Nov. 12, 2013 Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, University of Washington Community Environment & Planning student and Summer 2013 PlanGreen intern
The 19th annual Rail~Volution Conference was hosted by the Puget Sound Region in Seattle, WA on October 20 thru 23, 2013. The conference featured many workshops exploring how we can build livable communities through transit. This is especially important to the Puget Sound Region because they are anticipating 1.2 million more residents by 2030. To accommodate this, the region must plan for density in urban growth centers and make smart investments in transportation.
Because PlanGreen principal, Mary Vogel, urged me to apply promptly as soon as she got notice from Rail-Volution, I was privileged to receive a scholarship to this conference. The first workshop I attended was “Rail~Volution 101” intended for first time attendees. One of the speakers was Earl Blumenauer, Congressman of Oregon’s Third District, who has notable experience with working towards livable communities. He founded Portland’s Regional Rail Summit in 1991 which eventually became the Rail~Volution conference in 1995. He spoke of the importance of citizen infrastructure in making a successful light rail system. In Portland, he funded a transportation class to allow citizens to work with the Portland transportation agencies to implement their own community projects. This is still happening! To him, strengthening this citizen infrastructure is a key to success. Learn more at portlandtransport.com.
Another speaker at the “Rail~Volution 101” workshop, G.B. Harrington, of G.B. Placemaking in Portland introduced me to the concept of Transit Oriented Development versus Transit Adjacent Development. He argued that it is not enough for development to be by transit, but it must be shaped by transit. Other speakers at this workshop included the Executive Director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and the Mayor of Normal, Illinois. They excitedly shared projects that had been accomplished in their town to make their communities more livable. What particularly struck me was when the mayor of Normal explained how the addition of a roundabout fixed a bad traffic snarl. To me, this displays the power of incrementalsim to solve urban issues. To learn more about the project in Normal, visit normal.org
The second workshop I attended was titled “Design Matters.” The panel consisted of a planner, an architect, and a landscape architect. The planner, William Anderson, of San Diego, urged everyone involved in a project to “leave their discipline ego behind” in favor of effective collaboration and problem solving. Jeff Potter, architect from Dallas, TX, argued that “place is not designed, it is experienced.” William also argued the importance of making seamless connections to neighborhoods through transit to avoid making a community “just a place to pass through.” All panelists spoke to the important of context specific design that gives a place a sense of unique identity.
Tuesday night was the Pecha Kucha Slam, described as “cutting edge ideas presented rapid-fire.
20 slides x 20 seconds = less than 7 minutes per topic.” 12 professionals presented a wide variety of topics from developing airports to keeping your employees healthy and fit. There was also a range of presentation styles: from serious to satirical to downright silly. Terra Lingley, Transportation Planner at CH2M Hill in Portland presented about Portland’s Streetcar Mobile Musicfest where local bands perform on the streetcars for free (except you still have to pay the streetcar fare). This was a big hit with the crowd!
I was connected with a mentor, Circe Torruellas, of the Washington DC Department of Transportation. She shared with me her experience with transit planning in our nation’s capital. She also introduced me to people she knows in Portland who were at the conference including Art Pearce, of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
At the conference, I networked, had fun, and learned many things, including some information that went over my head such as the details surrounding how to finance Transit Oriented Development. There is a wealth of information about the conference on their website: railvolution.org including a list of attendees and some webcasted sessions. My experience at the conference has made me very excited to continue down the path to be an urban planner.