By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
Each year, Rail~Volution brings together people from across the country who are passionate about building livable communities with transit. After a 20-year wait, this national conference finally came to Minnesota! Early this week, nearly 1,500 attendees participated in dozens of workshop sessions on topics ranging from equitable transit-oriented development to creative placemaking and complete streets implementation. They also pedaled around on Nice Ride bikes, rode buses and trains, and marveled at the amount of development taking place in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Everyone we asked spoke very positively about the 2014 conference and said they were amazed at how much we have going on in this region.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is an issue of American vitality. . . . We’re trying to push the envelope on transportation to grow America for a new generation.” (USDOT Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, speaking at Rail~Volution, on investing in multimodal transportation)
Transit for Livable Communities was involved in the conference this year in a number of ways: We served on the steering committee, lead a mobile workshop on bicycling, moderated a session on advocacy, and had a table in the exhibit hall. I even mustered the courage to present at the fun, fast-paced Pecha Kucha Slam on the challenges of bike/walk/and transit in our cold-weather climate.
Our mobile workshop highlighted some of the investments from the Bike Walk Twin Cities program. Sheldon Mains spoke about the work of Spokes Bike Walk Connect in the Seward neighborhood, helping neighborhood residents—including members of the local East African community— get a bike and learn to ride. Steve Saunders from the U of M spoke about two infrastructure projects—the new Dinkytown Greenway and the U of M Bike Center—as well as programs at the U of M to encourage the use of transit and bicycling. Haila Maze from the City of Minneapolis talked about redevelopment in Dinkytown. (Did you know that the Dinkytown CVS store has high sales and no off-street parking for cars?!)
“Just because you have a bike lane, doesn’t mean you’re bike friendly.” (MnDOT's Liz Walton, speaking at Rail~Voltion, emphasizing the importance of a holistic approach: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation/planning)
In addition to more than 20 mobile workshops, the conference featured nearly a hundred informative sessions. Here are a few cool things discussed at the sessions I attended:
- Los Angeles, with its 1.5-cent regional sales tax for transit/bike/walk, is embracing open streets in a big way. LA Metro is awarding $4 million to cities in the LA region to put on open streets events over the next 12 months.
- Transit agency general managers from Los Angeles, Boston, and Portland (OR) were asked to talk about what keeps them up at night. Maintenance of aging transit infrastructure was high on their list—although one general manager joked that despite the stresses of the job, he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.
- Transit phone apps are making access to transportation options easier. One session included the co-founder of an innovative new company from Minneapolis called OMG Transit. Their free app shows real-time bus, train, Nice Ride, HOURCAR, and car2go locations and arrival times.
- The new sharing economy, including ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber are growing quickly and will impact auto ownership and travel, and possibly transit ridership. Millennials are big users of these services.
Thank you to the conference steering committee, the local host committee, the hundreds of volunteers who helped plan the conference, and Rail-Volution CEO Dan Bartholomay and his planning team (now based in Minneapolis)!
We can't wait to continue the conversation when Rail-Volution travels to Dallas in 2015.
Photos courtesy of Barb Thoman and Kerry Thomas.