Saturday, December 5, 2009

...a lack of sidewalks shows a lack of respect for human dignity

Enrique Penaloso transformed Bogota Columbia by prioritizing people -- and creating a transportation plan that was meant to serve people. He focused his priorities on asking, "How will people travel in this city?" Not -- "How will cars travel through this city?" His comments below are quite remarkable. I hope you find them useful for your work.

Urban Democracy and Quality of Life Mayor Enrique Penalosa served the City of Bogata, Columbia from 1998 - 2001. During his tenure, he'd bought public lands, created pedestrian and bike ways, and created the "Transmillenium" bus system, building on Curitiba, Brazil's noted success. Penalosa's remarks about creating high quality urban environments were passionate and democratic. In doing so, he established an ethical rudder for the conference. Effective urban environments have space and access for all.

"Why can't we stop making 'dumb decisions' and step up the dual challenges of development and sustainability?" he asked. Ironically, as cities get richer their transport systems get worse. Wealthy citizens buy cars, highways are built that destroy urban cultures, and quality of life deteriorates. Thus developing countries have a huge advantage: "They can see that the highest quality cities have moved past cars!"

In Zurich and Amsterdam, mass transit systems are mature. In these cities, 40% of people travel by bike, irrespective of income. In Los Angeles and Houston, cars rule and the quality of life suffers. Mature cities are lowering auto use through policies on congestion pricing and stiff registration fees.

"Shouldn't the public interest prevail? Transportation corridors ought to be for the people first. And the people need sidewalks, bus and bike lanes, not massive arterials for the rich in their cars, only to be gridlocked in traffic." Penalosa believes that a lack of sidewalks shows a lack of respect for human dignity. "The quality of life in any city can be measured by the width of the sidewalks. All great cities have great sidewalks. Think of Paris, Buenos Aires, and New York!"
The 20th century will go down in history as a disastrous era in urban planning. American cities that myopically feature low densities keep looking to add more freeways and lanes of traffic.

"Increasing roads is like putting out a fire with gasoline! It's totally irrational." And the higher the density, the more opportunities for walking and biking and highly efficient, frequent, mass transit. "And if you must build new highways," Penalosa noted, "at least leave a few lanes for high-capacity buses."

"In safe and highly democratic urban environments," Penalosa remarked, "a $30 bicycle is just as prestigious as a $30,000 car. A good city is where people want to be out of their house, and not in a mall. The city becomes a playground, safe for kids and adults. It is where people are happy, not where there are happy cars!"

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