#WalkBikeForward: Join us on our journey honoring key moments and people that have shaped our field as we celebrate 20 years of creating active, healthy communities.
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.