Abandoned Tennis Court Repurposed as Traffic Garden

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety, Giving Back to our Communities

Alta Planning + Design provided pro bono design services for two traffic gardens for Cascade Bicycle Club’s Major Taylor Project. The Major Taylor Project provides a year-round youth development cycling program focused on introducing youth from diverse communities to bicycling, healthy living, bicycle maintenance, road safety awareness and the importance of working toward individual goals.


Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning in Alaska

Bicycle-Pedestrian Planning, Mountain West

The first question I always get is “how do you do a statewide pedestrian and bicycle plan for Alaska?”  This is a legitimate question.  Alaska is huge: we have all seen the map showing the state of Alaska spanning the width of the lower 48 states.  Alaska is sparsely populated: Approximately 736,000 inhabitants, with over half of them living in Anchorage.

Transportation in Alaska is challenging at best: with a disconnected road system, an extensive fleet of boats and planes connects the state.  And then, there is winter: engulfed in darkness and sub-zero temperatures for months might make someone from a warmer climate wonder about how life can even exist in such conditions.

Knowing all of this, I try to explain the admittedly daunting task by running through some statistics:

Clearly, there is a demand and a need for policies and infrastructure to improve safety.  Last summer, I traveled from Anchorage to Fairbanks and was inspired by the landscape and what people are already doing to improve their communities.


Finding the Community’s Voice in Coalinga, CA

Alta Service Regions, California, Education & Outreach, Healthy Living, Living Car-Free, Public Involvement, Safe Routes to School

Almost halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles sits the small town of Coalinga (population 17,000). In many ways Coalinga is a typical Central Valley agricultural community – residents draw their livelihoods from nearby ranches, farms, and oil fields. Established as a coal refueling station for steam locomotives in the 19th Century, the town’s ordered street pattern is legacy of its relationship with the railroad. A dense grid network means that the majority of residents can get across town in a short five minute bicycle ride or ten minute walk, however, most residents opt to get around the town’s four square miles by driving. Most children are bused to school or driven by parents despite ample sidewalks and short travel distances. Recognizing the opportunity to improve its walking and bicycling environment, the City hired Alta in 2015 to lead the development of the community’s first Active Transportation Plan.


Traffic Calming – A Radical Idea in 1995

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety, Bicycle-Pedestrian Planning, Complete Streets

When the American Planning Association agreed to publish the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) report on Traffic Calming in 1995 it was considered a very radical concept. I took graduate coursework in transportation engineering and planning in the mid-1980’s and streets were very emphatically to be designed to move cars as fast as possible from point A to B. Pedestrians were something to be kept off the streets and bicyclists were not even mentioned in the textbooks or classes.


Celebrating 20 Years of Creating Active Communities


Join us as we reflect on the past two decades of creating healthy, safe, vibrant, and active communities. 



Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act

The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) establishes dedicated funding streams for bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs, a turning point for nonmotorized transportation.


National Bicycling and Walking Study

FHWA publishes the groundbreaking National Bicycling and Walking Study.

The Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) is conceived by a group of bike coordinators and advocacy leaders during the national Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Portland, Oregon.


Alta Planning + Design


California-based transportation planner Michael Jones launches Alta Planning + Design after recognizing the need and opportunity for a full-fledged multi-disciplinary firm focused solely on improving communities through active transportation. He is joined soon after by Mia Birk and George Hudson.


#WalkBikeForward with Michael Jones


Alliance for Bicycling and Walking

Initially working solely as a national coalition of local pedestrian advocacy organizations, America Walks is founded by groups such as Walk Boston, Walk Austin, Walk New York, and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition. Leaders of the Bicycle Federation of America (now the National Center for Bicycling and Walking) invite 25 bicycle advocates to the remote Thunderhead Ranch in Wyoming, which leads to the formation of the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking.


Portland’s Transformation

1999_mia w pedex bike

The City of Portland Bicycle Program, led by Mia Birk, inspires the nation with its visionary Bicycle Master Plan; rapid implementation of bikeways and bike parking; and groundbreaking studies and application of European safety treatments and encouragement programs. Mia Birk chronicles Portland’s transformation in her 2010 book Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet.


#WalkBikeForward with Mia Birk


#WalkBikeForward with Earl Blumenauer

Earl Blumenauer was first elected to Congress in 1996, representing the Portland area. For 20 years he’s been a champion of biking, walking and livable communities, along with other environmental and social issues.


1998-2001 US Millennium Trails Program

Millennium Team 1998

First ever White House trails initiative designated 16 National Millennium Trails, representing a cross section of the growing trails movement in America.


FHWA Rails with Trails Lessons Learned

2002_FHWA Rails with Trails Report Cover

After four years of case studies, research and analysis led by Alta, the U.S. Department of Transportation releases the seminal FHWA Rails with Trails Lessons Learned Report, which opens the door to development of thousands of miles of trails on or adjacent to active railway lines.


First Bike/Ped University Course at PSU

2002_Mia IBPI class

Mia Birk teams up with Portland State University to offer one of the nation’s first classes on bicycle and pedestrian issues in urban planning. (The first was started in 1996 and still is taught by Alta Principal Jeff Olson at UAlbany.)



Bicycle Friendly America

League of American Bicyclists launches Bicycle Friendly America program, acting as a roadmap for what communities, businesses, universities and states should do next to to improve conditions for bicyclists.


#WalkBikeForward with Tim Young

Tim Young is the Executive Director of Wyoming Pathways.


National Safe Routes to School Program

Safe Routes to School

Federal legislation dedicates $612 million to establish a National Safe Routes to School ProgramAlta works with dozens of communities and schools to make walking and bicycling a viable, safe, and convenient option for students and their families.



Keith Benjamin is a Community Partnerships Manager at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.


Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program

FHWA creates the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program providing over $25 million each to four communities to demonstrate how walking and bicycling infrastructure and programs can increase rates of walking and bicycling. Alta works with the FHWA Pilot Program communities to collect and evaluate data, offer encouragement program campaigns, and manage key projects.


Institute for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation


In 2006, PSU’s College of Urban Studies creates the Institute for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation (IBPI). IBPI becomes the nation’s education leader, offering graduate-level courses and training, and spearheading cutting edge research on topics such as bicycle boulevards and green bike boxes. To this day, Alta staff continue to teach the next generation of active transportation professionals at universities across the US.


Alta Expands Internationally

2007_Dubai bike station photosim

Alta expands its footprint internationally, helping communities improve their bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs in Dubai, China, Canada, South Africa, Mexico, and South America.


National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project

2007_bike count

Alta Planning + Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers Pedestrian & Bicycle Council initiate the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project to establish a consistent count and survey methodology.


