How We Show Off Our City: Walking Is the Way to Go in Philadelphia

Posted 10/21/15 by Katie Harris in Success Stories, Health and Wellness

Photo courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

October is Trails, Parks and Outdoor Spots Month, with a focus on walking. Join us in the national conversation on walking by using the hashtag #outdoorwalks on social media.

Few cities have better embraced walkability more than Philadelphia. According to WalkScore’s 2015 rankings, Philadelphia is the fourth most walkable city in the United States! The city has even invested in a comprehensive signage system that is custom-made for pedestrians as part of the Streetscape Improvement Program, the Walk!Philadelphia campaign.

The health benefits of walking are undisputed, and groups across the country are organizing around getting more folks walking. That’s surely the case in Philadelphia, where passionate community members are pushing the walking agenda forward.

Just Keep Walking

PHL Distance Walkers after a 14-mile trek from Center City to East Falls and back. | Photo courtesy J. Nathan Bazzel

After joint replacements and related weight gain, Philadelphia resident J. Nathan Bazzel knew he needed a change. He began by walking on the Schuylkill River Trail to clear his mind and lift his mood. These long walks became key to Bazzel’s recovery.

After several long-distance walks, Bazzel had an idea. “I figured that there has got to be other people that would be interested in doing this,” he says, and so began his efforts to bring the health benefits of walking to others in his community.

Today, Bazzel and the group he founded, PHL Distance Walkers, goes on weekly walks and, each Saturday, hosts walkers from around the region. PHL Distance Walkers use the region’s trail network, a growing web of multi-use pathways called The Circuit Trails. When completed, the Circuit will comprise a 750-mile network of trails throughout the nine-county region of Greater Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia is a spectacular place for long distance walking and walking in general,” says Bazzel. “Two weeks ago, I walked 24 miles from my home all the way out to Valley Forge, a nine-hour walk, with barely any traffic lights or obstructions. What other city can you say that you can do that in?”

Bazzel says that you don’t have to be based in Center City to have access to great paths and trails. “Whether we’re talking about the Delaware River Trail, the wonderful trails throughout Fairmount Park, Wissahickon Valley, Cobbs Creek, there are just so many trail opportunities in Philadelphia for walking.”

Advocating on Two Feet

Photo by Matthew Petrillio, courtesy Feet First Philly

“Walking is how Philadelphians show off our city,” says Deborah Schaff, co-chair of Feet First Philly. A program of the Clean Air Council, Feet First Philly is the city’s pedestrian advocacy group. They keep an eye on important issues, like sidewalk maintenance and construction disruption, and speak on behalf of walkers in the city.

According to Schaaf, having a walkable city is important for many reasons. “It’s good for our health and it’s good for our city’s health,” she says. “People come to Philadelphia and really enjoy it, and much of that has to do with the city’s walkability.”

Although Philadelphia is a walkable city, Schaaf says there is still work to be done. “Certainly many places in Philly are walkable, but there are many places that are not,” she says. “We are ahead of a lot of cities but we don’t want to get complacent, don’t want to get left behind.”

RELATED: How to Make Walking Safe, Easy and More Fun in Your Community

Getting Seniors on the Trail

In 2012, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA)found that even with the wealth of parks, trails, and open public spaces, senior citizens—who could potentially benefit the most from walking—were underutilizing these resources. In fact, 72% of older adults in Philadelphia reported they had not gone to a public recreational facility within the past year.  Fairmount Park Conservancy and PCA have teamed up to reverse this trend.

Photo courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

“We looked at that data and it got us thinking,” says Meg Holscher, Senior Director of Development at Fairmount Park Conservancy. “We wanted to know how we could make our public spaces safer and more inviting for people in Philadelphia of all ages.” 

Focus groups with seniors were planned to see what needs were not yet being addressed, and how parks and public space could be more suitable for seniors.

One major outcome of their research was a need to bring seniors together around walking, and to capitalize on the social elements of going by foot. Senior Strut, a one-day walk and celebration on Kelly Drive, was born. Now in its third year, the 2015 event brought over 500 seniors out for a walk!

Philadelphians will continue to walk and advocate for a walkable, livable city, so the next time you’re in the City of Brotherly Love, join the movement and lace up those walking shoes!

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