This isn’t Portland, but we should still provide room for walking and bicycling
I try to have at least two car-free days a week, doing all my errands and commuting to work on foot, by bicycle, or by riding the bus. You may have seen me walking or riding around town; I’m out there in any weather and at most times of the day. I had to agree with Mayor Marv Teixeira’s assessment of bicycling in Carson City when Appeal editor Barry Ginter asked him what it’s like getting to work (temporarily until he gets his driver’s license back) on a bike. The mayor said, “I have a new appreciation for bicycle riders. You are the little guy!”
It’s sometimes scary to share the streets with machines weighing thousands of pounds when you’re under 200 pounds and made of breakable flesh and bone, especially when the drivers of those machines appear to be more interested in talking on their cell phones than on how they’re driving.
But we persist. There are more and more people who are convinced that a livable town is one that has plenty of space for bicycling and walking, and plenty of people using that space to bike and walk. As a member of a local community group called Muscle Powered, Citizens for a Bikeable and Walkable Carson City, I’ve been working for over nine years – along with many others – to make Carson City a better town for biking and walking. We’ve had some successes. Has anyone seen the new multi-use path along the Carson Freeway, for example? Check it out.
But it has been frustrating. This frustration was epitomized in a conversation I had recently with a city staff member. We were talking about potential bicycle and pedestrian improvements on a new street. After some fruitless discussion about what makes a safe, pleasant walking environment, he finally said “But this isn’t Portland!”
For those who haven’t been there, Portland is the “poster child” for a well-planned community that encourages alternative transportation. Sidewalks are wide, there’s a state-of-the-art public transportation system, bike lanes are abundant, public art and sidewalk cafes are everywhere and people are using them, even in Portland’s famous and persistent rain. When people talk about livable cities in the West, they always get back to Portland. Then in the next breath they say, “but this isn’t Portland.”
But Portland, and cities like it, didn’t just arise out of nowhere. Many people – citizens, elected officials, staff – worked for many years to make Portland the city it is. I believe that good cities and towns are made by a lot of persistent, thoughtful, well-planned but incremental efforts, not by a couple of big V&T-railroad-type projects.
Carson City might finally be on that road, at least in the downtown. After a couple years of work, including “visioning” sessions held during the recent master plan update, Carson City staff and consultants are presenting a new “mixed-use” development code for the downtown area to the planning commission. This new development code would allow for and encourage many of the features that make an accessible, lively, and vibrant downtown – moderately taller buildings with mixed commercial and residential use, wide sidewalks, screened parking, public art, street furniture, plazas, and more. I hope the leaders and residents of Carson City have the vision to adopt and support the ordinance, and not just pick it apart and say how it can’t work because “this isn’t Portland.”
Meanwhile, we’re still out there bicycling and walking on Carson City’s narrow or non-existent sidewalks and bike lanes. Come out and join us next month in Bike-to-Work Week on May 14-18 to make bicycle riding safer for all of us – a recent study in Sacramento concluded that the more bicyclists there are on the streets, the lower the rate of bike-car crashes. At least try to leave your car behind on May 17, proclaimed by Gov. Gibbons as “Nevada Bicycle To Work Day.”
In an acknowledgment of the danger that muscle-powered users sometimes face in sharing our transportation network with cars, Muscle Powered will be leading a Ride of Silence, part of a nationwide event to commemorate bicyclists and pedestrians killed in crashes with motor vehicles. We will meet on May 16 at 7 p.m. in the Capital Complex Park (Stewart Street side) north of the Legislative Building for a slow and silent ride around town.
• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a 19-year resident of Carson City.
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