Ping Participates in St Louis Placemaking Workshop

by Robert Ping, WALC Institute Executive Director Robert Ping

I recently got to travel to St. Louis, Missouri to attend the New Partners for Smart Growth conference, hosted by the Local Government Commission. The Local Government Commission took advantage of the presence of walkability and livability experts from around the country to have an impact on this great region that is experiencing population stagnation and even shrinkage. Some of us were invited to participate in a locally-sponsored workshop in St Louis to help selected neighborhoods become more livable and walkable.

The workshop was the culmination of the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) “Neighborhood Challenge”. Livability experts worked closely with one of three different neighborhoods in St. Louis, each with a specific challenge they wanted to address — using arts in their placemaking efforts. Each neighborhood received $2500 in seed funding to help them implement the action plans that we helped them create during the workshop.

My team was from the West End neighborhood, an under-served area of strong African-American heritage that is being squeezed by high-income development on several sides. The goal of local champions on my team was to:

·      plan for a brand and identity that would help to preserve their history and culture (an artist participating in the workshop created an inspiring “WE” design that stands for ‘West End’ and for the people of the neighborhood standing together as a collective ‘We’),

·      imagine partnerships that would help bring lenders into the neighborhood who wouldn’t ‘red line’ black investors and potential home owners, and

·      imagine a wayfinding system that would bring attention to this neighborhood and its substantial community assets, such as stately homes, a new light rail line and shopping center, a hospital redevelopment, and the St. Vincent Greenway segment, part of the regional Great Rivers Greenway network.

What an impressive neighborhood team I got to work with, and what a fun and productive workshop! Even though St. Louis, and especially the West End neighborhood, struggle to be economically sustainable and vibrant, there is a distinct positive spirit within the group of local leaders who are spearheading efforts in the West End neighborhood. I was supposed to be the one to inspire them with what is possible from a technical standpoint, but I think that they may have inspired me even more with their commitment to the health and well-being of everyone in the West End, and their determination to make it a better place to live, work and play.

I continue to stay in contact with them, and hope to see their action plan become reality. The West End deserves it – The West End is the Best End of St. Louis!

Poke what?

by Amy Jacobson Carver, WALC Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

My family is always the one that appears to arrive "late to the party" and what I really mean by that is, we discover fads or "new fangled stuff" typically on their way out. To provide you with an example, my folks still used flip phones up until two years ago. In the past year, they actually invested in their first iPhone. Let me explain a step sister is nine years older than me and because of that we BOTH got to participate in the bell bottom fad. I had to wear her hand-me-down bell bottom pants from the '70's when I was growing up in the '80's when all my friends were rock'in their Jordache jeans. Needless to say, I  really was never considered "cool." Still not according to my children. In many ways, I was taught to ignore "fads" as they never lasted. How many of you remember Member's Only jackets and those funky parachute pants?

I remember when I read my first Harry Potter book (I was 38 years old), I thought I had unearthed the most amazing adventure EVER (I don't get out much I guess).  My son was in first grade and hated to read so his teacher suggested I try something different and I had heard about this Harry Potter dude from a bookstore. I was told these books involved witches and wizards. I was hesitant to let my son read it as I was under the impression it was something like Dungeons and Dragons, but I decided to give it a try to see if it might encourage him. Well, low and behold, I was the one that ended up devouring the first book and running out to purchase the rest of the series which took me a total of three months to complete.

I will never forget posting a message on my Facebook page proudly telling people how much I loved the new Harry Potter books and then one of my friends snuffed out my enthusiasm by making the snarky comment, "welcome to the '90's" (it was 2010).  So when I heard about this new "revolution" called Pokemon from my now 13 year old son and about how he REALLY wanted to play it, I didn't really understand what the big deal was. What the heck was a Pokemon and why did it need to go anywhere?

Then, one day we were at a park and I saw several groups of people out walking with their phones out, but they weren't just staring at their phones like zombies. Low and behold, they were interacting and moving around together from place to place. I even saw a few "non-conformists" venturing off in a different direction from the pack in order to "capture" something no one else had yet. I was fascinated and because of that curiosity I used the one technical go-to fad research thingy I know. They call it "Google" and so I typed in the words "Pokemon Go." And go that search engine did.

Up popped all these articles about how Pokemon Go was getting people off their couches and outdoors. How "Pokemon Go" single handily was making people actually walk to places so with that I said, "yes," go forth and download my son. And download he did. Now, not all of these Poke stops for these Pokemon are convenient for us, but when we are in larger places such as a public park, theme park or mall there are Pokemon balls and something called gym a plenty, spread through-out the area.

