Thursday, May 4, 2017

Walk, bike drive?

By Sarita Chourey; content manager and Uptown editor
Travelers Rest Mayor Wayne McCall lives about a block from the Swamp Rabbit Trail — and that’s led to some unusual requests.
“You’d be surprised how many people, when I’d be out cutting the grass or doing something the yard, would come up and say, ‘Do you want to sell your house?’” he said.

“I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to sell my house.’ But (they respond), ‘We want to live here because you’re a block away from the trail.’”

The nearly 20-mile multi-use greenway system links the cities of Travelers Rest and Greenville. The trail, located on a former rail bed, connects Greenville County with schools, parks, and local businesses.

McCall was one of six participants on a panel Thursday at the  Mayor's Bike and Walk Summit in Columbia. The others participants were City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, City of Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts, City of Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols, City of Greenville Councilmember Amy Ryberg-Doyle and City of Charleston Design Division Director Allen Davis.

The City of Columbia hosted the event, which was organized by the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, Palmetto Cycling Coalition,S.C. Safe Routes to School Resource Center and the American Diabetes Association.

The point McCall was making is that walkability, whether a trail or pedestrian-and-bike friendly design, draws visitors (more than 500,000 users annually to the Swamp Rabbit Trail), homebuyers, business investments and other benefits that come with a high quality of life.

Some questions posed during the panel discussion included:
  • How do you change the public’s attitude toward walking relatively short distances and stop, for instance, expecting a parking spot to be right in front of a restaurant?
  • If a city’s trails or walkability gets “too” popular, what are the implications for longstanding residents in the event of gentrification and displacement?  
  • How do cities add parking in a way that still encourages other modes of transportation, while also enhancing a city’s appearance and sustainability?
One audience member who had lived in Europe said European cities are not having the same debate. Instead, they are trying to come up with ways to reduce the number of cars in town, not to better accommodate more and more cars, he said.

Why not leapfrog the current conversation about parking — on-street spots, subterranean and surface lots, vertical garages, retail-on-the-bottom garages — and cut straight to the debate European cities are having about how to have fewer personally owned automobiles in cities and what that means for the non-motoring public?

A central dilemma is how to address the reality that cities must accommodate existing population pressures and demands while also preparing for an age when, perhaps, ride-booking businesses, autonomous vehicles and other innovations will call for new and different infrastructure.

“A much more thoughtful use of public resources always contemplates the fact that we don't know where we’re going to be in 30 years,” said Benjamin. “We’ve got some pretty good indicators, so we need to make sure we don’t over-build in a way that we could have used some of those very same dollars in a much more effective way to actually go where we know our public wants to go.”

This topic will be explored more in-depth in the upcoming summer issue of Cities Mean Business magazine and the July issue of Uptown.

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