On Pedestrians and Democracy
by Marisa Novara
I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy lately (and its not because of debates between Republican presidential candidates). It’s a different take on democracy, and it’s courtesy of Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. He used the word liberally in his remarks to the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian Safety on August 17th. While he was in town that day to help MPC unveil its Bus Rapid Transit study and recommendations for a 10-route network, we couldn’t pass up the chance to arrange for him to address Alderman Margaret Laurino’s (39th Ward) committee. Although ‘address’ may be too passive a word – it’s more accurate to say that he regaled, cajoled, preached, implored - whichever word you choose, the man is passionate about the importance of democratic transportation decision-making to support the many ways people get around. A sampling of his thoughts:
“Quality sidewalks and protected bicycle paths are not cute architectural features; they are a right, unless we believe that only those with access to a car have the right to safe individual mobility.”
“A protected bicycle way is a symbol of democracy. It shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as one in a $30,000 car.”
“Parking is not a constitutional right.”
As mayor, Peñalosa added miles of bicycle and pedestrian highways, replaced parking spaces with pedestrian sidewalks, and spearheaded a voter-approved referendum that established the first Thursday of every February as a city-wide car-free day. His efforts not only made Bogota more pedestrian-friendly, but as he put it, more democratic.
Bogotá is not the only city to take a stand for pedestrians and cyclists. Shanghai and Paris also converted roads into pedestrian-only destinations. In 2000, Shanghai transformed a one-mile stretch of Nanjing Road, a declining retail destination, into a pedestrian thoroughfare by renovating more than 40 buildings, landscaping and improving the streetscape. As a result of these transformations, Nanjing Road is now the busiest commercial district in Shanghai, a major tourist destination, and home to more than 600 businesses.
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