Staff Favorites: Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place 2016

By Mark Plotz, Conference Director +Friends

We are just a few weeks away from announcing the full program for Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place 2016 (Vancouver, BC, September 12–15). In the meantime we asked members of the conference team which sessions caught their eyes, and have them excited for Vancouver. And here is what they told us:

Elka Gotfryd, super sleuth, placemakers/peacemaker, ethical urbanist, proud Canadian, does talk to strangers

The Neutral Ground Remix: How communities of color and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority are reclaiming public space for Civil Rights Retrospective and Vietnamese Farmers Market (Breakout Session) by Melissa Lee, Senior Advisor, New Orleans Redevelopment Authority; Tuan Nguyen, Executive Director, MQVN Community Development Corporation; Linda Pompa, Executive Director, Oretha Castle Haley Merchant and Business Association.

A place is much more than its location; it is the space in which people and communities can find meaning and express themselves. In New Orleans, one very special place is the neutral ground: the place where different communities with different, often conflicting needs and interests can gather, share what is important to them, and reconcile these differences. Whether referring to the original neutral ground — today’s Canal Street, formerly a strip of no-man’s land where English and French speakers would congregate in the 1800s — or modern-day public spaces, having a place that is accessible, reflective of and responsive to various community needs is a vital part of New Orleans’ civic culture and discourse.

In New Orleans an inspiring process is underway: public agencies and communities of color are working together in evolving neighborhoods to reclaim underutilized public spaces for expression, bridging inequality, and pursuit of civil rights. Yes, Placemaking can address inequality.

Sam Goater, program reviewer, twitter provocateur, folding bike aficionado, transportation engineer

Getting to Yes: How the First State DOT Embraced Separated Bike Lanes (Breakout Session) by Bill Deignan, Transportation Program Manager, City of Cambridge; Bill Schultheiss, Vice President, Toole Design Group.

Are you sick of your State DOT’s reduce-vehicular-delay-at-any-cost and improvement-can-only-mean-widening mantras getting in the way of quality walking, biking or place-based projects? I am.

Last year, with assistance from Toole Design Group, Massachusetts DOT became the first state to create a Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design guide, empowering communities all over the state with an important tool to create safer, more accessible, and more attractive places. Join the lead author of the guide, Bill Schultheiss as he discusses compiling international best practices, and local case studies to put this groundbreaking guide together.

I say: One state down; 50 to go (#dcstatehood!).

Transforming Vienna’s premier retail street: How the ambitious Mariahilferstrasse redesign turned a street for cars into a street for people (Pecha Kucha) by Andreas Lindinger, Urban Management Consultant and Blogger, denkstatt/Vienncouver.

Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna, Austria

Many cities around the world are struggling with ways to deal with a rapidly increasing population. What happens if this growth is accommodated by reallocating public spaces to people on foot, rather than in automobiles? Hear from Andreas Lindinger about how Shared Space concepts are adopted on Mariahilferstrasse, their busiest retail street, increasing livability, accessibility, and “sitability” in Vienna, one of Europe’s most beautiful, and fastest growing cities.

David Leyzerovsky, program reviewer, transit and walking avid, embraced place in 2013

Collaborative Placemaking to Strengthen Neighborhoods and Build Community (Breakout Session) by Janae Ryan, Project Coordinator, City of Austin; Karen Selander, Project Manager, City of Seattle; Howard Wu, Project Manager, City of Seattle.

Do more for less seems to be the public’s prevailing sentiment towards our institutions. As these institutions attempt to respond to that mandate they are increasingly looking to the private sector to leverage funding so that good stuff can get built.

The cities of Austin and Seattle have applied the public private partnership model to their collaborative placemaking efforts, and have achieved results: vacant lots have been transformed into community gardens; bleak cinderblock facades have been transformed into sunning mosaics, and auto-oriented streets have been recolonized by humans thanks to sidewalks, protected bicycle lanes, rain gardens, and street art.

Much has been learned by both cities about identifying opportunities for collaboration, structuring these partnerships, and honoring the public’s role is in the public private partnership model. The presenters tell us: This discussion promises to challenge the way local government interacts with its citizens.

The Efficacy of Neighborhood Government in Protecting the Public Interest: The Case of the Bicycle Route through the Dutch National Museum (Poster Display) by Shinji Tsubohara, Associate Professor, Atomi University.

One the questions we want to explore under the Governance focus area is how to define and protect the public interest in our current reality of cash-strapped public institutions. If public private partnerships are the way to go, then how do we ensure transparency in the decision making process and accountability for the results? If devolving government to the local level is the way to go, then how do we ensure we balance the interests of the neighborhood with the greater good when those interests diverge?

The latter question is explored by Shinji Tsubohara in his case study from Amsterdam, a city where government was decentralized to become more responsive and participatory. He examines how neighborhood empowerment influenced the decision making process about whether to reopen to cyclists an important but contested shared space.

