Author Archive | kfrost

Write Happiness into the Transportation Plan

Yeah, Portland is a national leader in transportation and land use planning. Early visionaries set the pace: Governor Tom McCall, Neil Goldschmidt, Ernie Bonner, followed by recent stars: Charlie Hales, Elsa Coleman, Mia Birk, and my favorite Rex Burkholder just to name a few. (Extra)ordinary citizens also shaped the vision of a lively, 24-hour downtown and neighborhoods with destinations worth the trip and the trip worth taking by foot and bike: blank walls right next to a sidewalk are outlawed, public art is plentiful, wide sidewalks and town squares allow us to linger and interact, bike lanes mark the way to sustainable transportation and physical well-being. We understand we must make the route pleasant and convenient or few will choose active transportation over driving. And recently, we have made the connection between public health and transportation, but at the Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness in Nova Scotia, Canadian Catherine O’Brien Ph.D. is asking us to make the connection between happiness and transportation.

Let’s incorporate the H word into transportation planning in Portland. Remember when livability rhetoric included transit and pedestrians, but it was hard for leaders to say the B word? Now bicycling is mainstream. Catherine O’Brien says we need to include happiness in the planning process. Plan for children “talking to friends, kicking pebbles, negotiating snow banks, jumping in piles of leaves or puddles.” The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition in partnership with the City of Portland and other communities around Oregon are increasing the opportunities for children to walk and bike to school and kick a few pebbles along the way. Instead of children’s safety perhaps we should make children’s happiness a planning goal.

Consider spiritual wellbeing and transportation. If you ride a bike on a tree-lined avenue or interrupt your walk to admire a neighbor’s blooming passion flower with your child in hand, you know what O’Brien means by spiritual well-being in relation to transportation. O’Brien’s paper quotes Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota.

We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people. Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. …We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. … All our everyday efforts have one objective: HAPPINESS (conversation with Peñalosa in Ives, 2002).

In Portland, we’ve reached planning goals other cities covet, but how much more can we achieve if we consider happiness first in transportation planning? Can we actually write the H word into the Transportation System Plan?

Stop Using Alternative Transportation [the word that is]

We bicycle advocates have never liked the term “alternative” transportation. It intimates a second choice, an alternative to something we really, really want. Hooey! Feet, bikes, and transit have been our first choice. A car is a good choice … when it’s the last choice. So finally, there’s a new term — “active” transportation. The more positive and accurate name says, “We choose our feet, and we feel great.”

Don’t quote me, but I think the term “active transportation” started with the collaboration of public health researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC directs Americans to walk for exercise, but where to walk? US cities are designed for cars not people. (Don’t get me started on mall walking.)

[Find some of the research.]

So enlightened folks at the CDC saw the connection between our auto-oriented, unwalkable American cities and the declining health of our citizens. (Of course there’s junk food and video games and computers and TV, but if kids could play in the street again … ah, the subject of a future blog.) With the exciting partnership between public health and transportation professionals, we can get back on our feet. Public awareness is the first step. And changing the usage of a single word creates awareness.

So repeat after me! Active transportation is the new alternative.