Last Sunday, New Brunswick hosted its first ‘Ciclovia’, an event where the streets are closed to cars so that they become fully open to people. The idea originated in Bogota, Colombia, and there are now hundreds of annual Ciclovias around the world. Although the name suggests that it’s for cyclists, a Ciclovia allows people to use the streets for any pupose- including walking, roller-skating, yoga, group aerobics, tai-chi- anything that’s not driving a car!
At the kickoff event for New Brunswick Ciclovia last Friday, the audience heard from Professor John Pucher, a long-term advocate for walking and biking infrastructure in the Central Jersey region, and a member of Rutgers University Bloustein School for Planning. Pucher amused and encouraged the crowd to keep advocating for a future where walking and cycling were given the importance they deserved. He introduced Gil Penalosa, founder of the advocacy group 8-80 Cities, which aims to make urban places fit for people of all ages. Penalosa is originally from Bogota, Colombia, the home of Ciclovia.
Penalosa pointed out that great places are walkable places, and that walking is the first part of every journey. His message was to enable walking, cycling, transit and great urban spaces to make livable towns and cities. If streets are not safe enough to send a 5-year old child out to walk by themselves, then we are failing in our duty to make livable urban spaces. An inspirational speaker, Penalosa chastised those who say providing walking and cycling facilities is too difficult or too expensive. For Penalosa, providing bicycling and walking infrastructure is a simple matter of political will. When politicians want to add bike-walk infrastructure, they will, as has been amply shown by the rapid rollout of bike lanes and enhanced public spaces in Chicago under Rahm Emmanuel and New York under Bloomberg’s outstanding transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Kahn.
Even in Bogota, Colombia, it was possible to add miles of bike lanes and huge acres of public parks when there was political will to make a more walkable, livable space. The audience were reminded that if politicians, judges and high-ranking engineers were regularly using transit, bikes and walking to get to work, then those types of infrastructure would get far better attention. This is as true in Princeton as anywhere else. We shouldn’t accept excuses from our elected officials and municipal staff- it’s time to stop lagging behind places like Bogota and New Brunswick and start building a first-rate network of bike-walk infrastructure to enable car-free living right here in Princeton.