10 Tools to Tackle Most Any City’s Downtown Traffic and Parking Problems

This post is derived from a discussion given at The Last Stand Neighborhood Forum on Transportation and Affordable Housing on June 9, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. at the Eco-Discovery Center in Key West, FL and has been updated with additional information over the last year. A snippet of video from the event is here .40th-St-Parklet-Small-Version1

Cities small and large across North America want to get more people biking, walking and using public transit instead of driving alone. Why? Because people-friendly, walk-bike-transit places spur economic development and make cities more green, healthy and happy too.

Streets and sidewalks take up 25-50% of a typical North American city’s land. This is a huge community asset. If you use this asset to speed cars around you get one kind of place. If you use this asset to prioritize people instead of cars you get another.

161650What are some of the ideas that make up a people first approach? What tools are useful for cities in using this great asset better? Research shows there’s no one single magic bullet that’s going to fix traffic and parking congestion in a city’s downtown. Rather, it takes a multi-pronged, holistic approach. Here’s 10 Tools that any city may consider doing to increase biking, walking and transit use and decrease traffic and parking congestion:

(1.) Parking Garages

If you need to build a garage for visitors, build it, and keep the congestion off the streets. But build it outside of your downtown district. No need to bring more cars inside an already small, tight and congested area. Do this AFTER you’ve done all the other steps and only if you really need it.

(2.) Wayfinding

parking signsDirect people to garage parking with wayfinding signage so they aren’t hunting all over the place for on-street parking. Help pedestrians and bicyclists too.

  • Develop a truck/delivery plan for the main street so it is less congested with delivery and trash and recycle vehicles at all times of the day. Coordinate the merchants and plan the hours.

(3.) Transit

Transit is an important part of a city’s transportation system.

  • philly phlash

    Philadelphia’s Philly Phlash Circulator

    Downtown Circulator. To make it easy to get around downtown you need better ways of circulating around it. Many cities provide downtown circulators specifically for tourists and the folks who live and work close-in. Make the route easy to understand. Provide frequent service. Make it easy to pay.

  • Maps and Info at Bus Stops. Apps are great, but there is no substitute for putting a map and schedule at every bus stop. Brand the bus stop. Put amenities at the bus stop.
  • More frequency/Simplified system. Successful cities emphasize transit as a first option for the majority of people to get around. Don’t design your system so that only those that have to use it, will. Simplify routes. Increase service frequency. Make it easy to pay.
  • Vanpools and Carpools too. Supplement transit with a robust vanpool and carpool program.

This article points out the importance of frequency vs. coverage: Many Americans Live Near Transit, But Few Live Close to Good Transit. Also visit the Transit Center think tank and the Human Transit organization.

(4.) Bikeways Network and Bike Parking

IMG_1503About 60% of the population would be willing to bicycle, if it were easier and safer to do so.

  • Build a network of protected bikeways and trails and low-stress streets so that people of all ages and abilities can easily go anywhere by bike.
  • Provide ample bicycle parking everywhere people want to go.
  • Teach people to share the road.
  • Slow the cars down by redesigning the streets using traffic calming techniques.
  • Enforce the speed limit.

For more information on best practices in bike networks and bike infrastructure visit www.peopleforbikes.org and their Green Lane project. Also check out NACTO‘s Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Raising the Interest and Reducing the Concern, article by Alex Pines in Strong Towns.

(5.) Carshare

Studies show robust carshare programs increase the amount of walking, bicycling and transit. When you pay by the hour, people are more attentive to how often they drive, and as a result they drive less. People occasionally need the convenience of a car. What they don’t want necessarily is the hassle of owning and operating it.

For more information on carshare visit Car-Free Key West’s carshare page.

(6.) Bikeshare

citibike miamiEven if everyone seems to have their own bike. Even if it’s easy and inexpensive for tourists to rent a bike, bikeshare works because it is in-between ownership and rental. It’s about getting from point A to point B spontaneously. Research show it enables one-way trip decisions. You may walk or take the bus in and decide to bikeshare back. It’s priced so that if used for more than a couple hours it is much more expensive than a rental. Bikeshare is part of a transit system. Studies show bikeshare programs complement walking and transit and decrease driving. Studies show bikeshare is a gateway to more biking and even getting people to buy bikes.

