COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Equity at Walk/Bike/Places

Katherine Peinhardt
May 18, 2018
Aug 2, 2018
From bikes to crosswalks, Walk/Bike/Places 2018 will cover the whole street in its discussions around equity and mobility. Photo credit: Daryan Shamkhali

Walk/Bike/Places is the premier conference in North America for walking, bicycling and placemaking professionals from the public and private sectors. Early Bird Registration ends on May 25 at 8 ET — sign up today!

This year’s Walk/Bike/Places in New Orleans is putting the brakes on business as usual for urban mobility. This year’s conference, set for September 16-19 in New Orleans, is focused on themes of equity and access to transportation. This year’s session lineup covers walking and cycling, from handlebars to helmets, pavement to policy — featuring sessions on topics ranging from the implications of dockless bikeshare in today’s mobility landscape, to grassroots cycling networks and safer crosswalks. Here’s a sneak preview of some of the breakout sessions that are poised to make this year’s Walk/Bike/Places the best yet!

Shared Bikes: (Not) Coming to a Dock Near You!

Will the future of cycling be dockless? And are dockless bike share systems more equitable than the traditional, docked model? Participants in this year’s Walk/Bike/Places will examine this question during a breakout session called “Community First, Bikes Second: Operationalizing a Sincere Commitment to Equity,” a conversation between Olatunji Oboi Reed, President & CEO, Equiticity and Sara Studdard, Community Engagement and Marketing Director, Explore Bike Share. Both speakers are leaders in forthcoming bike share systems, in Chicago and Memphis, respectively—but more than that, they are leaders in community engagement around mobility.

Nowadays, it seems that most mobility-related companies are committing to equitable, affordable, and sustainable principles. But companies like Equiticity and Explore Bike Share are doing the leg work to back up these claims, with both companies targeting low- to middle-income populations in historically marginalized neighborhoods. By engaging directly with the community to eliminate barriers to cycling in their respective cities, each aims to create a “transformative bicycle culture where none previously existed.” By truly listening to the needs of residents and bringing them into the process, whether during vendor selection or evaluation, each of these newcomers to the urban mobility field holds great promise as a model of sustainable, participatory planning. Walk/Bike/Places will be their opportunity to share results, with lessons in accessibility, changing local perceptions of cycling, and security.

The New State of Activism

Massachusetts residents are breaking boundaries and building coalitions for better transport. In another session at Walk/Bike/Places, “Building relationships for inclusive mobility and placemaking in Boston,” a panel of coalition-builders will share their experience in improving mobility in Boston and beyond: Angela Johnson, Transportation Justice Organizer, Transportation for Massachusetts; Nels Nelson, Senior Planner, Stantec's Urban Places; and Becca Wolfson, Executive Director, Boston Cyclists Union (BCU).

The three organizations speak to a larger pattern: Massachusetts residents are taking transportation policy into their own hands. The Boston Cyclists Union is getting more people onto their bikes through its Food Rides and Make Way for Bike Lanes campaign, which take advocacy to the street level and attract hundreds of cyclists. From BCU’s Activist Group to Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition that put on Boston’s first Neighborhood Bike Forum, grassroots advocacy has become the to-to for Massachusetts residents looking to tackle transportation issues. The Bike Forum, aimed specifically at improving mobility in communities of color, convened “grassroots organizations, grasstops coalitions, public health entities, and active transportation advocates.” Blending advocacy and outreach, Massachusetts mobility activists are creating inroads for low-income residents to network, educate each other about cycling, and share bike repair resources.

Meanwhile, Stantec’s Urban Places team has taken its experience in turning numerous Boston blocks into walkable spaces and created a new guide, Placemaking for Mobility. In publishing the guide, Stantec has taken aim at places like Boston’s Chinatown, where work has begun in turning lifeless swaths of pavement into pedestrian plazas. This commitment to “designing with community in mind” contributes to Massachusetts’ growing movement toward biking and walking advocacy.

Photo credit: Christopher Burns

When Crossing the Street Is Not an Option

Will street design work to exacerbate or alleviate urban inequality? Another breakout session at Walk/Bike/Places will examine this question, with a focus on NYC’s oft-maligned crosswalks. Titled “Crosswalk Crusades: Providing Safe and Convenient Crossings in New York City,” the session will feature a conversation with Merisa Gilman, Senior Project Manager/Enhanced Crossings Program Director at the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) and Nolan Levenson, Senior Project Manager, Pedestrian Projects Group at NYCDOT.

Lower-income communities have historically struggled to get new traffic control measures put into place — meaning that scores of NYC residents are left without safe access to work, school, and public spaces every day. So now, transportation professionals are looking for a better way to cross the street in NYC. Conversations have begun around creating better standards for signalized intersections and crossings, as well as “Enhanced Crossing” strategies for signage and parking. Featuring examples of communities who’ve seen success with improved traffic controls, the breakout session will be an exploration of how communities can work to overcome obstacles, from data collection to staff capacity, in improving their streets for all residents.

At Walk/Bike/Places, we’ll be exploring all of these topics and more — examining how today’s culture of walking and cycling can make transportation safer, more sustainable, and equitable for all. Join us in New Orleans and help us to envision a better future for our streets.

Katherine Peinhardt
Katherine Peinhardt
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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space