Leaders tout bike, pedestrian-friendly development in Charlotte this week

Gil Penalosa
Gil Penalosa

Charlotte is still an auto-centric city, but there’s a push to make it more hospitable for those on foot or bicycle.

A slate of events this week are designed to promote development that provides safer ways to get around for pedestrians and bicyclists. Gil Penalosa, an urban planner and founder of 8 80 Cities, addressed local political and business leaders Wednesday morning.

“You need to start building infrastructure, and then people will use it,” said Penalosa. “All of this is about, how do we want to live?”

His 8 80 Cities organization is founded on the idea that cities should be safe and accessible for people from ages 8 to 80.

“We need to stop building cities as if everyone was 30 and athletic,” said Penalosa.

It’s an issue likely to resonate in Charlotte, where traffic in the face of rapid growth is a major concern. While the fiercest political debates have centered around issues such as whether to build a streetcar line uptown or widen Interstate 77 with toll lanes, Penalosa said population growth means cities can’t build their way out of congestion using existing means of transportation.

And with the population of over-65 people set to rise in the U.S., along with the percentage of those who are overweight and obese, Penalosa said the time to build more bike and pedestrian-friendly ways of getting around is now.

“We need to develop a sense of urgency,” he said. Southminster and the Knight Foundation, which has funded efforts to increase bicycle use, brought Penalosa to Charlotte.

Soem of the infrastructure Penalosa advocates for is simple: Pedestrian refuge islands in intersections and protected bike lanes that separate cars from bikes with a physical barrier, for example. Others are more complex, such as major investments in park and greenway systems.

Penalosa was set to walk and bike various routes and greenways around Charlotte on Wednesday with local leaders. On Friday, he’s addressing the annual North Carolina Bike Summit, which is being held at UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus starting Thursday.

Sustain Charlotte is holding its first Biketoberfest on Saturday, a ride and scavenger hunt through Charlotte that will end with a party at Triple C Brewing Co.

And Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte are holding an event Saturday to unveil the finalized route of the Cross Charlotte Trail, a 26-mile bike and greenway trail that will run from Pineville to the edge of Cabarrus County.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo