Strategies to Promote Walking

Getting people walking will help build support for creation of more walkable places, decrease air pollution and traffic congestion, improve physical health, and other benefits. Research reveals that creating places for walking (such as walking trails) and other forms of physical activity may be associated with increased physical activity. Below is a list of ideas that a walking coalition or partnership may select from to get going. If there is not yet an established coalition in your community, then find out more about how to build a coalition. The ideas below can be used to inspire and motivate people to get out of their cars and walk.

1. Make walking part of the business: walk at work programs

Partner with large employers to design and publicize routes to walk on the business campus, give time for walking during the day or foster walking groups. One example is Berkeley's walking groups for employees. Some employers also offer incentives for physical activity through their insurance provider. For example, Blue Cross/Blue Shield members in North Carolina's State Health Plan can earn free gifts like backpacks, water bottles, blankets and tents as they log their activity. American Heart Association provides support to business-based walking programs through incentive items, printable material and recognition.

2. Offer incentives and buddies: mileage clubs

Use online and community-based programs that encourage walking and provide incentives for reaching mileage goals either individually or in groups. See the America on the Move program or a "Walk Across a State" program sponsored by cooperative extensions. For older adults, there is AARP's Get Fit on Route 66 online mileage club.

3. Provide a guide: walking maps

Provide maps of local attractions as well as locations of practical amenities such as restrooms. For inspiration, see examples from Feet First and Walk Arlington. Add walking routes to the Trails web site and invite community members to view them. Walking maps can also include the walking time required to reach a variety of popular destinations.

4. Plant the seeds: marketing campaigns

The City of Tempe's Tempe in Motion program includes a marketing campaign with signage on buses, street banners, water bill inserts, television.

"Ghandi walked" promotional poster

5. Build on what's there: existing programs

Work with commute trip reduction programs to encourage walking to work. (For an example, see Pierce, Washington's Commute Reduction Program. Loaner car programs like Zip Car help employees get errands done without driving their own vehicle to work.

6. Make it appealing: special events

Hold a Car Free Day event. Hold a walk to raise money or enjoy an aspect of the community. This might be an art walk or fundraising walk. See March of Dimes Walk or the Walk for Alzheimer's program for starting ideas—there are many other worthwhile organizations that use walks to raise money. The American Volkssport Association offers organized walking routes, special walking events and a point accrual system.

7. Involve children and families: walk to school day programs

Organize a Walk to School Day to encourage children and families to walk to school. This event can also be a way to attract media attention and involve community leaders.

8. Add a little history: educational and historical walks

One example is of educational and historical walking programs is run by Walk Boston, which offers educational and guided walking tours, some of which focus on historical areas of the city.

9. Jump on the bandwagon: partnerships with popular programs

For example, if environmental groups are active and successful in a community, it makes sense to find ways to partner with them to promote walking. For many tools on how to develop programs that promote behaviors that help the environment, go to the Tools of Change web site.

Need more ideas?

For strategies to increase physical activity for entire communities, visit the Centers for Disease Control web site. Other sites have ideas on how individuals can get motivated to walk.

How do you make any of these ideas happen?

Having a group of people that care about increasing the safety and appeal of walking will help make this possible. They're finding out who's making decisions regarding traffic in their hometowns and how they can be a part of the policy and planning process. They're lobbying city officials for traffic calming, more sidewalks, improved transit, and standardized pedestrian facilities for the disabled. And, most importantly, they're walking.

There are different ways to find strength in numbers and coalitions and to organize an effective outreach campaign so you can get your ideas across—and generate walkable solutions.

Your coalition or group has the potential to be your most valuable tool in promoting walkability in your community. That's why it's so important that your group makes the most of its resources and energy, and learn to work with agencies, the private sector, and the media to gain support for your projects.

Whether you've already gathered a group together, or are simply thinking of putting together a pedestrian coalition, you'll benefit from these tips, tools, and resources designed to help you effectively organize and mobilize, initiate and grow.

Take some valuable pointers from America Walks, the national support network for some of the most successful grassroots pedestrian outreach campaigns in the United States. On their own site, you'll find plenty of helpful resources to get your own campaign going. Download their "Introduction to Pedestrian Advocacy" or "The Ten Essentials of Pedestrian Advocacy." A resource binder for pedestrian advocates, including brochure and newsletter samples from other groups, letter-writing tips, promotional activity and program ideas, and other organizational advice is available for order.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)'s Pedestrian Safety Toolkit & Resource Catalog is divided into these six helpful sections:

  1. Making a Commitment: Motivate key decision-makers to take action in making your community safer and more walkable.
  2. Getting Organized: Establish a formal Coordinating Committee and announce the program to the general public.
  3. Gathering Data: Compile statistics to define the pedestrian safety problems facing your community.
  4. Developing a Plan: Define communities' priorities and specify action to be taken in support of the program goals.
  5. Implementing Your Program: Take action and keep the media informed about your activities.
  6. Evaluation & Feedback: Figure out what works and doesn't work and make the necessary adjustments to the program.

More information on how to start a walking group can be found in this video, "How to Start a Walking Group," created by AARP.