What the what?
Nov. 30, 2010
Total mileage: 3,107
Charrettes: In urban planning, meetings involving all stakeholders (municipal officials, developers, and residents), with the goal of producing joint ownership of solutions.
Yeah, I had to look it up, too. I easily could have drifted through life without knowing the meaning of “charrette” but for this past summer’s bikeways planning sessions in Topeka. As a dedicated velo-commuter for much of the year, I looked forward to giving the planners a piece of my mind, a.k.a feedback. To do that, I had to learn a new word.
Back in 2009, Topeka’s bikeways future looked pretty grim after the city council’s attempt to fund the process was vetoed by our shortsighted mayor. Thankfully, a public outcry ensued, and the state department of transportation offered up the needed match for federal planning dollars. The design firm was chosen, an online survey was posted, and the charrettes finally were announced.
Topeka’s cycling community is small enough that its members salute each other when passing on the streets. It’s a tiny and seemingly tight confederation. That’s why it was so surprising to walk into the first charrette and see a roomful of people I didn’t know. We were all probably thinking the same thing: “What the what? Who are all these people, and where did they come from?”
Omaha’s RDG Planning & Design had won the bid for bikeways planning, and it quickly became clear that they knew their stuff. These people are cyclists themselves. I recognized the lead from Bike Ride Across Nebraska, and as the meeting began he talked about Topeka’s streets in such a way that we all knew he had ridden them himself. The online survey set up by RDG had yielded over 1,000 responses, and our charrette group reviewed the detailed results before moving on to specific streets being considered as bike routes. Many of these same streets were being ridden already by cycling commuters. By the end of the evening, the audience members were satisfied that this was the plan for us.
As I walked out of the northwestern charrette, I wondered what it would be like to ride the proposed routes even though they weren’t on my way home. At first it was strange to turn the bike in the wrong direction after leaving work, but it quickly became something I looked forward to. Fall had just begun, but the days were still warm and long. Well into October, the Sweetpea carried me down wide, tree-lined boulevards with almost no traffic. For weeks I cycled these streets, enjoying the ride immensely. If this is the future for bicycle commuting in Topeka, bring it on. I look forward to the day when there are so many cyclists on the streets that we no longer feel the need to salute each other.
Mileage update: Thanksgiving week and family time = shortage of cycling time.