Interview with Anne Lusk, Ph.D. at the Harvard School of Public Health
Anne has a Ph.D. in architecture and a 25-year history working on cycle environments for all populations. She is a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health and is currently studying 20 bicycle paths across the U.S. as part of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant. Over the next three years, she will compare ten highly frequented greenways with ten not highly frequented greenways to study the hypothesis that highly frequented greenways have destinations that serve human needs.
- Please provide your personal bio.
Born in Marietta, Ohio to parents who grew up in small towns in Ohio and Illinois, I lived in Japan when I was ten to twelve years of age because my father, a chemical engineer, oversaw construction of a chemical plant. While in Japan, my mother studied Japanese flower arranging and I explored Japan’s historic gardens, an artful science that would later be reflected in my work. At fourteen years of age and after two years in the U.S., we moved to Rabat, Morocco for my father to work on another plant. Europe became a second home as we visited my brother at the American College in Paris.
- Please provide a synopsis of your education and career.
My Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design from Ohio University was followed by a Master’s Degree at Les Ecoles de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in Paris, France. I then moved to NYC where I was a house model for Geoffrey Beene followed by a move to Vermont where I received a Masters of Arts in Teaching with an emphasis in Historic Preservation from the University of Vermont. After working in historic preservation, I helped the community of Stowe, Vermont create the award winning Stowe Recreation Path. As a result of that successful path, I started earning my living lecturing and writing about bicycle facilities. In a quest to learn research methods to help design better bicycle facilities, I then earned my Ph.D. in Architecture at the University of Michigan with a major in Environment and Behavior and a minor in Urban Planning.
- Which architects have been most influential in your career and why? What are some of your favorite designs and styles of design and architecture?
Christopher Alexander, Kevin Lynch, Jane Jacobs, and Donald Appleyard, from the fields of architecture and urban planning, impacted my life through their work on human interaction with space. Less a singular piece of architecture and more a design theory, I appreciated Alexander et al’s Pattern Language, Kevin Lynch’s description of good path design, Jane Jacobs explanation about neighborhoods, and Donald Appleyards research on street design and human connectivity. My love of architecture has remained with historic buildings and I find great value in the historic buildings that are restored for story telling on bicycle paths.
- What kind of architecture and design lends itself to bicycle friendly communities?
Bicycle friendly communities should provide clearly defined and safe bicycle networks from homes to key destinations such as stores, coffee shops, schools, and work for all populations including children and seniors. Only 1% of the U.S. population bicycles for transportation because most existing and potential bicyclists are less comfortable bicycling on the road with cars, the one bicycle network that does exist in the U.S. Thus, a separate bicycle provision such as a shared-use path, a European cycle track, or an extremely traffic-calmed neighborhood street would serve the largest percentage of the population. To best cover the cost of this infrastructure, homes should be clustered rather than dispersed in 10 acre zoning. This does not mean that people must live in high rise buildings but that the housing should be proximate and the destinations concentrated. The design of the buildings can range from modern to historically-influenced but, because the bicycle is so social, the buildings should reinforce socializing with many “eyes on the street” including front porches, windows with views to the bicycle facility, flowers, and porch and sidewalk lights scaled to the person.
- How did you get involved in studying bicycle environments? Why is this subject important to you?
Starting in 1978 in Stowe, Vermont, a ski community with a local population of 3,000, I worked on the restoration of the old Stowe High School, helping restore it into the Helen Day Library and Art Center. After the success of that project, I was hired in 1981 by the Town of Stowe to write a feasibility study for a potential Stowe Recreation Path. Rather than write the study, I decided to see if it was feasible to build the path. In 1984 after raising $300,000 and acquiring 27 different deeds of easement for the land, 2.7 miles of path were completed. In 1986, after further raising $380,000 and acquiring 5 more deeds of easement, 2.6 more miles of path were completed. The Stowe Recreation Path won a Take Pride in America Award, a listing as a National Recreation Trail, and was designated as the 119th Point of Light. Based on this project, communities across the country, in Canada, and Europe started asking me to help them build a path.
- How many cyclists are there in the US and world and can you break it down by segment: racers, road bikers, mountain bikers, enthusiasts, etc?
- How many skaters, walkers and runners are there in the US and world?
- If runners, walkers, skaters and cyclists are to share a trail, would be the best way to manage/design it?
