John Norquist addressing participantsOn Thursday, February 7, the Congress for the New Urbanism led the first of two day-long workshops for transportation professionals in Chicago.  More than 50 people filled a room at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to focus on the CNU/ITE recommended practice, Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach.

The event gave traffic engineers – including more than two-dozen employees from the Illinois DOT – a unique opportunity to test unfamiliar design standards and contemplate their application throughout the state.  The event’s leaders included two past presidents of the Institute of Transportation Engineers – Rock Miller of Stantec Consulting and Ken Voigt of Ayres Associates.  With their expertise and the expertise of all the engineers in the room, the participants hashed out lane widths, cross-section configurations and turning radii for two major corridors outside of Chicago. 

The event also required engineers, planners and policy-makers to think about how major roadways could accomplish more than just moving vehicles.  Participants were divided into small groups to think about their needs as pedestrians, cyclists and business-owners.  Facilitators Marcy McInelly and Norman Garrick – co-chairs of the Project for Transportation Reform – and Stacey Meekins – senior planner at Sam Schwartz Engineering – helped focus the working groups on issues of traffic speed, safety and access.  For many participants, this meant thinking of the roadway in a different way and focusing on aspects that are often considered late in the design process.

Some of the greatest challenges that participants faced throughout the day were those posed by city leaders. John Norquist – former Mayor of Milwaukee and current President of CNU – kicked off the day by making the case that urban corridors should serve a variety of economic and social activities, like many of the busiest traditional Main Streets around the country.  As he has done often before, Norquist urged transportation professionals to think differently about capacity and congestion.

Mayor Larry Morrissey stressed the link between transportation and urban revitalization in his city of Rockford, Illinois – focusing on key components of walkability, livability, efficiency and value.  He also touched on an important factor that makes it possible to achieve these things – the dismantling of professional silos.  He encouraged engineers in the room to think of themselves also as planners and to understand the politics driving design decisions, especially at the community level. 

Workshop participants took on the challenge with passion – offering ideas, raising concerns and posing solutions. Ultimately, the day was about thinking outside of the box for many.  But this will likely be a growing need in the coming decades.  These workshops presented new opportunities for partnerships among CMAP, state and county DOTs, designers and community leaders, which CNU will work to help facilitate in the coming months. More information, including workshop materials and updates, can be found at the official website.