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Why do we need pedestrian advocacy?

Walking in Seattle published an editorial today asking, “Does Seattle need a pedestrian advocate?” After all, bicycle advocates have had some success getting bicycle projects completed and are a strong voice in city policy. So why not pedestrians?

The idea of a pedestrian advocate is absurd. We shouldn’t need one. Everyone is a pedestrian. We all walk, no matter what other form of transportation we also use. The idea that we might need a strong, organized group advocating so people can choose to use their legs and walk is ridiculous. Unfortunately, our dangerous car-centric road design has made this ridiculous idea reality. This is why Feet First exists. It shouldn’t have to exist, but it does.

The safety of people walking should have been (and should be from now on) the number one priority of all city transportation projects. It should be the guiding principle from the start. You should never have to walk four blocks just to get to a stoplight so you can more safely cross a four-lane highway of a neighborhood arterial.

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One big issue a walking advocacy group has, however, is that people rarely identify as “pedestrians.” “Cyclist” can be part of your identity. But ask a friend who just walked seven blocks from their home to the bus stop, then another seven from the bus stop to your house, how they got there, and they will tell you, “The bus.” That mile of walking is inconsequential and not even worth mentioning.

The north and south ends of the city need sidewalks. A neighborhood without sidewalks is simply unfinished. It’s strange to phrase these projects as “pedestrian improvement” projects. They should be phrased as “finishing construction of the city.”

As a bicycle advocate, I concentrate mostly on projects that help people who ride bikes. It’s convenient that the majority of bicycle projects also help walking. Bike lanes are typically part of traffic calming projects, which make roads safer for people walking, too. Footbridges and other walking projects are often part of transit improvements.

However, it’s always important for transportation advocates to remember that what is good for walking is good for biking is good for transit is good for walking, etc. A new sidewalk in Rainier Beach may not necessarily help me ride my bike, but it could make it easier for someone in that neighborhood to ditch their car and take light rail instead. That does help me ride. People who ride the bus may not have any use for a bike lane, but they will find it safer and easier to cross the street to their bus stop once the traffic is calmer.

We’re all in this together, and we all walk. Projects that make walking safe are no-brainers. It seems wrong that we should have to advocate for those projects at all. But the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan is basically unfunded, and Greenwood will remain without sidewalks unless people can create a loud, organized voice calling for them.

Want to help? You can start by showing up to the budget hearing tonight at 5 p.m. at City Hall. Sign up to voice your support for the mayor’s proposed $13 million in walking, biking and transit infrastructure improvements. Without a strong presence, safe-walking projects could very well get left behind. Again.

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3 responses to “Why do we need pedestrian advocacy?”

  1. Duh

    Road design is “car-centric” because roads are for motor vehicles.

    1. alexjonlin

      Ummm… okay, you’re probably not going to change your mind no matter what anyone says. But streets are not for cars, they’re for moving people and goods, and streets should be apportioned so that they can move the largest amount of people and goods. You can fit like 8 bikes in the amount of space a car takes up, and you can fit the number of occupants in 150 cars into one light rail car. So it just makes sense to apportion part of our streets to modes other than motor vehicles so that they can move the highest number of people.

  2. Scott

    I agree with the priority, and I’ve shared that thinking with Councilmembers. Let’s see what they do.

    Sidewalks and crosswalks can certainly help. I’m thinking they’re often the most obvious “solution” we think of. But other considerations are often bigger and more important. Is it a comfortable route? Does it take me somewhere I want to go? Am I likely to see other people along the way?

    I guess I’m talking about land use, urban design, and basic platting patterns. I’m not sure that sidewalks alone will generally stimulate the kind of changes that promote walking. If we’re talking about megablocks along Aurora, then I’m not clear that sidewalks along the corridor will necessarily promote more walking. Sure, crossing is a priority in that case. The City’s Pedestrian Master Plan seems to take a pretty rational approach to prioritizing improvements, and I support it.

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