Stories in KONK Life

These are the stories that appeared in KONK Life while I was the City’s Bike Coordinator.

Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator Quits

By Pru Sowers; September 23, 2017

Bikeshare Program Dead On Arrival

By Pru Sowers; August 20, 2017

Free Duval Loop to Launch

KONK Life Editor; August 24, 2017

New Key West Bus Loop Delayed Again

By Pru Sowers; July 10, 2017

Three Bike Share Companies Vie for City Contract

By Pru Sowers; May 7, 2017

How To Get Around Key West and What To Do With Your Car When You Get Here

KONK Life Editor; March 16, 2017

Bike/Pedestrian Master Plan Consultant Hired

By Pru Sowers; February 5, 2017

Internet Bike Rental Company Solves Legal Problem

By Pru Sowers; May 23, 2016

Bike Florida Challenges Key West

By Guy Deboer; February 27, 2016

Key West Ruins Everything

Our home town of Key West.

Originally published as a Facebook post on March 17, 2019.

“Key West ruins everything” Mikey said just now in response to me reminiscing about past trips to Spring Training to watch the Nats when we lived in D.C. He’s right. I got it immediately.

The allure of going to watch baseball on the mainland just doesn’t hold the same appeal, now that we live in Key West. When we lived in the District, one would dream all dreary, cloudy, cold, dark winter of getting to Florida at the end of February and March to feel the sun on your face, breathe in the pollen filled air and see trees and flowers in glorious full bloom. Much as we love it, baseball was really a second-thought. Getting down here was a head start on spring and summer that we really needed.

But now that we live in Key West, we get sunshine and warmth year round. Now that we live car-free in a fun-filled little urban tropical oasis, why would we want to subject ourselves to the drive-only, suburban splendor that is mainland Florida? Yech.

No, now that we live in Paradise, the desire to travel to most any other place is fading. Yes, Key West does ruin everything.

D.C. Baseball, Tattoos and the World Series

Kenny Akers, Steven Parrish, Michael Legg and author Chris Hamilton.

Some thoughts on one fans’ journey from Senators, O’s and Washington Nationals as the first World Series game is played in the District since 1933. Note this was first posted on my Facebook page on October 21, 2019.

“Oh, you’re from Baltimore?” is the usual reaction I’ll receive when a stranger notices the 1954 Orioles Bird logo tattooed on my right arm. “No, actually I’m from Washington, D.C.” I’ll say and usually get a quizzical look and continue, “When you’re of a certain age and grew up as a kid with the Senators who left in 1971, and we didn’t have team for 33 years, it was fairly easy to follow the Birds who were just a few miles up the road.” Ohhhh they’ll nod. To confuse them further, I’ll go on, “But I’m a Nat’s fan now – because I’m a Washingtonian.”

Just last week Mikey turns to me and says “Are we having fun yet, because it doesn’t look like it.” I reply, “Yes, this is fun Mikey!” He questions this supposed fun because we sit there, contorting our bodies as if trying to sink into the couch and agonize out loud with the bases loaded, our hopes fading, as Daniel Hudson desperately tries to hold a lead. “Yes, playoff baseball is fun! This is what we wait all year for… Really.”

Over the last couple of weeks as our Nats have surmounted seemingly intractable obstacles and banished old demons by winning their first playoff series – the Wild Card (bye Brewers), then winning the NLDS (see ya Dodgers) – after being jilted four times in the last seven years (3 times in the final game at home), and then sweeping the NLCS (that’s for 2012 Cardinals) – I’ve begun to breathe easier. The week off, because of the unexpected sweep of St. Louis, has given me some time to think. To ask, why does this matter so much to me? Why does this seem at once so personal and yet so communal – shared with my fellow Washingtonians? Perhaps for me, like for so many of us, its because baseball has a way of working its way into your system. 162 times a year – more if you’re lucky. Year after year. Decade after decade. That’s a lot of games! Even as there is communal anguish or joy, we all experience it differently. Baseball has a way of becoming part of our life.

I have hazy memories of going to a couple games with my Dad, Granddad and Uncle Jimmy before the Senators left RFK Stadium for Texas. From those experiences I somehow recall the sense of awe at seeing the huge field of green upon entering RFK’s seating bowl. How is it that I know the names Hondo Frank Howard, Del Unser, Mike Epstein, Ed Brinkman, and more? While I was never good at the intramural version I played as a kid in suburban Crofton, I learned to loved the game. I followed it in the Washington Post and Star newspapers and at night on the radio.

I was a new or young enough fan that when the Senators left, it was easy enough to pick up with the O’s. After all, my mother’s extended family were all from Baltimore. We had ties there and visited relatives on occasion. It was my granddad Lou Cicero, one of six kids who grew up on Hanover Street just blocks from where Camden Yards would eventually be, who moved to the District with my Grandma Lucille during the 30’s to find work. And so our family were Washingtonians. My Mom grew up in D.C. and Adelphi. I was born in Georgetown Hospital. The family mostly worked for the government and/or worked downtown. The District was in our blood, even though with the arrival of kids, my parents decamped for the then exurbs of Levittown Bowie and Crofton as my Dad’s Navy job took him from Washington to Annapolis.

