A Holiday Gift For Cities (Part I)


Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
Jane Jacobs
The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Maybe you’re reading this in between e-mails, bracing yourself against the never ending to-do list. Or in a crowded airport. Or in a bus, balancing your bouquet of belongings as you squeeze between other riders.

We understand the hustle never ends, but we have a request: slow your roll and pause.

Notice yourself among your surroundings: your coworkers, fellow travelers, passengers.

Notice your environment: your office, a bus, the streets just outside that hug and guide every aspect of your physical life.

Take a moment away from reading, we’ll wait.

The year-end season focuses on joy, gratitude, and good will, but it can be hard to carve out space for reflection. So this holiday season we asked folks to take a moment and express good will towards their city, a wonderful ecosystem that has the “capability of providing something for everybody.”

We asked, “If you could gift your city anything, what would it be?” We hope the answers below bring holiday cheer and inspiration.

(This is the first of a two-part series.)

If you could give your city the gift of one piece of new infrastructure, service or planning process, what would it be and why?

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Programs and Resources

“I would give our city the gift of I-976 NOT passing. This statewide initiative drastically cut an important source of transportation funding and if fully implemented, would force the City of Seattle to cut more than 100,000 bus service hours. In addition, the City of Seattle would lose funding for the mayor’s program to provide free bus access for 15,000 Seattle High School students and 1,500 low-income residents, and funding for pothole repair, neighborhood safety measures like stairways and traffic circles and significantly impact street repaving, crosswalks and street cleaning budgets. The cuts required by this initiative will be potentially catastrophic for Seattle and our region.

It is a transportation demand management nightmare that Seattle doesn’t need in the face of historic levels of population growth and changes in how we travel to and through the economic engine of the Puget Sound region.”
— Heather Marx, Seattle DOT, Director of Downtown Mobility

(Unfortunately for Heather, I-976 passed between the time she submitted this answer and we put together this piece. As we enter 2020, a critical election year, please go out and support the candidates and ballot measures by casting your vote. Your cities depend on it.)

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“The one wish that I have for my city, and for cities across the nation is achievement of Vision Zero, the elimination of traffic fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways.”
— Amanda Woodall, Divvy Bike Sharing Program Director

“We have a crisis in America of negligent people killing other people with cars. It needs to stop, and we need to ask ourselves as cities, as metro regions, and as a country whether urban mobility would be better achieved without cars. If that’s not possible, we definitely need to slow down cars in cities: take steps through design and enforcement to ensure no one’s driving more than 20 mph. Even with slower traffic, we probably also need to reduce the number of cars in cities to make our streets safe for people walking and bicycling, and tools such as congestion pricing and market pricing of curb space are good ways to nudge people to take other modes. The carrot to that stick is, of course, feasible alternatives: transit that’s actually frequent enough to be convenient, a connected network of separated bike lanes, and intersections with shorter crosswalk crossing distances and more frequent walk lights.”
— Alex Ellis, City of Providence, Principal Planner


“I would give San Francisco a leader with the courage of the Cowardly Lion — to be bold and act in the face of fear! To stand down the NIMBY’s and naysayers — slash parking for bikeshare, stripe bus lanes on every thoroughfare, give us congestion pricing and protected bike lanes as far as the eye can see. Stand up and choose people over cars! PUT ’EM UP! PUT ’EM UP!”
— Lauren Bennett, Transportation Manager for a Corporate Program in South San Francisco

Reminding ourselves what courage looks like.

Kindness and Humanity

“Empathy. I know that may not seem like a piece of infrastructure, but it strikes me as even more fundamental than a can of paint. Without empathy for our communities, change is not productive. Empathy for all users is what allows us as mobility professionals to understand the needs and wants that drive our planning decisions. Wouldn’t it be magical to wave a wand, and gift our lawmakers, planners, residents and neighbors with empathy for one another? Think about how glorious community meetings would be, with the ability to see the people behind the comments!”
— Sabrina Sussman, Zipcar, Senior Manager of Public Partnerships and Policy

“I would offer cities the gift of kindness. Cities work as functional economies when we see everyone equally as a potential customer. They thrive, however, when we each see the common spark of humanity in each other.”
— Jeff Tumlin, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Executive Director

In the spirit of giving, we also asked, which non-profit or advocacy group do you hope gets some extra love this season?

WTS! I strongly believe in increasing representation in the field of transportation. Women in Transportation Seminar curates opportunities for women leading in the field of transportation, and offers mentorship, career advice, and networking opportunities to young professionals getting started in the field.”
— Claudia Preciado, Remix, Director of Growth

The Complete Streets Coalition for Smart Growth America. They have done a fantastic job helping cities make streets safer and more efficient for all modes.”
— Sharmila Mukherjee, Executive Vice President, Capital Metro

RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, deserves all your money. Our transportation difficulties pale into insignificance when compared with the horrors at our border. They defend the right of immigrants and refugees, empower individuals, families and communities and advocate for liberty and justice. Now THAT is something I can get behind! Locally, I’m a big fan of Bulldog Haven, a bulldog rescue group. We got our sweet Abby through them and you know how I feel about bulldogs!”
— Heather Marx, Seattle DOT, Director of Downtown Mobility

Safety, empathy, courage! Jane Jacobs would approve of these holiday gifts. Thank you to our contributors and stay tuned for our second round of answers.