Posts Tagged ‘tcc x’

Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 3

Posted in News on November 4th, 2011 by Alexis – Comments Off on Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 3

Note: This post is the fourth in a series of posts about my experience at Towards Carfree Cities X in Guadalajara. Check out the first, second, and third. This one covers the plaza event on Thursday evening. In the next and last post, I’ll discuss the later keynotes and overall conference themes.

The highlight of my experience at Towards Carfree Cities was the event held on Thursday evening. Instead of having the evening’s keynote in a theater, the organizers arranged to have it in a below-ground plaza inside a major traffic roundabout in central Guadalajara. The plaza is normally entirely inaccessible. It can only be seen by those driving through the roundabout, and they’re not allowed to stop: there is no parking allowed. That evening, one entry to the plaza was closed to motor vehicles, and attendees on foot and bicycle were able to descend the ramp into the plaza itself.

Stairways in the plaza

Descending to the underground level.

I arrived early with my host, so I had plenty of time to wander around and watch (and help) the organizers set up the event. This was the first opportunity I had to take many pictures, and I relished the chance to get a unique perspective on the space. The plaza is below the Colon statue, and has all the things you’d expect from a plaza: trees, open space, a monument. You can see the monument from the ground level (it’s tall), but it’s actually affixed (and labeled) at the plaza level. The tiles aren’t in the best of repair – not surprising if no one uses them on a regular basis. Stairways lead down from plaza level into the lower tunnels. The air quality down in the tunnels (and indeed in the plaza, as cars continued to speed by on the other side) was not great, so I quickly came back up. For a while I lent my camera to my host, who took it and went up a nearby building to photograph the plaza from above. We had lots of time to wonder: What confluence of circumstances lead to the creation of a public space that no one can fully enjoy?

Man on bicycle with child

Bicycling with kids (and with joy)

As the event time approached, the plaza filled up with people enjoying the opportunity to check out the space. For the first time, I saw kids on bicycles, or being carried on them. I also saw some fixies. People rode bicycles on the roadway, gave rides to others, stored their bicycles upside down on a ledge, and explored the plaza freely. It felt…well, like Portland does at its best. The joy was palpable, with even the organizers looking happy and relaxed. Friends greeted each other; people petted the cute dogs who arrived with their owners. Kids climbed on the statue. It was a visceral reminder of my core belief around land use and transportation advocacy: that using our space for people rather than cars creates more opportunities for community, in the form of human connection, joy, and laughter.

Chris Carlsson, a founding father of Critical Mass, spoke on the history of cars and freeways in cities, with lovely slides of San Francisco at different eras, reminding us that cars have a brief history as the ruling species of the city, and reclaiming our cities for people is reclaiming a long tradition. His keynote reminded me of a quotation from Joel Crawford in York that I opened my talk with this year: “The idea of the carfree city today sounds utopian and radical. It is neither.”

(View the full Flickr set from the event here)

Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 2

Posted in News on October 27th, 2011 by Alexis – Comments Off on Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 2

Note: This post is the third in a series of posts about my experience at Towards Carfree Cities X in Guadalajara. The first and second are here and here. This one covers my own and other shorter talks. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss the later keynotes and overall conference themes.

Portland Bike Map Streetcar AnnotationMy talk, Friendly Streets for Bicycles and Streetcars?: Lessons from Portland, covered AROW’s recent work with Streetcar as well as the history of streetcar and bikes in Portland. My goal was to show that Portland’s intersection of bicycles and streetcars was unique — both became repopularized at the same time, leading to difficulty with designing shared facilities — but nevertheless had valuable lessons for all cities considering mixing the two. I was originally scheduled to present with someone advancing the idea of streetcars for Zapopan (the municipality centered northwest of Guadalajara proper), but a mixup meant that I shared time with someone else. For that reason and others, my presentation didn’t fit in as well as I’d hoped.

Of the other short presentations, I particularly enjoyed a pair on Ciclovia from Sergio Montero and Bobby Gadda. Sergio explored the spread of Ciclovia from Bogota to San Francisco and around the world through the networks of mayors, activists/planners, and experts. Mayors provide leadership, activists and planners bring information and awareness to mayors, and experts (experienced implementers) meet and exchange ideas, fueling the spread. It was informative to see the differences in the way ciclovia is done in different places.