Ideally, trails should have separated corridors in which the faster users (bicyclists) are separated from the slower users (walkers, joggers, and skaters). This is the practice in the Netherlands and Denmark in which the bicyclists have their own corridor and the other users have theirs. In the U.S., bicyclists have always had to share a corridor with others including cars, trucks, and buses on roads or pedestrians/dog walkers/joggers/skaters on shared use paths. In contrast, vehicles have had their own corridors including roads, in particular highways, and pedestrians have had their own corridors, in particular sidewalks on which other users such as bicyclists are banned. If we wish to increase the numbers of bicyclists, we should provide space dedicated for the bicyclists. Therefore, the best design for trails is a split path unless the trail is rural and not highly frequented. Then, the single path can be shared-use.
- What can be done to encourage cycling as a lifestyle?
Separate bicycle corridors should connect home areas with key destinations. All existing streets do not have to have a separate bicycle provisions but key streets should have separate bike provisions and neighborhood streets should be extremely traffic-calmed.
- In your opinion, what are the top 5 bicycle environments worth seeing in the world?
In the U.S., Davis, California, Portland, Oregon, and New York City have some good examples of bicycle environments. For 5 bicycle environments in the world, certain cities in Canada, France, in particular Paris, and Germany have some good facilities but the Netherlands and Denmark, including Odense, Denmark, have the best examples of bicycle environments for all populations.
- What kind of research have you done on bicycle environments? What is your most revealing discovery in your past research?
My research has focused on shared use paths and the people who use them (men, women, children, and seniors walking, biking, skating, and biking). The major finding was that on a bicycle path people identify 3 to 4 destinations in a typical trip and these destinations are either “social stop” (people stop at these destinations) or “positive-identity pass-by” (people pass these destinations but enjoy looking in the direction of the destination which can include an off leash dog park, manmade kayak rapids, horses, etc.)
- What are the top 5 most important things to urban cyclists and separately rural cyclists?
I don’t believe I can differentiate between urban and rural cyclist because in an urban setting they could be bicycling, for example, in New York City on 7th Avenue with all of the delivery trucks double parked or on the separate Hudson River Greenway. In a rural setting, the bicyclist could be bicycling on a narrow paved two way road with no shoulders and heavy truck or tourist traffic or on a rural dirt road on which only one resident lives at the end of the road. It is also hard to different between bicyclists, suggesting one is more skilled at biking on the road while another is more timid. Characterizations about the bicyclists can, as in the descriptor timid, not allow this bicyclist a high sense of self-esteem. Also, bicyclists are often chameleons and change their bicycling style depending on the environment. If they are on a high-traffic road, they bicycle with more vigilance while if they are bicycling on the rural Van Fleet rail-trail in Florida, they can be less vigilant due to the remoteness of these trails and get their heart rate up with a fast pace or slowly enjoy the view. Therefore, it is best to characterize not the person but the domain. Bicyclists either bicycle where the cars can travel or they bicycle where the cars can’t travel.
- Why is the promotion of cycling and greenways important in the world today?
If we can increase bicycling in all populations, we can also simultaneously address obesity, diabetes, stroke, cancer, global warming, pollution, and high gas prices. Cycling and greenways are also democratizing as “all” populations, no matter the clothes, skin color, riding skill, or bike, tend to acknowledge one another just as Harley riders nod in passing.
- Describe your current NIH project studying greenways.
I am comparing the environmental characteristics of 10 bicycle paths that are highly frequented with 10 bicycle paths that are not highly frequented to test the hypothesis that highly frequented greenways have destinations a set distance apart. If destinations help increase usage, developers of greenways could add or enhance destinations to existing or new greenways. Greenway developers could also, as a cost-saving alternative to high-maintenance and vandal-prone public bathrooms, place small directional signs to nearby destinations such as grocery stores, coffee shops, ice cream stores, or bicycle shops, most of which provide public bathrooms and all of which would serve as destination goals. This practice would just duplicate the directional signs on highways to gas stations, eateries, and hotels.
- How did you apply for and get the NIH grant?
Through the Harvard School of Public Health, I applied for and received a 3 year NIH F32 Ruth L. Kirschstein Post Doctoral Research Fellowship to take classes in Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Kineseology, teach a class at the Harvard School of Public Health on bicycle facilities in the U.S. and the Netherlands/Denmark, and study the 20 bicycle paths across the U.S.
- What do you hope to accomplish with this research?
