Special civic advocates for walking? cycling?

Cities need to offer residents and businesses a variety of transportation options to maximize livability.  Only facilitating automobile travel makes for a polluted, congested, and concrete-freeway-based environment.  Only facilitating bikes or walking in 21st century life and you hamper citizens’ ability to go any distance or carry very much while doing it.   As recently discussed, some argue that a plurality of viable transport options are what make a neighbourhood and city more livable.

So, would city benefit from a special advocate for each type of transportation option?

A professor of Urban Studies at Simon Fraser University believes Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate.  Along with some other dedicated walkers, he’s frustrated by the new bicycle-friendly policy to take over a one vehicle lane and one sidewalk on the Burrard Bridge between downtown and Kitsilano.

Portland Oregon apparently has one (according to the professor) — although in googling to learn more, I could only find out about a paid coordinator for the Willamette Pedestrian Advocacy Committee, which is a volunteer-based community organization to promote pedestrian-friendly policies in greater Portland.

In looking at the dramatic swing to bicycle friendly policy with the new Vancouver city administration (the new mayor is an avid cyclist, commuting by bike to many city events), I’m inclined to think that cities don’t need single-transportation-mode advocates.  Focusing on improving the situation for just one transportation option, can result in ignoring the implications for other users, as the SFU prof notes.

I’d like to see cities embracing a position for balancing citizens’ transportation options.  The holder would be someone knowledgeable and sympathetic to all forms of getting around a city — motor vehicle, bus, metro, street car, bicycle, walking, stroller, wheelchair, etc.  And their role would be to consider the implications of any proposed policies on all of these transportation options.

Cities themselves generate volunteer-based citizen lobby groups for cycling, walking, driving, transit use, etc.  This “transportation advocate” I’m envisioning would also be their liaison to city hall, helping to turn their ideas into workable civic policy proposals that will improve the livability of the region.

Maybe a multi-modal transportation advocate position would be something CEOs for Cities could consider in their efforts to re-envision America’s cities and come up with strategies to help them emerge from this recession or “reset” ready to support 21st century economic, social and ecological needs.


  1. As someone who lives in small town I heartily concur. Sausalito is a magnet for cyclists, walkers and tourists.

    Those on rented bikes often go up onto the sidewalk.

    Uber cyclists whiz by those slower on bikes – sometimes by going and staying in the car lane – and there is not sufficient signage to explicitly explain the rules of the “roads”….

    If there were municipal advocates for those walking a – and cycling alternatives then such people might meet, say at the National League of Cities and state mtgs. to come up with ideas and policies to help everyone get aroun safely and civily

  2. In a paper I wrote on improving the bicycling environment in DC to world class levels (http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/…/ideas-for-making-bicycling-irresistible.html) I suggested that each Ward (DC has 8, but for planning purposes the city is also sorted out into 10 areas) should have a combined bicycling and walking transportation planner.

    DC already has a citywide office of bicycling and walking personnel in the Department of Transportation. (The office also has some responsibility for transportation demand management.)


    I think this is somewhat typical of the big cities. As another example, Arlington County VA has extensive WalkArlington, BikeArlington, and FitArlington “branding” of their efforts in this arena.

    More importantly than this, in my forthcoming paper on transportation policy vision planning, in the organizing principles section one of the tenets is “complete places” which extends the idea of complete streets to the complete quality of life environment.

    Relatedly, one of the suggestions is that city transportation departments add the position of “thoroughfare architect” to the management side of the department, to balance the automobile focus of the chief (traffic) engineer position

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