Alta Programs


Alta dedicates an expert team to education and media and outreach campaigns. Since then, the Programs Team has helped over 162,000 households in 31 communities around the US start walking, bicycling, and taking transit more often.


NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide


At its headquarters in 2009, Alta convenes a meeting of leaders from Portland, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston to incubate the idea of an innovative, fresh approach to urban bikeway design guidance, then works hand-in-hand with national and international experts to develop and release the groundbreaking National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide in 2011. The FHWA’s adoption of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide triggers a tipping point in the design of safer, more accessible on-street bikeways throughout the US.


Alta Bicycle Share


Alta Planning + Design spins off a new company, Alta Bicycle Share, and North America’s Bike Share Revolution Begins. Alta Bicycle Share launches and operates bike share systems in Melbourne, Washington DC, Boston, New York, Chicago, Columbus OH, Chattanooga TN, San Francisco, and Seattle, recording 30,000,000+ trips, before being acquired and rebranded as Motivate, Inc. in 2014.


Alta Merges with Greenways, Inc.


Alta merges with Greenways, Inc., a NC-based firm created by ASLA Fellow Chuck Flink, co-author of Greenways: A Guide to Planning, Design and Development, and Trails for the Twenty First Century.


#WalkBikeForward with Chuck Flink

Chuck Flink, FASLA, is one of America’s leading greenway designers.


Razorback Regional Greenway

2010_NWArkansas team

The Walton Family Foundation calls Alta Principal Jeff Olson, Greenways, Inc.’s Chuck Flink and greenway specialist Bob Searns, and the concept of the Razorback Greenway is sparked, one of Alta’s first “mega trails” designed and constructed in the US.


#WalkBikeForward with Karen Minkel

Karen Minkel is Director of the Home Region Program at the Walton Family Foundation.  Alta worked with the foundation on creating a trail system in Northwest Arkansas.


First Protected Intersection

Alta designs Utah’s first protected intersection in Salt Lake City, a revolution in on-street bikeway design in the United States.


Walk Bike Forward


The growth in active transportation continues at a remarkable pace. With protected bikeways championed by the industry coalition People for Bikes and NACTO, communities across North America develop better bikeways. Health leaders and First Lady Michelle Obama champion active lifestyles, and all aspects of active transportation and recreation become a mainstream part of planning, engineering, and economic and health strategy.


#WalkBikeForward with Christopher Douwes

Christopher B. Douwes is a Community Planner for the Federal Highway Administration.


#WalkBikeForward with Randy Neufeld

Randy Neufeld is the Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund and founder of the Active Transportation Alliance in the Chicago area.


#WalkBikeForward with Gil Penalosa

Gil Penalosa, founder and board chair of 8 80 Cities, shares his vision for great communities in the next 20 years.


#WalkBikeForward with Dan Burden

Dan Burden is the Director of Innovation and Inspiration at Blue Zones, as well as cofounder and former Executive Director of the Walkable and Livable Communities (WALC) Institute.


#WalkBikeForward with Michael Coleman


#WalkBikeForward with Gabe Klein


#WalkBikeForward with Ted Eytan


#WalkBikeForward with Martha Roskowski


#WalkBikeForward with Jay Walljasper

Tell us how active transportation has transformed your community! What’s your most memorable active transportation-related moment from the last 20 years? When did your community adopt its first bicycle or pedestrian master plan? Where do you see your community in 2036? Tag us in your posts or use #walkbikeforward, and we’ll repost our favorites! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page!


#WalkBikeForward with Jay Walljasper



Jay Walljasper—author of The Great Neighborhood Book and America’s Walking Renaissance—writes, consults and speaks about how to create healthier, happier communities. An Urban-Writer-in-Residence at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces, he was editor of Utne Reader magazine for 15 years.  

Active Transportation is patriotic

Growing up in college towns, I naturally assumed that walking, biking and comfortable public spaces were important to any self-respecting community. It was a shock to find that so many places across the country were almost uninhabitable if you did not want to drive everywhere all the time.

A breakthrough for me was traveling to Europe, where I discovered that walking, biking, transit and great public spaces were a way of life in most towns. I would come home from reporting stories abroad and feel depressed about the auto-cratic realities of American life.  Many other folks felt the same way, I discovered, and this became the nucleus of the Active Transportation movement.  A certain patriotic spirit began to stir coast-to-coast. Americans are an enterprising, inventive people, so there is no reason we can’t create cities that are as pleasurable as Copenhagen or Bologna or Melbourne or Curitiba, Brazil. That’s beginning to happen now, and Alta’s played a key role.

Everyday people in cities, suburbs and small towns—who once idly accepted motor vehicles domineering their hometowns—now clamor for better places to walk, ride their bikes, take their kids or just hang out with neighbors or friends.

A healthier, happier tomorrow

I’m optimistic that biking and walking will come to be seen as an organic part of folks’ daily lives in the coming decades. The daily stroll will become as common as a coffee break.  Most kids will trot or pedal to school. Many of your co-workers will commute 5-10-20 miles on bike. The Millennial generation will continue to insist on a choice of mobility options as they settle down and raise families—the autonomous car being just one of many.

This will have a dramatic effect on our communities.  Many residential streets will become pedestrian lanes, where pavement is replaced with picnic tables, playgrounds and vegetable gardens.  Our neighborhoods will become 21st Century villages, where most of your needs for goods, services, recreation, entertainment and socializing will be within easy walking distance. This will happen in low-income areas as well as wealthy ones; in suburbs and small towns as well as big cities.

The benefits of active communities will become apparent to people of every political persuasion and cultural affiliation.  People will be healthier, less stressed and more socially connected. Neighborhoods will be livelier, safer and less polluted. This will result in an epidemic of smiles, noticeable on people as you pass them on the street.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Martha Roskowski


Martha Roskowski Alta 20 Years

Martha Roskowski is Vice President for Local Innovation at People For Bikes, directing the Green Lane Project and the new Big Jump project.  She formerly ran America Bikes and Bicycle Colorado, and served on the board of the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

We’ve come a long way

In 1996, there was a national push to create strong state and local advocacy efforts across the country.  That was a big deal, and it really helped get bike advocacy more organized. Since then we’ve seen the rise of professionals who really know how to design and deliver bike projects.  Alta was the first to systematically get out there and hire the people who knew the most about bikes. They were the pioneers, and I am endlessly grateful for their work.

For a long time in this work, it felt like traffic engineers were there to block us—“you can’t do that!” They now want to know “how” are we going to build good projects.  It feels like we’ve crossed the Rubicon on the mainstreaming of design for biking. The rise of NACTO is an indicator of how city transportation leaders are shifting the frame on transportation.

On a national level, the creation of the Safe Routes to School program provided resources and momentum to make streets safer for kids. The rise of Complete Streets provided a framework for rethinking street design.

