Changing Values, Perceptions, and Behaviors

How do we create a "culture" for walking? How do we create communities that feel safe and appealing where people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels have reasons to walk there? It appears that community members get out and walk along routes that are enjoyable and feel safe and perhaps lead to destinations of interest (this might be for errands or recreation). Making these places requires sufficient political will and community interest in order for resources to be devoted to their creation, improvement and maintenance.

Before promoting walking, conditions need to be adequate and safe. To evaluate conditions for a community, go to the section on Addressing Community Problems. If there are no facilities for walking or it's not safe for other reasons, communities can begin by building a coalition and gathering support for change. Community design that is the appropriate scale for walking plays an important role, too. To find out how to do this, see the Planning section.

Once there are safe places for walking, it's time to think about how to get people walking more and how to continue building support to expand the availability of walkable places. This is where changing norms and building community interest comes in. Right now, the prevailing community norm is to drive to a destination, whether it's around the corner to the grocery store or across town to work. People tend to do the behavior that is easiest and that they see others doing. However, shifting mindsets to consider walking as a convenient, feasible option can happen.

The concepts listed here are intended to serve as a starting point for ways to get more people thinking, "I'll just walk there":

  1. Make walking try-able — Give people a chance to "try out" walking.
  2. Communicate the behavior you want to see — Bumper stickers, bus billboards, banners and signs can all convey messages to encourage travel on foot.
  3. Reward behavior — Providing incentives and gifts can motivate people to try walking and once they discover it's do-able, they may continue.
  4. Make it convenient — Design walking opportunities where people are and make routes to places where people go more walking-friendly.
  5. Institutionalize support for walking — All of the ideas above are more likely to "stick" if they are supported by policies.
  6. Capitalize on other agendas — Making walking part of the answer to a variety of problems that people care about will grow its popularity. For example, for those that are focused on environmental responsibility, walking can be an embraced strategy.

How do you put these concepts into practice? The Strategies to Promote Walking section gives ideas and examples of how to put these concepts on the ground and into practice and get people walking more.