Activate!

Interview with Jeffrey Knowles, Pennsylvania Environmental Council

RA: What does Active Transportation look like now and what do you envision it looking like in the future?

JK: Last year over 13,000 Philadelphians bicycled to work. Philadelphia is now the number one city for bicycle commuting of the ten most populated cities in the nation. Add that to the 53,000 Philadelphians who walk to work, and the 150,000 more who combine walking with public transit. We start to realize how important it is to make our streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The growing popularity of active transportation can only be sustained and expanded by building safer bike lanes and connecting them to a larger trail system so that people can get where they need and leave the car at home. Success will be measured by the number of children and elderly we see bicycling. If we can make our streets safer, we will see more families making active transportation part of their lives.

RA: How did the idea for the Active Transportation Summit come together?

JK: As walking and biking grow in popularity, local governments and non-profit organizations are strategizing a region-wide trail network. The US Department of Transportation is investing $23 million in Philadelphia and Camden to build ten new trail segments that will be completed in the next two years. An additional $10 million from the William Penn Foundation will build more trails across the region.

The main goal of the Summit was to bring elected officials, public and non-profit trail developers, city planners, and pedestrian/bicycle advocates together to discuss the concept of an interconnected network of regional trails. There is much working going on in the region, but it has been somewhat disjointed and scattered. The regional trail network prioritizes the Schuylkill River Trail, East Coast Greenway, and Camden Greenways as the main regional trunks.

In his address at the Summit, Mayor Nutter called out for greater regional collaboration since many trails cross city, county and even state boundaries. The Summit was a great way to begin that regional dialog.

RA: How do you envision the large corporations engaging in support of Active Transportation?

JK: In Center City Philadelphia, the number one request of building owners is the need for more bike lanes because their office tenants are asking for them. The Comcast Tower—the largest office building in Philadelphia—has only 90 parking spaces, but over three hundred bicycles are parked outside every day. Businesses who want to attract and retain a talented and active workforce see the value of locating in areas where walking and biking are viable commuting options.

Q: Why should people care about Active Transportation?
Active transportation is a path toward reducing congestion, pollution, road related injuries and fatalities, rates of asthma, heart disease, and diabetes—all of which place a burden on us as taxpayers. Cities that succeed in the future will be the ones that offer their citizens a high quality of life and human powered transportation is part of that equation.

About the author

Rob Armstrong is the Preservation and Capital Projects Manager for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation where he works on projects related to the city-wide trail network, historic preservation and other park improvements. He earned his Ph.D. from Lehigh University in American History, investigating the history and development of Philadelphia's Park system and urban open space in Philadelphia. In his free time, he enjoys bicycling, music, reading, movies, homebrewing and rooting for the Phils.

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