Another of the biggest changes over the past 20 years is the embrace of bicycling across so many sectors.  It’s not all about bikes anymore—it’s about building better communities, promoting tourism and improving people’s health.  There’s growing agreement that our single-minded focus on moving cars has not been broadly beneficial to people or communities. And if we’re serious about climate change, it means that people will need to bike and walk more. 

We’re also now seeing community leaders from low-income neighborhoods, leaders of color embracing walking and biking. They want to improve their communities and see the potential of biking and walking to do that.  It promotes recreation and gets more people on the streets, which can build more neighborhood cohesion and boost local businesses.

The next thing for bikes

The next big idea is building connected networks for people to ride bikes.  We need to change how the streets work.  Car lanes are fully connected everywhere, as are sidewalks in many places.  But for bikes, it’s still pretty spotty.  In ten years we are going to see many more places where it’s easy and safe for the whole family to ride all over town for recreation, exercise and going to work or school.

A big question is whether driverless cars become public transportation or just the next new fancy kind of car people buy. If they become public transportation, then it will help to solve the problem of where to find space in the streets for bikes.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Ted Eytan



Ted Eytan, MD, MS, MPH, family physician in Washington, DC

America’s most walkable city?

In terms of breakthroughs, look at Washington, DC. It’s changed from a mostly unwalkable place to one of the most (if not the most?) walkable places in the United States. I live here easily car free, and don’t even own a bike.  That’s because Capital Bike Share has been a huge success.

One of the biggest surprises is how little of the car-paradigm is worth holding on to. I moved to Washington, DC, in 2007 without a car, the first time being without one since learning to drive. And I immediately adapted. Every assumption I had about owning a depreciable asset sitting out on the street costing $9,000/year (on average in the US) quickly went out the window. I can envision a world where a lot more people have this experience.

I can’t imagine not living in an active community. I depend on the neurochemical stimulation that walking meetings provide during my workday, as well as my 2-mile trip to and from work on foot or bike.

Traveling beyond car culture

I feel like automobile culture is really an historical anomaly. A generation of young people who grew up with gridlock and saw the health of their communities decline have “spoken up” through their disinterest in owning cars. The US Census reports that the number of young adults driving or carpooling to work in DC declined from 44 percent in 2000 to less than 30 percent. I understand that one reason for VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) reductions among young people are changes in driver license laws. Interestingly, much like cigarettes addict people at a very young age, driver’s licenses do the same! As young people are getting licenses later due to new laws, less of them are taking up driving.

What we need now

A major breakthrough we need now is more of society’s leaders to become knowledgeable about the importance of active communities, and how to create them. It should not be taken for granted that communities will become better by the will of the people—real leadership is needed, and at a broader level than transportation engineers. Doctors have an important role to play as the stewards of health.

Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy an active community.  I go to some transportation events in DC, and the audience is fairly non-diverse and not focused on the broader needs of the community, because they don’t know what they are. As a result, the input that our transportation agencies receive can lead to the healthy getting healthier, and ignoring the poor. There should be a good connection between the health department and the transportation department. Transportation is about access and health as much as it is about mobility, says traffic engineer Sam Schwartz (who coined the phrase “gridlock”).

A moment I’ll never forget

I suddenly realized the growing impact of active transportation one day in 2013 when I met Jeff Olson of Alta Planning + Design in New York, and we agreed to go on a walking meeting. We ended up taking a break in front of the Flatiron building, and what we witnessed amazed us— Citi Bike after Citi Bike passed. We talked with some of the riders, who told us how much bike share meant to them. What was awesome for me was watching Jeff watch this. I’ll never forget that day.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Gabe Klein


Gabe Klein Alta 20 Years

Gabe Klein—former transportation department director in Chicago and Washington—is now a Co-Founder of CityFi, an advisory firm to cities and companies on urban change management. He is also a Special Venture Partner at Fontinalis Partners, a venture capital firm focused on next generation mobility co-founded by Bill Ford, Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company.

Transformation of towns and cities

The move back to cities has been huge in recent years.  My generation—Generation X— pushed back on the idea that you hit 30 and move to the suburbs.  This raised a lot of questions for cities about what they wanted to be in the future.

Around 2000 you started to see bike lanes going into select cities and towns. And then the advent of bikeshare systems was one of these sea-change moments in the evolution of the re-mainstreaming of active transportation.

That’s when people also started doing the math.  “Wow, I spend $900 a month to use my car a few times a week.”  But with bikeshare, car share, biking, transit, walking, you have a lot of choices. Maybe you don’t need to own a car. You may just need your feet and a bus, with occasional services of bikeshare, Lyft and carshare.

There’s something happening in America today as mayors and leaders in towns of all sizes are thinking differently about how to create more livable places.  It’s not just cities anymore. A lot of suburbs are urbanizing now because they want to grow and can’t grow out anymore, so they’re growing up.

Creating towns and cities where we really want to live

Now is the time to figure out the kind of city or town we want to live in—complete with great public spaces, unplanned quirks and fun—and then design our transportation system around these goals.

I’m hopeful we will focus on walking and biking for a lot of trips in our own communities, where in the future we will be producing more of the goods and services at the point we use them.  Then we’ll depend on high-quality transit and autonomous vehicles to connect with other communities.

Autonomous transportation will bring some big changes.  It may be that only every third street even has cars allowed on it.  There may be 2-4 seat autonomous Lyfts for people in an area with more scattered housing, which link them to commuter rail. In cities, 54-seat autonomous vehicles run on major thoroughfares, with bikes and two-feet ruling the neighborhood streets.  I can dream right? No, let’s create the reality. It’s up to us!

Boosting bikeshare in Washington and Chicago

I never knew what Alta was until 2010, when they were the sole bidder for operations on the bikeshare system in Arlington County Virginia and Washington, DC. They were very entrepreneurial and willing to take on this whole new thing that was very undefined. It was planned and executed very well between the public and private sector (and multiple jurisdictions).  That was one of the reasons it turned out so well. Washington and Chicago, where Alta also was the operator, are still the two biggest and financially sustainable bikeshare systems in the country. I give them credit for an excellent team, great ramp-up, and a strong outcome.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Michael Coleman



Michael Coleman was mayor of Columbus, Ohio from 2000 to 2015. He is now Director of Business & Government Strategies of the IceMiller law firm.  Ebony magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential African-Americans in America.

A Culture of Biking and Walking in Columbus

Columbus has come a long way in the last 15-16 years. We’ve built 100 miles of off-street bike paths.  And bike lanes now go everywhere around town.  Parts of the city that never thought about bicycle infrastructure now have it. We built bike bridges. We have a downtown bikesharing system. You see people riding them everywhere.  We put a bike plan together in 2012, which is very helpful in clarifying what needs to be done. A significant amount of public resources are now going into bike projects. Pedestrian activity has been equally significant—we added sidewalks, slowed traffic.

