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A Decade of Walkable Strides in Transit Innovation

A new Transit Center report shows what it takes to enact change.
August 3, 2015, 10am PDT | Emily Calhoun
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According to the report, "A People’s History of Recent Urban Transportation Innovation," six cities stand out as innovators in the movement to redesign city streets for people, not cars: New York City, Portland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Charlotte. After half a century of building a national transportation infrastructure almost exclusively focused on accommodating automobiles, over the past decade cities across the country have shifted course, redesigning streets and public spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.

"While this may not seem 'innovative' in the technological sense, that cities would introduce bike lane networks, public plazas, mini-parks, and bikeshare wholesale onto American streets was inconceivable as recently as 2005," the report states.

How did they do it? Sandy Smith describes a three-tiered structure of roles, with citizens at the top. Citizen groups and local planning groups draw up the plans, raise public awareness and elect politicians. The relationship between the mayor’s office and constituents is critical. "By offering candidates energized blocs of voters, the advocates give politicians an opportunity to incorporate innovative thinking on urban mobility into their larger policy agendas," Smith writes.

Smith points out that the local bureaucrats tasked with implementing policies are stakeholders as well. Further, these are the people with the knowledge and savvy to design practical solution models for other cities to emulate. National movements such as the Vision Zero Network will rely on the expertise gained by local civil servants and devise broader strategies based on their successes and failures.

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Published on Friday, July 31, 2015 in Next City
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