Dan Burden is executive director and cofounder of the Walkable and Livable Communities (WALC) Institute, a nonprofit organization that works throughout North America and the world to create healthy, connected communities that are supportive of active living and that advance opportunities for all people through walkable streets, livable cities, and better built environments.
Dan has spent more than 35 years helping to get the world “back on its feet.” His efforts have earned him the first-ever lifetime-achievement awards issued by the New Partners for Smart Growth and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Additionally, in 2001, Dan was named by TIME magazine as “one of the six most important civic innovators in the world.” Also that year, the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences honored Dan by making him their Distinguished Lecturer. In 2009, a users’ poll by Planetizen named Dan as one of the Top 100 Urban Thinkers of all time.
Dan co-founded the WALC Institute with general manager Sarah Bowman in 2009 to create a focus on education, capacity-building, and training in support of urban design and transportation planning to make communities more engaged and healthier. In 2010 alone, the Institute donated $130,000 in services to communities and raised $135,000 for communities through grants.
In his work for the Institute, Dan brings together many disciplines and issues — such as street design, public safety, economic development and land-use planning — to create a holistic vision for healthy communities that are pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. He is considered an international expert in walkability, bikeability, traffic calming, and road diets.
“Having attended many of Dan Burden’s presentations, and having collaborated with him on several, I can vouch for his greatest talent: getting people with different viewpoints to agree on a vision for their community, by showing them the untapped beauty and potential they have in their greatest commonly-owned asset – their public streets. Dan can actually get Americans to care about cities again. And he does it by getting the traffic engineers on board, not by vilifying them, but by making them excited about being involved in change.”
— Michael Ronkin, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, Oregon Department of Transportation.
In the 1970s, Dan led a bicycling expedition from Alaska to Argentina and — along with his wife Lys — founded Bikecentennial. He and Lys also worked with 90 governmental agencies to develop the longest recreation trail in the world: the 4,300-mile-long TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. In 1977, Burden worked to create the Bicycle Federation of America and served as its director for its first two years of operation.
Starting in 1980, Dan served as the country’s first statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. The program he created during his 16 years in that role, for the Florida Department of Transportation, created a model for other statewide programs throughout the nation.
He worked as a bicycle consultant in China for the United Nations in 1994, and he has been to Australia and many European countries to walk and photograph their great cities. His pictures have been published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, Sierra Club calendars, and the Weekly Reader.
In 1996, Dan sought to expand his reach and ability to really change the world, so he and Lys co-founded another non-profit organization, Walkable Communities, Inc., which helped communities become more walkable by trimming down bloated streets. He explained then that the county’s focus on auto traffic has devastated other means of transportation — walking, cycling, and transit. By replacing excess car lanes with bike paths, grassy buffers, and more welcoming pedestrian routes, he helped towns open up spaces for walkers and bikers, while reducing the stress of driving.
Recently, Dan was a key contributor to the development of the Model Design Manual for Living Streets. He served as the principal writer for the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning and Design Curriculum. He served as one of the main course instructors for the National Highway Institute (NHI) course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Design. He has given staff training to traffic engineers, planners, and community developers across the country. Dan served on the Florida DOT “Greenbook” Committee to draft standards for traffic calming. He now serves on Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s Livable Communities Task Force, as well as advisory boards for Walkscore and Transportation for America.
Dan earned a bachelor of science in forestry from the University of Montana. His insights are becoming a model for college courses and lectures in civil engineering, urban planning and landscape architecture departments throughout the country.
Dan has personally helped more than 3,500 communities throughout the world take steps to become more livable and walkable.
Dan’s efforts have been covered by the Associated Press, NBC Dateline, The Discovery Channel, National Public Radio, and more.
Burden describes how healthy street design can make streets safer and more attractive while addressing many of the problems of conventional street design. He explains that healthy streets create healthy neighborhoods, meeting the community’s basic needs and dismantling the conventional auto-dominated street hierarchy. Burden argues that conventional street design promotes higher neighborhood speed regulations and tolerances, public safety for drivers only, law enforcement difficulties, faster intersection turning speeds, and compromises in safety, access, mobility, and comfort. He instead proposes healthy street design, accomplished through walkable neighborhood size and mixed uses, interconnected and diverse street pattern, shorter block lengths, front porches, traffic dispersion, narrower intersections and lane widths, street furniture and lighting, and other measures.
“Cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around.”
“Of the 1400 communities I have walked, I have not found one where designing for the car has made it a successful place. Indeed, the most successful villages, towns and cities in America are those designed before the car was invented, and where the least tinkering has been done since.”
“We tend not to like open, scary places, and we try to get through them quicker. Somehow the canopy effect of tree-lined streets slows traffic.”
“There are the places that were built and intended to be built as bedroom communities, and you can’t find a town center, you can’t find a real store, you can’t find anything. But you don’t have to choose to live there. What I have learned is where a lot of America has been destroyed, so much of it is waiting to be recrafted and perfected.”
Streets and Sidewalks, People and Cars: The Citizens’ Guide to Traffic Calming, Local Government Commission Center for Livable Communities, 2000.
Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighborhoods, Center for Livable Communities, 1999.
“How Can I Find and Help Build a Walkable Community?,”Walkable Communities, Inc., 2003
“Community Guide to Conducting a Successful Charrette,” Walkable Communities, Inc., 2003.
“Road Diets: Fixing the Big Roads,”with Peter Lagerwey, Walkable Communities, Inc., 1999.
“Building Communities with Transportation,” lecture to Transportation Research Board, Washington, D. C., January 8, 2001.
320 South Main Street
High Springs, FL 32643
Written May 2004