Knight Foundation 8-80 Cities

Every City Should Have a Law of Two Words

Pedestrians First – Gil Penalosa

00 Intro

This Principle in Action Means One Thing

LIVABLE CITIES start slowly, says Gil Penalosa, founder and chair of 8-80 Cities. They start with traffic slowed down to 20 mph in neighborhoods, to make pedestrians safe whether they are eight or 80 years old. Bike lanes are physically separated from roadways so people who would have never considered biking feel safe pedaling their toddlers to school. They have public spaces that celebrate public life, including parks where people can gather, play and rest. And they have clean, fast, public transportation that gives people choices about how to get around. When Gehl Architects Founding Partner Helle Søholt hears people say change is impossible culturally or financially for their city, she points out that even Copenhagen had to change culturally to be as livable as it is now, with downtown squares that once served as parking lots for commuters are now ringed with restaurants and retail, linked by commercially vibrant walking streets.

To design streets for everybody, design for pedestrians first – slow speeds, raised crosswalks. Next, make streets interesting for walkers.
Success isn’t more Spandex; it’s a woman biking to a business meeting dressed exactly as if she were driving. First step: Make bikers feel safe.
Parks, walkable streets and other public places are great equalizers; they bring people together, and they can energize people through recreation.
High-speed buses with dedicated lanes are the most cost-effective way to move people, though offering choices to commuters is best of all.
01 Walkability

First Pillar: Walkability

WALKABILITY is practical. Growing cities can’t build enough roads to stay ahead of worsening traffic, and a car with a single occupant is the most inefficient use of a street. But walkability is about more than efficiency. Human beings enjoy being places where they feel safe, can be social, can eat, drink and shop, and that’s a good reason to create those places. As one 8-80 Cities report notes, “Walking is part of every journey we make. While not everyone drives, bikes, or takes transit, everybody walks ... Not to mention that walkable cities are some of the most economically vibrant and competitive cities in the world. Have you ever heard anyone coming back from Paris to talk about how wonderful the highways are?”

Key Points

  • Lowering the speed of cars is essential. An accident at 20 mph has a 5 percent mortality rate; at 40 mph the mortality rate climbs to 85 percent.
  • Adding medians to streets lowers accidents by 56 percent.
  • Giving pedestrians the walk signal six to seven seconds before the light turns green makes them visible to turning cars.
  • Encouraging each block to have multiple establishments instead of long facades makes the streetscape friendly and interesting.
  • It’s possible to prioritize pedestrians and still allow cars, but prioritizing cars rarely works well for pedestrians.

The first rule of livable cities: pedestrians first

“Every single trip begins with walking,” said Penalosa, who has advised cities...

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“Walkability helps to create a human social network”

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02 Bikeability

Second Pillar: Bikeability

BIKEABILITY means designing cities to attract more bikes and fewer cars. There are many reasons to do it, including fighting gridlock and obesity. But many cities are going about it the wrong way, according to Penalosa, by “investing in the 2 percent who already bike, not the 98 percent who don’t.” The biggest reason people don’t bike? They don’t feel safe. The leading way to change it? Separate bike lanes from car lanes with some kind of physical barrier, not just paint. The other common error? Creating bike lanes and trails that don’t connect to anything. Copenhagen has gone so far as to connect its downtown network to a suburb via a “cycle superhighway.” Downtown, the lanes are so ubiquitous that many find the bike the easiest way to go to work, take kids to school or shop.

Key Points

  • The way to attract new riders is to make them feel safe on the road.
  • Separating bike lanes from the road with curbs or planters benefits all vehicles.
  • Create a minimum network connecting popular destinations; bike paths to nowhere won’t succeed.
  • Bike-sharing programs can be a safe, effective way to make people more mobile.

Want to build a bikeable city? Focus on those who don’t bike

There are plenty of good reasons to plan cities so they attract more bikes and fewer cars. But according to 8-80 Cities Executive Director Gil Penalosa, many cities are going about it the wrong way...

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“Bicycling is just a more efficient form of walking”

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03 Public Spaces

Third Pillar: Public Spaces

PUBLIC SPACES, including parks and walkable streets, are vital to the fabric of the city. They help people lead healthier lives and to socialize. Parks are great equalizers; they are the same for the poor as for the rich. And they are more important for those with less, who may have few options outside of work. They work best when linked, with walkable streets linking parks and other magnets of public life together. public spaces have the potential to promote civic engagement and economic integration; the challenge is to find the best ways to put public life into public spaces.

Key Points

  • Cities need different sizes of parks: small ones, where neighbors can meet, larger ones, for sports; and outdoor nature areas for “contemplative” activities such as canoeing.
  • Make places for parents to watch, not just kids to play, so neighbors will stay around and get to know each other.
  • Be creative. Look for underused spaces like parking lots to transform into gathering spaces with affordable interventions like chairs, paint, umbrellas.
  • It’s often easier to get millions to build a park than thousands to manage it, but managing and programing to engage the community is essential.

Does placemaking help democracy?

Planning, designing and managing public spaces with human beings squarely at the center of the picture produces remarkably livable cities and economic growth. Does it also strengthen democracy by bringing people together to address shared issues?

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“Does it also strengthen democracy by bringing people together to address shared issues?”

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04 Public Transportation

Fourth Pillar: Public Transportation

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION is most effective if it is designed with the public, not just transportation, in mind. People respond to transport that is clean, modern and fast – something that gets them where they are going faster than a car and makes them feel valued at the same time. High-speed buses are the most cost-efficient form of public transport, according to Penalosa, but the most important thing is that public transport reach all parts of a city. The goal is not to ban cars or insist on bikes, but to give residents choices.

public Transportation

Key Points

  • public transport should be comfortable, affordable, efficient and attractive. It should send a message that those who ride it are important.
  • public transport should be accessible from all parts of the city, to give people choices.
  • public transport should be attractive. For example, when a bus looks like a trolley, people have more positive reactions.
  • public transport should send a message that those who ride it are important.

“Opportunities are created through proximity”

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05 Changing Culture

Changing Culture

Advocates of livable cities often come up against assumptions blocking change. European cities were built hundreds of years ago to human scale; it’s different in North America. Biking and walking aren’t safe. It’s too hot/cold here to bike. Our fire trucks are too big for narrow streets. The fact is, change can happen; it’s a matter of priorities. One of the world’s most livable cities, Copenhagen, was choked with commuter cars in the 1970s, and the downtown economy was hollowing out as industry left. Now, more than half of the city’s commuters travel by bike, walking streets have proved a boon to merchants, and skilled employees attracted by the lifestyle are attracting companies looking for talent. Copenhagen residents embrace outdoor cafes in all but the worst weather. Culture can change.

No excuses: The myths vs. facts of building livable cities

Emily Munroe has heard the excuses so many times that the 8-80 Cities executive director includes a “myth vs. fact” section to the toolkit in her organization’s consulting reports. Everyone seems to love the idea of making cities more livable...

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Find out your community's walk and transit score!

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06 Resources

Additional Resources

The Human Scale

Jan Gehl and the livable cities movement.

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8-80 Cities

Design cities for eight- and 80-year olds, and they’ll work for everyone.

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Gehl Architects

Changing cities by putting humans at the center.

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Study tour gets street-level view of how Copenhagen reinvented itself

Riding bikes through an unfamiliar city may be the easy part. Taking home lessons learned will take skill...

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Creating a more connected Charlotte, N.C.

Could Charlotte compete with Copenhagen as the happiest and most livable city in the world? What would it take?

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Knight Cities podcast with Carol Coletta

Meet the civic innovators taking charge of their cities’ futures...

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Video Mixtape: Civic Innovators

These community leaders attended The Doable City forum organized by 8-80 Cities not just to learn but to share doable ideas for making communities more livable, so they can attract and keep talent, open up opportunity, and create space for engagement.

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Livable cities are becoming a science, but civic engagement is still an art

What do bike lanes and parklets have to do with supporting informed and engaged communities, Knight Foundation’s mission? Plenty, it was clear from the “8-80 Cities Forum: The Doable City” held this week in Chicago, attended by civic innovators from 19 communities where John S. and James L. Knight once owned newspapers....

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More resources for designing livable cities

Here are a few of our favorite links to explore the science and art of designing livable cities.

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06 our mission Knight Foundation

Our Mission

KNIGHT FOUNDATION supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.