Bobby’s presentation on CicLAvia was an excellent followup, showing the concrete details of ciclovia in LA, which is run by a citizen group. This is an interesting contrast with Portland, where the Bureau of Transportation is heavily involved with Sunday Parkways. CicLAvia is charged money to get a traffic plan for the street closures, since they are a separate entity for which city time is being used. LAPD insists on police officers at all route crossing points (no volunteers as in Portland, in part because the route uses larger streets). No parking is allowed on streets during CicLAvia. The wide streets allow a lot of room, but even so, it’s been such a huge success that the second event was suffered from overcrowding, and the number of bikes can be intimidating for people walking or using other forms of transportation — something we also struggle with here. To me it’s a sign that we are not meeting the demand for carfree streets! Open them and they will come.

Unfortunately, I changed rooms instead of staying to hear the presentation on Guadalajara’s Via Recreativa (and I also timed my visit, even more unfortunately, to miss the real thing). I also missed the presentation of Ciclovista Guadalajara, but fortunately they were selling copies and I picked one up. It’s a beautiful book showing views of Guadalajara through a bicycle mirror.

Demo bus with rooftop garden

Demonstration bus with garden at ITESO

My other favorite presentation was Marco Castro’s Busroots. A combination art project and creative sustainable concept for public transportation, Busroots places plants on the roof of a bus, creating a mobile garden which can help with the heat island effect and contribute to stormwater management. It reclaims unused space and greens the city. Currently it’s just a concept bus, but I enjoyed the idea and had fun imagining how it might work in our mild and wet climate. The transit mall could become a linear garden at rush hour!

Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 1

Posted in News, Thoughts on October 12th, 2011 by Alexis – Comments Off on Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 1

Note: This post is the second in a series of posts about my experience at Towards Carfree Cities X in Guadalajara. The first is here. This one covers two of the conference’s early keynotes. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss giving my own talk, some of the shorter talks I attended, the later keynotes and overall conference themes.

The first two keynotes of the conference, given by Eric Britton, an American living in France, and Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives, both addressed issues that are current in Portland.

Eric Britton’s talk was focused on the topic of “Putting Carfree Day to Work”. World Carfree Day has been an important part of the World Carfree Network’s efforts, but being just one day a year, it’s a short-term engagement for a relatively small number of people. He suggested a strategy for “World Carfree Day +++”, each + representing an add-on to the work of a local group or government in putting on a World Carfree Day event:

1) Solicit ideas from all kinds of community groups about what the government should do to improve transportation.

2) Pick the best of those to set benchmarks.

3) The following year on WCFD, measure the benchmarks and talk about how they were achieved, or if they weren’t and why not.

One possible benchmark example he gave was “increase bike mode share from 1.5% to 2.5%”. This is a representative benchmark: a small increase, something that might be possible in one year, but not something trivial or even easy.

These additions would allow more people to get involved in the process of making their city less auto-dependent through the process of nominating and selecting benchmarks, and create regular accountability for initiatives.

One point that Eric made is that having more and different people involved in decisionmaking, as he suggests for WCFD+++, is critical to making different kinds of decisions in the future than we have in the past. Decisionmakers tend to see the world from their own perspective, and make decisions that benefit that perspective.

The current political situation, across much of the world, has one main type of decisionmaker: male, educated, and prosperous. Since these people usually have cars, most decisionmaking takes into account primarily those who have cars. Changing the type of decisionmaker that we have, and asking current and future decisionmakers to listen to people with different perspectives — asking community groups and individuals and neighborhoods what they want and need — is critical to changing who benefits most from political decisions.

Eric’s talk tied in nicely with Noah’s keynote the following evening, also addressing community engagement in the decisionmaking process. Noah, who was discussing “NYC vs Reality”, started out by making the point that most people don’t think in terms of traffic models and graphic renderings, which is how new projects are usually presented. Instead, they think about what they see and experience when they walk out their door. So it’s important to have events that show them what’s possible for their streets, because then they can see the street in a different way in reality. This is how New York addressed the Times Square redesign: it’s just now becoming permanent, after being a massive temporary installation for almost two years.