We have a culture of bike riding and walking that has developed in Columbus. Prior to that, it was pure automobile here. Alta has been fundamental in achieving this.  It all started with grassroots activity by citizens, which connected with the leadership in the city.  People here insisted on bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly improvements and created the political will to do it.

Twenty years ago lower income neighborhoods were skeptical about bikes. Those barriers have broken down. Now people love it.  It was important for us to listen to concerns in these areas. We engaged with the leaders in those communities, showing them examples of cities where biking has been very successful in poorer neighborhoods.

While we’ve made substantial progress, we still have a way to go.

Biking and walking as a driver of economic development

Looking ahead to 2036, I envision flying bicycles run by pedal power.  [He laughs.] Actually, you’ll see that biking and walking are driving economic development.  Every new building will want bikeways.  That’s already happening, in fact. You’ll see a proliferation of the biking and walking culture in the coming years.  Biking and walking to work will be pretty standard.  I’m a lawyer in private practice now, and a lot of our lawyers already do it.

Twenty years from now, I will still be walking.  I’ll be 81, going all around on foot.  The greatest inspiration of people getting older is to get even older.  That’s a motivator.  The medical profession is now telling people the best way to extend your life is to walk. The secret of longevity is not a pill you take or a drink you take—it’s the steps you take.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Dan Burden



Dan Burden is Director of Innovation and Inspiration for Blues Zones.  Over the past 40 years, he has helped citizens in more than 3500 communities promote active transportation.  He was formerly Florida’s Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator, Senior Urban Designer with Glatting Jackson, and founder of Walkable Communities Inc.

The evolution of active communities

Twenty years ago, there were two kinds of people out walking and biking—those who couldn’t afford a car and those dressed in Lycra or workout clothes.  Now when you are on a trail, you’re flabbergasted how many people are in street clothes.  We’ve discovered that biking and walking are what most people like to do. And you see more of them doing it every year.

One breakthrough has been that bike and pedestrian plans no longer just sit on the shelf.  In those days, the people carrying out the plans did not know how to make a crosswalk or how wide a bike lane should be.  Now these plans are being implemented.

A lot of the big firms avoided getting into walking and biking—it was up to small firms like Alta Planning + Design to get it rolling. Alta had the ability to understand how big biking and walking would become when no one else did. And they had the energy and talent to make things happen. Without Alta, it would have turned out differently.

Another thing that began around 1996 was that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) started putting an emphasis on preventing disease, rather than putting all their resources on curing disease.  So healthcare providers began promoting healthy lifestyles.

Connected neighborhoods, today and tomorrow

What we are doing now is creating oases for bicycling and walking—a place you can do it safely.  But these oases are growing thanks to the demographic trends of more Millennials and Baby Boomers wanting to live in connected neighborhoods. People are waking up to the importance of this to the future of the housing market.  The National Association of Realtors talks about the significance of walking and biking. I’m convinced that we are going to get our cities back to a walkable, bikeable scale, with a better density of people and mixed-use developments. And walkable villages will emerge in farther out communities.

Huge breakthroughs over the past five years have been protected bike lanes and bikeshare.  In a few years, they’ll be everywhere.  I can arrive at a train station or airport, and the bikeshare is waiting for me with a trailer for my luggage, and I’ll have a protected bike lane all the way to the hotel.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Karen Minkel


Karen Minkel Alta 20 Years

Karen Minkel is Director of the Home Region Program at the Walton Family Foundation. She was previously Director of Strategic Planning for the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas and a public sector consultant working in London.  Alta worked with the foundation on creating a trail system in Northwest Arkansas.

Active Northwest Arkansas

I’m proud to say we’ve had several breakthroughs in Northwest Arkansas. Our residents no longer see trails as purely recreational amenities. Now, trails are a fundamental part of the region’s transportation infrastructure. We couldn’t have gotten there without cooperation among multiple municipalities. Their willingness to work together helped our trails become a truly a regional system.

Investment and political will make this possible. Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark combined political will and public investment to create places that integrates multiple modes of travel and sets a model for municipalities around the world. In Northwest Arkansas, the combination of public and private investment and political will helped us create a network of more than 90 miles of trails.

One of the biggest surprises in our region has been the diversity of people who use the trail system. People of all ethnic and racial backgrounds and different fitness levels and income levels use the system at high rates. For example, in Northwest Arkansas, a higher percentage of Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics reported using a local trail in the past 12 months than the overall regional average of 69 percent.

The moment I realized the extent of change in Northwest Arkansas was when we conducted a comprehensive trail user count. We realized our per capita usage of the system was on par with cities like San Francisco. These results show us that investing in the right infrastructure can change community culture in a very short amount of time.

Half of all traffic non-motorized

In my ideal world, more than 50 percent of the US population would regularly use a form of transportation other than a car by 2036. That’s why transportation funding at local, state and federal levels needs to be reallocated to support forms of transportation other than the car.

Local governments and philanthropies have to make hard decisions about how to maximize the impact of an investment. Building sidewalks, trails and street infrastructure that support active transportation should be a fundamental part of all neighborhoods regardless of income level. However, rural and suburban development patterns make these investments more expensive because the distances between activities increases. Strong urban cores will help us reduce the distance between activities, which translates into lower active transportation development cost.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Chuck Flink


Chuck Flink Alta 20 Years

Chuck Flink is one of America’s leading greenway designers. He founded and has run North Carolina-based Greenways Inc. since 1986, and is a Senior Advisor to Alta.

Milestones on the path to healthier living

Progress did not happen overnight. I have been personally and professionally involved for 34 years, and know that a lot of hard work has been put into the cause of active living by a whole bunch of people from across America and throughout the world. Everyone likes to single out one or two people who made this happen. I would say that is impossible with the active living movement. Here are some key moments that come to mind:

Obesity Epidemic

Surgeon General Richard Carmona declared obesity an epidemic in 2004. Without this event, there would be no sense of urgency to alter the lifestyle of Americans. Obesity and its impact on both our lives and mortality became a rallying cry for change.

Last Child in the Woods

Richard Louv’s seminal 2005 book put a laser focus on the lack of access to the outdoors for kids in America. This was a riveting moment when we realized society was promoting an unhealthy lifestyle for children.


The nation’s surface transportation programs were altered dramatically by federal legislation to include provisions for bicycling and walking as important elements of America’s transportation network. Prior to ISTEA’s passage in 1991, America spent very little on bicycling and walking projects. Since the passage of ISTEA and its subsequent reauthorizations, America has spent billions on walk/bike projects. This has created better biking and walking close to home, work and school that are being used by tens of millions of Americans every day. Access to quality facilities has done as much as programming to promote active lifestyles.

