Four Big Questions for the New YearFour Big Questions for the New Year

By Joan Pasiuk, Program Director

In addition to embracing a few personal improvement goals at the start of a new calendar I like to pose some big-picture questions to grapple with over the coming year. Here are four at the top of my 2013 list-based on a vantage point of directing a nonmotorized transportation pilot program, of course. There's no time like the present to put some fresh thinking behind biking and walking!

1. What is the best practice for traffic modeling and predicting travel demand? For communities committed to complete streets, how are predicted travel needs of all road users accounted for, rather than just motorists as has been modeled historically? Is it possible for proactive, perhaps more forward-thinking communities to actively decide how a road should be designed to balance multiple demands  rather than to react to existing models (e.g. "We predict increasing numbers of cars and we don't want to increase congestion or delay for cars so it has to be designed a certain way.")?

Fact: there is a downward trend of average annual vehicle miles travelled (VMTs) in the U.S. Most people on the street would not guess this change. Many transportation professionals who were trained in the years of an ever-climbing VMT graph line might find this turnaround startling. Some would say this is based on economics only-that in a recession fewer trips reflect a reduced workforce, fewer recreational trips, and so on.  But interestingly, this decrease began even before the economy was hit hard, and before gas prices began to increase, and from the evidence I see still continues to persist. What would you attribute this to: A shift away from driving by young adults? A growing senior population? Other factors?


Motor vehicle travel demand continues long-term downward trend in 2011. (Source: State Smart Transportation Initiative)

All of us should be watchful of this trend and to transportation decisions based on traditional models. But in the business of inventing the future we want to see, how should we divvy up precious right of way on an urban/suburban arterial among bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and motorists?

More background: here, here, and here.


2. How would our communities look and function differently if public works, health, economic development, and equity stakeholders all had to sign off on a street project before sending it to the city council or county board for approval? Of course, streets move people and vehicles; traffic engineers must provide technical assurance that a design fully applies principles of safety. And streets cause runoff into rivers and lakes so water quality experts must play a key role in the process. But streets are so much more of a community asset. They are the lifeline for businesses and the front yard of residential neighborhoods. Street design is a significant determinant of health. Want to live longer or have a higher quality of life? Live in a walkable neighborhood. I heard Anthony Iton, MD, JD, MPH nail the evidence of the zip code effect. How do we get all these values into the decision-making process for our streets? I hope elected officials will start to demand numerous viewpoints before investing public resources on local streets.

3. What will be the single most important feature of thriving communities in the coming decades? I, and many others, say: walkability. The future is about the primacy of pedestrians. Walkable City by Jeff Speck (city planner and former head of the Mayors' Institute on City Design) is banishing any other responses to that question I might have considered. For Speck, walkability achieves health, wealth, and sustainability; I would add social justice. At TLC, walkability is integral to bikeability and transit-ability. In this final year of the Bike Walk Twin Cities program we put both feet assertively forward into engaging community members as walkability champions. The region will benefit enormously from residents who understand pedestrian safety, best practices street design, decision-making processes, and strategies for advancing walkability at a community level. Watch for a spring release of our new walkability empowerment program.

4. How can cities embrace the economic benefits associated with bicycling and walking improvements? Although there is push-back about the cost of new bike/walk projects, the evidence of their economic value is increasingly well documented. See a few resources here, here, here, and here. The value also extends far beyond boosts to profits and property values to include better health, improved air quality, and greater community vitality. The key will be to experience these benefits across society, or even to steer the benefits to achieve greater shared prosperity. For example, will people on fixed incomes or in neighborhoods with higher rates of foreclosure share in the benefits that bicycling and walking improvements can bring? How can cities engage community members and leverage limited resources to ensure such improvements achieve the greatest positive impact?

Leave a comment here on the blog to share your thoughts on these big-picture questions. Or tell us what your own big questions are for bicycling, walking, and community planning in 2013. We like to hear from you!




Other Questions

Question #5, will Bike Walk Twin Cities and others convince Saint Paul Public Works to do 4-to-3 lane conversions on the 3rd Street/Kellogg bridge (from the East Side into downtown), On Wabasha (between Water Street and Plato), and on Hamline? Will they convince them to do a 5-to-4 lane conversion on Roberts street bridge and access road into downtown Saint Paul? All these streets are 14,000 AADT count OR LESS streets and represent important gaps in the city's bicycle infrastructure.

Question #6, Rumor has it that Mike Klassen is retiring or has retired from Public Works. Will we get a younger, more progressive engineer in the agency to replace him, preferably someone with bike/ped engineering experience (who bikes) from a city or firm that designs streets for other users besides cars? (like New York, San Francisco, Portland ...or a firm like ALTA or others?)????

Question #7, Will Saint Paul get a mayor and city council who are willing to force Pubic Works to do what they want? (i.e. make a TWO-lane connection on Ayd Mill Road (as called for in two city council resolutions) and convert the remaining 2 lanes to a linear park? ...or do some of the aforementioned 4-to-3 lane conversions, particularly on streets that have under 11000 AADT?

Question #8, Will Russ Stark and Bike Walk Twin Cities openly call for a 2-lane alternative programming of University Avenue once LRT construction is complete, restoring some on-street parking (to protect pedestrians from road splatter and errant vehicles), and creating space for bicycles to at least USE the street-- particularly on stretches like North Aldine to Raymond where there is no other alternative?

Question #9, Will Bike Walk Twin Cities work to improve all the existing north-south connections-- Raymond (which, despite being "The best", is HORRIBLE), Snelling (once MnDOT's multi-modal plan is finalized), Griggs-Lexington, Chatsworth (which only needs a bridge over the BNSF to make it a great connection), and Western (and/or Dale)?

Question #10, Will Public Works be forced to finally stripe lanes or modify the street to enable bike lanes on Kellogg between John Ireland and downtown?

Question #11, Will we ever get a single, continuous bike lane in downtown saint paul?

Question #12, Will we ever get bike parking in downtown saint paul, particularly around the Farmers market?

Question #13, Will we get a realistic plan to get bike-riders from the Gateway extension (l'orient) into downtown when the quarter billion dollar Cayuga/MnPass highway boodoggle is completed? Perhaps via Jackson, as called for in the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan???

...Sheesh, there are a lot of questions. Most of this stuff is so cheap-- just signs and paint but it's a question of will and there just doesn't seem to be any will to get it done.

Partial answer to #6

Mike Klassen has retired. His replacement is Paul Kurtz.

Normally in cities, where

Normally in cities, where there is high population density , People generally quite busy in their work. They always travel to different places daily. People mostly prefer there personal vehicles to to travel But the government now making such methods or regulations to inspire people to use the public transportation.
Now days government temporarily banned sometimes the fuel vehicles for few days from the road and inspire people to travel through buses to minimize the number of vehicles. Also people doing such innovative things by using the bicycle to travel for the safety of our environment.

More and more families are

More and more families are taking into consideration outdoor amenities near their home when deciding to purchase. They want to live in a place where it's safe and fun for their kids. Areas that offer such a thing are seeing tremendous growth.


Thank you for these 4 great answers.It is always interesting to read your replies.

Improvement Goes A Long Way

Cities can truly benefit from improving walking and bicycling infrastructure and facilities.. if it's done right. Simply the problem is that the money that goes into this improvement is far too little. Convincing authorities to increase budgets is simply not enough.. this requires direct action from locals that want to support their environment. In this way a society can come into realization about the beautiful art of bicycling.