We still had the Redskins, who’s Over the Hill Gang captured the hearts of people across the D.C. area as they started fielding good teams under Coach George Allen. Sunday’s were family days and fall Sunday’s were spent together, often including watching football. The 1971/72 Redskins and their trip to the Super Bowl cemented us as a Redskins family for decades. But I only mention the Redskins to reinforce the family’s D.C. bonafides, this is about baseball.

What solidified my true love of baseball was the late 1970’s/early 80’s Orioles led by wascally Earl Weaver. By then I was in high school at Martin (now Bishop) Spalding, just south of Baltimore. Our gang liked drive up to Memorial Stadium, clap and hoot as we drove by the “Welcome to Baltimore” sign (oftentimes lovingly inscribed by some scofflaw with “Hon” at the end), grab a bunch of to-go subs at Tugboat Annies on 33rd Street (or if we had time, at Attman’s Delicatessen downtown) – yes we were allowed to bring food into the ballpark – and then head as close as possible to the famed Section 34 overseen by cab-driver and ultimate O’s fan Wild Bill Hagey. It was Wild Bill who taught us how to spell – O R I O L E S Orioles! We loved shouting “Eddie, Eddie” for our favorite player Eddie Murray and singing John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy at the 7th inning stretch.

Back then tickets were so easy to come by that for the 1979 playoffs we snagged a group of eight seats to see all the home games vs. the Angles in the LCS. I vividly recall the upper decks serenading the Angles with a full-arm jiggly whammy. We got another 8 seats for each of the home World Series games – the first of which was postponed due to snow – and we proudly perched in the outfield’s first row behind our homemade sign that read, “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now,” which had become the O’s and thus our anthem over the summer. The excitement of the series took on a cruel tone as our beloved O’s lost 3 of 4 home games, including game 7 to the Pittsburgh “We Are Family” Pirates. We despised the Pirates wives who had whistles and cow bells in OUR park. We were heartbroken that our bats went silent in the final two games despite our shouts. Even with the crushing loss, baseball was now more soundly embedded in my soul then ever. You never forget your first LCS and World Series.

As I began my twenties, my best friend Kenny Akers and I started a tradition to get together for the O’s Opening Day. We determined Opening Day is a holiday after all. By then I lived downtown in the District and he lived in Pennsylvania and then Delaware. But we always made it a point to meet up in Baltimore and go to Opening Day. We even made it a point to meet in Baltimore when the Queen came to Memorial Stadium. How could we not see the Queen? We didn’t miss an Orioles Opener – some twenty something years – until I broke the streak and attended the first Nats Opening Day instead. See…

…while it was fun and easy to follow, even love the O’s, as a Washingtonian, I always knew they were somehow being borrowed. Hope never died for baseball in our hometown. Throughout the 80’s there seemed to be rumors the O’s might move to D.C. or Howard County (you know – somewhere in the middle), or we might even get an expansion team or someone else’s team might move to the District. I remember in the early 80’s opening up a ‘Washington Baseball Riggs National Bank Savings Account’ that was supposed to show prospective owners we had people waiting with money to buy season tickets. But nothing ever came to fruition. Our hopes were always dashed and in the meantime the O’s were just up the street, so at least we had baseball. In the end, then Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams did the right thing and laid the foundation for the team to stay in Baltimore. The City, with the now storied and prophetic prodding by O’s management, then built the beautiful Camden Yards and that changed everything.

The last Opening Day at Memorial Stadium was a gorgeous, hot and sunny day, but I recall being sad that an era was ending (I’ve still got the t-shirt). That gave way to jubilation upon entering Camden Yards for the first time on Opening Day in 1992. The ballpark changed baseball nationally and us local fans too. Most Washingtonians seemed to embrace the more easily accessible throwback style ballpark. The Washington Post, including my faves Thomas Boswell and Tony Kornheiser, wrote about them affectionately as if they were our home team. Cal Ripkin’s run at breaking Lou Gerigs’ record and then the ’96 and ’97 playoff runs (when I got that tattoo) seemed to cement the O’s as our team too. Estimates ranged from 1 out of 4 to 1 out of 3 fans being from the DMV (the affectionate term for our District, Maryland and Virginia region). Washingtonians helped fill the ballpark and the owner’s coffers – even as many Baltimoreans seemed to resent the more cerebral interlopers from the south. Attendance was so good that I needed to resort to buying mini-plans so as to provide access to Opening Day and potential playoff tickets.

What seemed an easy drive to get to the Yard from DC in 1992 seemed like a nightmarish crawl along the BW Parkway just 10 years later. Going to the games could be a chore. Hey, we needed our own team. Somehow, despite all the disappointments and near misses, that hope never died.