Support from the medical profession and industry

Doctors, hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies were slow to support bicycling and walking as a legitimate solution for health issues. I remember the first time I made a presentation to a community health foundation, trying to promote the cause of Active Living around 2002. I was accused by the doctors in the room of being a snake oil salesman. The thought of active living as contributing to a healthy lifestyle was not a message that this group wanted to embrace. But now organizations such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and many others are funders and backers of active living programs and projects.

Fitbit and the Apple Watch

Technology is already playing an important role in active living. With the Fitbit and Apple Watch, individuals now get instant personal health information. They are able to better manage their health with Apps that are included with these devices, which remind them to be more active. I own the Apple Watch and I am amazed at how much it has done to remind me of how sedentary I am every day. This is not something I would have ever thought of prior to owning the watch. This technology helps to keep me more active. It is said that sitting and a sedentary lifestyle is the new smoking. Technology can help to alter millions of lives in a positive manner.

Emerging trends for the next 20 years

In the last 20 years the importance of active living has been well documented. Here are some of the factors that will continue to spread active living over the next 20:

Healthier community design

The private sector is embracing active living because it helps sell their products. I’ve had conversations with land developers all across America who want to make it the “centerpiece” of outdoor living spaces in their developments. This occurs in dense urban areas and in greenfield development. Walking and bicycling are important attributes of a modern community and developers now compete to see who can design and develop the most green, sustainable, active community in America. This is not a trend, it is the new reality.

Technology revolutionizes transportation

Clothing will be embedded with technology to monitor our health and wellness and provide constant feedback about living a heathier lifestyle. But even bigger, technology will be the most important factor advancing transportation systems worldwide. This begins with what is being called “the driverless car.” The technology developed by Google, Apple and Tesla, to name a few, will make all forms of autonomous travel safer for all users of the streets. Currently, the major auto manufacturers are buying up new technology companies as soon as these companies bring new technology to market. As cars become more intelligent, fewer human-caused accidents will occur. While there is much debate about driverless cars now, this technology is already well on its way to becoming the new normal. Intelligent cars will make it safer for bicycling and walking because car systems are already being designed to recognize and respond to surrounding conditions.

Technology will also be applied to the manufacture of bicycles. Bicycles will be lighter, more reliable and easier to use. Electric bicycles will be the most important phenomenon of the next 20 years and will gain market share. Cities that are laying down a comprehensive grid of bicycle facilities today will be the ones that will see the greatest change in mode share (away from the car) in the future. New urban communities are already being organized around the use of the bicycle as a primary form of local transportation. This will gain favor during the next 20 years.

Car ownership will continue to decline and ride sharing will increase dramatically. The travel experience will become more of a commodity. There will be no reason to own a car in the future since anyone will be able to hire a car, or other vehicle, for either a ride or to perform other needed tasks. For example, if you need a pick-up truck to move a large item, you can just order one and book it for the time in which you will use it.

The change in car ownership will dramatically alter community planning and design. One of the largest land use planning considerations today is automobile parking. Ride sharing means that parking lots will become a thing of the past. Linked with apps on personal devices, such as smart phones and tablets, people will simply order up ride sharing services. This also means that the household driveway and garage are a relic of the past.

Increasing private investment in Active Living

There is a lot of money, investment dollars, looking for a safer and better return on investment than the traditional Wall Street route. I have been working with privately funded projects for the past 15 years. I believe this trend is growing and will help shape community design and development over the next 20 years.

Two specific examples come to mind. The Walton Family Foundation in Northwest Arkansas supported the development of a 36-mile regional greenway connecting the six communities of Northwest Arkansas. There were two important goals and measurements of return on investment that were important to the Foundation: 1) fostering a healthier population that participates in active living and 2) making Northwest Arkansas more attractive for business investment as a result of building the regional greenway. The project was completed in 2015 and the two primary benefits are already being realized.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the Hyde Family Foundation and other private investments are contributing $25 million to support the development of a 23-mile urban greenway along the Wolf River. Spearheaded by the Wolf River Conservancy, an accredited land trust, the Greenway will provide Memphians with close-to-home access to a regional outdoor amenity. The Greenway connects neighborhoods with the most important natural asset in the city. The private sector investment does not stop with construction of the Greenway. They are also focused on business creation, employment, vocational education and support of outdoor related enterprises.

Active Communities come of age

By 2036, many communities across the country will be designed to promote active living. There will be greater access to many forms of transportation so the choice between different modes will be seamless. It will be simple to bike, walk and ride in a motor vehicle all on the same trip. I believe that active living will become so ingrained in successful communities that those which are aren’t designed to support this way of life will soon fail.

Alta’s strength is in its core values and mission. People working at Alta make a lifestyle and career choice by choosing to work at the company. Working at Alta is not just a job—it combines passion and a desire to make a difference, while at the same time earning a paycheck.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Gil Penalosa


Gil Penalosa Alta 20 year

Gil Penalosa, founder and board chair of 8 80 Cities, travels all over the world speaking and consulting about creating communities that serve people of all ages. He is also the Chair of World Urban Parks and was formerly Parks Director in Bogota, Colombia.

Big progress, but even bigger challenges

The conversation about active communities is much broader now. It’s not just cyclists. Public health officials are involved now. Business people. Elected officials. All kinds of citizens. This is huge progress because 20 years ago there was almost no awareness. It’s very positive.

Minneapolis has built this fantastic trail system.  In New York, there have been major transformations in terms of walking and biking. Portland has been doing good work for years, in part because of what Alta has done. Many cities now have good bike plans and pedestrian plans.  If we carry these out, we will really have active communities.

But we have to lot to do. Right now, there are no big cities with much more than five percent mode share for bikes. Obesity is still increasing. In 1996 there were no states where more than 20 percent of people were obese. Now every single state is above 20 percent, and many are above 30 percent. It’s time for action.

One of the most hopeful signs I see it that the Millennial generation do not see cars as a status symbol. That’s an important start. However, a lot of people assure us that driverless cars will solve all of our problems. We will have less cars parked on the streets, but we will have more cars moving if we don’t change our behavior about using cars everywhere we go and if we continue to sprawl as cities grow. That’s a chief mission for the active communities movement.

Three Steps to a Great Community

Here’s what we need to work toward in the next 20 years.

Parks and Shopping Within Walking Distance of Everyone—An important goal is that every child lives within safe walking distance of a park. This will make it easy and fun for people of all ages to get physical activity. Everything that people need—public transit, parks, shopping, recreation, schools, services—should be within a 10-minute walk.  That will become the measure of an active city, a great city.  

