“We have learned how to survive, now we really need to learn how to live.” –Gil Penalosa at the Carfree Conference last Tuesday
I have finally gotten a chance to upload my audio recording of Gil Penalosa’s keynote address to the Towards Carfree Cities Conference at Portland State University last Tuesday.
Penalosa’s speech and presentation garnered a standing ovation from a room full of the best and brightest minds in the international livable cities movement. His words — spoken in the context of a major shift in the transportation mindset of city leaders throughout the world — were the perfect way to kick off the five-day conference.
Yesterday, after the final day of programs at the Carfree Conference, I took a ride on the riverfront with Gil Penalosa (we were joined by Ian Stude, transportation options coordinator at Portland State University).
Penalosa was Bogota, Colombia’s parks commissioner when that city underwent a massive urban transformation and he is now sought worldwide for his expertise on how to create vibrant and successful public spaces. He has also observed the bikeways and urban design of many cities throughout the world (for more, read this bio).
We rode from PSU, over the Hawthorne Bridge, then north on the Eastbank Esplanade to the Steel Bridge.
“I find it amazing that there is so much conflict between bicyclists and pedestrians. We should be best friends.”
Penalosa — dressed in a coat and slacks — rode at a snail’s pace, snapping photos and stopping to observe things along the way.
As we rode, he directed a steady stream of questions at Ian Stude and I. It was as if he was trying to create a mental inventory, going down a checklist of things that would help him better understand the context of bicycling and public spaces in our city.
He wanted to know: if congestion on the Hawthorne and Esplanade paths was an issue (it is), when the Esplanade was built, why it was so narrow, if we allow drive-thrus (he said some cities have banned them), what kind of mayor Sam Adams will be, what the bike mode share is at PSU, whether or not the students get a parking subsidy, were homeless people a problem, was bike theft a problem, and so on.
At the end of our ride, I asked him about his impressions of the Eastbank Esplanade and about the perils of mixing bikes and pedestrians on such a high-volume facility.
During his inspiring keynote speech at the Carfree Conference yesterday, Gil Penalosa gave Portlanders a lot to think about.
Penalosa is the former Commissioner of Parks, Sport, and Recreation for the city of Bogota, Colombia. During his tenure, he transformed that city (population 7 million) by creating hundreds of acres of new parks, developing a connected network of greenways (linear parks) and bike paths, setting up an ambitious public transit system (utilizing Bus Rapid Transit) and establishing the “Ciclovia”, a carfree streets program adored by millions of Bogota residents each week (and by urban planners around the world).
Penalosa (I previously wrote about his brother Enrique) is the former Commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation for the city of Bogota, Colombia. During his tenure in the late 1990s, he led a two-year transformation of their ciclovia program from eight miles and 140,000 riders each Sunday to 70 miles and 1.5 million riders!