The Nan Whaley way- and, oh yes, complete streets

Today there was a meeting at the Dayton Convention Center to talk about “Complete Streets”- the new urbanist approach to multi-modal transportation infrastructure. Good stuff- with about 80 in attendence.

The “keynote” was given by City Planning chief, John Gower who has incredible institutional knowledge of Dayton and its planning history. Some of it pretty sordid. In fact, when looking at his slides talking about the history of zoning, starting in 1926 when it was first ruled constitutional, through the post-war period to the seventies, it seemed that we were trying to demolish our cities in the same way we had demolished many of the cities in Europe during the war. Dayton went from vibrant to pockmarked through the process known as “urban renewal.”

The focus, starting with the 1939 Worlds Fair (which was partially sponsored by General Motors) was on moving people in cars. Futurama showed 10 lane+ superhighways- and it seemed that the way to freedom, prosperity and happiness all came with a car in every driveway.

Times have changed- now, according to the last Census, 1 in five occupied homes don’t have a car in Dayton. Does this mean they aren’t a part of the dream? Or, does it mean they have stopped being a slave to the oil companies. Many are older, and consider it a burden to ask for transportation, others, can’t afford the cost of ownership, but, a sizeable proportion of Dayton’s population is carless.

So, how do we encourage the idea of walkability, bike-ability and greater acceptance of both public transit and intermodal commuting? To believe the presenters- it’s a matter of creating “complete streets” with bike ways- a mostly capital intensive engineering solution.

Much of the conversation focused on Dayton’s outstanding bikeway system, and what could be done to encourage biking. The one thing that was limited to a part of one slide – was my inniative for the BCycle bike share system. In attendance were Dr. Mike Ervin, Greg Brumitt from Five Rivers Outdoors, and the heads of RTA and the MVRPC and a bunch of bike enthusiasts who would have been very interested to hear about this program- which is targeted to “normalize the bicycle” as a form of ubiquitous transportation.

I had requested to be given a few minutes to share this proposal and was turned down. It became obvious when we saw that this has now become Commissioner Nan Whaley’s project. Of course, she had the Mayor in to say what ammounted to nothing at the end, as well as her opening and closing remarks.

Of course, the difference between Nan and me can be summed up this easily: only one of us actually rode a bike to the session, and it wasn’t the Commissioner who was chairing the event.

That’s how Nan doesn’t roll.

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