How the New Administration May Impact the Livability Movement

By Robert Ping, WALC Institute Executive Director

The world is changing. Well, I know this is a cliché, but it is because it is true – always. Change is inevitable, and change is hard because it can be unpredictable. The recent U.S. elections are proof of that. A lot of people were blindsided by the results, even those who voted for the eventual winners. Dramatic change is ahead in this country, at least for a few years, if not for a long time. Some of us are happy about that, some of us are not.

For those who have been part of the change towards livability these recent changes may be scary, even depressing. But change at the federal level can only go so far. There are states, regions, cities, towns and rural areas, and each one of these can determine much of its own future, with or without federal influence.

The movement towards livability is strong. So strong that I believe it will continue despite what may or may not happen nationally in the near future. Most of this momentum is taking place in cities, of all sizes and shapes. We see this firsthand in the work we do at the WALC Institute working directly in communities and we learn about other successful livability initiatives every single day. I believe we are past the livability tipping point in America.

For example, the Complete Streets movement has been led by forward-thinking cities, by advocates and city leaders who know that people want to be in places that are safe, comfortable and people-friendly. Local successes have worked their way upstream and are inspiring states and those inside the Washington, D.C. ‘Beltline’ to realize that Complete Streets are good for streets, people and economies, as long as we can avoid residential displacement along the way. It is positive change at the community level that has created the momentum.

The federal government is now ramping up to scale things down, so to speak, and many state governments will follow this new, old trend. But I believe that forward-thinking cities can continue to improve livability for their citizens, led by local leaders and community members, even though support from the state and national level will likely shrink. The most livable cities got through the Great Recession with only minor bruises, after all. The cities that haven’t made strides toward livability are working harder to keep from falling behind.

We will see a (temporary) slowdown in federal funding for livability initiatives, but I don’t believe we will see a serious loss of momentum and passion for a more livable future. The world is changing. And good things are going to keep happening--at least at the local level. 


By Robert Ping, WALC Institute Executive Director (Originally published in May 2015 WALC Institute newsletter)

In 1969, eight out of 10 kids walked or biked to school. Nowadays, only three out of 10 do, and the number is even lower in neighborhoods that aren’t “walkable.” What happened? Well, a lot, including that we’ve been building bigger schools, which forces many new schools out onto the edge of town, too far to walk or bike; we’ve become more focused on scary concepts like “stranger danger,” even though rates of violent crime have consistently decreased since 1978, and we’ve built streets and towns to maximize automobile speeds, resulting too often in fast, wide, sprawling streets that don’t feel safe or secure for our children.

But a movement to change all of that has been taking root in the U.S.: it is called Safe Routes to School and it is an approach to creating better walking and bicycling conditions between schools and the neighborhoods they serve, teaching kids how to safely navigate streets, and encouraging parents to let their kids out the door in the morning on foot or bicycle.

Robert Ping, WALC Institute's Executive Director, bikes home from school with his sons.

Robert Ping, WALC Institute's Executive Director, bikes home from school with his sons.

Progress: personally gratifying

My love for bikes started when I was eight and rode a bike for the first time. I felt free and powerful and I loved the wind in my face when I rode my bike. (I also looked super cool with sunglasses, driving gloves, and a stick shift on the bike. Okay, well, at least I thought I looked cool.)

Perhaps this early experience is what sparked my lifetime dedication to improving walking and bicycling conditions for all. Over the past couple of decades I have been lucky enough to help hundreds of communities throughout the country build their own Safe Routes programs, policies and projects; manage bicycle safety education programs that reached thousands of students; direct Earn-a-Bike and riding programs for underprivileged youth; and serve on the congressional Safe Routes task force. These days, I get to travel all over the U.S. and Canada, speaking about walking and biking, and facilitating technical workshops.

