Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

State and county advocacy agenda setting for biking (walking/transit)

Bicycle Friendly Community Baltimore
Elected and appointed officials of Baltimore City, in a ceremony after having received the City's designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. (Photo source unknown)

Yesterday was the Bike Maryland annual symposium, held in Annapolis. The session features a variety of presentations, and attendees also carve out some time to lobby their local representatives, Delegates in the House, and Senators in the Senate. There is a Bicycle and Pedestrian Caucus, headed up by Sen. Jon Cardin of Baltimore County.

The presentations were excellent. The sessions relevant to state and county/local jurisdictional advocacy were by Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, Kevin Hardman, director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, and Jack Guanieri, president of the Bicycle Advocates of Howard County.

Andy discussed the broad advocacy environment and the Bicycle Friendly Community/State/ Business/College-University programs sponsored by the League. Kevin made very clear that a statewide organization needs to have a very clear vision (what is trying to be achieved) and mission (what the organization's role is and what they work on). Jack spoke about the various efforts his group has worked on in a concerted way in Howard County (although he is fortunate that the County Executive is supportive, and therefore the Office of Planning, DPW, and the Police Department work closely with the organization.

After a conversation with Carol Silldorf, the executive director of Bike Maryland, at the end of the conference, I got to thinking--based on the Bicycle Friendly Community and Bicycle Friendly State approach, as well as the findings of the League on the factors that tend to be characteristic of communities that measure up on the BFC criteria:

- have a bicycle planner
- have a bicycle advisory committee
- have a bike plan

what would the ideal set of criteria be for rating a jurisdiction from the standpoint of a state-wide advocacy group? Better yet, measure this for every jurisdiction, use this framework to guide local advocacy and capacity building, and publish the ratings every two years or so.

Remember what Peters and Waterman say in the book In Search of Excellence:

What gets measured gets done.

The problem is that oftentimes, we aren't measuring the right stuff, so the right stuff isn't getting done.

Stu Sirota of TND Planning Group also gave a great presentation on "A Paradigm Shift to Complete Streets and Complete Places." He pointed to the report released by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy," which focuses on making local transportation policies and practices congruent with sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction initiatives, and how this can be a less expensive strategy than the current road building agenda that normally predominates.

The report rates the states, and Maryland ranks well overall, but Stu pointed out how when you look at the individual data items in certain of the ranking factors, the state has serious gaps and deficiencies in policies and programs.

I prefer to think of these gaps as "opportunities" to improve, both at the state level and the local level.

A statewide organization should have an agenda on at least two levels: (1) a statewide-agenda, covering legislation, executive branch policy and operations (planning, transportation, parks, etc.), and the requirements "imposed" on the local jurisdictions (such as having to create and regularly update a master plan, including a transportation element, requirements for the construction and maintenance of local roads, etc.); and (2) the development and implementation of best practices and support of advocacy at the level of the local jurisdiction.

In short, at the state level, the organization is an advocacy group, and at the local level, the organization is focused on the development and support of local initiatives, and capacity building for interested citizens and advocates.

As far as the ranking factors for local jurisdictions, and my predilection would be to extend this to list to include the support of walking, sustainable transportation, and placemaking overall, although for the purposes of this entry I mostly did not do so, here goes:

- the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive or Master Plan of the jurisdiction appropriately addresses biking, walking, and transit and the integration of land use and transportation policy and practice
- and ideally, the jurisdiction has a separate and robust transportation plan (Arlington County, Virginia has the best example of such a plan in the region)
- with transportation demand management planning requirements and a program to implement them
- a sustainable transportation program located in either or both the Office of Planning and the DPW/DOT
- and bicycle and pedestrian planners
- a bicycle and pedestrian commission or even better, a transportation commission (The City of Rockville I think is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with a transportation commission.)
- a bicycle and pedestrian master plan
- that acknowledges and differentiates between urban/town, suburban, and rural conditions as appropriate
- with a plan and identification of funding for infrastructure improvements
- integrates the parks and recreation department in the program in ways that don't diminish cycling--in other words ensuring that when parks infrastructure is used for bicycling as transportation, that appropriate policies exist to support transportation functions, which are not normally considered part of the purview of a parks department
- lays down the concept and works to develop and implement a county-wide trails-cycletrack network
- a complete streets policy, preferably enacted by ordinance, and extended to all agencies of the local government
- a complete streets implementation program, including appropriate bicycling, pedestrian, and transit design requirements in street design and other manuals
- the inclusion of bike-walking-transit elements within sector and community plans
- inclusion of biking accommodation requirements in zoning regulations and development review
- distinguishing between short term and long term bike parking requirements, setting standards for bike racks including installation, with appropriate requirements for the total number of required spaces for parking
- a support program for installation of bicycle parking, starting with the buildings and facilities of the local government
- maintenance and communication of pedestrian and bicycle accident data, and a systematic program engaging the Office of Planning, DPW/DOT, the Police Department, and the State Highway Administration when appropriate, to analyze the data and make identified changes
- maintenance requirements for sidewalks and bicycle facilities, including snow removal
- a Safe Routes to School policy and program, including balanced transportation planning at the school district central administration level, and bicycle racks at schools (and support for bicycle commuting by staff)
- a comprehensive biking and pedestrian curriculum in the schools (for all levels)
- bike and pedestrian programming in the community (including programs at parks and recreation centers), including community walks and cycling events
- bike tourism promotion (if appropriate) and recognition of the economic development aspects of bicycling, transit, and placemaking
- maintenance of statistics on infrastructure and mapping data in planning-transportation GIS systems (rack locations, miles of signed bike routes and sharrows, bicycle lanes, cycletracks, and trails)
- capacity building and support for sustainable transportation advocacy, existence of local advocacy organizations

This is a pretty ambitious set of criteria. Probably not even Portland and Minneapolis do all of this (although Portland might be close).

But a rating system can be developed, and the communities measured and ranked, and the information collected and reported on regularly. Each report should highlight case studies of best practices around the state, and work to get more jurisdictions to adopt similar policies.

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