For more about bikeshare visit: Cities Must Understand Bikeshare is Transit, April 17, 2015 and Car-Free Key West’s Bikeshare page. Also visit the North American Bikeshare Association, the  Better Bikeshare organization, and NACTO’s Bikeshare Guide.

(7.) Education and Encouragement Programs

Providing good options, or infrastructure, like transit and bikeways and bike parking is only half the battle. If people aren’t aware it exists or they’re unsure how to use it, they won’t. Research shows you get more out of the investment in transportation options infrastructure by educating people about it and encouraging them to use it. A local example is Car-Free Key West.bike map example

  • Work through Employers/Hotels. One of the best ways to do education and encouragement is through businesses. Especially hotels. A business influences their employees and their guests, with information, how-to-guides and passes. (Local example)
  • Target everyone to share our streets safely. Teach people behind the drivers’ wheel to slow down and share our streets. Teach people on two wheels to obey the rules of the road. And people on two feet too.
  • Encourage visitors not to bring cars to your downtown. But if they do, you want them to set it and forget it and use alternatives to get around once they’ve arrived instead.

For more on Education and Encouragement see this article: 10 Steps to Take 100,000 Cars of DC’s Roads, May 6, 2015; Explanation of Education and Encouragement activities proposed by Bike/Walk Key West during the FY17 Budget discusssions; Car-Free Key West.

(8.) Taxis and TNCs – Transportation Options That Support Bike, Walk, Transit

Research shows that people who use taxis and TNCs (transportation network companies)  – like Uber and Lyft – also walk, bike and use transit more often. Taxis and TNCs support bike, walk and transit because they enable one-way trip decisions. You may take the bus or walk in and then decide you need a cab or TNC back.

For more on how taxis and TNCs support transportation options visit the Shared-Use Mobility Center think tank. Article: Data for the Public Domain, from New Cities Foundation.

(9.) Better Data. Open Data

Historically cities have collected traffic and highway counts. We’ve measured a streets Level of Service or LOS. So to get beyond just cars, cities need to begin collecting pedestrian and bicycle counts. We need to measure how people are getting around, not just cars. And cities need to share this data and ask that all public and private transportation and parking operators publish open data too. This is the only way we can enable better and more comprehensive technology tools and apps.

How open data helps promote transportation options like transit, biking and walking from Mobility Lab’s research.

(10.) Parking Strategies

pay to parkIf you want to encourage more walking, biking and transit and to make a dent in traffic and parking congestion apply the right parking strategies. Manage the parking you have to it’s maximum. Don’t give it away or subsidize it (under-price it), as this works against all the previous strategies.

  • Encourage Turnover for Retail. Metered parking should be tailored to encourage turnover in retail areas to help merchants. People who want to park for longer periods should be directed to longer term parking places. Consider that metered parking reflect location and  time of day/week/season.
  • Discourage Cruising for Free On-Street Parking. Research indicates that in some congested downtown up to 30% of cars are cruising for under-priced curb parking. Good wayfinding eliminates some of this. Right-pricing parking is even better. Given today’s technology from multi-meters to pay-by-cell, it is easier than ever to designate pay for parking spaces too.
  • Residential Permit Parking is intended for resident to be able to park within a few blocks of their home. Zones should be small and only available to people who reside or have a business within that zone. The permits should be priced so that each additional permitted vehicle costs considerably more.
  • Parking Revenue should be returned to the area it was generated in the form of amenities (benches, sidewalks, street lighting, pocket parks, flags, etc.) for that neighborhood and should be used on a broader scale to provide options to driving by investing in transit and bike services and facilities.

car parking pricing nad cruisingAdditional information about parking strategies:

This is a Key West specific bonus:

(11.) More and Better Inter-city Ground Transportation

Options 84 percent of the people coming to Key West to visit get here by car. Airfare is expensive and the ferry and bus service is infrequent. Many of the people who fly in, whether to Miami or into our city directly, then get a rental car. We need to encourage people landing in other cities to take luxury coaches into the city, and encourage people landing here to taxi, transit, bike and walk, not rent a car. See # 7.

So what do you get if you do all this? People First Streets

parkletThink about the places you’ve been and where you love to be. Are these usually full of people or cars? If you do all of these things and you use that great asset of our streets better, you have the opportunity to:

  • encourage more street space for pedestrian only areas and places for people to sit, chat, eat and people gaze. It doesn’t have to be entire streets. It can be parts of streets or even just parklets. Or alleys. Or for a weekend or a season.
  •  encourage complete streets that prioritize pedestrians, bikes, transit and then cars.

