Q&A with founder of Laneshift-Ryan Hale- Published in Block Street and Building- June 2017

1.       How do you define mobility and what is its role in the design of communities?

a.       Mobility at its core is about moving people. There are many modes or forms of mobility and ways to move people including vehicles, mass transit, bicycles and pedestrians.  Our focus at LaneShift is on the active or human powered forms of mobility specifically the bicycle and pedestrian modes.

b.       In the most treasured places in our communities we are free to roam on foot or on bike and we are able to interact with our community in a deeper way than when we are in a vehicle. Across the country these places are enjoying renewed success in terms of real estate values and are seeing increasing sales for the businesses located there.  In short, when we design our communities to be more human focused and include active forms of mobility it is not only good for us as people it is good for business as well.  

2.       Having managed a very successful trails program in Northwest Arkansas for the Walton Family Foundation, what do you think is necessary to keep momentum going for the region?

1.       More people on bikes: Simply put, our region needs more people on bikes. This looks like people choosing to ride to the coffee shop, grocery store, and to work or school. The region will take great strides if we can encourage more residents to get on a bike without feeling pressure to purchase expensive equipment and apparel. Just get on a bike and go on a short trip and over time, try to replace what might normally be a short drive with a short ride or walk.

2.       On-street infrastructure: Building out a bicycle network or system by only building trails or greenways would be like building a road system by only building freeways.  A successful system needs diversity in its offerings.  One way to do this is by building other types of bicycle facilities including “on- street” facilities such as protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes can often be installed within the existing curb lines of existing streets at a fraction of the cost of building a greenway and are convenient and easy to use.

 

3.       What are the top three things you look for when first engaging a community who is interested in launching a mobility and/or trails plan?

a.   An influential champion(s): City leaders face many competing priorities and are often tentative to spend their “political capital” on bike and pedestrian infrastructure without broad community support. This is why grassroots support is so essential to these types of investments activating. A community champion can help facilitate a community level discussion and garner support that simply can’t occur at the city level.   Community champions can help allay some of the political uncertainty that a mayor or staff person may have in stepping out and promoting initial or even further investment.

b.  Political will: Any amount of infrastructure to be completed within a city will undoubtedly require city approval and or funding. Ensuring that an administration is not only supportive but is willing to invest financial and political capital on a project is essential to long term success.

 

4.       What needs to accompany a comprehensive trail system bike and pedestrian network to ensure the investment has the biggest impact?

a.       Equity: A community must be honest with itself and identify cultural and even physical barriers that may keep underserved populations from having access to or using the network.   Strong communities focus on creating equity by reaching out to all populations and finding ways to eliminate barriers.

b.       Advocacy: Individuals or advocacy groups can engage in discussions with key decision makers, municipal leaders and the broader community on key issues such as facility types, safety and bike and pedestrian friendly policies. These groups can also help hold elected officials accountable to follow through on promises and can provide essential political support. The tendency is to shy away from supporting this type of grassroots engagement or input, however, smart communities embrace and listen to these conversations. Groups like Bike NWA, in Northwest Arkansas, have played a vital role in guiding and shaping these discussions in our region.

c.       Programming: Each community needs an individual or a group to organize rides, promote the system and find ways to encourage more people to get on a bike. 

d.        Education: All modes of transportation need education for how to play nice and safe with each other. Start young with bicycle education targeted at elementary schools that teaches core riding skills and knowledge about safety and etiquette.

 

5.       What American cities have some of the best mobility systems that Arkansas might look to learn from?

a.       An indicator of success of an active mobility system is to look at what percentage of its residents are choosing to commute to work by bike or on foot. It’s no surprise that cities like Portland, OR and Boulder, CO continually rank near the top, nationally, in total bike commuters[1].   While those larger cities are inspirational I think we can learn the most from smaller cities such as Davis(Population: 66k) and Palo Alto( Population: 66k) in California who rank near the top of all cities in terms of total commutes by bikes.

[1] “Where We Ride” Analysis of bicycle commuting in American Cities- The League of American Bicyclists- third edition 2015.

 

Ryan Hale