Given this, you can imagine how gratified I am to know that more than 14,000 schools nationwide are now participating in Safe Routes to School. This month, the movement gets a shot in the arm from National Bike Month and National Bike to School Day. More kids than ever are walking and biking to school during special bike events this month. Indeed, since the launch of the movement, we have seen a promising shift in how kids get to and from school. For example, in 2004, I managed the launch of Portland's Safe Routes program; it started with eight schools and now includes more than 80. Forty percent of Portland's students now walk and bike to school! It isn't 1969 again, but those are decent numbers, and other communities are making the changes needed to achieve similar, or better, results.

Taking Safe Routes to the next level

The movement has arrived. I think we have hit the national tipping point, frankly.

Now it is time to take Safe Routes to the next level. Building on the many successes already achieved, schools and school districts that already have launched Safe Routes efforts are now ready to tackle issues of sustainability, long-term funding, strategies for implementing future projects, and capturing the outcomes of their efforts and communicating those outcomes to their communities. Some Safe Routes schools already are doing so, and the results are phenomenal.

For those that need help with taking their program to the next level, the WALC Institute is here to help. Through our “Advanced Safe Routes to School” technical assistance and training, we can help schools and school districts achieve their long-term Safe Routes goals. We would love to talk with you about opportunities to work together, or to hear about your success stories. Please call or email anytime. And in the meantime, perhaps we will be lucky enough to see you on the street!

Navigating our streets without sight

By Jeremy Grandstaff, collaboration consultant, S & G Endeavors

You notice, as you get closer to that intersection, that your heart is beating faster than normal. Your hands are sweaty and you re-position your hold on Jack’s harness. Is traffic more busy than normal? No, it’s normal for a Tuesday afternoon at this time. You hear no people walking near you on the sidewalk; all you hear is the traffic whizzing by at its normal 35 miles per hour. It’s hot out, the sun has been beating its sharpness into your brow  for the last 5.5 miles of your walk. Though you can’t see it, you know the day is beautiful, the trails and creeks were inviting, and you enjoyed the walk up to this last leg, when you started down this busy street. You wonder, as you approach the intersection, is Jack just as nervous as you? But why are either of you nervous when this is a normal route for you? You stop and you ponder the situation for a bit.

Jack has been that faithful Seeing Eye Dog with whom you have traveled the country. His spirit, though a little too playful at times, has been a key part of your amazing navigation team for the last eight years. As a blind person, you could have chosen to use a cane, but you chose instead to put your trust in this amazing animal, who, though he can’t find a park bench to sit on, helps ensure that you navigate streets, construction, and even rooms at times, with an increased confidence and style. You’ve traveled to big cities, little cities, and all types of terrain in between. “Oh, if that dog could tell stories,” you chuckle to yourself.

                                                                                                          Jeremy's Seeing Eye Dog, Jack.

                                                                                                          Jeremy's Seeing Eye Dog, Jack.

But, lately, Jack’s disposition has begun to change. He has grown more aggressive in his ownership of the sidewalk lately. He’s grown a bit more nervous and reactionary lately. And though you know that part of this has to do with his pending time of retirement this year, you also have to own that you’ve grown more nervous, more anxious lately too. And, as you stand, thinking, at this intersection, you remember why. It was just one month earlier, that that guy in the 3000 pound car had simply made a right hook turn in front of you. Though he had looked for traffic, he forgot to look back to make sure you weren’t going, and had you and Jack not been so alert that day, he could have ran you right over.

