For this installment of Stories from the Field, Berkeley SafeTREC’s Jarah Crowner chatted with Patrick Phelan, Infrastructure Administrator with the City of Richmond. Patrick speaks to the importance of community engagement in implementing successful, active transportation projects and about his inspiration for working to make biking, walking and rolling safer for the residents of Richmond. Check out his Safety Story below!
What is your current role?
I am the Infrastructure Administrator in the Public Works Department at the City of Richmond.
What inspired you to work in active transportation?
I enjoy riding my bicycle for commuting, exercise, and fun. I also walk and use BART. Getting people out of their cars will help solve a lot of our problems in urban areas – fewer cars means less traffic, safer roads, less pollution, healthier people, etc. But you can’t expect lots of people to walk and bike when they don’t feel safe or welcomed. I also ended up in this field in a roundabout way – my background is in Geography and I acquired GIS and AutoCAD skills at a few private sector jobs which led me to work in municipal engineering departments, which led me to getting involved with active transportation.
How does your organization encourage safety for people that walk, bike, or roll for transportation?
Richmond has prepared a variety of planning documents intended to transform the City to make it safer to walk, bike, and roll. These include our Bike Plan, Pedestrian Plan, plans for specific neighborhoods or routes, etc. Most of our current capital projects focus on bike/ped safety or have major bike/ped elements. For instance, we recently paved the entire 1.3 mile stretch of Castro Ranch Road within our city limits – it was in essence a paving project but incorporated buffered bike lanes and new and enhanced pedestrian crossings. We have a recurring program to repair sidewalk damages and build ADA-compliant curb ramps. The City works with partner organizations that promote active transportation safety, such as the Richmond Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Trails for Richmond Action Committee, Rich City Rides, and Bike East Bay. The City also recently launched a grant-funded electric bike share program.
E-bike fleet provided by Bolt in Point Richmond, CA (Photo: City of Richmond)
What are the key elements of a successful active transporation project or program?
For an active transportation program, I think the trick is that you need support and effort from top to bottom. The administration needs to be on board, City staff must have funding and skills to deliver projects, community organizations must be present to promote and engage, and residents need to feel comfortable to use the available facilities.
Photo: City of Richmond/ Fehr & Peers
What lessons or valuable takeways did you gain from a recent active tranpsporation project or program?
The biggest lesson I have so far learned is that you have to engage your constituents at the right time and in the right manner. I thought that one of our projects was excellent, but we presented it to a neighborhood group when we were basically done with the design and expected them to rubber-stamp it. Boy we were wrong!
If you had a superpower and could change anything, what would the future of active transportation safety look like?
If I had a superpower it would be to get car drivers to slow down and act like their favorite little children were playing on every road they drive on. We can’t build protected bikeways on every street. People walking, biking, and rolling will always have to share space with vehicles. If people would slow down and not litter, that would solve half of our problems.
This Stories From the Field interview was conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of SafeTREC.