 

The bottom line is that if you want to decrease traffic and parking congestion and increase biking, walking and transit you’d want to consider all of these tools. They work together. They support each other. They build upon each other. And doing these makes cities more prosperous, healthy, green and happy.

For additional information please read: 11 Books About Fighting for and Building People-First Cities, February 21, 2016.

11 Books About Fighting for and Building People-First Cities

These inspiring leaders have authored 11 great and recent books on how to design and build walk, bike, transit and people-friendly cities showing us the strategies to make the places we call home more prosperous, green, healthy and happy as a result. Read them and join the revolution.

People and businesses want to be in vibrant, mixed-use, walkable, bike-friendly, transit-accessible, people oriented places. It is well documented that across North America millennials and boomers are moving to these kinds of places in droves. Business journals document companies abandoning car-centric office parks, which just 25 years ago were the wave of the future, to move back to these centers as well. But not everyone can get in. Real estate experts and economists tell us the prices in these walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are sky-high and pricing people out because there aren’t enough of them.

That’s because the traffic engineers and DOTs that control our streets (from 25 to 50 percent of a city’s land area) still use out-dated manuals to design streets for car convenience and speed. Planners are using land-use and zoning codes from an era that forces segregation of uses, abhors density and requires too much car parking. The result? Car-dependent, dispersed and disconnected places. These places, the ones we’ve been building for the last 75 years, make us less healthy, both physically and mentally. They degrade our environment. They cost more to maintain and put a strain on our resources. And they make us less happy too.

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But there’s hope on the horizon. From Vancouver to Chicago to New York City to Houston – yes Houston – and so many places in-between, people are fighting for their cities to get better by pushing back against old-thinking and the status quo. Where once there were wide and speedy car lanes with ample parking day and night, there are now protected bike lanes, bikeshare stations, parklets where people can sit, interesting places for people to walk and prioritized transit allowing more people access to the good life. Where once one was forced to get in a car just to get a quart of milk, now one can find all of life’s needs within walking or biking distance. But these places are few and far between. Lucky for us, the leaders building these better places have written books showing what the future should look like and how to make it happen despite the forces aligned against them.

I’ve devoured all of these books and love each and every one of them. They’ve all been written in the last few years. Some are books about how to make neighborhoods more walkable. Some about how bikes improve places. Others about how transit does the same. Many discuss alternatives to driving. A couple address how technology is transforming our ability to move around. Some counsel how to change old zoning and land-use codes. A few cover the tactics of getting stuff done. And every one of them are written by the smartest, most forward-thinking and passionate thought leaders about cities today.

Each of these 11 books can be read, enjoyed and used by just about anyone. Whether a community activist, city planner, traffic engineer or someone who just likes cities, history, or change. I know you too will enjoy reading them and putting the knowledge gained to use in making your little part of the world a better place.

Happy reading!

 

  1. Start-up City – Inspiring Public and Private Entrepreneurship , Getting Projects Done and Having Fun by Gabe Klein
    Get the book on AmazonGabeKlein.com | Twitter | Wikipedia | My Review
  2. Streetfight – Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan
    Get the book on Amazon | Janette’s work at Bloomberg Twitter | Wikipedia
  3. Happy City – Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery
    Get the book on Amazon | TheHappyCity.com | Twitter | Wikipedia
  4. Walkable City – How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck
    Get the book on Amazon |  JeffSpeck.com | Twitter
  5. Bikenomics – How Bicycling Can Save the Economy by Elly Blue
    Get the book on Amazon | From the publisher |  Twitter
  6. Street Smart – The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars by Samuel Schwartz
    Get the book on Amazon | SamSchwartz.com | Twitter | Wikipedia
  7. Tactical Urbanism – Short-term Action for Long-term Change by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia
    Get the book on Amazon | Mike and Tony’s firm: Street-Plans.com | Twitter
  8. Human Transit – How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker
    Get the book on Amazon | JarrettWalker.com | HumanTransit.org | Twitter
  9. The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup
    Get the book on Amazon | Mr. Shoup’s web site | Twitter | Wikipedia
  10. Straphanger – Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe
    Get the book on Amazon | TarasGrescoe.com | Twitter | Wikipedia
  11. Dead End – Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism by Ben Ross
    Get the book on Amazon | Ben on GGW blog | Twitter

 

Bonus Section: I love and have read the first two of these books. NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) says “NACTO’s publications provide a vital resource for practitioners, policy-makers, academics, and advocates alike.” I agree.

