'Livability expert' shares transportation expertise with Comox Valley

GIL PEÑALOSA (left) chats with local cycling advocate Ed Schum at Simms Millennium Park. - Scott Stanfield
GIL PEÑALOSA (left) chats with local cycling advocate Ed Schum at Simms Millennium Park.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

God has done 80 per cent of the work in the Comox Valley.

What we do with the other 20 per cent is of interest to Gil Peñalosa, a livability expert who last week discussed with politicians and members of the public strategies to make the Valley one of the most livable places in the world.

One way is through active transportation.

"We're not designing cycling facilities just for men in spandex between the ages of 20 and 50," said Peñalosa, executive director of 8-80 Cities, a non-profit organization dedicated to the transformation of people-oriented communities. The 8-80 refers to the age range that can access such communities.

"Think eight- to 80-year-olds."

Peñalosa said Valley politicians need to work together to improve cycling infrastructure and to build a cycling network, which is conducive is building a cycling culture. The Valley, like other communities, has the beginnings of a network for one or two kilometre stretches but "doesn't connect" throughout, which therefore prevents some people from using it.

His message, however, extends further than transportation and cycling. It looks at ways in which cities can promote longer, healthier lives.

"It's about how to how to get a vibrant community where people can live happier," said Peñalosa, who believes pedestrians and cyclists on $40 bikes are as important as people driving $40,000 cars.

He recommends reducing all neighbourhood roads to 30 km/h, and separating barriers between cars and bicycles to make all ages feel comfortable.

After all, streets make up the largest proportion of public spaces, said Peñalosa, noting communities around the world host events known as Ciclovia, or car-free days where streets are opened to pedestrians and cyclists, often in conjunction with fitness activities and festivals.

Creating walking- and cycling-friendly places is a political issue, which is why Peñalosa advocates partnerships involving schools, health authorities, environmental groups, seniors, accessibility advocates and all levels of government.

He challenged his audiences to think of ideas that could be adopted and adapted. While each community is different, common principles apply.

For instance, a significant portion of the population in any community does not drive. Young people eager to jump behind the wheel and older adults worried about having their licence revoked need easy access — less than 10 minutes by foot — to "basic necessities" such as the library, grocery store or bus stop.

"Even in the wealthiest neighborhoods of the Comox Valley, 30 to 40 per cent of people don't drive," Peñalosa said. "Neighbourhoods need to be more complete."

The Comox Valley Cycling Task Force and Comox Valley Cycling Coalition hosted Peñalosa, who spoke Thursday at the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay and Friday at d'Esterre House in Comox.

The task force is comprised of politicians and staff from each of the four local jurisdictions. The non-profit coalition is dedicated to creating a safe environment for cycling, and to encouraging the activity as an economical, healthy and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.

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