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Charleston new mobility guru on how fixes can be path to better health, more jobs

Posted on July 2, 2014 by in Mobility

Gabe Klein on the job in Chicago, 2011Gabe Klein (image above), who has been called the guru of mobility for the 21st century, is coming to Charleston starting next week to help fix the city’s worsening transportation mess.

Klein, who is senior visiting fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC, formerly  headed up transportation in two of the most traffic-congested cities in the U.S. — Washington, DC, and Chicago. He says transportation is not just a way to get from one point to another, but also the path to better health (through walking and biking) and to more “knowledge” jobs (when high-tech companies choose convenient, close-in locations that promote non-driving commutes).

Local America put these questions to Klein as he prepares for his visit to Charleston — his first:

To make more mobility, where do you start?

Gabe Klein on stripingWe have to move away from our silo mentality where we say, “I’m a pedestrian, you drive, he bikes.” Everybody walks some of the time, most of us drive and more of us are biking and using transit. We need solutions that benefit mobility everywhere.

You’re big on biking and do a lot of it yourself. Just how big is it?

We’ve seen an explosion of biking around the country. We spend $82 billion on bike-related activities. That’s more than we spend on airline tickets. Biking is the fifth biggest recreation.

A lot of peninsular Charleston’s congestion is due to the area’s 5 million annual tourists. Their median age is 50. How are you going to convince them to leave their SUVs at the hotel and see the city by bike?

Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions. There’s been a 320% increase in biking by people over 50. Baby boomers are very health-conscious, and they see biking as good for their health.

You see a close relationship between transportation and health for all people. How does that happen?

Transportation is not just moving from one point to another. People are starting to see it as a way to better health. Health now is not just eating greens and exercising. It’s lifestyle. It’s walking, taking transit and living close enough to work so you can walk.

Where do young people fit into mobility solutions?

They don’t think in silos. They care about what’s the fastest, cheapest, healthiest way. They’re not predisposed to being for or against anything.

You ran Chicago’s Department of Transportation under Mayor Rahm Emanuel from 2011 to 2013. What were some of your major achievements?

It wasn’t primarily about moving people from one point to another — it was about jobs, about creating an environment that would drawChicago 'All-Way' pedestrian crossings, 2014 technology companies. It was about safety — automated speed enforcement, a 20-mph design speed for residential streets, barrier-protected bike lanes, Chicago’s first “All-Way” pedestrian crossings (see image from video at right). There’s much more, and it’s all in the update on the Chicago Department of Transportation website.

One of your big projects in Washington, DC, when you headed up the city Department of Transportation under then-Mayor Adrian Fenty  (2008-2010) was making over the parking system. What happened there?

We went from having the worst parking system to the best. We introduced pay-by-phone metered parking, which produced a 40% increase in revenue. This was one of about 20 major initiatives.

Peninsular Charleston has narrow streets. You can’t widen them. Where does that leave you in improving mobility?

The trend on narrow streets is to calm traffic so everyone can share the space. A 30-mph speed limit may be too fast. A more appropriate limit may be 12 to 17 mph.

You can achieve a lot through design. In Chicago, we put streets on a “road diet” through striping for multiple uses. In general what you want to do is segregate drivers, bikers, buses.

Urban transportation planning has been mired in old solutions. How do you make innovation work, and on a metro-wide scale?

You start in the most dense parts of the city — where there’s the most pain. That’s where you have the most opportunities because people want change there. When people in the suburban parts of town see what’s been done, they say, “There’s no reason we can’t do that [bike lanes, for example] here.”

Some Charleston residents are calling for more variable message signs (VMS) to alert them to events and other activities that are likely to tie up traffic to where they’re headed. Should there be more signs?

WAZE traffic alertInformation is absolutely key for people. VMS may be necessary in some circumstances. But Google’s new Waze app for smartphones (image at left) can be useful where VMS doesn’t exist.

Will what works in Chicago and Washington work in Charleston?

If it works in one place, it should be able to work in another, if it’s adapted to the new context. I think we should also look at solutions in other places, around the world, like the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy.

There’s always a solution. But implementing it is something the community has to do.


Klein to speak at mobility session here on Wednesday, June 9

Gabe Klein, who begins his transportation consultancy to the city next week, will speak at a mobility presentation next Wednesday, June 9, at 6 p.m. in the Charleston Museum Auditorium.

The presentation is co-sponsored by the City of Charleston and Historic Charleston Foundation.










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