It’s useful for the community of advocates and activists to share their ideas and to make the demonstration projects, but it’s also very important for people to have a chance to understand and begin to own the idea, and for the result of the process to be community-owned because the community sees the vision. This struck me as extremely relevant for the Williams corridor project, because if the local community in the area has a chance to envision some new possibilities through events and other explorations, I think it would be an opportunity to find both common ground and possibility an even better vision than has come from the proposals under consideration through PBOT.

Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara (Part 0)

Posted in News on October 6th, 2011 by Alexis – 1 Comment

Last month I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at this year’s Towards Carfree Cities conference in Guadalajara. I really enjoyed the conference and visiting Guadalajara, and I was particularly impressed with the success of the organizers (Ciudad Para Todos) with setting up a fully bilingual conference and accommodating guests with no or limited Spanish. It was also interesting to see how it differed from my experience in York.

I’m planning to write a series of posts about the conference, of which this is Part 0: what the experience was like. In future entries, I’ll get to what the conference content was like.

I speak Spanish well enough to get by, which meant that I got to stay with a host family in Zapopan rather than being accommodated in the conference hotel (as a speaker, my lodging was covered). It was a great opportunity to make a connection and practice my language skills, and I was treated very kindly by the family that I stayed with. Because it was relatively far away from the conference at ITESO, it was also an opportunity for me to practice taking transit in a foreign city, which is one of my favorite things to do when I go on vacation.

My exrperience of the bus system in Guadalajara is that it’s really strong on frequency and pretty good on coverage, adequate to poor on facilities, and very bad at getting information to the user. There is a bus map you can buy or obtain, which my hosts gave me, but otherwise I would have had no way to know which buses stop where, beceause there are no numbers on the signs. There are no schedules given on the map or on the stops. And woe betide you if you get off at the wrong spot! The drivers I spoke to were helpful when I missed my stop, but I still ended up walking down a dirt road on the outside of a big interchange, looking for a stop for the right bus. (Luckily, I found one.)

The price per ride seemed low to me, but there are no transfers, so you pay every time you get on: 6 or 10 pesos (45-75 cents), so it adds up. Cash only, but they do give change for bills up to 50 pesos, a real blessing for me since at first I had no change. The facilities for some stops were nice: a shelter with a few seats, just like here. Others were just a sign, often on a post in cracked concrete or dirt. The buses were generally clean and functional but (except for the fancier TUR buses, which had air conditioning and a TV screen) very basic: plastic seats, open windows, and sometimes screechy operation.

I never had trouble getting a bus, and many times I saw three or four come by within ten minutes — the kind of frequency I can only dream of with Trimet! But the residents I talked to told me that although buses generally come along pretty regularly during the rush hour and daytime, they aren’t very reliable, so you never know when one just won’t show up. And if you don’t stick out your hand, they won’t stop for you, so there’s no running to catch the bus coming to the stop when you’re on the other side of the street. (I tried and failed.) Sometimes they don’t anyway — if there’s another bus stopped, they just go around.

My hosts drove me to the conference area a few times as well, using much the same route that the bus took. It really wasn’t much faster, which surprised me, but the traffic congestion was terrible so progress was slow either way, and I saw lots of terrifying driving. It was easy to see why Ciudad Para Todos is so interested in alternate solutions to just adding more cars and road space.

When I arrived at the conference building, I discovered that they were offering simultaneous translation for the presentations! The introductory keynote was in English, so I didn’t make use of the translation that evening, but many attendees were from the university or from the public — one way that this conference differed a lot from 2010  — and quite a few did. While there were some hiccups with the translation, and I ended up relying more on my Spanish comprehension, I know it was really useful for the people who didn’t speak any Spanish to have access to the parts of the conference that were in Spanish. It also allowed for smoother question-and-answer interaction because questions could be asked and answered in the speakers’ preferred languages.

In the next part, I’ll talk about some themes from the introductory keynotes that are relevant to current issues in Portland.