People tend to identify most strongly with things that set them apart. If everyone’s doing something, it hardly seems worth calling attention to the fact that you do it too.
Which may be part of the reason it’s been hard for pedestrian advocacy organizations to build a strong identity around walking.
America Walks is the only national organization dedicated to pedestrian rights and walkability. The fifteen year-old organization supports community-based walkability movements, such as Seattle’s Feet First. America Walks is putting together a national coalition of organizations that support pedestrian mobility, including the American Heart Association and the Rails to Trails Conservancy, and predicts expanding from 70 coalition members today to 500 by 2012.
They also hope to gather 25,000 signatures for their vision statement:
By 2020, walking in everyday life is embraced across America. Streets and neighborhoods are safe and attractive public places that encourage people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, and incomes to walk for exercise, recreation, and transportation. Walkable community policies promote health, economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and social equity.
If that’s the future, it’s also the past. After all, as America Walks points out, “In 1969 walking made up 40 percent of all transportation trips, but in 2008 walking trips decreased to 11 percent.” Although walking is good for our heart rates and waistlines, modern road design can make it hazardous to our health: in the past 15 years, 76,000 pedestrians have been killed.
“We need to create places where you feel safe and comfortable walking along the street and even in the street, playing in the street,” says Bricker. “Crossing the street needs to be easy, accessible and safe.” He points to simple additions like crosswalks, raised median islands, and countdown signals as innovations that immeasurably improve the pedestrian experience.
Funding for active transportation has risen dramatically from 0.1 percent of the federal transportation program in 1992 to 2 percent this year. Considering the fact that 11 percent of all trips are by foot, America Walks wants to make sure walking gets its fair piece of the pie.
And though creating a strong identity among walkers can be challenging, Bricker says, “We don’t hear people saying, ‘this is not important, walking is not part of the transportation system.’ People understand that walking is a fundamental part of life.”