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A Bicyclist's View of the Inauguration

From Alta Planning + Design, Feb. 3, 2009

Jeff Olson and Charlie Denney were among the million plus people who traveled to the national Mall in Washington D.C. for the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. From a bicyclist's perspective, there were two key aspects of this historic day: 1) The transportation management system for the event, and 2) The relationship between the bike / pedestrian / trails movement and our new national leadership.

First, the observations on the inauguration's mobility system: For the most part, the record-breaking crowd was happy and peaceful. Jeff flew on a 6:15am flight into BWI Airport, took a shuttle bus to the Metro Green Line, and walked from L'Enfant Plaza station to the Washington Monument before 11am. The transit system was jammed, there was pedestrian congestion on some streets, but the system worked. Charlie, his sons and friends rode their bikes from Arlington and had a smooth trip into DC since the Potomac River bridges were closed to private motor vehicles. Valet Bike Parking was set up along the mall up by local advocacy organization WABA and, although it was a very cold day by DC standards, there were thousands of bicyclists among the crowd.

After the event, Charlie biked home and Jeff walked the length of the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, then across the I-66 Roosevelt Bridge to the Rosslyn metro station. On the way, he ran into FHWA Bike/Ped Coordinator Gabe Rousseau and WABA Director Eric Gilliland. With no cars on the roads and bridges, it looked like the great "Sunday Parkways" program had been adopted by our nation's capital. There was pedal taxi service across the river, people were stopping on the bridges for photos of the DC skyline, and the views of the Iwo Jima memorial from the middle of the freeway ramps were spectacular. It is important to note that even on a very cold day, people were happy to walk and bike to and from this major event – a key lesson for urban crowd management and transportation planning.

The bigger question of the Inauguration is whether the new administration will make walking, bicycling and trails a priority. There have been significant discussions on Capitol Hill about including funding for sustainable solutions in the President's stimulus package. We know that there are potentially billions of dollars worth of 'shovel ready' bike, pedestrian and trail projects waiting to be built in communities across the country. As a nation, we need to make sure that the stimulus program creates a better transportation system - with complete streets, safe routes to schools and non-motorized mobility as key themes. This is the promise of an administration that campaigned for change, and a country that needs a new green infrastructure. Alta will continue to be part of this effort, and we are in a unique position to help our clients, agencies and communities through these challenging times.

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