So when MLB decided to move the poor Expos (I’d been to Montreal a few times and was lucky enough to go to a couple games – nothing like poutine and sliced meat sandwiches in the cozy confines of the indoor Stade Olympique) to the District after 33 years – a lifetime for most of us, it didn’t feel quite real till that first pitch at RFK. I got season tickets and was in heaven. Especially as the team got out to a surprisingly good start during its first year. What a joy it was to be able to go see our own team, in our own ballpark. To take the subway to the game. To go after work – not having to leave 2 hours early to get there. To get home in time afterwards without it having to disrupt the next day.

It was awkward but fun to learn about the National League. I’d have to redirect my hate of the Yankees to who exactly? The Braves? Phillies? Mets? All of em! My real test would come a year later as the Orioles played their first interleague game with the Nats. I wondered if I could love two teams. I wondered if I could even root for two teams. The day came and there were plenty of orange clad O’s fans in the ballpark. Would I shout “Oh” along with them during the National Anthem? Hell no. Washington fans didn’t do that. Would I root for both teams? Hell no! That was it. With no hesitation, I was a Nats fans. Period. There was no going back. There was no loving two teams. In the new ballpark I was lucky enough to get seats in the Nats, Nats, Nats Woo! Section – 312. What a wonderful bunch of people. Wonky, smart and so many scorecards. I was living and breathing baseball. I loved the ballpark. I loved the teams.

Since they arrived in 2005, I’ve been to 20+ games per year, often riding my bike or Capital Bikeshare to Nats Park, plus all the playoff games through 2015 when I moved to Key West after the season to begin a simpler, sunnier and warmer life. I was fortunate enough to be there for the first pitch at RFK and at Nats Park where Ryan Zimmerman walked off the win with a homer. I remember Steven Strasburg’s first mesmerizing game when we didn’t seem to sit or go to the bathroom till he left the game. I remember the agony of the 9th and 10th innings against the Cardinals in 2012 – as just an hour earlier we were plotting our NLCS activity. The anguish of an 18 inning loss to the Giants in 2014 as the evening got dark and cold – we started the day in the sun and in shorts – still gnaws at me. I liked Bryce – till I didn’t. Loved Ryann Zimmerman from the start and am so happy to see him in a World Series all these years later. I was lucky to be there for Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter. I worshiped Dusty Baker and those teams that couldn’t get past the first round. I hated that they let him go.

Now that’ I’m living in the Conch Republic we get the MLB package on TV and listen to F.P. Santangelo and Bob Carpenter on a daily basis, even if most of the time it’s just on in the background – sort of like the radio in days of yore. With a digital subscription to the Post, I’m able to keep up with the day-to-day minutia and the perspective still provided by awesome writers Thomas Boswell and Barry Svrugla.

The well documented playoff agony of the Nats has somehow made the 2019 team’s run to the World Series all the sweeter. Yes, I kept waiting for something bad to happen in the Wild Card game, the Division Series and even the Championship Series. The fact that this team seems to have more grit, more fight and more fun – who doesn’t love the Baby Shark phenomena and home run dugout dancing? – makes these Nats, all the more lovable.

The Senators gave me a start. The Orioles taught me baseball tradition and love of the game. But the District is my hometown and the Washington Nationals are MY team. I couldn’t be happier to see them in the World Series. My first World Series in 40 years and D.C.’s first World Series since 1933. I guess it’s time I finally get that Nats tattoo on my other arm, eh?

10 Tools to Tackle Most Any City’s Downtown Traffic and Parking Problems

This post is derived from a discussion given at The Last Stand Neighborhood Forum on Transportation and Affordable Housing on June 9, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. at the Eco-Discovery Center in Key West, FL and has been updated with additional information over the last year. A snippet of video from the event is here .

Cities small and large across North America want to get more people biking, walking and using public transit instead of driving alone. Why? Because people-friendly, walk-bike-transit places spur economic development and make cities more green, healthy and happy too.

Streets and sidewalks take up 25-50% of a typical North American city’s land. This is a huge community asset. If you use this asset to speed cars around you get one kind of place. If you use this asset to prioritize people instead of cars you get another.


What are some of the ideas that make up a people first approach? What tools are useful for cities in using this great asset better? Research shows there’s no one single magic bullet that’s going to fix traffic and parking congestion in a city’s downtown. Rather, it takes a multi-pronged, holistic approach. Here’s 10 Tools that any city may consider doing to increase biking, walking and transit use and decrease traffic and parking congestion:

(1.) Parking Garages

If you need to build a garage for visitors, build it, and keep the congestion off the streets. But build it outside of your downtown district. No need to bring more cars inside an already small, tight and congested area. Do this AFTER you’ve done all the other steps and only if you really need it.

(2.) Wayfinding

parking signs

Direct people to garage parking with wayfinding signage so they aren’t hunting all over the place for on-street parking. Help pedestrians and bicyclists too.

  • Develop a truck/delivery plan for the main street so it is less congested with delivery and trash and recycle vehicles at all times of the day. Coordinate the merchants and plan the hours.

