Monday, October 12, 2009

A glimpse of progressive transportation

Parents, students walk to Olde Providence Elementary last Wednesday

After my Saturday column about kids and walking to school, I got a meaty e-mail from a reader who lived for many years in Oregon, but who has moved back to North Carolina. She loves it here, but longs for the more progressive planning and transportation options of her former city. She points out:

1. The Safe Routes to School bill passed in 2004 or 5, I think (we moved back to N.C. after 14 years in Lake Oswego, OR, so my memory may be failing me). This bill requires that cities, counties, and school districts all work together to provide safe walking or bike riding routes to school. Many cities/school districts now have route maps; the walking school bus you mentioned is a daily occurrence, and parents who no longer sit in long lines to drop off their children in the car have found that they get to work faster.
2. Every 5th grader in the state now receives bicycle safety training, originally started by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (of which I was a member). I participated in the “graduation,” and was still surprised to witness children giving their signals correctly, stopping at stop signs…and then turning without looking both ways! The trainer said that at this age, their brains cannot fully detect distance, and training in the 5th grade is the perfect starting point.
3. The Bicycle Bill passed in 1975 and requires that anytime a new roadway is built or reconfigured (not resurfaced), that 3-6 ft bike lanes must be added. It’s the law. Statewide.
[Note from Mary: In Charlotte the developers' lobby stoutly opposes city efforts to require bike lanes on collector streets, because of the "added cost" of bike lanes.]
4. “Cycle Oregon” is a yearly, quite expensive, bike tour covering different routes through Oregon. This ride is effectively changing the minds of the anti-cyclist, especially in rural areas because of the way Cycle Oregon has approached the ride. Simply, for each stopover in whatever small town they arrive, that town gets a pot of $$$$$ (comes out of the entry fee). Now towns vie to be a part of the ride and cyclists find tents, food, music, set up for them by the locals and motorists honking and waving, rather than trying to run them down.
5. Each city in the Portland metro region has a transportation advisory board (of which I was a member/chair for several years); and each city has to strive to meet alternative transportation goals set forth by law from the state, county, and METRO (regional government).
6. The Willamette Pedestrian (yes…I was also a member) Coalition is a nonprofit striving for safer walking access.
7. ACTS Oregon is the Alliance for Community Traffic Safety (of which I was a member representing my city), comprising police, fire, EMT, motorcycle, light rail, bus, truck, bicycle, pedestrian, disabled, “safe routes to school,” train, school, city, county, ODOT. Any group interested in moving people safely is welcome to join. In any given conference, members can participate in activities such as sitting in a big rig to understand where the blind spots are, taking a tour by bike in that town to check out their cycling infrastructure, hearing a talk by Southern Pacific on how to avoid train accidents, attending the awards given to police who go “above the call of duty,” etc. Bringing myriad groups together to discuss safety effectively put an end to bickering about whose safety is more important.

The attitude toward cyclists and pedestrians is not perfect in Oregon - do not think I’m talking alternative transportation utopia! There is still conflict. That said, in Portland alone, over 10,000 people/day cross the bridges (counters have been set up for years) on bike/foot to get in and out of the city, and road expansion has been minimized because they’ve added light rail, trolleys, sidewalks, and bike paths. The suburbs are even connected.

Personally, even though we lived in a suburb of Portland, we were able to live car-free for the 14 years there because I could plop my bike on the bus, ride the first leg (fairly dangerous stretch that now has a light rail line with bike access running alongside it—happened AFTER we left), get off the bus at the Sellwood Bridge and ride the rest of the way (2 miles) alongside the Willamette River on a dedicated bike/ped highway. Daily I passed fathers/mothers on their bikes with their children on bikes or carriers on the way to school/work. Those children were ALWAYS smiling!

Sorry to be so wordy; moving back to NC has been a blessing because both our families live here. I don’t miss the rain in Oregon, but I do miss the power that the public had to ensure that every man, woman, and child had safe access, whether they were in a car, on foot, on a bicycle, or in a boat! We also had to buy a car and I’ve gained 10 pounds since I stopped riding my bike everywhere!

Note: I’ve seen a lot of letters to the editor about light rail, cycling, etc., and have never wanted to respond because I’ll get told “move back to Oregon” by other readers. I don’t want to move back, but I would like to see the Charlotte metro region move into the future!

Keep up the discussion!


JAT said...

Thank you, Mary.

That was beyond parody.

Progressive = multiple quasi-governmental entities telling kids how to walk to school.


Anonymous said...

Status quo = relying on highly subsidized infrastructure (roads) for even the shortest of trips

Priceless = actually walking yourself by your own two feet

JAT said...


Centipede said...

Walking to school requires neighborhood schools. That rules out Mecklenburg county

Anonymous said...

Parody = Libertarians advocating that we live hostage to subsidized thoroughfares for our mobility

J said...

JAT - I'm certainly not in favor of governmental entities telling us how to travel. But with the amount of money being thrown around for transportation, it would be nice if there were more meaningful effort to establishing choices. If you want to drive everywhere you go, that's OK. But what's wrong with using some of the transportation dollars to build up legitimate infastructure for other options like walking or trains? I also believe that the more people we have walking or biking, the more drivers will be likely to treat them as fellow humans instead of bugs that must be squashed, the way they do now.

Anonymous said...

If you look up the definition of "freedom," you find: "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action."

Sadly, the presence of such necessity and constrained choice would describe what driving has become to daily American lives. Not exactly a freedom.