A transportation definition of democracy


Enrique Peñalosa rides his bike. Photo by Colin Hughes. 

I wish I was there to hear Enrique Peñalosa speak to the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian Safety on August 17th. He’s now the director for Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which I liken to an international version of Chicago’s own Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). Prior to ITDP, he was a mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, where he built a world-renowned bus rapid transit (BRT) called TransMilenio and hundreds of kilometers of bike paths.

Why was he in Chicago?

Aside from being invited by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), it seems like he wanted to throw his support behind all the efforts going on in Chicago right now (that we’re covering on Grid Chicago) that move us to a society that prioritizes efficient modes of transportation (like walking, bicycling, and using transit) and creates a new balance in transportation provision that’s more equitable (thus, the transportation definition of democracy).

MPC blogged last Friday about his “address” to the City Council:

“Address” may be too passive a word – it’s more accurate to say that he regaled, cajoled, preached, implored – whichever word you choose, the man is passionate about the importance of democratic transportation decision-making to support the many ways people get around. A sampling of his thoughts:

“Quality sidewalks and protected bicycle paths are not cute architectural features; they are a right, unless we believe that only those with access to a car have the right to safe individual mobility.”

“A protected bicycle way is a symbol of democracy. It shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as one in a $30,000 car.”

“Parking is not a constitutional right.”

Read the full article by Marisa Novara and Meghan McNulty about how he and other mayors and cities are democratizing space. They mention Shanghai, China; Paris, France; London, England; and New York City, New York. And what of Chicago? Well, Rahm Emanuel’s administration has started its endeavors with the Kinzie Street protected bike lane, and a commitment for 99.5 more miles, as well as starting construction on the Bloomingdale Trail before his first term is over.

I must note that the MPC article implies the Pedestrian Plan, or at least its “walking workshop” on August 24, is a product of new leadership in Chicago. But the Pedestrian Plan has been in production since at least early 2010, before the mayoral election campaigns began.


Enrique speaks to City Council Committee on Pedestrian Safety members, August 17, 2011. Rey Colón is 35th Ward Alderman, on the far right. Photo by Adolfo Hernandez of Active Transportation Alliance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *