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Saturday November 22nd 2014

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A Bicyclist’s Dream

Today’s roadways are designed for the automobile. On many stretches, bikers and walkers finds themselves living on the edge between the curb and the cars.

“As in, if-you-suck-in-your-gut-and-pray-real-hard-you-might-make-it,” Pensacola City Councilwoman Megan Pratt described a particularly sketchy stretch. “I’m not letting my kids ride their bikes there.”

Pratt was the featured speaker last night at a meeting of Sustainable Gulf Coast, a local environmental organization. The councilwoman spoke about creating a more pedestrian and bike-friendly city via the incorporation of Complete Streets concepts.

“It’s basically the idea that our streets should be built for all uses,” Pratt explained the Complete Streets notion.

The city council recently passed a resolution to employ Complete Street practices—bike lanes, sidewalks, etc.—whenever possible and feasible. It also formed a Complete Streets Ad Hoc Committee, on which Pratt sits.

“We’re just getting our sea legs,” she said of the newly formed committee.

The councilwoman told the group gathered at the Bayview Park senior center that the city would be looking to try Complete Streets methods on roadways that were scheduled for work, and where the highest benefit could be found for the lowest cost. One idea she offered up was painting “sharrows” on some streets, which would alert drivers that bikes travel in a portion of the outside lane.

“The thing is, you can be there anyway,” said one man in the audience, noting that bikers are allowed to travel in the lane nearest the curb.

“Sometimes, though, the cars need some help,” Pratt said, having earlier explained that creating a bike-friendly community would also require a societal shift in mentality—“how are we as a city going to say ‘we embrace pedestrians and bikes?’”

In addition to attributing to healthier lifestyles and a better environment—less traffic, less pollution—the councilwoman said that facilitating a more bikeable, walkable city would also be socially positive.

“When you bike or walk by somebody you say ‘hi,’” Pratt said.

Prior to returning to Pensacola, Pratt lived in Boston, where she attained a Ph.D. in neurobiology from Harvard. She credited her time in that pedestrian-friendly city with exposing her to the possibilities beyond the automobile.

“Living in Boston got my eyes open to the way the world should be,” she laughed. “I didn’t own a car until I moved back here when I was 29.”

The councilwoman told the Sustainable Gulf Coast group that a more Complete Streets-oriented community—which also incorporates public transit, although the city is not focusing on that aspect—was not a silver bullet, but a good start.

“This is not going to save the world, you guys know this,” Pratt said. “We’re not going to get hundreds of bicyclists on the road all the time because we put a couple of ‘sharrows’ on the road. But it’s a way to get the dialogue started.”

The next Sustainable Gulf Coast event is scheduled for this Saturday. Christian Wagley will lead participants on a walking tour—entitled Our Changing Climate: A Walking Tour of Downtown Pensacola—on which they will explore creative and cost-effective ways the community can adapt to the climate change.

The walking tour is from 10 a.m. to noon, and begins in front of the Old Christ Church in the downtown’s historic district. For more information, call (850)687-9968.