There’s lots of hype about active transportation in Toronto. It’s a way to get cars off the road and reduce air pollution. It can help combat health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stress.
But what is active transportation really? Getting around under one’s own steam, whether on wheels or on foot.
Walking fits that definition, and often gets a mention when people talk about active transportation.
But cycling is always the belle of the active transportation ball.
Cycling: Active Transportation’s Attention Hog
I’ve often wondered why cycling gets so much attention in Toronto, while walking gets so little. It may be because walking infrastructure, in the form of sidewalks, often already exists. Dedicated bike lanes, on the other hand, are still few in number in Toronto, and it takes money and political will to plan and implement new ones. Cycling issues are much more prominent in the media.
Make Room for Walking!
From a walking perspective, Ontario’s recent Five Year Climate Change Action Plan 2016-2020, sounds good. It states on page 81 (Actions not featured in the plan):
Walking and Walkable Communities: Provide information and guidance to all municipalities on the benefits of walking and creating walkable communities; encourage municipalities to build cycling infrastructure and larger sidewalks to promote cycling and walking; and collaborate with real estate associations and builders to highlight the desirability of walkable communities.
However, the funding earmarked for walkability upgrades is disappointing: none. The Action area of “Transportation” on page 22 includes “Supporting Cycling and Walking” and I got my hopes up! But when I saw the details, I learned that all five actions outlined in the plan pertained to cycling infrastructure funding.
The Ontario government did not make even one action plan to fund improvements to walking conditions to attract walkers, despite its intention to reduce climate change. Personally, I don’t think “encouraging” walkable communities is all that should be done.
The Nitty Gritty of Getting People Walking
Since starting this blog, I’ve learned of a great many organizations, from local to international, that support walking. Check out my Resources page for some of them. You can find lots of great information and advice there.
The part of the picture that we’re missing, I feel, is a plan to change people’s attitudes. Active transportation just isn’t part of our culture. For many, driving is a rite of passage to adulthood and a symbol of independence to which we cling for dear life. Taking public transit is a little more active but only requires minimal exertion.
We think, “Why walk when I can ride?” instead of “How can I get myself moving more?”
To support the nitty gritty of getting more people to choose to walk, we need programs that “show” instead of “tell.” Here’s an inspiring example from Ottawa:
Why Not a Walk to Work Day?
Although Toronto has a Bike to Work Day at the beginning of Bike Month, a very popular and successful initiative, we have no Walk to Work Day. But if we want to get walking in the headlines someday, and change people’s attitudes, here are some forms an effective pro-walking campaign might take.
I really like the U.S. Surgeon General’s “Step It Up” Challenge here!
These are some of my favourite examples of public education and awareness programs that present walking as an enjoyable, healthy and safe form of active transportation. Surely we can try something along these lines in Canada!
Here’s to walking the talk!
If you are a walking commuter, please complete a quick SURVEY – the results of which will be shared in a future post – Thanks!