Walk/Bike/Places Conference in New Orleans

Author: Casey Gale       

New Orleans bikes

Participants in the Walk/Bike/Places conference tried out New Orleans’ new bikeway.

Event Details

Sept. 16–19, 2018

Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

New Orleans

What It’s All About

Produced by Project for Public Spaces, Walk/Bike/Places is a biennial professional-development conference that gathers together city planners, placemakers, transportation engineers, community leaders, public health professionals, elected officials, and professional walking and bicycling advocates to discuss how “great streets, shared spaces, historic architecture, and other elements of the built environment,” according to the event’s website, play a part in creating a destination’s distinct culture.

What’s in a Name?

Walk/Bike/Places was launched in 1980 as “Pro Bike.” At the time, the conference was produced by nonprofit Bicycle Federation of America and focused on making bicycling safer and more accessible to riders of all skill levels. “At some point, the bike advocates and civil servants who attended that conference, we all sort of had the realization that the plight of the pedestrian and the plight of the cyclist were very similar,” said Mark Plotz, conference organizer, “and so we incorporated walking into the title.” The conference then evolved into Pro Bike/Pro Walk.

When the Bicycle Federation of America dissolved, Project for Public Spaces began producing the event, and so it became important for placemaking to be included in the conference’s title. In 2012, the conference became Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place. “It was just becoming a little preposterously long, tripping people up as they said it,” Plotz said. Which led to the event debuting its new, simplified name this year. “We’ve been around since 1980, so our change is a bit glacial,” he said, “but I think we’re going to keep this name for a while.”

Why We Like It

On the other hand, Walk/Bike/Places’ programming, which this year featured 80 sessions over three days, changes more frequently to leverage its host destination. Mobile workshops — giving participants the opportunity to explore and get to know each host city on foot, via bike, and the occasional bus — are developed at each event to spotlight that city’s challenges and accomplishments.

This year’s tour topics included “Public Art, Placemaking, and Controversy,” “Walkability, Roll-ability, Possibility: Integrating Accessibility into Your Walking Audits,” and “A History of Coffee in New Orleans.” Attendees could also take a tour of New Orleans’ levee and pump system to understand how they failed during Hurricane Katrina, Plotz said. During the outing, participants heard what the city is doing now, he said, “to manage its storm water in a way that it’s going to mitigate some of the effects of the city sinking, the groundwater being depleted, and sea levels rising.”

The mobile workshops were intended for participants to take lessons learned and apply them to their own roles — not to provide the city of New Orleans with unsolicited advice. Plotz said that he was cognizant of the fact that since Katrina, many urban planning professionals have tried to implement their ideas to help the city “and haven’t bothered to ask the residents if they were interested in rebuilding according to that vision,” he said. “We treaded very lightly when we were there.”

Learn more about Walk/Bike/Places at walkbikeplaces.org.