10/15/12

Pro Place at Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012Pro Place at Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012

By Jamez Smith, Program Administrative Coordinator

Beach cruisers gliding slowly down wide sidewalks, middle-aged women riding up to grocery stores on skate boards, a refreshing ocean breeze on a hot sunny day: It was great to be back in California for Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place 2012!

 

For those unfamiliar, the biennial Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference brings advocates, government officials, transportation experts, planners, community coordinators, public health practitioners, and many others together to make our environments more walkable and bicycle-friendly places.

Familiar faces at the conference: Ethan Fawley (Fresh Energy), Rolf Scholtz (Dero), and Dorian Grilley (Bike MN).

 

Place-making

This year's conference in Long Beach featured place-making as a central theme. Much of the conversation centered around the idea of places for people. I was surprised to hear the bold statement that streets are not just for moving automobiles. The Association of Pedestrian & Bicycling Professionals went so far as to set their booth up in the format of a parklet, as seen in cities around the country on Park(ing) Day.

 

The Association of Pedestrian & Bicycling Professionals's Parklet

 

The idea of place-making was also highlighted in breakout sessions, presentations, and poster displays, including most notably "Lessons from the Midtown Greenway Success Story" presented by Minneapolis's Tim Springer of Springer Consulting.

With place-making in mind, other presenters encouraged us to eliminate the various silo effects we have created around street use. Streets don't exist simply to move people (or vehicles), they emphasized. Streets are an important part of our collective environment, and we should endeavor to utilize and increase the quality of that space for all.

 

A Prescription for Health

As demonstrated here in the Twin Cities by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Allina Health, and others, the healthcare industry is fully on board with the active living message. Tyler Norris, VP of Total Health at Kaiser-Permanente, shared that every Kaiser physician is instructed to ask patients about their level of physical activity, and to then respond with, "Here is your walking prescription. Here is your biking prescription. Here is your prescription for staying active."

 

Time for a Change

In his presentation "Rethinking the Automobile," OpenPlans founder Mark Gorton noted that the bike/walk movement's stiffest opposition comes from those who are almost exclusively suburban or rural. And with this audience, our movement's typical pleas for transit-oriented development, protected bike networks, social justice, et al, can be pretty ineffective.

 

This Transport for London ad was highlighted in Mark Gorton's Pro Walk/Pro Bike presentation "Rethinking the Automobile," which called for more "quality of life" messaging from bike/walk advocates.

 

Instead, Gorton suggested we must aggressively build a campaign that changes the way Americans think about transportation. He recommended that we take a "quality of life" approach, speaking more about how auto-oriented development has "significantly degraded the human living environment." He also encouraged bike/walk advocates to stop asking for crumbs, and stop settling for a quarter of a crumb.

 

Unofficially

 

I heard a number of conference attendees express concern regarding the absence of people of color at Pro Walk Pro Bike, and within the movement overall. Though not mentioned in any official capacity, the importance of increasing diversity in the movement was voiced on several occasions.. Perhaps a future conference will feature panel discussions and strategies for greater inclusion of traditionally underserved communities. If so, it would be a welcome conversation.

 

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Around Town

 

Outside of the conference, I was very impressed with the efforts I saw in Long Beach and the greater Los Angeles Area to create friendlier biking and walking environments.

 

For example, Long Beach featured ample bike parking and bike lanes.

 

Protected bike lane - Long Beach, CA

 

Pedestrian-friendly crossing on Santa Monica Boulevard

 

Santa Monica Boulevard, a very busy four-lane thoroughfare for motor vehicles in West Hollywood, also has a high amount of pedestrian traffic, day and night. Not only has the city installed zig-zag mid-block crossings, with clearly marked and beautifully maintained refuge islands, but drivers actually stop to allow pedestrians to cross the street.

 

The street also features bike lanes in both directions and bump-out curb extensions.

 

 

 

This mid-block crossing connecting the Museum of Contemporary Art with the West Hollywood Public Library is typical of new treatments seen throughout the LA area.

 

Painted Crossing in West Hollywood

 

Very surprising to me was the change made to Fountain Avenue, a narrow six-mile east-west collector. With two-lanes of traffic going in each direction, parking on both sides, and inches to spare, it's hard to imagine a less likely candidate for a bike route.

 

Sharrows on Fountain Avenue - Los Angeles, CA

 

However, Los Angeles has designated Fountain a bike route, installing sharrows that position cyclists clear of the door zone. I was, again, impressed to see drivers respectfully being patient with the cyclists sharing the road.

 

Being back in California was great. Attending Pro Walk Pro Bike 2012 proved very gratifying, encouraging, and inspiring. It will be interesting to see how challenges are met moving forward. And there will certainly be more to discuss at the next Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference in 2014. Pittsburgh, here we come.