Just before eight on Thursday morning, a few shamed drivers walked from their cars, past a sizable bike corral and into the Long Beach Convention Center for the last of three days of the Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012 conference organized by the Project for Public Spaces. The 800-plus “zealots” sported a decidedly more casual dress than most professional convention goers. Messenger bags replaced briefcases and bike lapel pins adorned nametags on many of the attendees.
Work group sessions included speakers from bicycle advocacy groups, bike and pedestrian coordinators from municipalities across the country, directors of Safe Routes to School programs and traffic engineers.
Long Beach's success with expanding bike infrastructure was featured prominently in the conference, in addition to the city's new general plan. The plan used decreased parking requirements to lure business downtown and increase density, at a time when density was a dirty word. It looked to cities like Vancouver and Tacoma for inspiration, and called for the first “parklets” – which are street parking spaces converted to parking spaces – south of San Francisco (Long Beach now has three).
Long Beach bike advocate Charlie Gandy urged conference goers to use the city as proof that progress can be made in bike infrastructure. The “most bike-friendly city in the America” touts it’s cycle tracks – or bike lanes protected by street parking or a raised buffer – which make cycling more comfortable for amateurs and safer for all. They also focus on engagement with small, bike-related business owners, including bike event days where cyclists receive discounts at such business, helping to booster community support and bike ridership.
An inspiring closing plenary speech by Streetsblog founder, Mark Gorton, earned a standing ovation from the conference audience. It called for people in “the movement” to take action, not just to walk the walk (so to speak) but to spread the word of how our transportation system is “profoundly backward” and to demand cities built for people, not cars. The persuasive speech, which was peppered with applause lines, called walking “a basic human right” which we all need in order to live a happy and productive life. Gorton blamed auto-centric transportation on social problems from obesity to cyclical poverty (because poor, unemployed people cannot access jobs without a car, and therefore stay poor and unemployed). He showed a graph explaining that car-oriented cities spend a much a larger portion of their GDP on transportation than do multi-modal cities–money that could be spent elsewhere.
He criticized the latest federal transportation spending bill, Map-21, as being entirely too car-centric. He called for “no new automobile infrastructure” and for a radical new view of bike and pedestrian planning that does not assume a marginalized position (as is implied by names like Transportation Alternatives) but a 100 percent share of the community — because humans are the majority.
A witty Mark Plotz, the conference director, announced the location of 2014’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference will be Pittsburgh. The conference heirs boasted that Pittsburgh has the nation’s fourth largest share of bike and walking trips, and a bike ride that includes a 37 percent grade hill.