Article by Tiffany Edwards, Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce
There is something truly refreshing about traveling to a new place—somewhere completely different than where you live. Every city has its own personality, but much like people, there are characteristics that different places share, or aspire to emulate.
This past July, I had the privilege of joining a group of University of Oregon students, their professors and other local professionals on a study-abroad summer course to study the sustainable transportation infrastructure in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. I was one of five professionals who accompanied the students for the majority of the month-long course abroad to learn alongside the students and to mentor and advise them on how to bring everything they were learning home to Eugene in a way that might have a lasting impact.
What I’m about to share isn’t an example of something that’s happened in our region, but it’s an example of a transformational local policy decision that has drawn worldwide attention and had a positive domino effect on everything from business and economic development to quality of life.
During our time abroad, we traveled to several cities that were once very much like our U.S. cities, where streets are for cars and investments in infrastructure are auto-centric. However, at
a point in time back in the 1950s when most cities in the U.S. made the choice to stay the course and pave the way for the auto manufacturers to thrive, political leaders in these European cities had a different vision. Rather than accommodate the growing need for cars and parking, they made the deliberate decision to create public spaces and infrastructure that would ensure people would feel safe and welcome—without being overwhelmed by cars. Now, experiencing these cities over half-a-century later has made a lasting impression on me and I see the potential for significant, world-wide impact.
While traveling in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, we commuted almost exclusively by bike, learning from local exports about transportation, design, infrastructure and “space-making.”
We experienced the city not as tourists but as students observing everything from culture to design. What was very noticeable to me were the people out and about. People were everywhere; in cafes and restaurants, shopping, socializing, and biking. And yes, there were cars—but they weren’t dominating the roads and were generally segregated from the bicycle and pedestrian traffic. You almost didn’t notice them.
People of all ages came together in a social setting where it felt relaxed, safe and significantly easier to stop in for a latte or buy that must-have item in the window. These cities have bustling
commerce, tourism and a superior quality of life because they made a decision decades ago to reduce cars and parking. Spaces were created that people would enjoy experiencing by bike or on foot. As an added benefit, people are healthier, kinder to the environment and far less dependent on fossil fuels. Over half of the people in these cities commute by bike and when asked why, it’s because biking is hands-down the fastest, most convenient way to get from point A to point B. People aren’t racing but are traveling at an easy pace where conversation f lows from bicyclist to bicyclist.
Who is ready to trade in their Honda for a Huffy? No, that’s not what I’m suggesting; like I mentioned previously, there are certainly cars and parking in these bicycle-friendly cities. But, I will say this: if we were to prioritize investments to diversify the infrastructure and create a safer and more robust space for non-auto modes of travel, those who might otherwise drive may be more likely to choose bikes or other means for those trips. In turn, those who are least likely to move away from their cars, will actually find it less congested. I do believe the biggest benefit would be improvements to business, ease in attracting more types of businesses and an increase in customers to those establishments. As I saw first-hand, by slowing people down, reducing cars and making it physically easier to access businesses, commerce increases and businesses thrive. After all, they call it “foot traffic” for a reason.
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