Needed: Enthusiasm And Audacity; Promise Big, Deliver Big
UPDATE: The Transportation Elements mentioned below and drafted for inclusion in the city master plan is now viewable below and at the MyWHaT Scribd account.
Almost three months ago, we heard that a community needs to embrace its zealots to create amazing places. I assumed that meant embracing the perpetual outsiders, but a recent study out of The Netherlands suggests that perhaps where the zealots are needed most are in staff positions in local governments.
The report suggests that communities that are trying to achieve higher percentages of bicycling numbers and miles pedaled, do well when there is organizational wide enthusiasm and audacity for the change. The study, introduced with the headline “high cycling percentage mainly a matter of audacity,” summarizes that these traits are the main ingredients for establishing a culture of bicycling, and I presume, walking.
“Ambitious, Coherent and Consistent”
This makes complete sense; we’ve certainly seen and experienced 50-plus years of enthusiasm and audacity in favor of infrastructure built for one mode to travel as unencumbered as possible. A bit of a change of perspective would surely help.
The study is in Dutch, (anyone?)(PDF) but using a Google translator I was able to piece together the crux of the findings. The key to success for the city of Raalte’s bicycle encouragement was an “ambitious, coherent and consistent” program put in place throughout the municipality’s organizational chart. In Raalte, “the bicycle was assigned a major role” in planning with results showing that the implementation for bicycle-friendly policies continues to be “emphatically endorsed and pursued.”
Re-organize the System
Leadership, the leadership with real authority like a city manager, executive director or strong mayor*, can create an organizational culture where traveling by foot, bicycle or non-motorized wheel device or bus is an expectation rather than an extra or a nuisance. The players who control the process play a major role in setting the tone and clarity throughout an organization. We know this to be true: cities with clear goals like “get more people to walk or bicycle” tend to have more people walking or riding a bicycle. The more those goals are compromised and qualified, the more limited the outcome.
UPDATE: The Transportation Elements for the City’s master plan is now included at the bottom of this post or at the MyWHaT Scribd account.
In Traverse City, we too often express our desire for a walkable, bikable community only to have the priorities of those in positions of authority directly compete against achieving those goals. We see this with poor enforcement of rights for bicyclists, planning that includes sidewalks and bike lanes as an asterisk for “later development” and actual engineering/design that discourages walking or cycling. A system wide approach and enthusiasm towards increasing bicycling/walking rates would be welcome here and could eventually be actualized if the community in turn began to emphatically support ambitious efforts by government staff. It’s another reason we need to embrace our inner YIMBYs.
If you get a chance, send a “yes, please” email to the City in support of any current project that you think will encourage active transportation. Or, send a message out of the blue expressing your wish to help bring those projects to the table.
One current topic in need of support is the Transportation Element for the City’s master plan. I was part of a sub-committee that worked on it for the last year and a half. It was accepted for review by the planning commission and is on the consent calendar for the same at tonight’s City Commission meeting. You can find it in the packet beginning on page 29 (PDF).
Another upcoming need for YIMBYs to be supportive for bold and ambitious planning is the 8th Street corridor study public process. We will try to highlight that process when it begins, but you can also send emails to planning commission and the city planner expressing your support for a complete street project.
Contact information can be found at the City website under the heading government.
- Onderzoek fietsnetwerken kleine en middel-kleine kernen (PDF) (Research cycle networks small and medium-small nuclei)
* This is not meant as a dig on the service of Mayor Chris Bzdok or any other Traverse City mayor. Indeed, Bzdok has done more than could be expected considering the weak mayor system that we have. Under the weak mayor system, the mayor doesn’t have executive, administrative duties; those are reserved for the city manager, who is hired by a city commission. Still, we are looking for new mayor.