Can you cite a few downtowns that have impressed you during your travels to WSP offices around the world, and why?
Eric Peissel: I have had the benefit of visiting many cities, some ancient and others modern. Older cities are much more walkable because that was the primary means of transportation that existed when these cities were formed. Cities that boomed in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution were developed around transit and railways and still benefit from this lineage today. So, there are historical precedents that we can learn from; cities with different histories have succeeded in developing vibrant centres while offering active and public transportation options to navigate the urban landscape.
Recently, when visiting Copenhagen for the first time, I experienced the city’s extensive public transportation system, which includes buses, trains, metro, and ferries, as well, but the bicycle is at the top of the transportation pecking order. It was great to be in a city that was designed and built for cycling, making it easy, comfortable and safe to move around using purpose-built infrastructure.
My recent travels have also taken me to Bogota, a city that dedicates a network of streets and avenues to walking and cycling every Sunday from early morning into the afternoon. This step supports greater road safety for pedestrians and cyclists as well as reducing emissions, a goal of all forward-thinking cities today. As cities focus on ways to increase inclusive transport, Bogota can provide valuable pointers; both the city’s bicycle network and a vast and very efficient bus rapid transit system, which were developed in the past few decades, are heavily used, and together they have improved mobility and access for the whole urban population.
I have also been impressed by Philadelphia, which has embraced active transportation in recent years and created a large network in relatively little time. Policies and programs in place for inclusive and greener development position the city to build upon efforts to rejuvenate Center City. COVID has certainly highlighted the need for public policies to address the issues of inclusion and equity, resilience and sustainability, which continue to challenge many cities and their downtowns.
Finally, being a self-confessed transit geek, visiting Sydney, Australia was a pleasure with the very diverse public transit network including ferries, buses, light rail, commuter rail and metros. The city’s impressive network reduces the need for private vehicles. In fact, the fastest way to our office from the airport is by train, not by car. It’s easy and convenient to use a combination of public transport options to move through the city, which, of course, is essential to urban vitality while also making it possible for people to discover more places.