Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to get Americans walking again

Uptown Charlotte, one of the city's few walkable areas
Yes, we in Charlotte are geeky enough that it's exciting when the mighty BBC takes note of North Carolina. And the WalkRaleigh campaign that I wrote about Feb. 6 in "Guerrilla wayfinding and the Charlotte dilemma" has hit the big-time, so to speak.

Asking, "How to get America to walk?" the BBC's piece on Raleigh features WalkRaleigh's Matt Tomasulo, who was behind what he calls a "self-motivated and unsanctioned" posting of signs telling passers-by how many minutes it takes to walk places in Raleigh. Note, too, that in the video Raleigh's chief planning officer, Mitchell Silver, appears disinclined to call in the sign police to take down the signs. [Update: Silver reported via Twitter that the signs came down Wednesday. He is in charge of zoning enforcement, he said. He talked first with Tomasulo and they are working on a longer-term strategy to make the signs either a pilot project or permanent, Silver said.]

But maybe the best snippets are from the jogging stroller exercise class, where women with children work out, in a gym, with their strollers because they can't, or don't, actually take the strollers out for exercise or a walk. In one great visual, a woman points to a sidewalk that ends abruptly, keeping her from walking to a nearby grocery store.

All of which leads to a question I keep bugging my friends and colleagues with: Why isn't there a pedestrian advocacy group in Charlotte to do what the bicycle advocates have been doing so effectively? Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance (aka was founded in 1997 and has successfully raised the profile of bicycling.  Is this bicycle nirvana? Of course not. But CABA has worked diligently to be at the table for policy discussions, and has clearly made a difference. So where's the pedestrian counterpart?

Yes, the Charlotte Department of Transportation did hire a pedestrian planner a few years back, to its credit. But where are the people who'll hound CDOT about cracked sidewalks and ankle-threatening potholes? Where are the people pushing, pushing, pushing for motorist- and pedestrian-safety campaigns, for more crosswalks and more pedestrian lights and for those pedestrian push-button signals to react sooner than 5 minutes (or so it often seems) after you push them?

(Related news: On Wednesday two young children were killed when they were hit by a truck as they walked with their father to a day care center. They were on a stretch of West Tyvola Road that lacks sidewalks and has narrow shoulders.)  

I know plenty of people who care about pedestrian issues, not least of whom is the city's pedestrian planner, Malisa Mccreedy. But city staff can't be the effective advocacy group that Charlotte needs. How about a Walk Charlotte? Somebody?