“The way we should evaluate any city is how the city treats its most vulnerable citizens…the children, the older adults and the poor.” Treating them well is the way to create healthy, attractive, vibrant cities.

Gil (Guillermo) Peñalosa is himself a vibrant spokesman for that point of view which he spelled out in a recent presentation sponsored by Salem-Keizer Transit (Cherriots) and Willamette University and in an interview with Salem Weekly. He is Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, a Toronto-based non-profit that advises cities around the world on sustainable mobility (walking, cycling, public transit) and open space (parks, sidewalks, streets, plazas). He considers 8-80 “like an indicator species.  If a city is nice for an eight year old and nice for an eighty year, then it’s going to be nice for everybody.”

During the 1990s, as Commissioner of Parks and Recreation in Bogotá, Colombia, Peñalosa established over 200 parks.  To convince the Transportation Commissioner to expand Ciclovia, an event which closes city streets to motor vehicles and opens them for biking, jogging and skating, Peñalosa announced that he would hold a bike ride and then set out to publicize it. fifty thousand people participated.  Today Ciclovia draws nearly 2 million people each Sunday to play on 70 miles of Bogotá streets, and the idea has spread to cities all over the world.

Peñalosa learned that re-creating cities does not happen by consensus. It requires a sense of urgency that change is necessary, political will, doers, leaders at all levels, and citizen engagement. “We tell elected officials, the general interest must prevail over the particular interest.” To act in the general interest means to take care of people with disabilities, the poor, the elderly and the children. “These are not technical issues.  These are not financial issues. These are political issues.” Building livable cities is a “challenge, an opportunity and a responsibility.”

Peñalosa pointed out that humans have built cities for thousands of years, but only in the last 80 years have cars predominated. “Some streets built for cars don’t have proper sidewalks, or cars go very fast, or intersections are very dangerous…. The priority must be the most vulnerable and that is the pedestrian.” Peñalosa presented photos of streets in cities where cars have been marginalized or eliminated. In New York City, Broadway at Times Square isclosed to motor vehicles, creating a popular plaza in the middle of a busy intersection. In Copenhagen bicycling is a way of life with over a third of trips by bicycle and many bikes configured to carry kids and cargo.

What does this mean for Salem? Although Cherriots is not pursuing formal ties with 8-80 Cities, Sadie Carney, Cherriots Public Information Officer said, “We were thrilled to see the amount of public interest and passion around this issue! It is clear that Salem is ready for a change in the way we provide service in the community, in the way we treat bicyclists and pedestrians, and in the way we enjoy our outdoor spaces and downtown together. We will be working to capitalize on the energy created by Mr. Penalosa in the coming months and invite people to join us in the effort. If people are interested in getting involved, or want to learn more, they can send us an email at: MovingForward@cherriots.org”

Looking to the March 10 City Council work session which will update Council Goals, local blog Salem Breakfast on Bikes said, “If we were looking for ways to build on Gil Penalosa’s visit, asking Council to ditch the Salem River Crossing and to accelerate implementation of the Downtown Mobility Study could be an excellent ask for the March 10th session!”


Gil Peñalosa’s presentation will be broadcast on CCTV several times starting March 9.  Check the CCTV schedule at: cctvsalem.org.