COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Dan Burden

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 14, 2017

Dan Burden is the Director of Innovation and Inspiration at Blue Zones, as well as cofounder and former Executive Director 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 support active living and advance opportunities for all people through walkable streets, livable cities, and better built environments.

In his work, 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.

Burden has spent more than 40 years helping to get the world “back on its feet.” His efforts earned him the first-ever lifetime-achievement award, issued by the New Partners for Smart Growth and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Additionally, in 2001, Burden was named by TIME magazine as “one of the six most important civic innovators in the world.” Also that year, he became Distinguished Lecturer for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2009, a user poll by Planetizen named him one of the Top 100 Urban Thinkers of all time.


In the 1970s, Burden co-founded Bikecentennia , along with his wife Lys, and he led a bicycling expedition from Alaska to Argentina. 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. Beginning in 1980, he served as the country’s first statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator--which soon became a model for other statewide programs throughout the nation.

Burden worked as a bicycle consultant in China for the United Nations in 1994, and he has traveled extensively to walk, bike, and photograph cities across the globe. His photographs have appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, Sierra Club calendars, and the Weekly Reader.

In 1996, seeking to expand his impact and reach, Burden and his wife 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.

In 2011, Burden was a key contributor to the development of the Model Design Manual for Living Streets. He also served as principal writer for the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning and Design Curriculum, and he was 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, and he served on the Florida DOT “Greenbook” Committee to draft standards for traffic calming. He is currently a member of the Livable Communities Task Force, and he serves on  advisory boards for Walkscore and Transportation for America.

Burden's insights are becoming a model for college courses and lectures in civil engineering, urban planning and landscape architecture departments throughout the country. He has personally helped more than 3,500 communities throughout the world take steps to become more livable and walkable, and his efforts have been covered by sources such as the Associated Press, NBC Dateline, The Discovery Channel, National Public Radio, and many more.


Healthy Streets. 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."


"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.

Related Articles & Resources
COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space