9781610917476

On my Kindle now:

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Bribing Biz is the Old Economic Development. Building Bike Infrastructure is the New Way.

bike lane and bike parking

It didn’t feel right when I heard via the Washington Business Journal that Arlington County, Virginia paid energy company Opower $2M to remain and not move away (Opower to Remain In Arlington, February 8, 2016; Daniel J. Sernovitz). This goes against years of policy of not paying companies in money or tax breaks to stay or come to the County. Arlington had always refused to play the old economic development game of attracting and retaining companies by essentially bribing them. If a company didn’t recognize the jurisdiction’s bona fides of proximity to the capital, great schools, great transportation and a young and educated work force than were they a good fit anyway? With a growing vacancy rate perhaps times are changing.

But could the County have gone another way? Word on the street was Opower’s young Millennial staff was looking for, amongst other things, a more bike-friendly place and the vibrancy that brings to place making.

From Pittsburgh to Chicago, from Salt Lake to Austin, and places like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis, the District and many more, leaders are increasingly fighting the economic development battle by building bike infrastructure which attracts Millenials, and the companies that want them.

What if, instead of sending $2M to Opower to stay, that money was invested in a network of protected bike lanes, Portland style bike corral parking in retail areas and more bikeshare. Imagine the result. Way more people biking and even more vibrant places as a result. Research is increasingly showing THAT’S how cities are competing to attract and retain economic development.

So yes it’s good Opower is staying. But instead of congratulating Arlington for joining the rat race of throwing money after a hot company, perhaps we should ask their leaders why their priority isn’t in doing more of the thing that attracts and retains those companies instead. That would have been a wiser and more cost effective investment in the future.

As a former employee who LOVES my old home, I was very disappointed in this action. I hope in the future, the County’s leaders instead push for more investing in the bike infrastructure that will attract and retain the brightest companies. That’s win-win.

How To “Get Sh*t Done” In the Face of Transportation Bureaucracy

Start Up City Cover

Thank goodness this book is out.

Start-Up City – Inspiring Private & Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, and Having Fun is sorely needed right now. Cities are at the forefront of taking on addressing issues at the intersection of demographics, technology, transport, climate, housing, equity, and health, but are largely ill equipped to respond.

Entrepreneur, bureaucracy-shaker, futurist, and now author Gabe Klein shows us how to make rapid change that will transform cities for the better.

I met Klein back in 2004 when he led the then-fledgling Zipcar operation in Washington, D.C. He was different from others in the transportation space: he had a ponytail, he was passionate, he was unafraid. He didn’t take no for an answer. I loved that!

We struck a partnership between Arlington County, Virginia and his company to put carshare vehicles in the public right-of-way, as Klein writes about in Lesson #6: Bridge the Public-Private Divide. The easy way he teamed with his company’s rival, Flexcar, and coordinated with local government officials made me a fan.

As I watched his career move from Zipcar, to organic food in electric trucks, to leading the departments of transportation in both D.C. and Chicago, I always marveled at the seeming ease with which Gabe got shit done (I’m using his term). He innovated and accomplished more in a few years at each place than his predecessors and successors combined could ever hope for. He inspired bureaucracy to action. I always wanted to know: how did he do this?

In his new book, he generously reveals the secrets to his success, much of which is rooted in his start-up private-sector upbringing. Gabe engagingly walks us through eight lessons in how to get stuff done:

Lesson #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Screw Up and Learn
The desire to avoid failure often leads agencies to repeat well-trodden strategies. Trying new things often yields failure, but with that a teachable moment.

Lesson #2: Manage S.M.A.R.T
To Klein, S.M.A.R.T. stands for “Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time-based,” a series of management principles that help establish clear objectives for one’s team.

Lesson #3: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Creative, large-scale thinking, a focus on the end goal, and an imagination past doubts and obstacles can yield rapid success for big projects that would otherwise take years.

Lesson #4: Sell Your City
Don’t be afraid to market what the city does, including its major accomplishments, and to make otherwise mundane civic commitments fun and engaging for the public (see: Potholepalooza).

Gabe

Lesson #5: Fund Creatively
Make the team familiar with your budget so everyone bears responsibility, encourage programs to find ways to self-fund their initiatives so that they’re more flexible, and focus more on returns on investment rather than “abstract” costs.

Lesson #6: Bridge the Public-Private Divide
Forge solid public-private partnerships by aligning everyone’s incentives, such as profitability and the better service quality that it drives. Klein cites the launch of D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare system as a high point of public-private cooperation.

Lesson #7: Prepare for Disruption
Cities should get out ahead of companies disrupting existing business models, and seek to adapt to these new paradigms. Don’t overreact and attempt to control new disruptors, but rather find ways that you can work with them.

Lesson #8: Drive Change
Autonomous cars could bring a range of benefits to cities in the coming decades, so planners and businesses should think ahead in how to best integrate them into complex metropolitan systems.

Anyone who wants to innovate and create better cities will find these lessons useful.

If you’re in the private sector, you’ll learn valuable lessons on how to think creatively and align your product or program with the public for success. If you’re in the public sector, you’ll learn how to cut through red tape, be creative, and use start-up values to move things forward quickly.

Check it out: I guarantee this book will inspire you to get up, go to work and get shit done.

This review is cross-posted at Mobility Lab.

A Dozen Easy Principles for Public Sector Program Success

This post is adapted from a memo I prepared for my department’s management back in 2013. At the time, the Department of Environmental Services (DES)‘ new Director engaged the services of Denison Consulting to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. DES is Arlington County’s second largest department, with 15 Bureaus and nearly 1,000 full-time, part-time and contracted employees doing everything from transportation, development and streets, trash and recycling, facilities and water/utilities. Getting a handle on this sprawling group and moving it all in the right direction was the goal. A culture survey was given to all employees that Denison measured on four essential traits and twelve focus areas of organizations:

  1. Adaptability: (Creating Change, Customer Focus, Organizational Learning);
  2. Mission: (Strategic Direction & Intent, Goals & Objectives, Vision);
  3. Consistency: (Core Values, Agreement, Coordination and Integration); and
  4. Involvement: (Empowerment, Team Orientation, Capabilities Development).

These are all benchmarked for comparison to thousands of other companies and public agencies across the country. Each of the Department’s 15 Bureaus was benchmarked against each other. My Bureau, the Division of Transportation’s Commuter Services Bureau, stood out as an outlier of amazingly good results. It scored much higher than the other 14 Bureaus and against the other public sector state and local agencies DES was benchmarked against. Something good was happening here! Department management asked me to put together an explanation of why I thought this was so.

It was not a surprise to many that Commuter Services ranked so highly on the Denison Culture Survey. For years the Bureau has been locally and nationally recognized, as one of the most innovative and impactful units of it’s kind in North America. What follows is an adaptation of the explanation memo accounting for the success:*

A Dozen Easy Principles That Have Guided Our Commuter Services Team to Success

  1. Put the Customer First
    We are public servants. We are here to serve. We may work for the government but we pride ourselves on not being bureaucratic and amazing our customers by going beyond their expectations.
  1. Share (Transparency)
    Managers share information (transparency). Sharing fosters responsibility for the program and for each other. Sharing also means don’t be afraid to be real. Share your thoughts, feelings, enthusiasm, credit, ideas and passion. Share yourself.
  1. Invest In Team Building
    Create a sense of “us.” It is okay to have a “them” as it fosters the competitive juices. Learn about each other as people and how what each does at work contributes back to the whole. Everyone must understand and know others have their back! This allows people to “confront the brutal facts” without fear.
  1. Empower, Coach, and Develop Leaders
    Empower people at all levels to take action (see #1). Use the coaching model to teach. Develop leadership within the organization regardless of “supervisory” authority.
  1. Do Emergenetics
    Emergenetics creates understanding. About ourselves, our co-workers and our customers. Emergenetics is way easier than Myers Briggs.
  1. Develop and Sustain a Vision and Mission**
    All staff should be involved. Know the difference between the two. Come back to it often. Everyone is responsible for the mission and for telling the boss when we’re off of it.
  1. Build a Strategic Plan
    Everyone should be involved in the big picture. This should be done every year. Use vision and mission as basis. What are we doing in this next year? Next few years? Better yet do a six-year rolling plan.
  1. Do the Math
    Everyone (transparency) should know where the money is coming from and what it’s spent on. This fosters accountability by all.
  1. Assess Performance, Measure Results
    Did we accomplish what we set out to do last year? Go down the list. Why or why not. Celebrate the successes and learn from what didn’t work. Do this with everyone. Publish reports. Put it on the web.
  1. Invest in Research and Development 
    Ask your customers how you are doing on a regular basis. Ask citizens what they think. Ask businesses what they think. Investigate. Measure. Test. This is about knowledge. Impact. What works? What doesn’t? Why? R&D makes you better.
  1. Foster a Culture of Learning
    This is about knowledge and curiosity. Industry and related best practices. What’s new? What are others are doing that works, doesn’t, and why? Books. Journals. Guest speakers. Seminars. Field trips. Conferences.
  1. Volunteer, Partner and Give Back
    Encourage participation and leadership in trade associations. Volunteer to do presentations and assist at industry invents. Network. Doing these things fosters respect for other’s work. And this makes #3 (“us”) okay. Doing these things always pays dividends back to your organization.
  1. Be Ballsy. (Baker’s Dozen Bonus)
    Just do it. Be unafraid. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask permission.

These principles may seem obvious or simple. And yet often times government agencies of all sizes and at all levels simply fail to do even a few of these, let alone all 12. That’s a shame. I’ve witnessed first hand how applying these principles consistently and over time helped this one local government agency do amazing work and become the highest performing and most respected team in it’s industry. In future posts I’ll chat about how to do or operationalize each of these. I hope others can learn from our lesson.

* It should be noted that the culture that brought about Commuter Services’ success and the development of these principles was made in full partnership with my longtime ACCS Management Team mates: Lois DeMeester, Howard Jennings, Jay Freschi and Bobbi Greenberg
** “Easy Button” was our Bureau’s shorthand for our Mission. All anyone on our team had to do was remember: “Make It Easy for people to use transit, bike, walk and share the ride” and we’re doing our job. An Easy Button was given to each Commuter Services employee when they were on-boarded as a reminder of the unit’s mission.

Streets and Sidewalks Should Be Used To Improve Our Health

Streets and sidewalks take up 25 to 50 percent of a typical U.S. city’s land. New York City, for example, is on the lower end of that scale at 28 percent and Chicago (42 percent), Washington D.C. (43) and Portland, Oregon (47) are at the higher end.

This, believe it or not, presents a huge opportunity for us to address mental health through urban design. Streets and sidewalks represent space that’s largely under control of our city governments. In most cases our local departments of transportation. That means we can do something about it. Now.

Do our local DOTs think of themselves as being in the mental-health business? Likely not. At least not yet.

Take a quick snapshot of some of the existing research, much of it brought to light by The Happy City author Charles Montgomery, on what car-dependent, dispersed, and disconnected places do to our health:

They are bad for our physical health. They add unhealthy pounds to our bodies. They make us more likely to have heart and respiratory issues. They shorten our lives.

Their streets are made for cars and made to speed the cars through. This is unsafe not just for those who bike and walk but for those who drive too.

They cause us more stress. That stress exacerbates physical and mental-health issues.

They make us, especially those of us with longer car commutes, especially to the exurbs, more likely to experience rage, fear, depression and even get divorced, than people who walk, bike, or use transit to get to work.

They make us feel isolated and less connected to one another, which causes us to feel less trusting, and ultimately less happy.

So what can DOTs do about all this horrible news? Lots, especially by thinking creatively and fixing our broken infrastructure one street at a time.


Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who walk over cars. It looks like skinny streets that are nine or 10 feet instead of the standard 12 feet per lane. Two-way not one-way streets. Narrow crosswalks. Mid-block crosswalks. Shortcuts. Paths. Places to rest and for refuge.


Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who bike over cars. It looks like not just bike lanes, but protected bikeways like 15th, L, and M streets in Washington D.C. But we can’t settle for isolated projects. We need whole networks like in European cities. It means bikeshare, because bikeshare is a gateway to more biking. More people on bikes makes it safer for all. It means taking car parking and converting it to Portland-style bike-corral parking in retail areas.


Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who use transit over cars. It looks like we care about people who use transit because we provide amenities like benches and shelters. Real-time arrival signs. Maps. It means painting the streets red and making them for buses only.


Streets for people means prioritizing people who want to shop, eat, sit, chat, socialize, and watch each other rather than prioritizing cars. It looks like the parklets made from parking spaces in San Francisco or the dozens of reclaimed streets turned into pedestrian plazas with benches and tables and chairs in New York City. It means promoting food trucks and pop-up retail.

If your city speaks of “balancing transportation choices” rather than prioritizing walking, biking, and transit, it’s still car centered.

If we make our streets more people centered, and if we help make it easy for more people to walk, bike, and take transit, our cities will be more green. More prosperous. More physically healthy. And yes, more mentally healthy.

As former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn said: “Streets are some of the most valuable resources that a city has, and yet it’s an asset that’s largely hidden in plain sight.”

This article is based off my July 7, 2015 presentation from the recent launch event for the Center for Urban Design and Mental Health in Washington D.C. at the British Embassy.

Main photo by Dylan Passmore. Bike-lane photo by Paul Krueger.
– Cross posted and originally posted on Mobility Lab on July 9, 2015. See more at: http://mobilitylab.org/2015/07/09/streets-and-sidewalks-should-be-used-to-improve-our-health/#sthash.SxD8NeRA.dpuf

Chris Hamilton to speak at Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH)

Meet our speakers: Chris Hamilton

Chris Hamilton is the President of Active Transport for Cities. Previously Bureau Chief of Commuter Services for Arlington Department of Transport, he has been called an ‘active transport guru’. He will be speaking at our launch event on 7/7/15. Learn more and register here.


Where are you originally from, and where do you now live and work?

I was born in Washington, D.C., raised in its suburbs, and currently live in the Bloomingdale Neighborhood near U Street in the District. I just finished 23 years with Arlington Department of Transportation and am embarking upon private practice in my new hometown of Key West.


Which is your favorite city in the world, and why?

I love traveling and my favorite cities include Heidelberg, Vienna, Montreal, San Francisco, Seattle, the District and Key West. I’m moving to Key West in the fall because it’s compact, vibrant and historical. It’s very walkable and bikeable. And you can eat and play outside twelve months a year. We don’t own a car in D.C. and won’t in Key West.

What sort of work do you do around the intersection of urban design and mental health?

I help cities make it easy to use active transport options like bike, walk and transit instead of driving. This makes individuals, companies and places more green, healthy, prosperous and happy.

How did you end up working at this intersection?

In looking for hooks to change people’s behavior from driving cars to instead using transit, biking and walking for commutes and everyday trips, research tells us that people who use these options to car driving are healthier and happier and less stressed. So we use these facts (among others) to market these options.

What particularly interests you about the link between urban design and mental health?

The world is becoming more urban. As the population expands in the coming decades, this will only become more so. We can’t repeat the mistakes of our most recent past where here in North America we built dispersed, environmentally and economically unsustainable, un-healthy car-dependant places. We can reverse this trend. And change is starting to occur in some progressive cities. Recent work and research points out that our physical environment can influence our mental and physical health. City governments have a huge influence over that built environment. Cities control the development approval process and so can influence what and where the private sector builds. And cities control a quarter to a half of our land, depending upon how you measure it, when you account for streets, parks and rights of way. As the emerging mental health research gets better, there’s an amazing opportunity to use this data to help us retrofit and build healthier places.

Can you describe an example of good urban design that positively impacts mental health?

Streets that are built for people. That means streets that prioritize people who walk, bike and use transit rather than cars. It looks like wide sidewalks and protected bike lanes. It means prioritizing public space for plazas, small to large, where we can eat, shop and congregate. These streets are less stressful and more healthy and happy places than car-centric streets. My favorite examples here in the District, because I use them a lot, include the 14th Street Corridor and 17th Street in Dupont Circle.

What sort of challenges do you see in urban design for mental health?

Changing the status quo can be difficult. Especially if that change is seen as taking something away from people who are use to the way life use to be. So every time we prioritize people and take away on-street parking or take away a traffic lane to replace it with a parklet or plaza or for walk-bike-transit space, someone will cry foul. The biggest challenge is the political will to make these changes.

Why do you think people don’t focus enough on the link between urban design and mental health?

I don’t think people focus on it because it’s an emerging science. It has only been recently that planners have realized the connection between the built environment and physical health.

What would you like to see the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health achieve?

That’s why it’s so exciting to see the Center for Urban Design and Mental Health come onto the scene. This new think tank can contribute to making the places we live better by getting us to consider more than the bottom line. In the end, we’ll all be healthier.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisrhamilton


Cross-posted from Meet our speakers: Chris Hamilton, Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH), June 26, 2015

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