Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Walking, Biking, and Good Government

When I ran for City Council, increasing the infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians was one of my priorities. I have biked many neighborhoods in this city—as a teen riding through Scenic Heights to piano lessons, as a young mom biking my daughter to school in East Hill, as a councilwoman biking to Woodland Heights to meet with constituents. I also have walked all over, including knocking on doors on every street in the city.

Progressive cities throughout this country provide transportation alternatives for residents. And the kinds of workers we hope to attract look for alternatives. Residents and visitors alike benefit. I have researched many systems and believe that, by incorporating complete streets into our transportation planning, we can become a better community.

Last winter a group of citizens came to the council and asked us to consider complete streets as one of several policies. I watched happily as the council, almost to a person, voiced support. I had had conversations with the mayor previously, and I knew he cared about this issue, too. So I decided that it was time to act.

There were some glitches, but last council week the administration finally brought us a resolution in support of complete streets. But the council decided that that didn’t go far enough and created a committee to come up with a complete streets network plan. We are gearing up for our first meeting and hope that many citizens will show up to help us take the first steps in this process.

So what do bikes have to do with the charter? While multi-modal transportation is a passion of mine, good government is even more important. In our transition to the new charter, much energy has been devoted to defining the role of the mayor. But often overlooked is the change in the role of the council. The council is the “governing body of the City with all legislative powers of the City vested therein,” often interpreted as the policy making body.

What the Council has yet to tackle is how it sets policy. So far, most of our actions have been approval, modification, or rejection of recommendations from the mayor. If the council is going to carry out its responsibilities under this new charter, it must have a process by which it creates policy.

Our new government is like the Congress and President or the State Legislature and Governor. The Congress/Legislature sets policy by holding hearings (usually in committee) and researching an issue. Then the body will vote to approve the new policy, usually a resolution or law/ ordinance, and send it to the President/Governor for approval and execution. This structure can inform the council on how to carry out its role as well.

I am glad that we are using Complete Streets as the test case for the council to create a system for setting policy independent from the administration (though with their assistance, much like a Secretary of State would testify before Congress). There is consent among the council to support the idea, the mayor seems supportive, and many citizens are excited by the idea as well. I hope everyone will work together to make this a successful effort.

Please plan on participating in the Complete Streets Committee process so we can set the most informed policy for this city. And so that it can be a model for how the council can work with the citizens to carry out its role under this new charter. Look for an announcement of the first committee meeting soon.