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Penalosa: Transit, Bikes, Walking Need to ‘Be Friends’
BY JORDAN SMITH, Program Manager-Communications

Walking, bicycling, and public transit need to work together to ensure the maximum benefit to communities, said urban expert Gil Penalosa, featured speaker at a General Session sponsored by APTA’s business members during the Annual Meeting.

“Pedestrians, cyclists, and buses all take up less space than cars,” ­Penalosa said in his inspiring and entertaining presentation. Public transportation shapes our urban environments, he added, bringing a unique blend of pragmatism and passion on how to effect change in land use and transportation in cities around the world to ­create vibrant and active places and sustainable mobility.

Penalosa is executive director of 8-80 Cities, a Toronto-based non-profit organization dedicated to making cities more accessible, safe, and enjoyable. As the former commissioner for parks, sport, and recreation in Bogotá, ­Colombia, he led the design and development of one of the world’s most renowned park systems and initiated the “new Ciclovia,” a program that enables more than one million people to walk, run, skate, and bicycle along the 121 kilometers of Bogota’s city roads every Sunday.

“We need to stop building cities as if everyone was 30 [years of age] and athletic,” Penalosa told attendees. Public transportation must exist alongside safe, secure, and convenient spaces for bikes and pedestrians that are accessible and usable for everyone from ages 8 to 80, a concept that is the basis for the name of his organization.

The world’s population will grow to 9.5 billion people by 2040, he noted. At the same time, the current population will be growing older. Urban planners, elected officials, and public transit professionals must all keep those demographics in mind when making their decisions, he said. Cities need to cater to people of all ages, sizes, and income levels to effectively make urban living pleasant to the changing population compositions.

Creating livable cities requires several core ingredients, Penalosa said. Pedestrian accommodations must be a major priority, with more sidewalks and green spaces where they can walk. Enticing people to walk more will encourage them to take public transit more frequently. “Public transit users get more physical activity than those that use cars,” he said, explaining the symbiotic relationship between walkers and riders.

When people use walking, biking, and riding public transit in combination, these measures improve the environment, save money, increase mobility, and promote health. Penalosa noted that with North America facing an unprecedented obesity epidemic, the health improvements alone make investing in public transit an urgent priority. Half of the trips in the U.S. are within two miles, yet only a fraction of those trips are taken by foot or bike. ­“Cities were building around the cars, but now they need to be built around what makes people happy,” he said.

Angela Iannuzziello, chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors, and vice president, Canada National Transit Market Sector leader, AECOM, Toronto, presided over the session.

At the conclusion of the session, Jeffrey Wharton, chair, EXPO Advisory Committee, and president, IMPulse NC LLC, invited the crowd to the 2014 APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Houston. Joining him on stage were representatives of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County in Houston: Gilbert A. Garcia, chairman, and Thomas C. Lambert, interim chief executive officer. 


Urban expert Gil Penalosa offered a perspective of public transit's role in creating better cities. 

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