Re-creating cities for people not cars

Robert Ping

Robert Ping

Making a community more walkable and easier to navigate on a bike or on foot is more than a quality of life issue. It also has an economic impact.

That’s the topic for the Bikeable, Walkable Livable Communities breakout session during the Economic Development Conference: Building a Stronger Nevada, scheduled Sept. 20-22 at University of Nevada, Reno Joe Crowley Student Union. The Wednesday afternoon session includes a bike tour in downtown Reno.

An urban setting that’s bikeable and walkabe will trigger more multi-use developments that include housing and retail, explained Robert Ping, executive director of Walkable and Livable Communities Institute in Portland, Ore., and a presenter for the session.

“Developers don’t want to build on big ugly roadways,” he said in a phone interview with the NNBW.

“By slowing down, it makes it quieter, cleaner, safer and people are more willing to spend more time. It’s a pleasant place where people want to be.

“The tax base is more and a lot more money stays local. Businesses (in multi-use urban developments) tend to be mom and pop stores.

“When people are shopping on their feet, they spend more in the long run.”

Also presenting at the Bikeable, Walkable, Livable session are Noah Silverman of the Reno Bike Project, Kelly Clark of Muscle Powered, and Scott Bigson, with the Regional Transportation Commission Washoe County (RTC).

The session is more than slide shows.

Participants will be transported to the Reno Bike Project in downtown Reno for a biking tour demonstrating what community leaders need to know to make their cities more bikeable, walkable, and livable. Bikes and safety equipment will be provided.

East 4th Street is the starting point for the biking tour and a typical urban street.

Cities, especially in the West, were developed with the goal of getting cars quickly through from suburbs where most people lived to their offices in the city. Streets were built with four lanes and 45 mph speed limits.

“That’s the most common (city street) and the most dangerous, hands down,” Ping said. “Freeways are safer” because they don’t have cross traffic and pedestrians.

For pedestrians, such city streets are like a river that’s hard to cross without a bridge. And they’re dangerous, he said.

To make an urban area more pedestrian friendly, cities need to go on a “road diet,” Ping said.

Roads like East 4th Street need to be narrowed to one lane in each direction with curbs right to the traffic lane, which creates perceived obstacles and slows traffic.

“If intersections are done right, (a car) can still get through in the same time,” he said, adding that it’s a doable engineering task.

“It takes looking through a different lense.”

And the transformation takes time.

In Portland, which is well known as a bikeable, walkable community, attitudes began to change in the 1970s, Ping said, but activism really started in earnest in 1991.

East 4th Street is also a good example change that is beginning to happen. The RTC released plans last year to transform the East 4th Street/Prater Way roadway through Reno and Sparks into a more bikeable, walkable, visually appealing road corridor, as well as to improve rapid transit service. Construction will begin next year.

In January, RTC released its Bicycle, Pedestrian & Wheelchair Data Collection Program Annual Report, which showed a marked increase in bicycle and pedestrian activity in the region.

“Reno has tons of potential and there are good things happening,” Ping said.

The key to sparking change is to educate “elected leaders and people to see the advantages, where everybody realizes it’s a good thing.”


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