Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Walking into the Future: Designing pedestrian-friendly communities

Walkability is key to the economic future of SWFL, as demonstrated by Florida Weekly's feature story this week.  Includes interviews with Fort Myers Mayor Henderson, Naples Pathways Coalition, and BikeWalkLee, and local leaders in Florida walkable communities.  Don't miss the Oct. 15th full day symposium on creating walkable urban communities sponsored by the City of Fort Myers.

Walking into the future

Designing pedestrian-friendly communities

CityPlace Plaza in West Palm Beach provides an example of a walkable mixed-use development. 
COURTESY PHOTO CityPlace Plaza in West Palm Beach provides an example of a walkable mixed-use development. COURTESY PHOTOLike a perfect economic storm of the future showing only the first real edges of new urbanism, the following events took place almost simultaneously late last week:
• Jeri Muoio and Raphael Clemente, the city’s mayor and the director of its Downtown Redevelopment Authority, flew back into West Palm Beach from Copenhagen, Denmark, where they’d traveled to study one of the world’s most successful bicycling and walking cities;
• Mayor Randy Henderson drove past the home where Thomas Edison once lived in Fort Myers, the city where the mayor was born and raised, and insisted that “walkability and urban infill is the most relevant issue with regard to our quality of life” — and that was only 24 hours after seven people had been shot in the course of a single evening in an economically challenged part of town. Then he put his money where his mouth is, and pointed to an Oct. 15 seminar for all comers with some of the most renowned urban planners and walkability experts in the nation and the state;

MUOIO MUOIO• Jane Cheffy and Beth Brainard, the president and executive director of Naples Pathways Coalition, returned from the two-day Transplex conference hosted by the Florida DOT at which bicycle and pedestrian-friendly communities received top billing. Ms. Cheffy’s simple idea to retrofit public-transportation busses that could haul a number of bicycles for commuters who could then get to work or shopping won a shark-tank competition for good ideas;
• And finally, about 50 people took advantage of the free bicycle-for-a-day loaner program along Punta Gorda’s 18 miles of bicycle and pedestrian pathways. The pathways connect homes, parks and commercial shopping zones. The freebike program is funded by the nonprofit Team Punta Gorda, which counted 5,000 users in 2014, the program’s inaugural year.

CLEMENTE CLEMENTEAll that energetic commotion could ultimately prove to be a huge economic boon to the Florida of the future, and it comes on the heels of the U.S. Surgeon General’s call to action earlier in September. Bicycle-pedestrian apologists cite that call-to-action as potentially the most important federal support for their efforts in years.
“What if we labeled unwalkable neighborhoods like we do cigarettes?” a blogger wrote on the Transportation For America website.
“A similar call from the surgeon general in 1964 was the watershed event that kicked off a decades-long decline in cigarette use.”
In the communities
To many of those who look at our contemporary and future cities, walking and bicycling is about a lot more than just health. Those who create cities where people can walk or bicycle to work or to shop, will create wealth, too. And not simply because healthier people reduce the huge drag on the American health care system that obesity and related diseases bring.

HENDERSON HENDERSON“This is not something you have to do guesswork on, walkable cities — there’s a formula that I discovered at Carnegie Mellon University in May,” says Mayor Henderson, who attended a conference there for American city leaders.
In downtown Fort Myers where pedestrians crowd streets paved with the same restored bricks Mr. Edison and his wife, Mina, once strolled, many elements of the formula are already in place, he notes.
But elsewhere in the city and county and in spite of miles of trails, walking and bicycling is as dangerous, or more so, than anywhere else in the United States. That fact is borne out by the high per-capita statistics for bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and injuries on the Southwest coast.

MINICOZZI MINICOZZI“There is pent-up demand for walkable communities,” says Darla Letourneau, a leader of the nonprofit BikeWalkLee, which promotes walking and bicycling safely through the region.
“Those areas around the country that have created vibrant walkable neighborhoods are reaping the economic benefits from their investment, while Florida lags behind. Much is at stake for Southwest Florida in making our roadways and streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Palm Beach County leaders, and especially those in West Palm, appear to be ahead in the game of catch-up, or as the term of art has it, urban infill.
The European journey undertaken by Mayor Muoio and Mr. Clemente, for example, was paid for by a grant from the Knight Foundation, which has chosen to support specifically 26 urban areas in the United States vigorously trying to improve the quality of life on their streets.

LEINBERGER LEINBERGERIn Florida, those include all of Palm Beach County, along with the cities of Tallahassee, Bradenton and Miami.
West Palm’s Mayor Muoio in a press release praised European cities in general for offering “a lot of valuable place-making lessons.” Both she and Mr. Clemente, who directs the 46-year-old special taxing district downtown, applauded Copenhagen in particular for its combined use of mass transit and bicycles.
“Copenhagen is the best example in the world of how to design a city for people, instead of fitting people into a city structure,” he said.
But the grant offers more than just a trip for two to Copenhagen. In mid- October, urban designers from Denmark’s Gehi Architects, who helped make Copenhagen the ultimate in pedestrian and bicycle friendly cities, will travel to West Palm Beach to offer ideas and consultation.

SPECK SPECKAnd this week the Knight Foundation kicks off its second annual Knight Cities Challenge, beginning Oct. 1. The Challenge ultimately awards $5 million to fund the best new ideas to be implemented in any of the 26 Knight communities nationwide. Applicants have until Oct. 27 to submit their ideas to and winners will be announced in early 2016, according to the organization website.
Last year’s winner, a planner in Philadelphia, won for an idea he called “popup pools” created in neighborhoods all over the City of Brother Love.
In Naples, Immokalee and elsewhere, meanwhile Neapolitans Ms. Cheffy and Ms. Brainard have pointed out that walkability is not just important for health reasons, but for economic reasons.

CLICKSTEIN CLICKSTEINPeople want to walk, and they’ll pay for the privilege of walking or pedaling safely and comfortably from their homes to destinations that include shopping and eating or recreational opportunities.
When businesses get on board to help make that happen, usually their incentive is economic and practical, not just charitable, say promoters of such urban environments.
The list of sponsors in the Naples area is therefore significant as an indicator that walkability is a money-maker and everybody is starting to recognize it: there are banks, real estate companies, breweries, restaurants and hotels, major wealth consultants and major supermarket chains, along with bicycle and running shops, and many others helping to fund the Coalition and its efforts.
Punta Gorda Councilwoman Nancy Prafke, who helped lead Team Punta Gorda efforts to make Charlotte County more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians after Hurricane Charley dismantled the place more than a decade ago, reflects the pragmatism of many elected leaders as well.
“Team Punta Gorda hired a renowned urban planner to develop a citizens’ master plan,” she recalls of retrofitting her town.
“Yes, becoming more bicycle and pedestrian friendly fits in with the new urbanism. So we can choose to take the view of a planner or a governmental entity or the medical community or the business community, and we can cite all the positive reasons why we think this is good, and that’s fine.
“But in reality, what today’s residents want are more active lifestyles.
“So in my view, we’re looking to satisfy the desire of today’s residents who support active lifestyles. That’s the first reason for doing this.”
Fort Myers Mayor Henderson seconds that notion: “People move to infill cities so they can be closer to work and amenities, both public and recreational. And so it follows that walkability would drive the value of the environment up — economically as well as in terms of desirability.” ¦
>> What: Meeting Market Demands for Walkable Urban Communities, all-day seminar.
>> When: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 (doors open 7:30 a.m.).
>> Where: Harborside Event Center, downtown Fort Myers
>> Cost: $55 per person (special student pricing available).
>> National Keynote Speakers: Joe Minicozzi, Urban3; Professor Chris Leinberger, George Washington University; Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City.”
>> Other Speakers: Cary Clickstein, mayor, Delray Beach; Tim Hernandez, principal, New Urban Communities Corp.; Brooke Myers, president, Emerge Real Estate Ventures, LLC; Larry Pierce, director, Realco Group; Kevin Rickard, principal, New Urban Communities Development Corp.; Bill Spikowski, urban planner, Spikowski Planning Associates; Ken K. Stoltenberg, partner, Management Mercury Advisors.
>> For more information or to register: 321- 7100 or online at cra

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