 My son teaching his grandmother how to play Pokemon Go.

My son teaching his grandmother how to play Pokemon Go.

My kids like to show me map overview of all the bounty of pokeballs they can collect. Their eyes light up as the virtual hunting begins.

The geek in me needed to know and understand how these Pokemon locations were chosen so I used that awesome tool "Google" again and discovered that public places are the norm for these characters as more people convene in pubic areas.  Seems logical. This is why you'll spot these little critters at museums, historical places, malls and zoos.

The administrators of this game try and keep the Poke stops and  characters away from roadways; however there still is a safety factor involved including folks who try and use their phones will they are driving. The app will discourage users by popping up a message that tells you are going too fast, but then asks if you are a passenger in a car. I know this because I decided to play with my son's app when I was the passenger in a car to see how it responded. 

I do understand where they are going with this; however I'm certain some drivers will lie and tap that "ok" button anyway. It's just as dangerous as texting and driving. This puts drivers, car passengers, pedestrians and anyone else in that general area at risk.

After watching and playing this game, I'm not certain if I would describe this new Pokemon Go as craze, a fad, or even a phenomenon. What I will say is that it has encouraged people who otherwise might just stay inside to get out, walk around and experience their surroundings. Maybe even meet some new folks as I've witnessed complete strangers bounding over finding a Lapras (look it up).

Some of these folks have even lost a few pounds. If you have been fighting it like me, give it a try. The worse thing is that you step into the light for a little while.

Why the perception of walking and biking should change

By Amy Jacobson Carver, WALC Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

I love listening to my mom's stories about her youth. She grew up middle class in Duluth, Minnesota. My grandparents were not wealthy folk. My grandfather owned his own grocery store with his brothers. My grandmother stayed home and raised their three kids while also canning and pickling her homemade goodies which she would store for months in their basement. When I was a little girl, I remember being asked to retrieve certain items from her basement and as I descended into the darkness, desperately reaching out for the old dangle cord that would help provide a minor warm glow in order to navigate my way down the stairs, I remember looking over to my left to see all the cans and glass jars lining her banister and trying to figure out which one my grandmother wanted me to grab and bring upstairs. I was convinced monsters lived in her basement so the terror of that clouded my ability to locate what was needed and FAST.

My mom is now in her eighties. I cherish her stories as they provide me with not only a glimpse of my relatives that passed before I was born, but also how life was for her. My parents raised me in a place which required us to drive everywhere we went. When my mom was young, she walked everywhere she went whether to school, to the market, to her friend's houses or to shop, and most of the time, she was unaccompanied by an adult as far back as at the tender age of five. Most like to say, "well things were different back then" and yes they were in so many ways.

Like her brother and sister and friends, my mom walked to school a little more than a 1/2 mile each way and she actually did that four times a day in rain, sleet, hail or snow. If you aren't aware, Minnesota has a LOT of snow. Snow boots are a necessity. Where my mom lived, kids always went home for lunch unless there was a blizzard and then they were permitted to stay at school only if a parent could not come get them on those days, so by the time my mother was home in the evenings she had walked more than two miles.

 My mother on the far left with her cousin and brother.

My mother on the far left with her cousin and brother.

Walking to school was the normal thing to do for my mom. She really knew nothing different. It was just a part of her day, her routine. She told me she never complained about it, it just was the way it was. My grandparents had one car. My mom might have been dropped off, but that was just not the norm of the time and where they lived. You walked where you went plain and simple. You played outside until dark or until you heard your mom scream for you to come in.

Today, many schools and businesses are built further from neighborhoods. Developers choose the "convenience" of cars over experience of using your own body motion. Everyone has their own reasons as to why they can't walk, bike or roll to get from point A to point B, but for some, especially those in lower socio-economic areas there may be no choice. Walking, biking or taking the bus is their only option. Believe it or not, some people just don't own cars. Many because they just can't afford one.

In many places, walking and biking is not safe for residents. Why? People just want to be able to walk out their front door without fear of being run-over or maybe shot at. We have forgotten or ignored populations that must navigate broken sidewalks, lack of crosswalks and dimly lit streets. Shouldn't everyone have the right to walk, bike or roll so they can learn, work or play and feel safe while doing it? Shouldn't everyone have the right to accessibility regardless of what is in their pocketbooks or wallets?

