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11222Re: Only in America....

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  • gus_yates
    Mar 4, 2009
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      I recommend that we not spurn "Safe Routes to School" or "Safe Routhes to Transit". Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of examples of lip-service projects that waste a lot of money and accomplish nothing. The same can be said of many carfree pedestrian streets or malls that were ill-conceived and unsuccessful(typically due to single-use design: retail) and that set a bad example for what we are trying to achieve.

      The Carfree conference in Portland changed my thinking about the value of small incremental steps toward carfree cities. For several years, CarFree City USA has been striving to jump straight to a full-fledged carfree project (neighborhood scale or larger). We have been completely unsuccessful. Altering land use in an urban setting is extremely difficult and expensive. In seeking this quantum leap, I tended to pooh-pooh small incremental changes or one-day events as not really altering the status quo. This included carfree days, critical mass, cyclovias, bike boulevards, safe routes to schools, complete streets, changes in parking requirements, new urbanism, etc.

      In Portland, I noticed that all the success stories were with these same incremental changes. And more importantly, they tended to change the most important thing of all: people's minds. When a kid realizes they can bike easily to school, they wonder why they shouldn't be able to bike easily everywhere. When a non-cycling adult dusts off their bike to check out a cyclovia, they realize that bicycling is fun and that the sky doesn't fall if the cars get pushed out of the way. These incremental changes expand the collective awareness of possibility and add to broad social support for alternatives to driving. That support is a prerequisite for bolder steps, like converting blocks and neighborhoods to carfree.

      So rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, World Carfree Network and all of its member groups should support incremental changes like Safe Routes to Schools. Rather than criticize, we should promote ourselves as experts and offer design advice so that the projects are successful and worthwhile.

      Gus Yates
      CarFree City, USA
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