Citywide networks of protected bike lanes—We need to connect all the destinations in a city for active transportation by adding protected bike lanes and wide sidewalks to all the arterial streets.  Public transit is important too. I call this the “minimum grid,” because like the electrical grid it needs to cover everywhere.  It is urgent to connect origins with destinations. You will be able to ride on low-traffic roads for no more than a mile to get to the bike network. This is the way to get the share of bike riders above the 1-2 percent it is in most cities.

Lower speed limits on residential streets—Motorists on side streets will travel at the safe speed of 20 miles per hour. When a person is hit by a car going 20 mph, they die only about five percent of the time. At 40 mph, they die 85 percent of the time. Also more people go out and walk to places when the cars are moving at a slower speed. They spend more time socializing with neighbors, making friends, talking to local merchants etc.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Keith Benjamin


Keith Benjamin Alta 20 Years

Keith Benjamin is Community Partnerships Manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. He serves on the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board Citizens Advisory Committee. 

Growing diversity…Real transformation

The biggest accomplishment of the movement is getting out of the mindset of just talking about bikes or walking and instead seeing how biking and walking can play a part in improving community.

Growing diversity in the movement has been an important part of this.  More still needs to be done.  But it is significant to hear more diverse voices—people from lower income communities, people of color, Indian reservations, people with disabilities. And more women too.  We are now having broader conversations about what transportation should be.

Our biggest challenge is communities that are suffering from lack of opportunities to bike and walk.  So I am energized when people who are being left out of safe, reliable transportation choices decide to do something about it.  That’s when I feel like real transformation is taking place.

It’s important in our work to connect with all the people living in the community, letting them know “we see you” and paying attention to the reality of their experience. If we can address what they care about and need, it will become a strong alliance.

My wife and I moved to in the Anacostia neighborhood in DC, which has historically been cut off from the rest of the city.  That makes me think about how we offer active transportation as an answer to the problems in these kinds of communities—how do you get to a grocery store that has fresh food, how to make the streets more safe from crime.

If we are really about creating healthy communities everywhere, then we need to lift up the organizations already existing in those communities—not just asking them to be on our board, but actively supporting the work they’re doing every day with resources and true buy-in.  That allows us to broaden our work.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Tim Young


TimYoung Alta 20 Years

Tim Young is Executive Director of Wyoming Pathways, a statewide advocacy organization for people who bike and walk.  From 1992-2002, he led the planning, fundraising, and construction of pathways in Jackson Hole. He served two terms on the board of the League of American Bicyclists and is one of the founders of the Alliance for Biking and Walking. In the 1980s, he made an around-the-world bike tour covering 45,000 miles over seven years.

One breakthrough over the past 20 years is our success around the country in bringing the topic of walkable and bikeable communities into the mainstream of government planning. Now we have local government staff working on planning, grants, funding, permits, building pathways and complete streets. And we have independent nonprofit advocacy organizations speaking up, bird-dogging, helping, pushing for projects to be completed and the new ones started.

Another breakthrough is keystone projects that make a huge difference for getting around by bike and foot. Here in Jackson Hole that includes the Grand Teton National Park Pathways, 20 miles that connect Jackson to Moose and Jenny Lake, which took 30 years to build from the original meetings with the Park Service to the first pathways to ride. It is part of Jackson’s 60-mile pathway system. Our success in Jackson Hole has been mirrored with other pathways around Wyoming, even in more conservative communities.

I knew this movement had legs (so to speak) exactly 20 years ago when we completed the first pathway in Jackson Hole, the Russ Garaman Trail. It was an instant success. We connected neighborhoods, schools and commercial areas, and people began to see the community with new eyes.

I know Alta made a big difference here. In the mid-2000s they helped us prepare a pathways master plan that set out a number of specific projects. It took us ten years to complete the five-year plan. A big accomplishment was transforming the main street through town by adding sidewalks and separated cycle tracks. More recently Alta created the concept plan for the Greater Yellowstone Trail, 180 miles in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho—with more than 100 miles rideable today.

Alta was the first company to focus on non-motorized transportation, and they showed everyone how to do it.  The big design firms then had no one specializing biking and walking. The engineering schools were not teaching that. This was transformative after decades of motor vehicles traveling at the expense of human beings.  I appreciate the leadership Alta has provided.  It’s gone way beyond just a business seeking profits—it’s helped envision our community in new ways.

Another 20th anniversary this year was the very first Thunderhead Alliance meeting here in Wyoming at the Thunderhead Ranch. Almost all two dozen leaders of the bike movement at that time attended. It was an eye opener to see that everyone shared a vision for a better American future with walkable and bikeable communities. The Alliance for Biking & Walking grew from that, and today we have hundreds of bike and active transportation groups around America, making huge gains for livable communities.

Over the next 20 years, I see communities everywhere really expanding biking and walking, which will revitalize them.  There will be much better access to parks and public lands that you can reach on bike. State governments will be strongly supporting biking and walking, the way some local governments do today.

It’s hard to believe, but this year is my 25th year working in this field. I’ve gone from being a community volunteer on a bicycle committee in 1991 to having enjoyed a rewarding career helping my community, improving public lands, and now helping Wyoming enhance its quality of life by including better options to bike and walk safely and fun.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Christopher Douwes


Christopher Douwes Alta 20 Years

Christopher B. Douwes is a Community Planner for the Federal Highway Administration, focusing on the Recreational Trails Program and Transportation Alternatives.

Safe, comfortable, accessible and connected for everyone

The biggest breakthrough is a more common understanding that our transportation system needs to accommodate all users with safe, accessible, comfortable, and connected multimodal networks. There is increased public demand for walking and biking as urban populations increase and congestion builds; as people understand the lifecycle costs of car ownership and may choose to not own a private vehicle; as more studies link better health to exercise.

There are many factors involved in making this possible:

  • Federal surface transportation legislation (ISTEA) in 1991 authorized the use of Federal funds for pedestrian and bicycle transportation and for shared use paths and recreational trails.
  • When the Transportation Enhancement and Recreational Trails Program projects were new in the 1990s, many people questioned how small, independent projects could benefit the transportation system. After 25 years, these projects are linking together to form interconnected networks that can take people safely and conveniently to multiple destinations.
  • Rail-to-trail and rail-with-trail facilities are nonmotorized transportation expressways linking communities together.
  • Complete Streets policies encourage communities to consider all users. For example, it is becoming routine for new or rehabilitated highway bridges to include sidewalks, establishing key links that can make or break an interconnected network.
  • Bike share technology is transforming communities. In only a few years, bikeshare systems have evolved rapidly and spread in response to the demand in a variety of contexts—urban areas, medium sized cities, and campus settings. Combined with new bike lanes and other bicycle-friendly facilities, it is becoming more common to see people bicycling for transportation, both on bikeshare and personal bikes. We are getting to the point where we are seeing measureable changes in percentages of trips by bicycling, and more systems are realizing that bikeshare can supplement and assist transit systems.