As it turned out, you walked away from that situation with a scrape on the leg, but the dramatic affects had been more than you realized. “At the same time,” you heard yourself remark out loud standing at that same intersection, “nobody gets to take that confidence away from us. No car or no unobservant driver gets to take our independence.” You move toward the intersection, listening intently to traffic, You wait for the light to change, and then as you hear the traffic on your right, parallel to you, begin to move, you give Jack that forward command. You both move into the street. About half way across, Jack stops abruptly, backs up…a car whizzes around you to make that left-hand turn, then Jack moves forward confidently again to finish the crossing. As you walk onto the curb at the other side, you pause to reflect for a moment…

The United States has a commitment to serving all people, whether they have a physical limitation of some kind or something else that is holding them back. During your recent trip to Iceland, you remarked several times at the lack of curb cuts, abundance of small sidewalks, lack of accommodations for wheel chair users, and so many other things that we, as differently abled individuals, take for granted. But, just because we are more advanced in these accommodations doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for more, or further, that we should stop trying to educate drivers that paying close attention to the road is crucial to both your safety and the safety of others who may be walking, biking, scooting, or even wheeling because for them, that is there only option of transportation. You reflect again at the marvel that is where you live and at the several more fights you’ll help to lead, but you think to yourself, as you and Jack press on, that today you got that confidence back by making yourself take on the challenge of that crossing; that car, though it may have taken part of your skin when it hit you, was not able to stop you from being the confident traveler that you need to be, to be the most successful you. Now, if we could just find some way to teach Jack to find those park benches!

Why Women Don't Bike More

By Amy Carver, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

There are several studies and articles circulating regarding the gender gap between U.S. men and women riding bicycles. I've found by reading several of them that the actual statistical numbers and the differences between them are not consistent; although not too far off base either. The numbers vary, because study groups and sources vary. What one can take away from the articles is that the majority of bike riders are, in fact, still men. Now times are a'changing folks and that gap is becoming narrower as some places are making bikeable and walkable environments a priority.

I do have a dirty little secret to share with you  though. Although I work  for and support the walkable and bikeable movement, I am not a bicycle rider. Cue the shocking music, "Dun, Dun, DUUUUUUN." How can I possibly work for an organization that promotes and advocates for biking and walking, but not ride on a consistent basis? The answer to that question is not that dissimilar to the main reason provided by most of the articles I read regarding why women do not bike as much as men.

I will begin by telling you that the main reason I don't bike is not because I don't like to sweat which is what a great deal of articles like to point out as a formable reason women don't bike, and for some of the female population this is true. Notice I write the word "sweat."  I don't subscribe to the theory that women just perspire folks, we sweat! For me,  I'm also middle-aged and live in a southern state so I can attest I do a great deal of it most of the year just by walking out my front door.

I'm also not apprehensive about biking because it causes "bad" hair. With naturally wavy and frizzy hair (that I cruelly subject to a straightener on a daily basis),  I have bad hair days to begin with living in a humid environment and it ends up in a ponytail most of the time. So we can cross that reason off my own list.

Sadly, the reason I don't bike is because I just don't feel safe doing it. The community I live in does not provide an environment for biking safely, which is a shame. A true shame. I live off both a major thoroughfare, connected to a main highway and on my side of the street there are no bike lanes or sidewalks in which to ride. I'd have to ride at least four blocks taking my own life (or children's) into my hands while sharing a car lane or a narrow few inch strip before I reach a crosswalk that will allow me to safely get to the section of road where I could ride safely. A person could argue, well then you should not have chosen to live there then if walking and biking was important to you. For me, as a single mother raising two young children, I did not have an economic choice. The place where I live is not a tree lined, white picket fence place, but it is safe and an affordable place for my children and me to to reside. In fact, my current community is a mix of single moms, senior citizens downsizing and young couples just beginning their lives together, a perfect mix of demographics of people that would want to bike and/or walk to grocery stores, shopping and schools. 

View from front of auther's community

View from front of auther's community

I almost feel punished because I can't do my part for the environment or my body by leaving my car at home and using pedals or feet to run errands or take my kids to school. Thankfully, I work from my home office so I don't have to worry about using a car for work purposes. No, because of my safety concerns, I can't  bike or let either of my children bike or walk to school so a car it is. To ride for recreation, I must drive at least a mile. Where I live also does not foster an environment for walking or biking for all their residents, but it does for the families that live in those white picket fenced, street lined homes. Shouldn't the ability to bike and walk be shared by ALL people?

