8 - 80: why it matters

Imagine the kind of place in which you want to live.

My imagination conjures up a happy place. A place that attracts young workers; where children grow up pedaling to school; where older folks walk around their neighborhood and can find a bench to sit and take a breath.

Recently, I spent an evening listening to one of my heros, Gil Penalosa, executive director of 8 - 80 Cities. It was the second time I’ve had the pleasure to hear about his “8 - 80 Cities” vision and both times he challenged me to stretch my imagination.

8 - 80 cities is a vision of a city designed for ages eight through eighty years old. They are the wave of the future and we have the power to create them, says Penalosa. In his presentation, Penalosa challenges the audience to compare Seattle to the best cities in the world—Paris, Vancouver, Melbourne, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Portland, just to name a few—and take stock of what makes them great.

Those cities share several common elements: numerous, delightful public spaces and parks; convenient and abundant bike-parking; lots of pedestrians and bike riders; wayfinding signs; protected bike routes; and bike sharing programs.

Penalosa’s recipe for a “spicy” 8 - 80 city:

Start with public space, as it is “the glue that links it all together,” according to Penalosa.

Add great space for pedestrians to walk. “When people walk they use their senses and it makes them happy to hear birds singing, see children playing, smell the aroma from the coffee shop,” he adds.

Then, mix in space for people to ride bikes. “It’s just a more efficient way of walking,” says Penalosa. As Parks Commissioner in Bogota, Columbia, Penalosa’s administration built 280 km of protected bike lanes, increasing rid- ership from 28,000 to 350,000 during his three-year term.

Connect places to work, live and play with public transit.

Mix slowly. Reducing the speed limit to 20 mph increases a person’s chance of survival to 95 percent if hit by a car.

Spice it up with Open Streets or Ciclovias. The streets are closed to cars and opened for people. City parks serve up a wide variety of fun such as musical performances, yoga, aerobics classes and plenty of kid’s activities. Bogota attracted 1.8 million people to participate in it’s Ciclovia according to the New York Times. Penalosa is emphatic when he says, “There are no losers!” “It’s fantastic for business! It is the best thing Colombia has ever done!” This may sound like it’s as easy as baking a cake, but it “takes political will to get it done,” according to Penalosa.

Why 8 - 80? When thinking about investments in pedestrian and bike infrastructure, look no further than our children, “if it is safe enough for them, it is safe enough for everyone,” says Penalosa. If we begin now to provide safe ways for them to walk, bike or take the bus, we will have a healthier population, cleaner air and water, happier people in the workplace and a vibrant place to reside.

So how spicy is Seattle?

• Seattle has an updated Bike Master Plan and is currently updating the pedestrian plan with an eye towards becoming the most walkable city in the nation.

• Seattle’s plan to build 250 miles of neighborhood greenways and protected bikes lanes addresses the needs of a people-oriented mobility system.

• Through an active Safe Routes to School program, the city is funding speed cameras near schools; enforcing 20 mph speed limits in school zones; creating safer routes to schools along the neighborhood greenway network; and adding more sophisticated, safer, signals at intersections.

• Recently installed Broadway and Second Avenue protected bike lanes in Seattle dramatically changed the feel of riding those two busy streets from scary to comfortable. Ridership on Second Avenue has increased threefold since it’s opening, and people who have never ridden in the city are giving it a try.

Although we are well on our way to becoming one of the cities on Penalosa’s short-list, there is still plenty of hard work ahead. Seattle has an upcoming opportunity to create an amazing, community space, with the Westlake Protected Bike Lane Project. A generous amount of separated space allocated to pedestrians and bicyclists through the public space along the Lake Union waterfront, Cheshiahud Loop Trail, reflects a city committed to future growth in South Lake Union and creates an enticing environment for current citizens, families and prospective job seekers.

How will we know if all of this is working?

The answer, says Penalosa, is when people stay in the public space. They linger in the parks, have coffee in sidewalk cafes, take walks along pleasant and interesting corridors. Kids play in their neighborhood streets and ride their bikes to school, arriving more ready to learn.

Imagine this people-oriented place. What does it look like? I challenge you to ask yourself: what types of city investments support that vision?


Robin Randels's picture
Robin Randels