(3.) Transit

Transit is an important part of a city’s transportation system.

philly phlash
Philadelphia’s Philly Phlash Circulator

Downtown Circulator. To make it easy to get around downtown you need better ways of circulating around it. Many cities provide downtown circulators specifically for tourists and the folks who live and work close-in. Make the route easy to understand. Provide frequent service. Make it easy to pay.

  • Maps and Info at Bus Stops. Apps are great, but there is no substitute for putting a map and schedule at every bus stop. Brand the bus stop. Put amenities at the bus stop.
  • More frequency/Simplified system. Successful cities emphasize transit as a first option for the majority of people to get around. Don’t design your system so that only those that have to use it, will. Simplify routes. Increase service frequency. Make it easy to pay.
  • Vanpools and Carpools too. Supplement transit with a robust vanpool and carpool program.
  • This article points out the importance of frequency vs. coverage: Many Americans Live Near Transit, But Few Live Close to Good Transit. Also visit the Transit Center think tank and the Human Transit organization.

    (4.) Bikeways Network and Bike Parking


    About 60% of the population would be willing to bicycle, if it were easier and safer to do so.

    • Build a network of protected bikeways and trails and low-stress streets so that people of all ages and abilities can easily go anywhere by bike.
    • Provide ample bicycle parking everywhere people want to go.
    • Teach people to share the road.
    • Slow the cars down by redesigning the streets using traffic calming techniques.
    • Enforce the speed limit.

    For more information on best practices in bike networks and bike infrastructure visit and their Green Lane project. Also check out NACTO‘s Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Raising the Interest and Reducing the Concern, article by Alex Pines in Strong Towns.

    (5.) Carshare

    Studies show robust carshare programs increase the amount of walking, bicycling and transit. When you pay by the hour, people are more attentive to how often they drive, and as a result they drive less. People occasionally need the convenience of a car. What they don’t want necessarily is the hassle of owning and operating it.

    For more information on carshare visit Car-Free Key West’s carshare page.

    (6.) Bikeshare

    citibike miamiEven if everyone seems to have their own bike. Even if it’s easy and inexpensive for tourists to rent a bike, bikeshare works because it is in-between ownership and rental. It’s about getting from point A to point B spontaneously. Research show it enables one-way trip decisions. You may walk or take the bus in and decide to bikeshare back. It’s priced so that if used for more than a couple hours it is much more expensive than a rental. Bikeshare is part of a transit system. Studies show bikeshare programs complement walking and transit and decrease driving. Studies show bikeshare is a gateway to more biking and even getting people to buy bikes.

    For more about bikeshare visit: Cities Must Understand Bikeshare is Transit, April 17, 2015 and Car-Free Key West’s Bikeshare page. Also visit the North American Bikeshare Association, the  Better Bikeshare organization, and NACTO’s Bikeshare Guide.

    (7.) Education and Encouragement Programs

    bike map example

    Providing good options, or infrastructure, like transit and bikeways and bike parking is only half the battle. If people aren’t aware it exists or they’re unsure how to use it, they won’t. Research shows you get more out of the investment in transportation options infrastructure by educating people about it and encouraging them to use it. A local example is Car-Free Key West.

    • Work through Employers/Hotels. One of the best ways to do education and encouragement is through businesses. Especially hotels. A business influences their employees and their guests, with information, how-to-guides and passes. (Local example)
    • Target everyone to share our streets safely. Teach people behind the drivers’ wheel to slow down and share our streets. Teach people on two wheels to obey the rules of the road. And people on two feet too.
    • Encourage visitors not to bring cars to your downtown. But if they do, you want them to set it and forget it and use alternatives to get around once they’ve arrived instead.

    For more on Education and Encouragement see this article: 10 Steps to Take 100,000 Cars of DC’s Roads, May 6, 2015; Explanation of Education and Encouragement activities proposed by Bike/Walk Key West during the FY17 Budget discusssions; Car-Free Key West.

    (8.) Taxis and TNCs – Transportation Options That Support Bike, Walk, Transit

    Research shows that people who use taxis and TNCs (transportation network companies)  – like Uber and Lyft – also walk, bike and use transit more often. Taxis and TNCs support bike, walk and transit because they enable one-way trip decisions. You may take the bus or walk in and then decide you need a cab or TNC back.

    For more on how taxis and TNCs support transportation options visit the Shared-Use Mobility Center think tank. Article: Data for the Public Domain, from New Cities Foundation.

    (9.) Better Data. Open Data

    Historically cities have collected traffic and highway counts. We’ve measured a streets Level of Service or LOS. So to get beyond just cars, cities need to begin collecting pedestrian and bicycle counts. We need to measure how people are getting around, not just cars. And cities need to share this data and ask that all public and private transportation and parking operators publish open data too. This is the only way we can enable better and more comprehensive technology tools and apps.

    How open data helps promote transportation options like transit, biking and walking from Mobility Lab’s research.

    (10.) Parking Strategies

    pay to park

    If you want to encourage more walking, biking and transit and to make a dent in traffic and parking congestion apply the right parking strategies. Manage the parking you have to it’s maximum. Don’t give it away or subsidize it (under-price it), as this works against all the previous strategies.

