Walk Bike NY Symposium: How to Make Communities Safer

“800 bicyclists died nationally in 2015.”

“36 bicyclists were killed in NY in 2015.”

“17 pedestrians die nationally, every day, many of these deaths are preventable.”

These were just a few of the facts learned at the Walk-Bike New York Symposium this September 13 & 14th, held in Syracuse. The Symposium pulled together people from many different areas who are working to create safer communities for pedestrians and bicyclists in the State of New York. People such as Department of Transportation engineers, city planners, health and safety practitioners and pedestrian and bicycle advocates.

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All the presentations at the Symposium were about making New York a safer place to walk and bike. One very special presentation, “Lessons for Bicycle Infrastructure Planners and Advocates from Kingston NY,” was presented by two Bike-Friendly Kingston members, Kristen Wilson, Grants Manager, City of Kingston, and Strategic Liaison to the Live Well Kingston Coalition, and Rose Quinn, Traffic Safety Assistant, SUNY Ulster Mid-Hudson Health and Safety Institute, and Chair of the Live Well Kingston Coalition. The presentation walked viewers through the development of the recent “Building a Better Broadway” project as a way to give perspective and advice to other planners as they craft pedestrian and bicycle improvements in their own communities.

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Another inspiring presentation was from Mark Fenton, National Public Health, Planning and Transportation Consultant. He asked the audience to close their eyes and remember their favorite outside activities as kids. Then he asked: was it organized play? Was an adult involved? Most answers were recollections of what we would now called “free range” play.

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Mr. Fenton showed the astronomical rates of increased diabetes in children in the United States from 1960 – 2000. He then showed the changes in walking and cycling to school from 1969 to 2001. The two inverse lines were so dramatic and clearly linked. He argued that diabetes is a bigger detriment to children than the dangers of walking to school.

He encouraged attendees to build a world where kids can be active again. He made the point that If our communities are built so that children can move through them safely, then older people will be able to as well.

He had 4 main suggestions on how to make our communities more pedestrian and bicycle friendly:

1. Design compact neighborhoods, with open spaces and mixed use development.

2. Create networks of sidewalks, trails, and mass transit. 60% of people polled are interested in biking, but are concerned about safety. Creating separated bicycle infrastructure allows those 60% to feel comfortable enough to use their bikes for everyday trips.

3. Create inviting destinations. Create complete streets (streets that are built for everyone: they are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work.) Build bike parking under overhangs. Put parking in back of buildings and screen them.

4. Create safe and accessible pedestrian streetscapes. Use “road diets” or reclaim space to be used for other uses, such as turn lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, bike lanes, sidewalks, bus shelters, parking or landscaping. Create pedestrian walkways that your mother would feel comfortable using.

Mr. Fenton then went on to list many other suggestions and projects that could be done in any community. He encouraged the audience to test out things in a non-permanent way to see how behavior changes and what works, using cheap materials like paint, planters or other temporary measures.

Other presentations during the symposium included: Building Health through Community Design, A Deep Look at Bicycle Commuting and Bicycling as Transportation in Syracuse and Rochester, Erie Canalway Trail – Syracuse Connector Route, and many other presentations. All had great ideas on how to increase and encourage safer walking and biking in New York.

The symposium was very successful and accomplished the goals of networking, sharing ideas, inspiring advocates and spreading information. With this information and tools, attendees have gone back to their communities and will continue to work to reduce some of those preventable injuries and deaths to pedestrians and cyclists.

Emily Flynn is the leader of Bike-Friendly Kingston, NY. She is a bicycle commuter who has become an advocate for all the different reasons people ride on two wheels. Professionally, she is a Sr. Graphic Designer at Gilday Creative, a boutique graphic design company based in Kingston.

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