The SFU City Program along with TransLink hosted two talks earlier this week call “Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas”. Last night, I had the chance to listen to Gil Peñalosa. Peñalosa is the Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, a non-profit that supports the creation of cities “where people can walk, bike, access public transit and visit vibrant parks and public places.” He was also the former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is well known for its TransMilenio bus rapid transit system.
Peñalosa covered a wide range of topics at his talk last night called “Future Livability: Boast of Bust?” I wanted to touch on a few things really spoke to me.
One of the things that Peñalosa talked about is how people that advocate for walkable, accessible cities really like getting into the details of how to design these types of places, but sometimes forget to go into detail about why building walkable cities is important. Answering the “why?” questions are what the general public cares about.
For Peñalosa, we should be creating vibrant and healthy cities with public spaces that people will enjoy to be in. The benefits of creating this type of city for people are numerous including:
Improved mobility for everyone
Better health with lower rates of obesity and medially health conditions such as depression.
Strong economic development
Attracting the best and brightest
One of the things that Peñalosa spoke about is the importance of investing in streets. Streets are the largest public space in cities; they should serve all people, using all modes of transportation equally. They should also be great public spaces, destinations in and of themselves.
In our North American cities, Peñalosa noted that we’ve spent too many resources making it easy to drive. This has degraded streets as a high-quality public spaces and made people who walk, cycle, or take public transit second class citizens.
Peñalosa noted that for safety, physically separating pedestrians, cyclists, and motorist is a must. He believes cities should be building streets were both seniors and children are safe to walk, wheel, or cycle; if streets are safe and inviting for seniors and child, they will be safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
Peñalosa believes that public transit is the best way to connect these walkable places together.
Sometimes politicians use the excuse of a lack of funding or lack of users to create walkable, high-quality streets. Peñalosa noted that this is simply an issues of political will. He said that building for walking and cycling is the most cost effective way a city can improve the mobility of its residents.
Another key point that Peñalosa made was that for there to be a critical mass of cyclists and pedestrians, there needs to be a basic network in place. Building a basic network of separated bike lanes will dramatically increase the amount of people the bike.
Many cities building disconnected cyclist and walking infrastructure then wonder why there is a low amount of cyclists or pedestrians using that infrastructure. He gave a few example to drive that point home. You wouldn’t expect an arena to be used until construction is complete, and you won’t build a bridge based on the number of people swimming across a river.
These are only a few of the things that Gil Peñalosa talked about. It was great listening to this engaging speaker.