The bottom-line is that women, in general, consider safety to be the number one factor as a reason they don't bike.  The good news is that because more and more communities are realizing the benefit of a livable community, more are working on making safe bikeable streets a priority. More women than ever before are strapping on their helmets and getting on their bikes and before long, we may even tip that gender gap in our favor! 

Are you a women who would like to bike more? If you don't, why don't you?

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, please click on the links below:

FiveThirtyEight - Why women don't bicycle
People for Bikes - New study on women's participation reveals insight
NY Magazine - Why more women don't bike


Healthy Design for Healthy Main Streets and Healthy People

By Amy Carver, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

Mark Fenton, a senior consultant with the WALC Institute, recently delivered a training session to a group of Main Street managers and volunteers from 35 communities across Oklahoma on the topics of healthy community design and the importance of walkability in main-street environments. 

For more than 25 years, Oklahoma's Main Street program has been pumping new life back into the heart of communities across their state by combining preservation and downtown revitalization efforts with powerful economic stimulation. Mark provided an engaging and informative seminar which focused on healthy design in communities.

Use the button below to view Mark's August 6, 2015 presentation.

People in Wheelchairs are Pedestrians Too!

People in Wheelchairs are Pedestrians Too!

By Amy Carver, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

My nephew, Christopher, is one half of a fraternal twin set. He was born two minutes and thirty seconds prior to his sister. Other than their genders, the other difference between the two siblings is that Christopher was born with Cerebral Palsy. Although the disease has impacted him having the proper use of his legs, and one arm it does not affect his mind, his ability to feel deeply or his sparkling personality.

He is fourteen now and growing like a weed; he is tall and lanky and because of this is already fitting into a full-size wheelchair. I do need to point out though, having wheels as his main mobility device has not slowed my nephew down. He played baseball for six years with his local Miracle League and rides a horse every Saturday (rain or shine) with a therapeutic horse riding group called Horse and Buddy. He creates signs with his sister to display at the mini-fundraisers he holds for the organizations he participates in and has also been known to occasionally DJ, on his karaoke machine, for neighborhood functions.

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It's Heating Up in Des Moines

It's Heating Up in Des Moines

By Mark Fenton;

(Originally published on June 25, 2015)

I got my first taste of summer on a trip to Des Moines June 18-19, with beautiful sunny days and temperatures and humidity giving a tiny taste of what’s to come in July and August. These kids in Des Moines’ lovely downtown park are already figuring out how to beat the heat!

But what’s really heating up out there is the focus on building more walkable, livable communities. Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield was my host for two busy days, and their involvement illustrates three important steps forward. Walk, bike, and healthy community advocates should be ready to move decisively to capitalize on these critical trends.

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Jim Oberstar Inspired Many to "Seize the Moment"

Jim Oberstar Inspired Many to "Seize the Moment"

By Rich Killingsworth, President of the Board, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute

(Originally published on May 9, 2014)

When I first heard the news of Former Congressman Jim Oberstar’s passing this past Saturday, I felt a deep loss. But just as quickly, the fond and amazing memories of him swept over me. 

There are few moments in my 50 years of walking, running, and cycling on this planet that I recall as vividly as the day I first met Congressman Oberstar. It was March 17th, 2000 at the Sea Otter event convened by Bicycle Retailer Magazine. At the time, I was a young health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and was blessed to represent an emerging initiative in public health that would eventually be the catalyst for a national movement—active living—that we hoped would slow the tide of growing obesity. I was scheduled to give an opening presentation, and Jim was scheduled to follow me. Right before my moment to speak, Jim said a few simple words to me that gave me the courage to challenge an industry to do something very big. He reminded me that I had the key executives from the major bike brands in front of me and said, “Don’t lose the moment. Seize it, and enable them to do something that will be meaningful for this cause.”

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