on their bikes. The Superhero kits were mostly delivered via bike, of course!
A Bicycling 123 Class for adults was offered in September. In Illinois we have the Bicycle Safety Quiz, a great online resource provided by Ride Illinois. The students take the online quiz before attending the class. Classes were limited to 6 students and held outside. We had a mother-daughter duo attend the class. The daughter had recently been hit by a car. Thankfully she was not injured but she wanted to improve her cycling skills and increase her on-road confidence. Helping people enjoy bicycling and be safe is a rewarding part of our work.
Cynthia Hoyle attended the National Planning Conference of the American Planning Association this last week in New Orleans. She presented as part of a session titled "Non-traditional Partnerships to Create Healthy Communities". Cynthia talked about the partnerships that have been underway in Champaign-Urbana, IL for the last 18 years working to give residents and visitors a choice in how they travel around town. The result has been impressive shifts in mode from driving alone to walking, biking, and use of transit. In Urbana 35% of work trips are made without driving alone. The research is clear, people who walk, bike, and/or take transit get more daily physical activity on average than those who drive to work. You can view her presentation below.
The conference offers the opportunity for experienced planners to volunteer to mentor emerging planners. Two young planners were assigned to Cynthia to chat about how to build a career as a planner with a particular interest in transportation systems. These emerging planners are always an inspiration.
Touring a city by bike offers the best way to see how a community is creating choices for people to travel. New Orleans is building an impressive trail system. Cycling along the Lafitte Greenway was a treat. It serves the Treme neighborhood, a traditionally African-American neighborhood that was heavily impacted by Hurricane Katrina. The trail has many types of users and was designed to help reduce stormwater runoff into the neighborhood with bioswales. Amenities along the trail include playgrounds, playing fields, art, bikeshare, and good wayfinding.
Next year the National Planning Conference will be in San Francisco!
Cynthia Hoyle, FAICP had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker at the Student Michigan Association of Planning (SMAP) Conference February 2, 2018 at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Students from the eight accredited planning programs in state attended along with practicing professionals serving as mentors to the students. Cynthia also hosted a session on "Transportation Planning as a Career Path" and interacted with students interested in the field of transportation planning, particularly walking, bicycling, and transit. The presentation is available for viewing using the link below.
A tour of the communities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor the day prior to the conference showcased the work the communities are doing to increase mobility options for residents and visitors. Ypsilanti now has its own transit center with service into downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.
The Blake Transit Center is part of the local transit system RIDE which operates service between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The Blake Transit Center is in downtown Ann Arbor, very close to the University of Michigan campus.
The Ann Ashby Bike House in downtown Ann Arbor. A popular service for bike commuters providing secure space for parking your bike inside the Ann Ashley Parking Structure.
A fun and creative bike station at the famous Zingerman's Delicatessen in downtown Ann Arbor.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to join an U.N. sponsored Urban Thinkers Campus: A Forum for Public Space conference in Stockholm, Sweden. My family had lived in Sweden, just outside of Stockholm, in the winter of 1996 and I was eager to go back and see how things had changed. There was great transit, but not much bicycling when we lived there.
First up, the city now has an impressive bicycle network for transportation and recreation. We used the bike share system, Stockholm City Bikes, one of the oldest having launched in 2006. According to Wikipedia “As of January 2014, the system has approximately 110 hubs.” The system is financed through Clear Channel Communications which also operates bike share system in Barcelona, Zaragoza, and Oslo. Purchasing the membership card required finding a 7-Eleven, a cumbersome system. Once you have your membership the bike hubs were pretty easy to find and you can use the bikes for 3 hours for no extra charge.
Returning a bike at one of the many bike share stations.
The bicycle infrastructure had interesting design features not seen in the U.S. including bicycle rumble strips on bikeways to alert cyclists of pedestrian crossings. The system includes separated bike paths, on-street bike lanes, bike boxes, bike ramps, bike bridges, and bike corrals. The bike ramps are designed to also accommodate strollers.
Cycletrack along the harbor with rumble strips and warning signs to warn cyclists of pedestrian crossing.
The transit system has improved significantly since 1996. The subway trains and stations have had makeovers from drab concrete walls to artist-inspired themes.
Stockholm is a city of islands. There are public ferries, boat tours, private boats, and many waterfront docks operating throughout the long summer days.
We took the fast and convenient train to and from the Arlanda airport. This is new since we lived there and it was an amazingly fast, clean, and easy way to use. We never needed to use a car or a taxi during our visit to this beautiful and very multimodal city.
When the American Planning Association agreed to publish my Planning Advisory Service report on Traffic Calming in 1995 it was considered a very radical concept. When I took graduate coursework in transportation engineering and planning in the mid-1980’s, streets were very emphatically to be designed to move cars as fast as possible from point A to B. Pedestrians were something to be kept off the streets and bicyclists were not mentioned in the textbooks or classes.
It was when I had the opportunity to live in Bayreuth, Germany in 1989 I came across the Australian report Traffic Calming. Professor Rolf Monheim, faculty at the University of Bayreuth who was an expert in pedestrianization and creating city centers, gave me a copy when he invited me to have coffee at his home. I thought the report needed to be shared in the U.S. to help make our cities safer and more livable.
Pedestrian mall, Bayreuth, Germany November 9, 1989, the day the Wall came down.
Knowing that the report would need examples from the U.S. in order to gain any traction, I searched for places that had implemented traffic calming programs. In the early 1990’s only Berkeley, Seattle, and Portland had done much work on calming traffic. I pulled heavily from the groundbreaking work that Donald Appleyard had done in his book Livable Streets and added a chapter on the necessity for public engagement in order for traffic calming to succeed. The opening section of Traffic Calming reads in part: Traffic calming promises to be an important tool for improving the quality of life in American cities…This report examines the myths of traditional traffic planning and how such planning must change to provide safer streets.
The PAS report garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative. To suggest streets should be designed for everyone, including pedestrian and cyclists, was considered naïve if not dangerous by mainstream engineers and most planners. I faced some hostile audiences. One audience at a state conference stands out in my memory as some of the planners in the audience insisted that fire trucks had to be able to make U-turns on residential streets to put out fires. Thankfully, things have changed since then and now communities all across the country want to reclaim their streets. It is a beautiful thing to watch unfold!