The research will result in design guidelines for bicycle paths that, it is hoped, will help increase usage of bicycle paths by all populations. Thus far, these design recommendations might suggest the placement of profit generating destinations to lessen costs associated with maintaining public bathrooms and water fountains, small signs on the paths to direct users to nearby path-appropriate businesses, the enhancement or improvement of major destinations, the placement of destinations a shorter distance away from key trail heads for walkers (bathrooms more nearby), interpretive signs for cognitive map imprinting and wayfinding, naming of key destinations for communication and wayfinding, the essential inclusion of bathrooms and water at all major destinations, the need for unique elements at key destinations as landmark places and for variety, and standardization of trail elements such as sign systems (like highway universal design).
- Other than yourself, who are several of the most prominent bicycle path/greenway experts in the world?
Chuck Flink and Bob Searns have been long time friends in the greenway movement. Ed McBrayer has done tremendous work creating networks in Atlanta, Georgia and Marianne Fowler at Rails-to-Trails has advocated for and helped create rail trails across the U.S. John Pucher, Ph.D., Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., and Phil Troped, Ph.D. are conducting highly contributory research about bicycle facilities.
- What do you see for the future of safe cycling in the United States? What do you hope to see?
I do hope that we are able to have funding in the next transportation bill to build and test innovative bicycle designs and conduct qualitative (comfort, preference) and quantitative (safety, numbers of users) research about these test designs. These facilities could, to name a few, include cycle tracks, intersections, curb cuts, and bicycle signal heads. Perhaps we would then be able to include these facilities in documents such as the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) “Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities” and thus connect the shared-use paths with innovative designs and expand the environment on which path users are comfortable riding. Now, most path users drive to shared-use paths, bike, and then drive home, often only biking on the weekends during leisure time. Rather than bike to proximate key destination, they drive to stores and coffee shops. For future safe cycling in the U.S., we won’t exponentially increase the numbers of people bicycling to work but we can increase the numbers of people biking shorter trips including to the store, a coffee shop, and schools.
- What was your first impression of Bicycle City and what did you think it was about?
My first impression of Bicycle City, upon seeing the booth, was positive and I was drawn to the sign. The name Bicycle City evokes an image in which the bicyclist is king and the environment inclusive of all elements in a city. The best way to understand the significance of this name is by offering contrasting names – Physical Activity Community, Healthy City, or Active Place. Too often, the default image from these names is of a walking community with dense shops and an abundance of nearby parking. While walking has advantages, it is too easy to drive, parallel park, walk a few feet, eat at a sidewalk café, walk a few feet and drive home in a walkable community, burning few calories while burning fuel. With Bicycle City, the image can quickly be conjured of people traveling greater distances solely by bike and carrying packages, brief cases, children, or groceries. Finally, the city itself offers pictures of dense and friendly housing, stores, schools, and offices with space dedicated for the bicyclists.
- Are you aware of any other existing communities or ones underway that are significant, car-free projects like Bicycle City? If so what are they and what can we learn from them?
When my children were young, we used to summer on Fire Island, a slip of land south of Long Island with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other. Cars, except for emergency vehicles and a few utility trucks, were banned and all residents, including children, and seniors, biked to the grocery store, church, summer camp, the post office, or parties. Seniors were extremely fit because they only rode a bicycle during the summer. Some seniors who were less confident on a regular bike rode a three wheeled bike, carrying grandchildren and groceries in the large basket between the two back tires. People stopped, perching on their saddle, and passed the time of day. Young children traveled to the beach, bay, or a friend’s house by bike and teenagers, sporting flashlights on their handlebars at night, traveled in packs like fireflies. As a contrast, another island community off the coast of Massachusetts also bans cars but the residents use golf carts rather than bikes. Though golf carts would also facilitate socializing, children would be unequal because many would be too young to drive a golf cart and no one would benefit from physical activity.
- How does your work correlate with the goals and mission of Bicycle City?
For over twenty five years, I have advocated for bicycle facilities for individuals they put in the life boat when the ship is sinking – women, children, and seniors. Though some women take umbrage at their inclusion because many can confidently ride as vehicular bicyclists, bicyclists in the U.S. are predominantly fit young white males. Even on remote trails, the users tend to be males who aren’t afraid in the isolated wilderness and can use the woods if bathrooms are absent. Bicycle City would provide equitable bicycle space for all populations just as key cities in the Netherlands and Denmark offer bicycle provisions for men, women, children, and seniors.
- What would you recommend for the design of bicycle trails in Bicycle City? How many miles of trails will we need for every 1,000 residents? How wide should they be? What kind of materials can we use in our surfaces?
