Made to Move Grants are Helping Cities Redesign for Active Transit

By Dan Burden, Director of Innovation and Inspiration at Blue Zones

Dan Burden is the Blue Zones Director of Innovation and Inspiration. Dan is America’s most recognized authority on walkability and bikeability and was named one of the “six most important civic innovators in the world” by Time magazine and a “Champion of Change” by the White House.

Jan 13, 2020 | Mobility | 6 comments

On average in 2017, about .5% of people biked to work in US cities, and only 2.9% walked to work. If cities were built for people (most US cities are not), people could walk, ride bicycles or use transit for most trips, boosting their health and lowering their costs for transportation. American cities have been designed for cars. Unfortunately, driving is not fast, cheap, or safe.

The majority of US states and cities say they want to increase the number of people biking, walking, and using transit since they want to reduce traffic, promote public health, be more resilient, bring city and household budgets under control, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But most US cities are far from achieving these goals. Long ago most American cities set up patterns, incentives, and practices that induced sprawl, separated land uses, and created barriers to walking, bicycling, and functional transit. The systems that only focused on cars to be successful have now failed the car mode, because it is the only way to move.

How bad is this problem, and how do we now untangle this mess?

The short answer is that the problem is bad: America is the most dangerous place in the developed world to attempt movement. Besides being unsafe, driving is also not the fastest nor cheapest way to travel. It is 2-3 times more expensive for both infrastructure and household budgets for people to move via personal vehicles. Each year time stuck-in-traffic worsens, it already consumes 42 hours of not-moving each year at a cost of $160 billion annually. Imagine taking that money to build healthy movement alternatives.

The “Made to Move” Grant is a Model for U.S. Cities

Can U.S. cities transform to overcome extreme car dependency?

In summer 2019, two values driven agencies came together to see if they could incentivize change in five cities with the Made to Move Grant program. This innovative, unique, and inspirational partnership between Degree and Blue Zones is awarding $100,000 dollars to each city to redesign their neighborhoods and city-centers for active, healthy lives. The program aims to create model practices and projects that gain the attention of other cities and inspire evolutionary changes to once again focus on places for people, and design accordingly.

Who’s Involved, and How

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and the founder of Blue Zones LLC, is a long-term champion of building for health, vitality, longevity. and happiness. Dan wants his organization to inspire the creation of neighborhoods and entire cities where walking, bicycling, and transit are not just possible, they are natural and inevitable. Degree, a brand designed for and dedicated to promoting movement, has a purpose project to help create new movement opportunities and tools for 10 million people by 2024. These two corporations are leveraging change, and asking how their combined energies have the greatest and most far reaching impact.

Asked to be an architect of this program, I considered what processes we should create, and how to organize for best supporting cities in their successes.  Our team wanted participating cities to produce striking, measurable results within 12 months, and then be willing share their stories to be recognized by other cities.

Each of the five cities’ model programs had to be achievable and tell their own striking story that would resonate with others across the nation. We wanted our partnership and grant approach to be looked to by other funders as an innovative approach to successfully supporting transformative livability and walkability projects. Like any grant program, we wanted all of our city programs to be impactful. To accomplish these goals, we:

  • Invited communities of 100,000 to 300,000 in population, places likely to have fully dedicated staff who were knowledgeable about the challenges they would face
  • Looked for five communities most ready for change, with elected leaders, staff, and advocates who showed courage, boldness, and resolve to effect change and had proven track records marked with ability and creativity
  • Searched for communities that were ready, or working, to dissolve their sector silos and come together to develop lasting partnerships even beyond this grant opportunity
  • Focused on communities that value and strive for equity. Since those on restricted incomes suffer the most from the high cost and impacts of car dependency, we wanted a broad population spectrum of winners
  • Wanted each of the five communities to tell their own unique story, and we chose grantees with diverse geographic areas and projects.

Which Communities Won, and Why

With 47 qualified entries, representing 28 of 50 states and 46 unique communities across the country, the field was diverse and competitive. Through multiple rounds of scoring and a finalist round that included interviews with the top 12 communities, the awardees of the inaugural grant opportunity are as follows:

Chattanooga, Tennessee: Public Space Activation and street modification

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Improving trail access for recreation and active transportation

Hartford, Connecticut: Building the state’s first bike boulevards

Jersey City, New Jersey: Pavement-to-park project

Richardson, Texas: Road Diet for the Innovation District

See all of the “Made to Move” Grant Winners.

