People do not think to walk in the neighborhood

The simplest way to improve walking in your neighborhood is to get more people walking! There is safety (and comfort) in numbers. As more people start walking:

  • You'll get to meet more of your neighbors and thus start building a stronger community
  • More people will notice barriers to walking and may add their voice to yours
  • Motorists will be more aware of pedestrians and may change their behavior
  • There will be more "eyes on the street" to discourage crime and graffiti

While lack of pedestrian facilities may certainly deter people from walking, lack of knowledge about walking routes or how close some popular destinations are may be a large reason why people don't think to walk. Following are some ideas on how to encourage your neighbors to walk.

Walking maps

Neighborhood or business district walking maps are a good way to introduce residents to the idea of walking to local destinations. Walking maps can be used to build knowledge of local geography, encourage people to experience things on foot rather than by car, and provide alternative routes for getting to places on foot. Walking maps can show places of interest for shopping, dining, or exploring other businesses in an area, such as a walking map to antique shops in a downtown area or other places of interest.

Key elements that a map should include are:

  • Schools, parks, libraries, community centers, playgrounds and any other neighborhood destination
  • Routes that neighbors might not know about (e.g. a walking trail along a park, a staircase that serves as a short cut)
  • Viewpoints and/or benches (places to sit and rest)
  • Distance (in miles or in the number of minutes it takes to walk); people who are not used to walking may not be able to estimate how long it will take to walk somewhere
  • Where traffic signals are located so that people know where best to cross wide streets

Organized neighborhood walks

Building a stronger sense of community helps overcome many community barriers to walking. One way to bring neighbors together and expose residents to the experience of walking in their neighborhood is to organize a neighborhood walk. Some examples include:

  • A walk to visit a new park or pathway
  • A walk to an event (neighborhood fair, local coffee shop)
  • A nighttime holiday walk to view decorations
  • A fitness walk or walking just for the sake of walking

Focus activities around a certain age group

Two age groups are the least likely to drive on a regular basis: the young and the old. Teaching children safe walking habits is important, as is exposing them to the idea of walking as a real mode of transportation. For older adults, walking presents a way to exercise and stay social.

Safe routes to school

Walking to school used to be very common for most US children. The concept of walking to school is once again gaining attention. The value that walking to school brings to children in terms of exercise and in mental alertness makes walking to school a very good investment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on health and alertness in their web site, Kids Walk-to-School: Health Benefits. Comprehensive information on safe routes to school programs can be found at the National Center for Safe Routes to School web site.

Walking clubs for senior citizens

According to the Senior Journal, researchers discovered that mobility loss in older persons who do not exercise can be reduced by having an active lifestyle. Recommendations for exercise such as 1.5 to 2 hours of walking per week can help to decrease mobility loss with aging. An accessible walking route is important for active seniors, but encouragement also plays a role. A walking club could be informally organized among neighbors, or more formally organized through a community club or senior center. Working with a local senior center or residential facility on improving pedestrian facilities can boost your support network in lobbying for pedestrian improvements in your neighborhood. In areas where it may be too cold or too hot, or when experiencing bad weather, some walking clubs have formed inside covered malls for walking before the shops open. For more information, see the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging program, You Can!