October is Trails, Parks and Outdoor Spots Month, with a focus on walking. In part three of Jay Walljasper's Easy Steps to Walking More, he discusses how communities can create safer, more walkable routes for everyone.
Join us in the national conversation on walking by using the hashtag #outdoorwalks on social media.
1View walking as a basic human right.
Walking has been shown to optimize our health and strengthen our communities, which means everyone should have equal opportunity to do it. But low-income people often find it difficult or dangerous to take a walk in their neighborhoods, which often lack sidewalks and other basic infrastructure. Latinos suffer a pedestrian death rate that is 43 percent higher than whites, while for African-Americans it is 60 percent higher.
2Create Safe Routes to Schools.
Half of kids under 14 walked or biked to school in 1969. Now it’s less than 15 percent. That’s why families, schools and community officials are launching campaigns in many towns to identify and eliminate barriers that block kids from getting to school under their own power.
“We’re finding that the best interventions include both infrastructure improvements and programming. You put the sidewalks in but also get parents involved,” explains Margo Pedroso, deputy director of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. A five-year study of 800 schools in Texas, Florida, Oregon and D.C. found a 43 percent rise in walking and biking by using this strategy. (This success also spawned Safe Routes for Seniors programs in Chicago and San Francisco.)
3Build communities for people of all ages.
The mark of a great community is whether you’d feel calm about letting your 80-year-old grandmother or 8-year-old son walk to a nearby park or business district, says Gil Penalosa, founder of the international organization 8 80 Cities. Actually, one-third of all Americans are unable to drive because they are too young, too poor, too old or disabled. “Most of us are going to outlive our ability to drive by 10 to 12 years,” warns Kelly Morphy, executive director of Walkable and Livable Communities Institute.
4Join or initiate a pedestrian advisory council.
Almost all of us walk every day, but too often we are silent on the problems we face, unlike bicyclists, motorists and other groups. That’s why towns and cities from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Frederick, Maryland, have created pedestrian advisory councils to help lawmakers, planners and street engineers do their jobs better.
5Conduct walk audits.
A deceptively simple idea, walk audits bring citizens and public officials together to assess the safety and convenience of walking in a particular locale. “They can really change how people look at a place,” says Dan Burden of Blue Zones, who in 1984 organized the first walk audit at a treacherous Florida intersection. This is a crucial tool to create what Burden calls “community-driven planning,” where the people living in a neighborhood have a big say in what happens there. (Walk Audits will become even more important to help us safely incorporate new technologies such as driverless cars, which could hit the streets as early as 2020.)
6Take a walk on the Jane side.
Jane Jacobs, a woman who in the 1960s stood up to stop a highway planned for her neighborhood, is the godmother of the movement to improve life in our communities. She died in 2006, but her legacy lives on in Jane’s Walks, where folks in neighborhoods from Regina, Saskatchewan, to Carthage, Mississippi, organize walking tours to highlight the attractions and history of their community.
7Share the street.
Streets can take up 30 percent or more of the space in a city or suburb, and this should not be the exclusive property of motor vehicles. We all need to cross streets, of course, but they can also be used for other purposes too. Open Streets events, which turn roads into lively linear parks for a day, have been a hit everywhere from Fargo, North Dakota, to Pensacola, Florida. New York City (where 36 percent of the entire city is taken up by roads) has expanded this idea with Play Streets, a program in which roads are closed to traffic and opened to kids at regularly scheduled hours.
8Enact Complete Streets policies.
The simple idea here is that all streets should offer safe, convenient and comfortable travel for everyone—those on foot, on bike, on transit, in wheelchairs, young, old or disabled. Twenty seven states and 625 local communities across the United States have adopted Complete Streets policies in some form. The aim is to provide protection for everyone by curtailing speeding and other dangerous behavior on streets and making people on foot or bikes more visible to drivers.