Archives for the month of: July, 2009

Talk about downtown revitalization. Check out this recent article in the New York Times on the momentum downtown Cleveland is making along its E. Fourth Street corridor. The picture in this article says it all, as this area was a scary place to frequent several years ago. My brother, who rented a condo in the Historic Buckeye Building along this stretch, during its not-so-good years, predicted that this area would take off some day. Oh brother, were so right.

There are a couple of subtle insights in this article for downtown’s seeking to boost their fortunes.

One, play to your strengths. Cleveland certainly has by recognizing that fine dining and entertainment is what attracts people to their central core. Different cities have different niches–like spectator sports in Indianapolis and the music scene in Austin.

Second– location, location, location. Much of the foot traffic on Fourth St. is generated from nearby sports venues, businesses and residents. Capitalizing on these opportunities is essential to the vitality of a downtown.

Third, publicize your success. Someone was certainly wise in alerting the media about this quiet success story. And kudos to the photographer who shot the picture, for it effectively captures energy now resonating in the area. News flash: This NY Times article has now been widely populated throughout the Internet. Do you think this will generate interest in downtown Cleveland, from new businesses and investors. You bet. In the end, success begets success.

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Friday, May 15 is forever seared into my memory. On that day I was involved in a horrific automobile accident that destroyed my car. I walked away without physical injury but with a fresh mental determination to find an alternative to the 45,000 miles I was driving to and from work annually.After a weekend trip to Portland, Oregon, during which I contemplated my future career and transportation options, I returned home committed to a new path: I decided to walk away from my ultra stressful position as a human resources director and embark on a new start-up business. Coupled with that decision was the idea of purchasing a bicycle rather than another car.

My New Bicycling Interest

Reaching for the handlebars instead of the steering wheel is viewed as an increasingly good move amid unpredictable gas prices and environmental concerns. In fact this trend is gaining momentum in cities across America — from Columbus, Ohio to Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois to Folsom, California.

A quick trip to a local bike shop yielded me a new set of  (two) wheels in record time. My first ride home was fodder for late-night comedians, as I huffed and puffed my way through a series of steep inclines that greatly strained my 46-year-old, previously sedentary body. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of packing up my laptop and making short treks to local coffeehouses–my new satellite offices. The bike has also served as my short distance vehicle to regional transportation options like buses and light rail. The best part of this experience is regaining some healthy lifestyle habits while doing my small part for the environment.

My current hometown has the distinction of being one of the top cycling communities in the U.S. It boasts nearly 40 miles of bike trails and numerous scenic views of Folsom Lake and the American River. Cyclists commuting to work can take advantage of the American River Parkway trail, which runs from Folsom all the way to Sacramento. An ambitious neighbor of mine makes the 64-mile round trip ride to her job downtown on a daily basis.

Recent reports suggest that support for biking is growing steadily. According to America Bikes, a Washington, D.C. coalition of leaders advocating for bicycling in the federal transportation bill, federal transportation funds have supported more than 8,000 bicycle and pedestrian projects and helped build more than 20,000 miles of shared-use paths. These promising trends should be further bolstered by the advocacy efforts of Ray LaHood, our new U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who is a staunch supporter of biking and an avid rider himself.

All this bodes well for the future of ridership. So does the work of the League of American Bicyclists — an association that does an annual ranking of cities based on bicycle friendliness and advocacy efforts. The three top-tier cities on their list are Davis, California, Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado.

Davis is a city I have grown quite familiar with, having made a daily commute there for nearly three years. A popular college town with a population of over 50,000, Davis has long been recognized for its ecological sustainability efforts and commitment to environmental practices. It is also home of one of the most vibrant biking communities anywhere; in fact the per capita number of bikes ranks close to that of cars. When university classes are in session, passersby can witness every imaginable make and model of bicycle. During peaks of congestion, a sea of bikes, cars and pedestrians jostle for their rightful territory along the streets. As bicycling climbs in popularity, it is this issue — that bikes, pedestrians and cars often don’t mix well along shared roadways — that most troubles community planners.

And then there is Portland, the first city to be awarded platinum status for its ardent support of bicycling and considered by many to be the model city for others to emulate. The other top-tier community — Boulder, Colorado — touts an astounding statistic. According to Bicycling magazine, 14% of all trips taken by area residents are of the pedal-pumping variety (versus 1% nationally).

Despite all of the interest percolating around this mode of transport, challenges still exist. Inherent risks to cyclists are many, including erratic drivers and unevenly paved bike lanes. As with the scenario in Davis, cars and bikes increasingly must learn to co-exist with each other; a reality that has led to a sharp spike in cycling accidents over the past 10 years. Davis police routinely ticket riders who usurp the rules of the road. And in Toronto, Canada, an emerging biking mecca, a recent safe cycling week campaign yielded more than 3,500 tickets issued to drivers charged with endangering bicyclists.

Growing pains come with every change. The good news is biking is reaching unprecedented levels of popularity. And that bodes well on many levels: a more fit society, cleaner air, and greater flexibility in terms of transportation options.

And on that note, I’m off for another bicycle ride.