There is a stigma though regarding those that walk or bike to school or work. For many, the perception is that walking and biking is strictly a poor person's mode of transport, but in my perspective it is a smart person's. If more people thought of walking and biking as a privilege rather than an inconvenience, my guess is the tides would turn. What if the norm for our kids was to lace up their tennis shoes, sling on their back pack, step outside the front door and actually get to walk to the school or market? Maybe they'd have to get up 15-20 minutes earlier, but that is something they could get used to.

At WALC Institute, our philosophy is that if you build more roads, you get more cars, but if you build more sidewalks and bike lanes, you get more mentally and physically active people. You shave off a few extra pounds. Your blood pressure goes down and you even get to meet a few neighbors. Maybe, we need to take a few steps back in time in order for us to move forward.

The A, B, C's of a Health Impact Assessment

By Chris Danley, WALC Institute Field Partner, Alta Planning & Design

What’s old is new again. Let’s not forget that the planning profession is rooted in consideration of public health. Our country is again facing significant public health challenges, albeit very different ones than 100 years ago. It’s time to answer the bell.

Think about this…why do the windows in your home open? To enjoy a breeze or the smells of a spring day? Sure. But the real reason is because ventilation and circulating air prevented the spread of communicable disease like typhoid and influenza. Even sunlight itself was not a building requirement until the values of daylighting were determined. Now windows and opening windows are common characteristics of residential living spaces all thanks to the bond between public health and planning. How many lives would have been saved and how would housing be different if medical professionals, designers, and other community stakeholders thoroughly evaluated tenement housing using a systematic process? Cue Health Impact Assessments.

Health Impact Assessments have been around formally for nearly 20 years and used throughout Europe. They have been used in the US for over a decade with the lion share of efforts conducted over the past five years. Traditionally, the HIA process is used to evaluate a policy, plan, program or project. HIA’s are now becoming common practice in many cities but many others are still learning about the merits and challenges of using the tool. For most cities, dipping their toe in the HIA waters has been fruitful. One key to this success is to recognize that an HIA does not have to be expensive, resource heavy or onerous. If the process is focused, has established goals, and is truly inclusive, the findings should be extensive.

Having led 15 health impacts assessments in three states and on several topics, I can tell you that being nimble, creative, and trusting in the process has been some of the key hallmarks of impactful assessments. HIA does have six specific steps and several required elements. However, by using engaging techniques, framing key data and by thinking outside that pesky box, community members, health professionals, and key stakeholders often walk away realizing how what is being proposed impacts health, what they can do about it and how they can work with others in ways they never imagined.

  •  In Boise, the building design and program offerings at a branch library were changed as a result of the assessment.
  • In western rural North Carolina, an entire region realized the dilemma they faced with sustaining regional and local food production and immediately began work towards ensuring a solid food systems network.
  • In Utah, the key projects in a bicycle and pedestrian plan were reprioritized because of the HIA, specifically because of the social equity and disparate population’s analysis component.
  • And is Asheville, New Belgium brewery paid for the design of a greenway after they saw the value of such a facility when an HIA determined the importance of a critical segment and what it did for the residents nearby.

HIA’s use qualitative and quantitative data, this is key. Numbers are helpful and can be objective, show things like costs, forecasts, equity statistics, or other critical metrics. But stories, observations, field assessments and anecdotes can give a sense of humanity. Mixing together both approaches is essential to a good assessment and help appeal to a larger audience. Assessments can also be done comprehensively, intermediately or rapidly. Not biting off more than can be chewed cannot be stressed enough. When cities have bad experiences with HIA’s, it typically results from an overly complicated, expensive and unfocused first outing. Knowing what is desired, what is affordable, and what outcomes are the measure of success needs to be articulated and repeated before any time is spent assessing.

If you are new to HIA, a few things for you to consider:

  • Make your first HIA on a topic that you expect to find significant research Identify one or two key goals and objectives and stick to them
  • Don’t limit your definition of “health” to physical health alone
  • Ensure your efforts match your time, budget and if you need help, ask for it
  • Make sure the project manager is dynamic and gets that balance between data and insight
  • Engage those who decide on the findings and make them part of the process
  • Be sure to assign responsibilities to partners for monitoring purposes

Health Impact Assessments are very helpful when done right. Trust in the steps, dig for understanding, challenge stakeholders and you too will find success.  