We are reaching the point where we understand the value of integrating bicycling and walking into a multimodal transportation system. We are becoming more flexible in our facility designs to accommodate all users. FHWA is developing guides to enhance multimodal flexibility, including a Small Town and Rural Street Design Guide under a contract with Alta. We are finding methods to enhance walking and bicycling as we rehabilitate our existing infrastructure. The breakthrough that we need is for the public to support accommodation of pedestrians and bicyclists in all transportation projects where pedestrians and bicyclists reasonably may be expected, and not see these facilities as extras or add-ons.

What we still need to do

We still need to educate ourselves and the public about how we can integrate transportation and recreation facilities, including sidewalks, bike lanes, and shared use paths and other trails, where appropriate, to benefit both user groups. Many people start walking or bicycling for recreation. When we have interconnected networks, recreational users realize that they can use these facilities for transportation, and that can support a healthy, active lifestyle.

We still have work to do to educate the public into a safety culture. A safety culture means we must stop being distracted when we are traveling: put away those electronic devices. It means that we need to consider how our travel affects the communities that we pass through.

Equity in transportation seeks fairness in mobility and accessibility to meet the needs of all community members. FHWA published Pursuing Equity in Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning to share strategies, practices, and resources to address bicycle and pedestrian planning inequities. FHWA also supports Environmental Justice to ensure full and fair participation by potentially affected communities in every phase of the transportation decision-making process.

FHWA’s new Environmental Justice Reference Guide helps planners and decision-makers appropriately address the transportation needs and impacts for all community members. FHWA also is working to restore community connections, develop workforce capacity, and catalyze neighborhood revitalization. This means reconnecting communities that may have been divided by transportation infrastructure in the past, such as railroads and highways that split communities. That can include safety improvements and eliminating gaps in the network, along with inclusion of paths on highway caps, tunnels, and bridges.

The concepts of Active Communities, Complete Streets, and Context-Sensitive Solutions have helped to legitimize walking and bicycling as valid modes of transportation. We see evidence from across that country that communities that want to thrive realize they need to integrate land use, housing, and access to essential services. A transportation system that benefits all users makes these communities places where people want to live, work, and enjoy life.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Randy Neufeld


Randy Neufeld Alta 20 Years

Randy Neufeld is Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund and founder of the Active Transportation Alliance in the Chicago area. He was founding chair of the Alliance for Biking & Walking and is advisor to the National Complete Streets Coalition.

The biggest surprise

ISTEA [the federal transportation bill that included funding for bike and walk projects] in 1991 was the big breakthrough, although it took three or four years for most of those projects to get figured out. Clearly you needed professional expertise to do these things—and that’s where Alta comes in. There was so much pent-up demand for biking and walking projects, ISTEA just provided the opportunity.

Before ISTEA, for example, we went to the Illinois DOT to fund a bridge connecting the Illinois Prairie Path trail from the suburbs to Chicago.  They laughed us out of the room. That much money for a bike project was ludicrous.  But a year later ISTEA passed and many other big ticket projects got funded.  Even people in the movement never thought these kinds of projects would become priorities—it felt like the gold at the end of the rainbow.

For someone like me, who has been doing this work since the 1980s, the biggest surprise is that we won—we were actually able to get some space in the streets for bicycles and pedestrians.  Lawrence Avenue, which is near my home in Chicago, has gone from four lanes of vehicle traffic to three, with wider sidewalks and bike lanes.  It’s re-energized the neighborhood.  I would say there’s 5-6 times more pedestrian traffic than a few years ago. There are more restaurants. There are bikes all over the place. I never used to ride my bike on Lawrence, now I do.

I’m seeing all kinds of people on bikes now. More women on bikes. Families on bikes with the kids.  That gives me hope. Divvy bike share has also created a lot more options for people.  My wife uses it all the time.  She likes to ride somewhere and then takes the train home.

Driverless cars done right

Looking ahead 20 years, autonomous vehicles are going to happen and that could really change how we use the streets.  I look out my window right now and see that 30 percent of the space in the street being is taken up by vehicles that are not being used 90 percent of the time.  That space can go for biking and walking. But it’s important that autonomous vehicles go slower—small, low-speed electric vehicles, some like a bike and some like a car.  And that the ownership model is different. Not everyone having one sitting in their garage.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Mia Birk


Mia Birk Alta 20 Years

Mia Birk is the former President and CEO of Alta Planning + Design, and former Bicycle Program Coordinator for the City of Portland.  She is author of “Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet”. Birk also helped create the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation at Portland State University.

Active Transportation goes mainstream

The biggest advance of the past 20 years is that active transportation is now mainstream. People working on it are not considered crazy, not even particularly progressive. There are now conferences, consulting firms, technical manuals.  The business community talks seriously about its potential for jobs, tourism, talent attraction.

At the 1994 Pro Walk Pro Bike conference, there were six or seven of us who were city bike/ped coordinators and we were so happy to meet each other because we felt lonely in our jobs. Two years later, Earl Blumenauer was elected to Congress [from Portland].  Before that he’d been on the Portland City Council, and taught a class for activists on how to influence local officials, not just yell at them.

At that time a few cities were showing leadership, like Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Boulder, Cambridge, Davis and Palo Alto. Seattle and Minneapolis were doing good things with trails. Vancouver, BC was doing bike boulevards.  Montreal had separated bikeways.  Vancouver and Chicago started bike ambassador programs.

Why Portland got so much attention is not that we were the best at everything, but that we did things comprehensively and focused on developing the infrastructure, as well as integration with transit, safe routes to schools, paying attention to maintenance of the bike lanes, encouragement activities, and much more—a very detailed, nuanced and comprehensive approach.

One of the things leading to the formation of Alta Planning + Design by Michael Jones in 1996 was that California passed rules (the Bicycle Transportation Account – BTA) to put state money into local communities for bicycle transportation, but they had to have a proper bike plan to get the money. That created an opening.  I joined Alta in 1999. After leaving the City of Portland as Bicycle Program Coordinator, Michael Jones asked me if I wanted to join Alta because I had experience in doing a bike plan. Active transportation was still a pretty small pond at that time.

What attracted me to biking 

I grew up in a place where everybody drove for every single trip, to every place.  When I started to ride a bike to get around Washington DC, as well as travel to cities around the world researching energy efficient transportation, I found a completely different perspective on cities.

