Information, Inspiration, Advice – California Streetsblog
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For three days, planners and advocates for government agencies listened to the Active Transportation Symposium, presented by the California Active Transportation Resource Center and the State of Sacramento. The purpose of the symposium was to bring together planners, advocates and others working on active transportation to compare their notes, discuss successes and lessons learned, and keep abreast of progress in planning for the future. cycling and walking in the state.
A common thread woven into just about every presentation is a sticking point for all planning projects, not just those focused on active transportation, and yet projects that seek to make the kinds of changes that bike projects and pedestrians have to face it. That is: disconnection and faulty communications between planners and those most affected by the projects they are building.
The point has been repeated over and over again: people know what they want their communities to look like, they have a vision of how to get there, and they often know what solutions would work best for them. But between the obscure workings of planning processes, with planners not understanding how to ‘reach’ communities, and the habit of using feedback as a data point to reinforce plans already made, the concept of ‘collecting public feedback Must be thoroughly rethought. .
That is, planners must do more than ask community organizations to put them in touch with residents, more than pay people for the time they spend giving their opinion on projects. They must learn to listen to what people are saying about their needs and be clear about how their views will be reflected in future plans and processes.
This point was raised in the launch presentation by Monique López, founder of Pueblo Planning, and it was reiterated and developed by many presenters – sometimes inadvertently – and reinforced by the last speaker of the symposium, Dr Destiny Thomas, whose the short the discussion on the evolution of planning narratives to address past misdeeds – among other topics – was postponed until the end of the last session, on cycle highways, but it was very relevant.
This is the second symposium presented by ATRC. The first of what they hope to do in a biannual series took place in person, before COVID, and was truly an opportunity for people working in active transportation to meet and discuss topics relevant to their jobs, and to compare their notes. Doing it online will always be more difficult, even if the sponsors have tried their best, even including a networking session towards the end for people to break into groups and chat.
While talking on Zoom will always be too contained and limited to offer much spontaneous interaction, the symposium offered a lot of food for thought for planners, from those just starting to learn about active transportation to people who have worked. in the field for years.
Topics for the symposium ranged from cyclist and pedestrian safety, considerations and opportunities for rapid construction projects, building strong community relationships, work being done at national and local levels on the conceptualization of ‘cycle highways’ and connection to public transport.
And create community ties. López spoke about his childhood in Imperial County, where they saw first-hand how planners landed with minimal public awareness about a waste incineration plant. López recounted how difficult it was for residents to even learn about the factory – even though it had been on the books for years.
“Communities have a vision of what they want their community to look like,” they said. “But the planning processes are in place for the disconnection.” Ultimately, López helped organize and pass a voting initiative to keep waste incinerators out of Imperial County, thus raising the issue in this case.
Seeing that “planners are doing things behind the scenes, leaving my community out of the decision-making process,” and wanting to learn more about their role, López returned to school. What they found was that “it shouldn’t be that difficult to facilitate the vision of a community.”
Now, López functions as a ‘connector’, helping to create and maintain relationships ‘between those who are in a position to make budgetary, policy or programmatic decisions and the community, especially communities who are often excluded from these processes’ .
One of the problems with the old method of outreach, López said, was that although planners found they needed to use community organizations that know the people living in areas affected by their plans, they don’t. often not follow through very well. “The planners would ask the OCBs to come to the meetings, but people would not be informed of how their contribution was going to be used, or even get copies of the final reports,” López said. “The awareness process can be very abusive that way. “
López came up with a list of things for planners to consider when embarking on a project: building relationships, repairing past damage, respecting community members by listening deeply and communicating clearly, and making the process reciprocal. That is, don’t just collect people’s opinions through a survey and use the responses as data points.
You need to make sure you speak and plan for the people who will be most affected by the changes, who are usually the most vulnerable among the residents. Often these are blacks, indigenous people and people of color, low-income people, queer and trans people, homeless people and people with disabilities.
López stressed the importance of embracing targeted universalism: for example, if planners have a universal goal of improving walking and cycling, if they only focus on people who tend to speak out , or who are the easiest to reach – or even just the majority – they will only make things better for a subset of people. But if they focus on the needs of the most vulnerable, they will improve walking and cycling for everyone.
“We see our role as facilitators, ensuring places of healing,” said López. “We don’t force people to understand or use the technical language of planning; instead, we facilitate storytelling and artistic creation for people to communicate their lived experience, vision, and strategies that they know will solve problems.
Planners “must also make sure that when we write planning documents we recognize the harm that has been done and can still happen, and make sure that every solution [incorporated into plans] will repair this damage, ”López added.
Similar notes were made in many other sessions of the symposium, including that of former Streetsblog USA editor Angie Schmitt, author of Right of way: race, class and the silent epidemic of pedestrian deaths in America.
Although the mainstream pedestrian safety discourse tends to focus on “distracted pedestrians” looking at their cell phones, she said, they are not actually the people most at risk of being killed for. to have walked. Instead, Native Americans, blacks, the elderly, and people who live in low-income neighborhoods all have a much higher risk of being victimized by drivers. “These are not the people around whom we focus our security discussions,” she said. But they should be.
In the history of planning in the United States, motorists have been at the center, and without any real discussion of the usefulness of streets or who has a place on the streets, they have become relegated to vehicles, other users. being sent back to the margins.
“People on the ground understand what the problems are,” she said, “but are used to not being listened to. Planners need to listen to people.
Many other presenters, from planners engaged in conceptualizing cycle highways to facilitating cycling and pedestrian projects in the field, made similar comments. “It’s an ongoing challenge: we want the process and the project to reflect the needs and wants of the people who live here,” said Brent Pearse, of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, of the cycle highways program of San Jose. “We can’t do it ourselves. “
This is a theme that will continue to be raised as state agencies move forward in investing and improving active modes of transportation, from Caltrans to CalSTA. For example, the California Transportation Commission Fairness Advisory Roundtable is meeting at the time of writing.
However, building strong community relationships was far from the only theme of the symposium. Briefings included: discussions of successful applicants for the active transportation program – like the nine-year and ever-improving process followed by the Yurok Tribe at Happy Camp which ultimately resulted in a $ 10 million grant to calm a local highway; work underway at state and local levels to connect transit and bicycle networks; how Oakland was able to incorporate inexpensive materials into its planning process to build things up quickly, provide opportunities to test concepts and improve plans before final implementation, and improve communications between departments. There was even an appearance by Mr Barricade – er, Vignesh Swaminathan – who discussed some of the work he has done on protected cycle lane projects, incorporating important drainage considerations as well as safety.
For a list of presentation topics, see the ATRC website, here. All sessions have been recorded and will be available next week on this site.