The Planning Picture blog raises an interesting argument that pedestrians need an advocacy group. The writer perspective mostly references Vancouver, BC, but much of it applies to Seattle as well.
A couple of things recently have brought my attention to the fact that pedestrians are perhaps becoming overlooked in the development of our cities. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. They are being overlooked, often, in favour of cyclists. At a recent Gaining Ground workshop that I attended there seemed to be a consensus that while bicycle advocacy was well advanced in some areas (and rightly so) and has achieved some notable victories (Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes for example) there is no one flying the flag for pedestrians.
The City of Vancouver has a Bicycle Advisory Committee which is consulted on major development proposals and capital projects to ensure that cyclists needs have been taken into account. In addition, there is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who are the leading cycling advocates in the area and then there is, of course, Critical Mass. All of these bodies do great work (although I sometimes have doubts about critical mass). The point is not that bicycle advocacy has gone too far, but that pedestrian advocacy has, erh… well, not really started yet.
This discrepancy is very clear here in Seattle when controversial road rechannelizations (diets) are proposed. Conflicts are often portrayed as bikes vs. cars, when in fact projects like these are just as valued by people on foot. The influence and power of local cycling organizations, at least compared to what exists for pedestrian advocacy, may be part of what makes bicyclists so prominent in these discussions. Pedestrians don’t have strong organizations that speak for us.
Organizations like Streets for All Seattle and Great City are working for a pedestrian-friendly city, but their umbrella of interests also is also big enough to cover people on bikes and buses. Feet First is the premier organization in Seattle supporting walkability, but its influence is limited.
Even without a strong pedestrian voice, SDOT is doing a lot of good work for people on foot – just take a look back at our archives to see the important projects SDOT is doing.
Unfortunately, it will take a while to replace all the poorly-placed curb ramps, install enough pedestrian signals, and build all the missing sidewalks. It will take time to make our city’s streets into complete streets for people in cars, on bikes, and on foot. It will also take a lot of money.
And while there is still another budget meeting where you can show support for the mayor’s Walk Bike Ride funding, the City Council has already shown disinterest in the funding sources for some of these important pedestrian projects.
Infrastructure is critical to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation, as the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan aspires to accomplish. But it will take more than just sidewalks and signals to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation.
Should the most walkable city in the nation require you to push a button to cross a street in parts of the urban core of the city? Or allow building construction projects to close busy sidewalks for weeks at a time?
Seattle is not the most walkable city in the nation nor will it be without walking advocates who work to make things happen.
Seattle needs advocates who will work not just to implement infrastructure projects that will save lives, but to change the culture that endangered them to begin with. Until pedestrians organize and push Seattle to becoming the most walkable city in the nation, the city will fall short.