What to expect in 2036

By 2036, cities will have much bigger bikeway networks than today, with a lot more separated bike lanes. Bike signals will be found at most major intersections.  Every kid is going to think it’s absolutely normal to bike and walk to school. People will think it’s absolutely normal to get around by transit, bike share, car share, Uber, walking and to use a car to on the weekend to go to the country.

You’ll see as many women on bikes as men, which is starting to happen already because they feel safe on separated bikeways. And there will be more separation not just between bikes and cars, but between bikes and pedestrians, like you have with the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. And we’ll see more pedestrian plazas like in New York City.  I think we will see parts of cities that are car-free, with only delivery vehicles and for-hire vehicles allowed.

We still have a lot of work to do today in terms of equity and inclusion in active transportation.  The field is still largely white.

Funding for active transportation continues to be a challenge.  For communities to be truly active we need to repurpose space (and funding) that we now set aside for storing and moving cars. That always stirs opposition.  But change always creates a reaction—if you’re not getting a reaction, you’re probably not changing much.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward


#WalkBikeForward with Earl Blumenauer


Earl Blumenauer Alta 20 year

Earl Blumenauer was first elected to Congress in 1996, representing the Portland area. For 20 years he’s been a champion of biking, walking and livable communities, along with other environmental and social issues. 

From Portlandia to Houston and Birmingham

Active communities are no longer a fringe movement. What we’ve been doing in Portlandia for years has been studied, copied, improved upon in communities around the country, and we’ve now passed the tipping point. Bike commuting nationally has increased more than 60 percent since 2000, and more than doubled in many cities. Nearly 70 communities have bikeshare, from Los Angeles to Birmingham. In Houston, Texas, $200 million has been spent on bike paths in Houston. Communities see walkable development as a prerequisite to attract talent to the workforce, demanded by Millennials and Baby Boomers alike. Active communities, planning for people, not cars, the 20-minute neighborhood—these concepts are ubiquitous, guaranteed to catalyze private investment and make people happy. 

 An important element of success is getting it right the first time. We had a bikeshare experiment in the 1990s here in Portland that I think left people a little hesitant about trying it again. Now with Biketown bikeshare, we’ve been able to learn from the success and mistakes of other systems. The DC streetcar is finally running, but after years of setbacks and mismanagement, the community is very skeptical about expanding it into a larger system. If the projects work from the beginning and people see the benefit, they’re eager to build off that success.

It’s also been important not to rush into it, or force livability on a community that’s not ready. I’ve always said that we should “build no line before its time,” and I think that’s been critical. Milwaukie, Oregon, rejected light rail for years, worried about “Portland creep,” but now the residents, local leaders, and business folks love the Orange Line that opened just last year. When we build active communities patiently, diligently, and collaboratively it makes a difference. It serves as an example, and people want more of it.

Another huge factor in providing some of the enthusiasm for active communities at the local level is climate change. It’s been a grassroots-led movement, and we’ve made great strides. However, when you look at what we need to do to reverse course, and deal with the reality that transportation is the largest contributor of carbon emissions, and that long range planning calls for 20 percent reduction in automobile use, all of a sudden it gets a lot easier to help people walk, bike, and take transit. Active communities are a logical response to climate change, and we’re going to continue to see it framed in those terms

Big Changes Ahead

We’re going to see transformational changes in the next 20 years. We’re watching two very disruptive forces colliding—one is changing demographics and population growth, largely in urban areas, the other is the rapidly emerging technology of autonomous vehicles. The technology has the opportunity to completely refigure the urban environment. Fleets of electric, autonomous vehicles used for carsharing will mean a decline in car ownership, less congestion because cars travel just inches away from each other. Whole swaths of right-of-way and public space devoted to cars could be reclaimed. You don’t need 12-foot lanes for cars that are only 7-feet wide. Street parking can be taken back, used for protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Parking structures will be obsolete and could be redesigned as parks or affordable housing. With less space and resources devoted to cars that sit unused 95 percent of the time, we create more incentives for people to be active, walk or bike. By taking human error, which is responsible for up to 90 percent of traffic collisions, completely out of the equation, our streets and communities will be safer for everyone. Preparing for and integrating autonomous vehicles will let communities accommodate growing demand and population without adding miles of new highway that we don’t want and shouldn’t build.

As a nation we need to address the resource question. Across public infrastructure, from water systems to road maintenance, federal investment has declined and local revenues have been increasingly taxed by competing spending priorities. Right now, cities are forced to choose between expanding pre-K options for kids or building sidewalks, while lead pipes and aging sewer systems continue to remain out of sight and out of mind. That is a false choice that we shouldn’t have to make.

At the federal level, we should be taking advantage of low interest rates, an engaged private sector, and increasing public demand, to make serious investments in public works. Perhaps the best example of the broken federal investment model is the gas tax, unchanged since 1993, and now worth almost 40 percent less due to inflation and fuel efficiency. It’s increasingly regressive, as drivers of more expensive electric and hybrid cars pay less and less to drive the same roads, while those with older cars pay more and more. The Highway Trust Fund runs about a $14 billion annual deficit, and instead of planning for the future or changing the way we spend scarce federal resources, Congress spends all its time figuring how to fill the gap in the gas tax, just to get back to zero. The potential benefits of driverless cars, larger investment in transit and intercity passenger rail, extending and completing a bike network—none of this can happen without funding certainty and a better, more reliable partner at the federal level.

Active communities are not just about building bike lanes and providing transportation options. The federal government and local governments can do a much better job ensuring that there is affordable housing and economic opportunities near transit, so everyone can experience livable communities.

Why I like to bike

Personally, I chose not to bring a car to Washington, DC, when I went to Congress. I’ve biked all but a few days in my nearly 20 years there. It’s something I’m very proud of, and biking every day is a great way to start the day off in a better mood. And, I’m probably a few pounds lighter as a result! In Portland, it’s been inspiring to see us grow into a world-class biking city, and having the opportunity to experience transit and biking with my grandchildren has been a real joy for me.

I’m biased, of course, by having witnessed the progress in Portland and seeing how transportation choices have revolutionized our community and economy. Every year, I take the opportunity to go to the Portland Community Cycling Center’s Holiday Bike Drive, where they distribute hundreds of bikes to children who otherwise couldn’t afford them, and give them the training and education they need to be safe on their new bikes. It inspires me every year, and I do what I can to help expand programs like these to provide bikes to more kids to get them started on bikes young. But being the “bike guy” in Congress, I have the privilege of hearing from people all over the world who tell stories about how cycling has given them access to jobs, recreation, and community.

I knew Oregon would become a leader for active communities as a young legislator. I voted for Senate Bill 100 to support urban growth boundaries and land use planning in 1973. We were intentional about creating walkable communities and have seen increased demand for urban living in recent years. It’s been exciting to watch the national movement build from here.

Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field. #walkbikeforward