Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 27th, 2010 at 11:47 am
A partnership of national advocacy organizations, led by North Portland resident and former executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, is attempting something that has never been done in America: galvanize a powerful grassroots walking movement.
Back in March, 10-year BTA veteran Scott Bricker was hired by America Walks to try and solve the age-old dilemma of getting more people excited about walking advocacy. Unlike the fervent passion, culture, identity and industry that helps drive the bike movement, walking advocates struggle to raise public awareness and excitement for their issues.
"Everyone walks, but there is a lack of passion and desire from the public to join walking advocacy groups."
-- Scott Bricker, America Walks
Bricker hopes to change all that, but he knows it won't be easy. "Everyone walks, but there is a lack of passion and desire from the public to join walking advocacy groups. As Wendy Landman, Director of Walk Boston put it 'we are the club that everyone belongs to, but nobody joins.'"
To help his efforts, Bricker has turned to an old friend and colleague, Portland lawyer Ray Thomas (they worked together on bike legislation in Salem for many years). Thomas -- who literally wrote the book on walking laws in Oregon -- understands the crux of the problem at hand. In a guest article that appeared in an America Walks newsletter on July 15th he wrote, "Everyone walks or rolls at some point in their lives. And while all people participate in this activity, few identify themselves as sharing some sort of special bond with other pedestrians."
While I think the existence of a "special bond" between everyone that bikes is often overstated by the media and even by bike advocates themselves, there's no denying it exists and there's no denying its power to connect those who feel it.
Both Thomas and Bricker are convinced that if a powerful walking movement stands any chance of catching on, it needs a strong, national coalition at its core. To help establish that coalition, Bricker has assembled an impressive steering committee and list of campaign advisors. That list includes professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds -- from public health to real estate, biking and public transit. Bricker will launch his campaign at the 'Equal Footing' summit, which will take place at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference on September 16th.
There are implications here for the bike movement. Given its larger influence and greater success on the local and national levels, the bike movement has always been happy to include walking initiatives in its efforts. But if walking is soon able to stand on its own two feet, it would allow bike advocates to create clearer arguments and focus more directly on how to position bicycling as a viable mode of urban transportation in urban areas.