    • Encourage Turnover for Retail. Metered parking should be tailored to encourage turnover in retail areas to help merchants. People who want to park for longer periods should be directed to longer term parking places. Consider that metered parking reflect location and  time of day/week/season.
    • Discourage Cruising for Free On-Street Parking. Research indicates that in some congested downtown up to 30% of cars are cruising for under-priced curb parking. Good wayfinding eliminates some of this. Right-pricing parking is even better. Given today’s technology from multi-meters to pay-by-cell, it is easier than ever to designate pay for parking spaces too.
    • Residential Permit Parking is intended for resident to be able to park within a few blocks of their home. Zones should be small and only available to people who reside or have a business within that zone. The permits should be priced so that each additional permitted vehicle costs considerably more.
    • Parking Revenue should be returned to the area it was generated in the form of amenities (benches, sidewalks, street lighting, pocket parks, flags, etc.) for that neighborhood and should be used on a broader scale to provide options to driving by investing in transit and bike services and facilities.

    car parking pricing nad cruisingAdditional information about parking strategies:

    This is a Key West specific bonus:

    (11.) More and Better Inter-city Ground Transportation

    About 84 percent of the people coming to Key West to visit get here by car. Airfare is expensive and the ferry and bus service is infrequent. Many of the people who fly in, whether to Miami or into our city directly, then get a rental car. We need to encourage people landing in other cities to take luxury coaches into the city, and encourage people landing here to taxi, transit, bike and walk, not rent a car. See # 7.

    So what do you get if you do all this? People First Streets


    Think about the places you’ve been and where you love to be. Are these usually full of people or cars? If you do all of these things and you use that great asset of our streets better, you have the opportunity to:

    • encourage more street space for pedestrian only areas and places for people to sit, chat, eat and people gaze. It doesn’t have to be entire streets. It can be parts of streets or even just parklets. Or alleys. Or for a weekend or a season.
    •  encourage complete streets that prioritize pedestrians, bikes, transit and then cars.

    The bottom line is that if you want to decrease traffic and parking congestion and increase biking, walking and transit you’d want to consider all of these tools. They work together. They support each other. They build upon each other. And doing these makes cities more prosperous, healthy, green and happy.

    For additional information please read: 11 Books About Fighting for and Building People-First Cities, February 21, 2016.

    11 Books About Fighting for and Building People-First Cities

    These inspiring leaders have authored 11 great and recent books on how to design and build walk, bike, transit and people-friendly cities showing us the strategies to make the places we call home more prosperous, green, healthy and happy as a result. Read them and join the revolution.

    People and businesses want to be in vibrant, mixed-use, walkable, bike-friendly, transit-accessible, people oriented places. It is well documented that across North America millennials and boomers are moving to these kinds of places in droves. Business journals document companies abandoning car-centric office parks, which just 25 years ago were the wave of the future, to move back to these centers as well. But not everyone can get in. Real estate experts and economists tell us the prices in these walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are sky-high and pricing people out because there aren’t enough of them.

    That’s because the traffic engineers and DOTs that control our streets (from 25 to 50 percent of a city’s land area) still use out-dated manuals to design streets for car convenience and speed. Planners are using land-use and zoning codes from an era that forces segregation of uses, abhors density and requires too much car parking. The result? Car-dependent, dispersed and disconnected places. These places, the ones we’ve been building for the last 75 years, make us less healthy, both physically and mentally. They degrade our environment. They cost more to maintain and put a strain on our resources. And they make us less happy too.


    But there’s hope on the horizon. From Vancouver to Chicago to New York City to Houston – yes Houston – and so many places in-between, people are fighting for their cities to get better by pushing back against old-thinking and the status quo. Where once there were wide and speedy car lanes with ample parking day and night, there are now protected bike lanes, bikeshare stations, parklets where people can sit, interesting places for people to walk and prioritized transit allowing more people access to the good life. Where once one was forced to get in a car just to get a quart of milk, now one can find all of life’s needs within walking or biking distance. But these places are few and far between. Lucky for us, the leaders building these better places have written books showing what the future should look like and how to make it happen despite the forces aligned against them.

    I’ve devoured all of these books and love each and every one of them. They’ve all been written in the last few years. Some are books about how to make neighborhoods more walkable. Some about how bikes improve places. Others about how transit does the same. Many discuss alternatives to driving. A couple address how technology is transforming our ability to move around. Some counsel how to change old zoning and land-use codes. A few cover the tactics of getting stuff done. And every one of them are written by the smartest, most forward-thinking and passionate thought leaders about cities today.

    Each of these 11 books can be read, enjoyed and used by just about anyone. Whether a community activist, city planner, traffic engineer or someone who just likes cities, history, or change. I know you too will enjoy reading them and putting the knowledge gained to use in making your little part of the world a better place.

    Happy reading!

