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Urbanist superstar and bicycle safety expert visit Victoria, BC

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Put together an urbanist superstar (Gil Penalosa), a bicycle safety expert (Dr. Kay Teschke), elected officials and city staff from four local governments. Stir in a handful of cycling advocates and their bikes. Throw in an enthusiastic Urban Systems consultant, and what do you get? A very lively and inspired conversation on cycling enhancement in Victoria over a bike ride and some lunch, organized by Kate Berniaz.

Gil Penalosa is former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogota, Colombia. Despite poverty and challenges in Bogota, parks were redeveloped and a rapid bus system was built. On Sunday and holidays, the streets closed to cars and opened for walkers and cyclists. These projects were very successful.

For the past eight years, Gil has shared his insights and expertise with over 150 cities around the world. Gil is Executive Director of the Toronto-based non-profit organization 8-80 Cities which represents his passionate philosophy: “If you build a city that is great for an eight-year-old and for an 80-year-old, then you build a city that is going to be great for everybody.” Gil advises decision-makers on creating vibrant communities regardless of social or economic status. His focus combines sustainable mobility (walking, cycling and public transit) with designing great public spaces using parks and streets.

Dr. Kay Teschke is a professor from UBC who has researched the impact of transportation infrastructure on cycling safety. She cites statistics resulting from cycling studies. While Dr. Kay Teschke provided background science to the discussion, Gil motivated the group with his “get it done” personality that pushes cities to improve.

“Victoria is good, but could be great,” Gil said, specifically addressing Victoria’s potential. His message was to be ambitious and do more, if we want streets open to everyone for vibrant public spaces utilized by walkers and cyclists.

The 1.5-hour short-route cycle ride included a stop on a neighbourhood greenway to talk about traffic calming and traffic diversion. Later, on Pandora Street, the group stopped for a chat about one-way versus two-way cycle tracks. The Urban Systems-sponsored lunch was held at the Canoe Club on Victoria’s waterfront. There, both Gil and Victoria’s Mayor Dean Fortin gave short speeches. This gave the 15 participants a chance to get specific advice from the experts regarding greenways, Victoria’s first cycle track, and views on the city’s cycle master plan.

Kate saw this as a great opportunity for Urban Systems and others to get involved in this conversation, to listen to different perspectives, to share why we thought it was important to take part and to help problem-solve.

Victoria’s Mayor and several counsellors have expressed an interest in bringing Gil back to work in an on-the-ground capacity, implementing some of his best ideas supported by his guidance.
“The event was inspirational,” says Kate. “Urban Systems encourages us to take advantage of world class experts and thinkers on urbanism. Sometimes we get caught in technical details, like measurements. When we look at the bigger picture, when we implement big changes in how we move around the city, we see the huge impact of our work. It keeps Urban Systems and our clients motivated. I look forward to opportunities for Urban Systems to work with Gil in the future.”

You can witness Gil Penalosa’s high energy enthusiasm at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbTVtlpMuIc and his other talks on YouTube.
On Twitter, you can follow Gil @Penalosa_G and Dr. Teschke @kteschke.

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