The bicycle trails in Bicycle City should travel through park settings but also run on Main Street between the sidewalk and parallel parked cars as European cycle tracks. Safe intersections with bicycle signal heads and dedicated bike timing and curb cuts should be designed following best practices in the Netherlands and Denmark. All bicycle provisions should allow a person to more easily choose to get to the store, work, the post office, or school by bike than by car. More miles of bicycle facilities should be provided than roads. The paths should be a width that is dependent on traffic and location. If the path is in a remote park setting, a separate two-way facility for bicyclists should be provided with a parallel facility for pedestrians, dog walkers, skaters, and joggers. In a more dense setting such as downtown where there might be more bicyclists, the bicycle facility should be wider. All bicyclists on a cycle track in a road right-of-way should travel one way in the same direction as car traffic. The parallel sidewalk would provide the space for pedestrians, dog walkers, baby carriages, joggers, and skaters.
- What special considerations should we bear in mind for intersections and roundabouts?
Intersections should have bicycle signal heads, priority timing for bicyclists if it is a major intersection, no right turn on red, and pull the cycle track toward the intersection or away from the intersection for clear sight lines. The intersection designs can be copied that were in the older CROW book and that are in the newer CROW book from the Netherlands. Roundabouts should only be single lane if you are going to include bicyclists in the lane. It is best if you can provide a separate path outside the roundabout and safe crossings that are a distance away from cars entering or exiting the roundabout. Ideally, bike roundabouts with no cars should be provided and also underpasses for the bicyclists so they don’t have to interact with the cars. It should be noted that bicyclists who wish to remain as vehicular bicyclists and bicycle with car traffic should be allowed to do so.
- Tell us about your ideas for community gathering places along bicycle paths.
Bicyclists, unlike car drivers, need places to rest. They also benefit from destinations that serve their needs and that might be so compelling that the bicyclists will bike longer just to reach this destination. Borrowing from Italian piazzas, a bicycle piazza could serve all the needs of the bicyclists including offering a bicycle pump, water, shops that offer drinks/bars/food for bicyclists, a grocery store, a sandwich shop, an ice cream store, a coffee shop, and a bike shop. Like a food plaza in a shopping mall, eateries or stores should be on the perimeter of this bicycle piazza allowing bicyclists to be free to frequent the place of their choice and then sit in the common seating area. In contrast, some coffee shops offer outdoor seating but really only for customers of that coffee shop. Bike racks and posts should be intermingled between casual seating so a bicyclist who has decided to stop for a short time can rest his/her bike beside them and not lock it. To protect from the sun but also allow for sun in colder climates, umbrellas and trees should be present with seating under both. Water fountains, with cold water, should be designed for ease in filling water bottles.
- What kind of funding is available for projects like Bicycle City and who are people or organizations that we should contact?
If funding is available in the next transportation bill to build and test innovative bicycle designs, these should be built in Bicycle City and researched. Though there are health implications with Bicycle City, the government funding for NIH and CDC has been drastically reduced. Most walkable communities have profited from sales, witnessed in New Urbanism developments, and therefore Bicycle City should probably seek investors.
- What type of industries and companies can most benefit from communities like Bicycle City?
Bicycle companies make profits but not to the degree of car manufacturers. An insurance company also profits from healthier enrollees but the savings are hard to quantify as a direct return on investment. Chains, such as coffee shops, might benefit but they can also benefit from being accessible to vehicular patrons.
- What kind of advice do you have for the Bicycle City team to make the project successful?