    1. Start-up City – Inspiring Public and Private Entrepreneurship , Getting Projects Done and Having Fun by Gabe Klein
      Get the book on | Twitter | Wikipedia | My Review
    2. Streetfight – Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan
      Get the book on Amazon | Janette’s work at Bloomberg Twitter | Wikipedia
    3. Happy City – Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery
      Get the book on Amazon | | Twitter | Wikipedia
    4. Walkable City – How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck
      Get the book on Amazon | | Twitter
    5. Bikenomics – How Bicycling Can Save the Economy by Elly Blue
      Get the book on Amazon | From the publisher |  Twitter
    6. Street Smart – The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars by Samuel Schwartz
      Get the book on Amazon | | Twitter | Wikipedia
    7. Tactical Urbanism – Short-term Action for Long-term Change by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia
      Get the book on Amazon | Mike and Tony’s firm: | Twitter
    8. Human Transit – How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker
      Get the book on Amazon | | | Twitter
    9. The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup
      Get the book on Amazon | Mr. Shoup’s web site | Twitter | Wikipedia
    10. Straphanger – Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe
      Get the book on Amazon | | Twitter | Wikipedia
    11. Dead End – Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism by Ben Ross
      Get the book on Amazon | Ben on GGW blog | Twitter

    Bonus Section: I love and have read the first two of these books. NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) says “NACTO’s publications provide a vital resource for practitioners, policy-makers, academics, and advocates alike.” I agree.


    On my Kindle now:


    Bribing Biz is the Old Economic Development. Building Bike Infrastructure is the New Way.

    It didn’t feel right when I heard via the Washington Business Journal that Arlington County, Virginia paid energy company Opower $2M to remain and not move away (Opower to Remain In Arlington, February 8, 2016; Daniel J. Sernovitz). This goes against years of policy of not paying companies in money or tax breaks to stay or come to the County. Arlington had always refused to play the old economic development game of attracting and retaining companies by essentially bribing them. If a company didn’t recognize the jurisdiction’s bona fides of proximity to the capital, great schools, great transportation and a young and educated work force than were they a good fit anyway? With a growing vacancy rate perhaps times are changing.

    But could the County have gone another way? Word on the street was Opower’s young Millennial staff was looking for, amongst other things, a more bike-friendly place and the vibrancy that brings to place making.

    From Pittsburgh to Chicago, from Salt Lake to Austin, and places like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis, the District and many more, leaders are increasingly fighting the economic development battle by building bike infrastructure which attracts Millenials, and the companies that want them.

    What if, instead of sending $2M to Opower to stay, that money was invested in a network of protected bike lanes, Portland style bike corral parking in retail areas and more bikeshare. Imagine the result. Way more people biking and even more vibrant places as a result. Research is increasingly showing THAT’S how cities are competing to attract and retain economic development.

    So yes it’s good Opower is staying. But instead of congratulating Arlington for joining the rat race of throwing money after a hot company, perhaps we should ask their leaders why their priority isn’t in doing more of the thing that attracts and retains those companies instead. That would have been a wiser and more cost effective investment in the future.

    As a former employee who LOVES my old home, I was very disappointed in this action. I hope in the future, the County’s leaders instead push for more investing in the bike infrastructure that will attract and retain the brightest companies. That’s win-win.

    How To Get Stuff Done In the Face of Bureaucracy

    Start Up City Cover

    Thank goodness this book is out.

    Start-Up City – Inspiring Private & Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, and Having Fun is sorely needed right now. Cities are at the forefront of taking on addressing issues at the intersection of demographics, technology, transport, climate, housing, equity, and health, but are largely ill equipped to respond.

    Entrepreneur, bureaucracy-shaker, futurist, and now author Gabe Klein shows us how to make rapid change that will transform cities for the better.

    I met Klein back in 2004 when he led the then-fledgling Zipcar operation in Washington, D.C. He was different from others in the transportation space: he had a ponytail, he was passionate, he was unafraid. He didn’t take no for an answer. I loved that!

    We struck a partnership between Arlington County, Virginia and his company to put carshare vehicles in the public right-of-way, as Klein writes about in Lesson #6: Bridge the Public-Private Divide. The easy way he teamed with his company’s rival, Flexcar, and coordinated with local government officials made me a fan.

    As I watched his career move from Zipcar, to organic food in electric trucks, to leading the departments of transportation in both D.C. and Chicago, I always marveled at the seeming ease with which Gabe got shit done (I’m using his term). He innovated and accomplished more in a few years at each place than his predecessors and successors combined could ever hope for. He inspired bureaucracy to action. I always wanted to know: how did he do this?

    In his new book, he generously reveals the secrets to his success, much of which is rooted in his start-up private-sector upbringing. Gabe engagingly walks us through eight lessons in how to get stuff done:

    Lesson #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Screw Up and Learn
    The desire to avoid failure often leads agencies to repeat well-trodden strategies. Trying new things often yields failure, but with that a teachable moment.

    Lesson #2: Manage S.M.A.R.T
    To Klein, S.M.A.R.T. stands for “Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time-based,” a series of management principles that help establish clear objectives for one’s team.

    Lesson #3: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
    Creative, large-scale thinking, a focus on the end goal, and an imagination past doubts and obstacles can yield rapid success for big projects that would otherwise take years.