I have to drive to a walkable and bikeable area

By Amy Carver, WALC Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

The weather is finally turning in Florida. Dare I say jacket weather? Well, for those of you who aren't native Floridians you won't quite understand why we feel the need to pull out our winter jackets once the thermometer hits 70 degrees. When the local weather person announces that the high will be close to seventy, I've literally seen women wearing Ugg boots the next day. The heavens open up, the birds sing and we rejoice for a break from the heat. 

This is what I would call "theme park" weather here. Not to hot and not to cold. Perfect days to be out walking or biking. My small family of three (myself and two kiddos) would love to be taking advantage of being outside and being active, but we can't. We don't have a yard where we live. We don't have sidewalks to walk down unless you include the ugly ones outside of our condo that really lead to nowhere, but the next condo building. No, in order for me to actually get to a safe walking area surrounded with activity, people AND beauty, I have to pop the kids into the minivan and drive ten minutes.  

Just over the bridge from our island is a quaint little village that includes trendy shops, restaurants, art schools, a park with a stage, lots of live entertainment, coffee houses and it all overlooks the beautiful Indian River Lagoon. We have now visited this "little oasis" for the past four weekends in a row. Sometimes even on both weekend days because it is one place where both my daughter and son can agree on. It's also a Pokemon haven so my oldest enjoys walking around to collect Pokeballs and various little critters which I will never understand why he is so interested in.

 Walkway next to park with view of water and some housing in background.

Walkway next to park with view of water and some housing in background.

Two weekends ago, I was lamenting about how perfect this place was as I was sitting on a picnic blanket on a huge open grass area that includes a stage where community concerts are hosted. I was nibbling on a sandwich I packed while watching my daughter happily doing numerous cartwheels in the grass while I also watched other families playing catch, kicking soccer balls around, walking their dogs. I could also hear other kids voices from the playground area just adjacent. It was my utopia. I pictured myself living in one of those small houses by the water or in an apartment above one of the cafes where I could just walk down a few stairs and enjoy a brisk morning walk with my miniature schnauzer, but then reality hit me hard. As much as I love this beautiful area where my blood pressure literally goes down, I can't afford to live there. Quite frankly, I can't afford to even dine in the restaurants that line the walkways. I started to feel sad and a bit upset that this utopia could only be available to my kids and me just on a visit. By the time I could save enough for a down payment to live there, my kids will be off to college and it would take every penny I had.

 Children playing at the playground located in the village.

Children playing at the playground located in the village.

The island I live on was built with really no rhyme or reason it appears. We are located adjacent to a huge tourist area and yet, we do nothing to help increase the traffic from that area to ours other than having a bus system. Every structure is built far apart. You may have a church, walk a few blocks, then a strip mall, walk another few blocks and a restaurant, walk another block etc. In between some businesses you have abandoned buildings that have seemed to sit there for years unoccupied. There is really no central gathering place other than a mall which just went bankrupt. Stores are closing by the minute it seems. It's all really a shame. 

We have no safe walking or biking paths. Where sidewalks begin, they end just as quickly and pick-up in another spot. Our parks on not connected. In order to get from one to another you must drive on busy roads or take side streets if you can find them. If we have walking paths, they are quite hidden and only available at local parks you must drive to. My little town has a population of less than 40,000 people and it is an eclectic mix of seniors who have lived here all their lives to young families and those that may have discovered us on vacation. The area on the island that has "money" is finally getting a road diet and placing bike lanes in; however the section is so very small. Maybe a beginning? Maybe some hope? For it to reach where I physically live it will take a great deal of time and community or private investment. So what can I do to get the ball rolling as one person? 

My next steps will be to connect with others that have the same vision. Connect with people and provide ideas on how a step towards envisioning livability can benefit not just the minds and spirit of the community members, but the pocket books of our local area businesses. Sometimes it just takes people realizing what investing in themselves and their community really can do. Maybe I'll work with a few local area businesses and create a pop-up event that would include bike lanes. Maybe I'll share with a local representative of the benefit of opening up one of those abandoned buildings and hosting a farmer's market. 

Sometimes, it takes more nudging. The WALC Institute believes in showing people what is possible. I am my own advocate for my community, for mine and my children's futures. I personally subscribe to "if they will build it, they will come." Not everyone can understand what the potential can be of an area until you show it to them. Spell out the domino effect. Take them by the hand and lead them to the vision. I may not see huge change in the short term, but every journey begins with one step. I just need a few more people who want to walk with and beside me.

So what about you? What are you going to do to bring change to your community? What do you think is possible?

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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