All five communities demonstrated political, staff, policy, and active transportation readiness, including robust recent achievements. Components of a winning application included:

  • A strong, balanced team ready to work together and produce results with partners that included elected leaders, planning, public works, transit, health, and nonprofit groups and advocates
  • A proven history of adopting policies including Complete Streets Ordinances, Vision Zero Action Plans, and mode-specific active transportation plans
  • A good evaluation plan, with means to measure their results
  • The ability to leverage resources and award funds
  • A focus on and recognition of health, income, and access disparities in the community
  • A robust public engagement process

What Comes Next

Representatives from the five selected communities, plus three alternates, will travel to Minneapolis, MN, for a two-day workshop to receive customized technical assistance most needed by the winning communities. Grant funding will not only go towards project implementation but also to planning efforts such as blueprint development, charrettes, training, and community engagement. The Blue Zones built environment team will work on the ground in each community to meet them where they are, and power up approaches that produce results. Some implementable examples are altering roads to make them safer, more walkable and more livable; converting pavement to green spaces; and building low-cost bicycle boulevards.

How successful can these five city programs be? The short answer is that they can transform entire communities.

Years ago Vancouver, British Columbia planned to downsize the lanes of automotive traffic on the Burrard Street Bridge entry to downtown from four to three lanes. After multiple failed attempts to win public support for the conversion, in final preparation for the 2010 winter Olympics, the change was ultimately approved and made. More than one million bicycle riders now use the Burrard Bridge bike lanes every year, making it the busiest bike lane in North America.

According to a study released this past spring, 52.8 percent of Vancouver residents report they cycle, take transit, or walk to work. Bicycle trips account for 7.3 percent of all trips made, and when including bike commute trips, the total goes up to 11.3 percent.

Any big shift has to start with one model project. Somebody must give the initial nudge to generate the action, and in this case, Blue Zones and Degree are working to help generate the first steps to creating better health and quality of life for communities across the country.

About 30 years ago, most European cities took a different approach to urban transit than US cities, aggressively taking action to reduce car use. Some cities (London, Amsterdam, Delft, Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin are examples) are now moving to largely eliminate cars from their downtowns. They want to make their cities livable and walkable, and their air cleaner, while dropping the human ecological footprint.

This approach is not isolated to Europe. Extreme blizzard-prone Calgary, Alberta, where winter temperatures plummet to -20 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks, has taken steps to reduce car trips into downtown to less than 40% of all commute trips. They accomplished this goal in the past 28 years by building their CTrain, a light rail system. They also built 600 miles of bike pathways, new bridges for bicycles and people on foot to come into the town center with convenience, comfort, and safety. They are now converting miles of downtown auto lanes into protected bike lanes.

I believe the outstanding projects made possible by the Made to Move grant will be models for the thousands of cities across the country that want to improve the health, quality of life, and happiness of their residents.

Readers can find next steps, celebrate grant winners, and perhaps help ignite local programs for change  in their own  communities by following this link to the Made To Move grant program.

Discussion

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6 Comments

  1. I love the idea of Blue Zones and believe that small is beautiful, but wonder just how much can be done for $100,000. The standard wisdom among more sophisticated consultants is that it takes about $500,000 to $750,000 to create any meaningful strategy, and that is at the sub-city level. Yes, that does seem like a lot of more, for cities with budgets that routinely run $75 million or more per year, perhaps that’s the minimum “air time” necessary to get attention. If a city were really committed to making change, the real cost of the effort, capital included, probably needs to be at a minimum of $25 million or more. Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual, with one medium-sized road project costing that much.

    The real change comes when cities commit to moving a fair chunk of their public works budget to alternative transportation. Portland did that, with just two or five percent of future road funding going to alternatives, and it set up quite a stir. The challenge is building a big enough constituency among pedestrians and bicycles to fight “Joe Driver” when he comes out to complain that he needs eight lanes on the local arterial for his commute home. Both Vancouver and Portland are at the tipping point of having enough people asking for better alternative transit. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are already there. Yes, small is beautiful projects will get this started, but if you’re going to claim you’ll catalyze transformative change, why not do the fund-raising for grants on the order of $2 to $10 million. Surely Ford, Kresge and others could bankroll that!

    Reply
  2. Wonderful ideas for how to make our cities greener, healthier for all living beings, and more attractive.
    I suggest not using the word “America” when you mean the U.S.

    Reply
  3. Very good, it´s a start.

    Reply
  4. As a former Mayor of a small tourist oriented community [Manitou Springs, CO) we are committed to fewer cars but have not figured out where to put them temporarily. Are there better alternatives to expensive garage structures when land is limited?

    Reply
    • KEN, let me know if this reaches you. I played a central role in the Manitou Springs downtown road diet years ago, and I continually tout the bravery of your business leaders to support this work. My phone number is 614-595-0976, and I would love to work with you to fully become informed and answer your questions. Please call at your convenience

      Reply
  5. Oh! I’d love to start a Blue Zone community like this in Sydney, Australia. I would appreciate some mentoring please!!

    Reply

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