    Lesson #4: Sell Your City
    Don’t be afraid to market what the city does, including its major accomplishments, and to make otherwise mundane civic commitments fun and engaging for the public (see: Potholepalooza).


    Lesson #5: Fund Creatively
    Make the team familiar with your budget so everyone bears responsibility, encourage programs to find ways to self-fund their initiatives so that they’re more flexible, and focus more on returns on investment rather than “abstract” costs.

    Lesson #6: Bridge the Public-Private Divide
    Forge solid public-private partnerships by aligning everyone’s incentives, such as profitability and the better service quality that it drives. Klein cites the launch of D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare system as a high point of public-private cooperation.

    Lesson #7: Prepare for Disruption
    Cities should get out ahead of companies disrupting existing business models, and seek to adapt to these new paradigms. Don’t overreact and attempt to control new disruptors, but rather find ways that you can work with them.

    Lesson #8: Drive Change
    Autonomous cars could bring a range of benefits to cities in the coming decades, so planners and businesses should think ahead in how to best integrate them into complex metropolitan systems.

    Anyone who wants to innovate and create better cities will find these lessons useful.

    If you’re in the private sector, you’ll learn valuable lessons on how to think creatively and align your product or program with the public for success. If you’re in the public sector, you’ll learn how to cut through red tape, be creative, and use start-up values to move things forward quickly.

    Check it out: I guarantee this book will inspire you to get up, go to work and get shit done.

    This review is cross-posted at Mobility Lab.

    A Dozen Easy Principles for Organizational Success

    This post is adapted from a memo I prepared for my department’s management back in 2013. At the time, the Department of Environmental Services (DES)‘ new Director engaged the services of Denison Consulting to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. DES is Arlington County’s second largest department, with 15 Bureaus and nearly 1,000 full-time, part-time and contracted employees doing everything from transportation, development and streets, trash and recycling, facilities and water/utilities. Getting a handle on this sprawling group and moving it all in the right direction was the goal. A culture survey was given to all employees that Denison measured on four essential traits and twelve focus areas of organizations:

    1. Adaptability: (Creating Change, Customer Focus, Organizational Learning);
    2. Mission: (Strategic Direction & Intent, Goals & Objectives, Vision);
    3. Consistency: (Core Values, Agreement, Coordination and Integration); and
    4. Involvement: (Empowerment, Team Orientation, Capabilities Development).

    These are all benchmarked for comparison to thousands of other companies and public agencies across the country. Each of the Department’s 15 Bureaus was benchmarked against each other. My Bureau, the Division of Transportation’s Commuter Services Bureau, stood out as an outlier of amazingly good results. It scored much higher than the other 14 Bureaus and against the other public sector state and local agencies DES was benchmarked against. Something good was happening here! Department management asked me to put together an explanation of why I thought this was so.

    It was not a surprise to many that Commuter Services ranked so highly on the Denison Culture Survey. For years the Bureau has been locally and nationally recognized, as one of the most innovative and impactful units of it’s kind in North America. What follows is an adaptation of the explanation memo accounting for the success:*

    A Dozen Easy Principles That Have Guided Our Commuter Services Team to Success

    1. Put the Customer First
      We are public servants. We are here to serve. We may work for the government but we pride ourselves on not being bureaucratic and amazing our customers by going beyond their expectations.
    2. Share (Transparency)
      Managers share information (transparency). Sharing fosters responsibility for the program and for each other. Sharing also means don’t be afraid to be real. Share your thoughts, feelings, enthusiasm, credit, ideas and passion. Share yourself.
    3. Invest In Team Building
      Create a sense of “us.” It is okay to have a “them” as it fosters the competitive juices. Learn about each other as people and how what each does at work contributes back to the whole. Everyone must understand and know others have their back! This allows people to “confront the brutal facts” without fear.
    4. Empower, Coach, and Develop Leaders
      Empower people at all levels to take action (see #1). Use the coaching model to teach. Develop leadership within the organization regardless of “supervisory” authority.
    5. Do Emergenetics
      Emergenetics creates understanding. About ourselves, our co-workers and our customers. Emergenetics is way easier than Myers Briggs.
    6. Develop and Sustain a Vision and Mission**
      All staff should be involved. Know the difference between the two. Come back to it often. Everyone is responsible for the mission and for telling the boss when we’re off of it.
    7. Build a Strategic Plan
      Everyone should be involved in the big picture. This should be done every year. Use vision and mission as basis. What are we doing in this next year? Next few years? Better yet do a six-year rolling plan.
    8. Do the Math
      Everyone (transparency) should know where the money is coming from and what it’s spent on. This fosters accountability by all.
    9. Assess Performance, Measure Results
      Did we accomplish what we set out to do last year? Go down the list. Why or why not. Celebrate the successes and learn from what didn’t work. Do this with everyone. Publish reports. Put it on the web.
    10. Invest in Research and Development 
      Ask your customers how you are doing on a regular basis. Ask citizens what they think. Ask businesses what they think. Investigate. Measure. Test. This is about knowledge. Impact. What works? What doesn’t? Why? R&D makes you better.
    11. Foster a Culture of Learning
      This is about knowledge and curiosity. Industry and related best practices. What’s new? What are others are doing that works, doesn’t, and why? Books. Journals. Guest speakers. Seminars. Field trips. Conferences.
    12. Volunteer, Partner and Give Back
      Encourage participation and leadership in trade associations. Volunteer to do presentations and assist at industry invents. Network. Doing these things fosters respect for other’s work. And this makes #3 (“us”) okay. Doing these things always pays dividends back to your organization.
    13. Be Ballsy. (Baker’s Dozen Bonus)
      Just do it. Be unafraid. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask permission.

    These principles may seem obvious or simple. And yet often times government agencies and even private sector companies and non-profits of all sizes and at all levels simply fail to do even a few of these, let alone all 12. That’s a shame. I’ve witnessed first hand how applying these principles consistently and over time helped this one local government agency do amazing work and become the highest performing and most respected team in it’s industry. In future posts I’ll chat about how to do or operationalize each of these. I hope others can learn from our lesson.

    * It should be noted that the culture that brought about Commuter Services’ success and the development of these principles was made in full partnership with my longtime ACCS Management Team mates: Lois DeMeester, Howard Jennings, Jay Freschi and Bobbi Greenberg
    ** “Easy Button” was our Bureau’s shorthand for our Mission. All anyone on our team had to do was remember: “Make It Easy for people to use transit, bike, walk and share the ride” and we’re doing our job. An Easy Button was given to each Commuter Services employee when they were on-boarded as a reminder of the unit’s mission.

    Streets and Sidewalks Should Be Used To Improve Our Health

    Streets and sidewalks take up 25 to 50 percent of a typical U.S. city’s land. New York City, for example, is on the lower end of that scale at 28 percent and Chicago (42 percent), Washington D.C. (43) and Portland, Oregon (47) are at the higher end.

    This, believe it or not, presents a huge opportunity for us to address mental health through urban design. Streets and sidewalks represent space that’s largely under control of our city governments. In most cases our local departments of transportation. That means we can do something about it. Now.

    Do our local DOTs think of themselves as being in the mental-health business? Likely not. At least not yet.

    Take a quick snapshot of some of the existing research, much of it brought to light by The Happy City author Charles Montgomery, on what car-dependent, dispersed, and disconnected places do to our health:

    They are bad for our physical health. They add unhealthy pounds to our bodies. They make us more likely to have heart and respiratory issues. They shorten our lives.

    Their streets are made for cars and made to speed the cars through. This is unsafe not just for those who bike and walk but for those who drive too.

    They cause us more stress. That stress exacerbates physical and mental-health issues.

    They make us, especially those of us with longer car commutes, especially to the exurbs, more likely to experience rage, fear, depression and even get divorced, than people who walk, bike, or use transit to get to work.

    They make us feel isolated and less connected to one another, which causes us to feel less trusting, and ultimately less happy.

    So what can DOTs do about all this horrible news? Lots, especially by thinking creatively and fixing our broken infrastructure one street at a time.
    Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who walk over cars. It looks like skinny streets that are nine or 10 feet instead of the standard 12 feet per lane. Two-way not one-way streets. Narrow crosswalks. Mid-block crosswalks. Shortcuts. Paths. Places to rest and for refuge.
    Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who bike over cars. It looks like not just bike lanes, but protected bikeways like 15th, L, and M streets in Washington D.C. But we can’t settle for isolated projects. We need whole networks like in European cities. It means bikeshare, because bikeshare is a gateway to more biking. More people on bikes makes it safer for all. It means taking car parking and converting it to Portland-style bike-corral parking in retail areas.
    Streets and transport for people means prioritizing people who use transit over cars. It looks like we care about people who use transit because we provide amenities like benches and shelters. Real-time arrival signs. Maps. It means painting the streets red and making them for buses only.
    Streets for people means prioritizing people who want to shop, eat, sit, chat, socialize, and watch each other rather than prioritizing cars. It looks like the parklets made from parking spaces in San Francisco or the dozens of reclaimed streets turned into pedestrian plazas with benches and tables and chairs in New York City. It means promoting food trucks and pop-up retail.

    If your city speaks of “balancing transportation choices” rather than prioritizing walking, biking, and transit, it’s still car centered.

    If we make our streets more people centered, and if we help make it easy for more people to walk, bike, and take transit, our cities will be more green. More prosperous. More physically healthy. And yes, more mentally healthy.

    As former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn said: “Streets are some of the most valuable resources that a city has, and yet it’s an asset that’s largely hidden in plain sight.”

    This article is based off my July 7, 2015 presentation from the recent launch event for the Center for Urban Design and Mental Health in Washington D.C. at the British Embassy.

    Main photo by Dylan Passmore. Bike-lane photo by Paul Krueger.
    – Cross posted and originally posted on Mobility Lab on July 9, 2015. See more at: