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Car dominance is not a uniquely Cleveland challenge, Penalosa assures

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/23/16 @ 2:00pm

“Change is hard,” Gil Penalosa told several hundred Clevelanders, including its leader, Mayor Frank Jackson, at the Sustainable Cleveland Summit this week.

Penalosa worked with his brother, Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Columbia to shift the focus from a single mode, driving, to more equitable transportation choices.

<br />Ciclovia, an open streets event that happens every Sunday in Bogota, Columbia. Image: Bike Auckland.

Like Cleveland, Bogota has a large, low-income population. Penalosa said the difference “is not money; it’s priorities.”

Bogota became world-famous for innovating transportation. It hosts “Ciclovias” every Sunday when cars are prevented from driving on many streets and thousands of cyclists, strollers, skateboarders, and people of all ages come out to exercise and socialize.

"Are we going to build streets for cars or people?" Penalosa wanted to know.

Cities across the globe are rediscovering how streets can be converted to social spaces. Penalosa mentioned New York City's converting a big swath of pavement right in the middle of Times Square from road to public park.

Bogota also provided the template for cities like Cleveland when they built a whole network of bus-rapid transit lines.

The impact was immediate: “Bogota’s BRT system moves more people than 90% of the subways around the world.”

Cleveland is making progress—the Sustainability Summit last year encouraged a group to work on the launch of “CiCLEvia”—a series of “open streets” events that kicked off this summer. A segment of West 25th will be closed to traffic like in Bogota (the next ciCLEvia will take place on October 8). It has helped ideas like The Midway (a protected bike and green way built right down the middle of former streetcar avenues like St. Clair) be taken more seriously.

Penalosa’s consulting firm, 8-80 Cities, works with cities—helping them design for 8 and 80 year olds and others who don’t drive.

It will take more than one year (of Sustainable Transportation) to change 50 years of building an auto-dominated landscape. But, Cleveland is not unique in this regard, Penalosa said. The will to act in big, bold ways is not a challenge unique to Cleveland. The answers can be found in even seemingly small places, like the 70 Mile Cleveland Bikeways Plan.

“I love your Midway idea,” he said, “because everybody will want to use it.”

Most cities focus their bike network on the current biker—typically, an athletic, 30-something male—and should design for the most vulnerable.

“If you only paint (a bike lane) people aren’t going to (use) it,” he warned. “Put the plastic bollards on your 70 miles of bike lanes, and you will have a fantastic bike network,” he urged.

Transit also needs to be a focal point for moving people equitably, environmentally and healthily. “As Enrique says, the civilized city is not one where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transit.”

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