Speaker says cities can be more friendly for cyclists, walkers

Charles Oliver charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com The Dalton Daily Citizen Wed Feb 02, 2011, 09:04 AM EST

Streets are the largest, most important public spaces in any city, says Gil Peñalosa, and what you design them for is what you will get.

If they are designed for cars, you’ll get streets filled with cars, and if they are designed for people, you’ll get people.

Peñalosa, executive director of 8-80 Cities, a Canadian group that promotes walking and bicycling and advocates trails and greenways for walkers and cyclists, spoke to about a dozen people Tuesday night at Dalton City Hall. He showed how cities from Colombia to Canada to Denmark to Mexico have redesigned their cities to make them more friendly to bicyclists and walkers and in the process made them more livable as well.

“Dalton isn’t Copenhagen. No one says that it is. Every city is unique. Every city faces its own different challenges. The goal isn’t to cut and paste what has worked somewhere else. The idea is to adapt and innovate,” he said. “We need to benchmark ourselves against the best.”

Peñalosa said the key to increasing bicycling and walking is to create the right infrastructure.

“We need to create networks,” he said.

In particular, Peñalosa said cities need to separate walkers and bicyclists from vehicles to make them safer. Cities that have created dedicated walking and bicycling paths have seen walking and cycling soar.

Other steps cities can take to make cycling more safe include distinctly marking crosswalks different colors than the rest of the street and putting stop signs at the exits of commercial developments.

Peñalosa said that when thinking about a city people need to imagine a small child that is very dear to them and an elderly person who is close to them.

“You need to ask would I like this child or that elderly person to go to that park or walk that street,” he said.

That’s the origin of the name of the group he heads, which is aimed at making cities safe and comfortable for those from ages 8 to 80.

“We need to stop designing cities as if everyone is 30,” Peñalosa said.

Dalton Public Schools Superintendent Jim Hawkins noted that school system has already begun to encourage more students to walk to school since it had to reduce bus service because of budget cutbacks.

“That was done for economic reasons, but we think we can get other benefits out of it, including helping our students become more active and more healthy,” Hawkins said.

City Administrator Ty Ross, who helped arrange Peñalosa’s talk, said he hopes it will galvanize support for more biking and walking here. He noted the city has already developed plans for greenway trails to link much of the city.

“What happens next is up to the people,” he said.

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