Erik Battista, social media guy, bikeshare nut, neophyte planner, all-around grease monkey

“Moving the Envelope” Delivering Transformative Mobility and Placemaking Projects Overnight (Pecha Kucha) by Rick Plenge, Senior Transportation Engineer, HDR.

There’s an axiom that there is nothing more permanent than something that is temporary. It is true whether talking about tax cuts or about transforming Times Square into a pedestrian oasis. Temporary projects can be done quickly for purposes such as demonstrating proof of concept, building stakeholder support, or for addressing critical needs such as safety. There is a growing body of knowledge of how to apply these temporary solutions (road diets, buffered bike lanes, advisory pedestrian routes, refuge medians, pop-up parks, etc), in a variety of contexts from rural roads to urban cores, and — most importantly — how to measure the results. I am really looking forward to this one.

Dress Like an Architect, Think Like an Anarchist (Pecha Kucha) by Andy Boenau, Urban Planning Practice Leader, Timmons Group.

I think Andy hits the nail on the head with this presentation:

If human-scale design is so great, then why aren’t communities demanding immediate change at local government offices across the country? It’s not enough to deliver great design. The 21st century designer needs to master (1) wardrobe and (2) storytelling.

Wardrobe. You’re a cyclist, we get it. But normal people are terrified by your approach. They call you the Spandex Mafia behind your back. Blend in as best you can with planners, architects, and urban designers who are responsible for brutalist, car-oriented atrocities. The general public needs to assume you’re part of the modernist regime before you point out that the Infrastructure Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Storytelling. People don’t need facts, they need an emotional connection. Most of us weren’t trained to communicate like advertisers. We’re completely unqualified to be digital marketers — and yet that’s how we can persuade the general public. Voices in your head will fill you with doubt. Don’t succumb to the devil’s advocate. You have disruptive and socially radical messages to share with mainstream culture!

Dress like an architect, think like an anarchist. That’s the secret to success for the 21st century designer.

To summarize: more slacks, less lycra; more loafers, fewer SPDs; and more stories, fewer stats. Come develop your Pro Walk/ Pro Bike/Pro Place panache with this session.

Mark Plotz, conference director, full-time freeway removalphile, part-time piñata, pretending bike mechanic

NIMBY vs IMBY — Who’s the expert? (Pecha Kucha) by Susan Mulholland, Occupational Therapist, University of Alberta, Calgary.

Each person knows something that you don’t. For those living on the street and in our public spaces they know details that the planner, public space manager, or economic development specialist doesn’t know. So why not include this important group in your planning conversations?

Cities designed to be inclusive may overlook a critical perspective. The inner city homeless population is a diverse group of individuals who know the inner city better than anyone — it’s their home and backyard. Ironically, this population’s expertise, particularly related to active transport and “place”, is seldom drawn on for feedback or input into design and development ideas. The In My Backyard (IMBY) project was initiated by the presenter after learning of a local community’s angry response to homeless population activities in “their” neighbourhood (“NIMBY”).

Walk. Bike. Thrive!: A Regional Vision for Active Transportation in Metro Atlanta (Poster Display) by Byron Rushing, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Planner, Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

A great plan for a formidable challenge. The challenge: only 16% of people in the region live within a 5 minute walk of transit; the average trip is long — more than 4.5 miles; and the region must make up for decades of underinvestment in public transportation and walking/biking infrastructure. The plan: recommends that ARC jurisdictions account for the 20-minute neighborhood (1 mile walk and a 3 mile bike ride); provides data collection and analysis of safety and travel patterns for member jurisdictions; and proposes to train board members and member jurisdictions on active transportation fundamentals. The plan received unanimous approval by the ARC’s board, so come chat with Byron to learn what is next.

Pedestrian Safety Campaigns That Don’t Suck (Poster Display) by Jessica Roberts, Principal, Alta Planning + Design.

Wait, pedestrian safety campaigns don’t have to suck?* The pedestrian safety campaign playbook seems to have three plays in it: 1) remind walkers — in the most patronizing way possible — to push the permission button before crossing the traffic sewer; 2) remind walkers — in the most graphic way possible — what happens if they are hit by two tons of rolling death; and 3) convey these messages using either a funny mascot or a trifold brochure that most certainly will be thrown away. Take a step in a different direction with Jessica Roberts, who promises pointers on a pedestrian safety campaign that: a) doesn’t suck and b) is suitable for work (unlike this classic from The Onion).

So you have a safety problem around walking, and you want to do something about it. How hard can a media campaign be? The answer: harder than you think. All too many pedestrian safety media campaigns are not memorable, unclear, or the wrong fit for the community. In this poster session, Jessica Roberts will reveal the keys to success to create a locally relevant and visually compelling pedestrian safety campaign. The poster will show (not tell) how each key to success was applied to create a popular and successful campaign in Eureka, CA.

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Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place was established in 1980 and is North America’s active transportation and Placemaking conference. The conference is produced by Project for Public Spaces, a New York City based non-profit. Registration is now open and we hope to see you in Vancouver BC!

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