Bicycle City might want to determine if its market is the entire community, including children, seniors, and working adults as in the developments in the Netherlands and Denmark or the senior community as in some of the developments in the U.S. I fear that if associated with only seniors, the concept will have a harder time being accepted mainstream. New Urbanism has appealed to the breadth of the population and has therefore been more successful. New Urbanism, though, focuses on the pedestrian with provisions for the bicyclists in traffic-calmed streets. As written earlier, many people do not prefer to bicycle with the cars, even on traffic-calmed Complete Streets with bike lanes or traffic-calmed streets with greatly reduced speeds. Some developments, including Stapleton in Denver, Colorado, have advertised their bicycle provisions but these have mainly been shared-use paths in the parks. To access the stores in the community centers and even some of the public amenities and schools, the users have to bicycle in the streets. In Davis, California, the older paths resembled European cycle tracks but the newer developments only provide bicycling in the road or shared use paths in park settings. Maps of Davis show that to arrive at certain grocery stores, the bicyclists have to bike in the road. Though we could hope to build traffic calmed streets in the U.S. and have bicyclists ride with the car drivers, it will be difficult to teach all car drivers in all cities across the U.S. to drive slowly and be watchful for bicyclists. One car driver who scans and does not see the biker and who then ends up hitting the bicyclist is reason enough to provide separate facilities. The bicyclist has no crumple zone and even on traffic calmed streets is no match for the car. The new paths in Indianapolis are supposed to feature two way paths downtown that are off road and separate from the sidewalk. It is not known how the bicyclists will access businesses on the opposite side of the street except perhaps to walk their bicycle on the sidewalk. The best advice would be to identify new developments in the Netherlands and Denmark and copy their transportation patterns, including the deterrence to drive. If Bicycle City leans on the designs of the Netherlands and Denmark, the U.S. population that is more cosmopolitan and travels will be inclined to buy homes in these green communities with proven designs and a European cachet.
- What would be the public health and sustainability benefits to having car-free communities like Bicycle City?
The Mayor of Erlangen, Germany, a Fulbright scholar who opted to have buses and bike instead of cars and highways, said, though undocumented, that there were more cases of heart attacks in nearby Nuremburg than in Erlangen and the reason was attributed to the high rate of bicycling in Erlangen. The bicycle has to be the easiest and most convenient mode to select in Bicycle City. Though this might be a hard sell in the U.S., if the bicycle provisions can be separate from cars and well connected, perhaps the bicyclists in Bicycle City could bicycle without helmets. They discourage helmet wearing in the Netherlands and Denmark because they don’t want biking to be perceived as unsafe. To further explain this concept, if pedestrians in the U.S. had to wear helmets, we would have far fewer pedestrians. People should be able to comfortably get on a bike, including having easy step through frames for women wearing skirts, chain guards, skirt guards, generator-lights, solid kick stands, built in locks, and multiple baskets. They should be able to bicycle with their children in seats on the handlebars or up front in the Bakfiets box. If it would be so very easy to bike for short and even medium length trips, rates of obesity and the associated rates of diabetes, stroke, and cancer should drop. Of course, individuals purchasing a home in a Bicycle City would self-select and probably be healthier than the mainstream population but with enough Bicycle Cities, the health impacts could reach the entire population. Perhaps pre-existing communities could adopt the best designs in the Bicycle Cities and retrofit their streets to achieve the same high rates of bicycling just as cities now try to increase pedestrian facilities.
- In a community with no cars, what ideas can you give us about: transporting goods; emergency vehicles; and access/transport for elderly and handicapped people.
New cities in the Netherlands that have focused on the bike have ring roads for car access, emergency vehicles, and handicapped people. The core of the development is for the bicyclists who then can easily access the stores, bike shops, schools, and businesses. Cars can also access the stores but the one side is relegated to the bicyclist with park amenities and ample bike parking. The bicycle provisions should also allow for people to bicycle on bikes larger than the typical lean two-wheeled version. Bicycles provisions should allow for two people riding three-wheeled bikes to ride side by side and converse, just as pedestrians can walk side by side and talk. These three-wheeled bikes include boxes on the front of their bikes for children and groceries and, therefore, added safety is necessary.
- What other information should we know to make Bicycle City successful?
Bicycle City should study the most successful new bicycle communities in the Netherlands and Denmark and bring those best practices to the U.S. These two countries have been praised for their environmentalism, in addition to the biking, and many in the U.S. would like to live in a truly green community that focuses on the health of the planet and the health of the population. The U.S. hasn’t seen many novel developments since the early days of communities such as Davis, California. Some communities are being developed now under the banner of green but they focus on the pedestrian, including New Urbanism, and have the bicyclists in the street. In the U.S., one percent of the population bicycles for transportation and cities such as Portland have reached a bike ride share of five percent. This population will not increase significantly if the only bike provision is in the road for vehicular bicyclists or in bike lanes, especially beside parallel parked cars. Bicycle City should focus on safety for the bicyclists so parents are assured that their children will be safe biking to school. Safe Routes to School has been adopted across the U.S. but most cities focus on the students walking on existing sidewalks. To fully engage children and have them take an active role in their level of physical activity, children should have gear, as in bikes, and freedom to bike near their home safely. Bicycle City should adopt the moral obligation of bringing the best bicycle facility designs to the U.S. not only for their own developments but for other communities to copy and retrofit their communities.