Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

With ‘Equal Footing,’ an attempt to spark a national walking movement

Posted by on July 27th, 2010 at 11:47 am

Equal Footing campaign logo

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.”

Walk and Bike to School Day

Walking to Sunnyside Environmental
School in southeast Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus)

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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you.

  • peejay July 27, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Brrrr. Look at those jackets!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • buglas July 27, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I have a sister who lived in Germany for a while and participated in many of the Volksmarch activities there. There is an American Volkssport Association and I ran across one of their weekend walks a few years ago. These groups don’t seem to have exactly the same goals, but they can certainly help each other.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Evan July 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Just one thing: please, PLEASE, stop referring to walking and bicycling as “alternative” transportation. It is transportation.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jack July 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    I walk places pretty often and can’t remember the last time that I felt that the walking-infrastructure was lacking anything. We have sidewalks just about everywhere. I don’t get what this “walking-movement” is trying to do.

    Walking alone is not really a viable means of transportation in most scenarios. It’s slow, doesn’t allow you to haul much cargo, and is a challenge for/with very young children.

    Walking is good for getting people to the nearest public transit stop, and people who use public transit already do that.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jim July 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    maybe they can stop making new bike lanes (greenways) and start making sidewalks instead for all of those hundreds of miles of roads with no place to walk except the street

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • gregg woodlawn July 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I am a pedestrian and I love to walk. I love the pace. I love living 20 minutes walking to most of my needed destinations. I love knowing my neighbors. I love being on a people level.

    Jim and Jack- maybe y’all want to go for a walk?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jack July 27, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Jim – As I said, I do walk often. I walk to the library and to restaurants in my neighborhood. When I ride the max, I walk to the RQ. Sometimes I just walk around aimlessly.

    But when it comes to my 3 mile commute to work, I’m not going to spend 2 hours getting to and from work each day when its a 15 minute bike ride. If I’m going to pick up groceries, I’m not going to carry a 15 lbs bag in each hand for a mile when I can put it all in a panier.

    I’m just saying that it seems to me that while walking has its own merits, it is not a competitor as far as reasonable means of transportation that might be adopted by the general public.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • buglas July 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    @Jack, when I ride my bike, I recognize that I’m trading speed and carrying capacity for health benefits and economy. Sometimes that trade-off is unfavorable and I’ll use the family car. Walking has pretty much the same sort of trade-offs – not so favorable in your situation, but everybody else is going to measure it on their own scale.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jim July 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I walk every day for excercise reasons.
    I bike for recreation.
    I dont want to spend 2 hrs biking a work commute when I can do the same in 30 minute driving.
    I feal sorry for the poor people in neighborhoods with no sidewalks that their whole familly has to walk for everything. It would be better to build sidewalks than bike paths (greenways). And I don’t mean use sewer money to build sidewalks. It was bad enough to use that money for greenways.
    Bad city.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Stefanie July 27, 2010 at 1:54 pm


    After driving, walking is the most popular mode of transportation. It’s the most basic form of mobility and one we should embrace and encourage on the national scale for a number of reasons. While *you* might have great sidewalk connectivity and safe crossings, most people in America don’t. Not to mention that for some people, biking is not an option – but walking is. Focusing on making our streets welcoming to people on foot will help people using other modes, perhaps to even greater extent than improving bicycling infrastructure.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • 151 July 27, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    “maybe they can stop making new bike lanes (greenways) and start making sidewalks instead for all of those hundreds of miles of roads with no place to walk except the street”

    Or they could jack up the gas taxes and other fees associated with automobile ownership and operation, so that more general funds can be dedicated to constructing complete and safe streets for all citizens and transit modes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • LynnLS July 27, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    When access to all destinations without a car is seen as an equal right, walking will be recognized as a vital component to our transportation system. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) insures that building provide all users equal access. What could happen if that kind of pressure was applied to our transportation system? My understanding is ADA is currently ADA is focused on sidewalk ramps, I believe we would see real change if they began to advocate for a transportation system that requires equal access for all.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • mabsf July 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    had you ever had a baby or a toddler? You would be surprised how many moms are out there walking, pushing strollers, going shopping etc.

    I enjoy walking because I even have more time to look around. I also take different routes than when I bike: I totally missed that Belmont in upper 40’s is in a renaissance, because I always bike on Salmon.
    Walking to shop makes you appreciate what you need/want/buy and it seems really silly to pay big bucks for a gym when a walk to the shop gives you the same workout.
    And yes, a lot of sidewalks are in a lousy state…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • RyNO Dan July 27, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I (heart) pedestrians.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • GLV July 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Jack “can’t remember the last time that I felt that the walking-infrastructure was lacking anything. We have sidewalks just about everywhere.”

    You don’t leave central Portland very often, do you?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jim Labbe July 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    In Europe people refer to walking as a catch-all term for bipedal recreation. In the United States ‘hiking’ refers to something we mostly do outside urban areas because too many cities are too pedestrian unfriendly for walking or hiking to be an widespread sport or activity. Good for the BTA and Scott Bricker for trying to change it. They and Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (http://wpcwalks.org/) deserve our support.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Red Five July 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    but…but…but…I thought cycling was the ONLY way in PDX…isn’t every other mode of transport our “enemy”?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob July 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    I live near a neighborhood that hasn’t got sidewalks. The streets could use some better lighting for walking at night, but other than that, the streets are nice for walking, partly because of the streets modest width, coupled with the fact that neighbors put their foot down some years back, and got speed bumps installed.

    In this neighborhood, walkers use the street on a level they’re entitled to, just as other road users…vehicle operators…use the street on the level they’re entitled to when people walking are present. I’d have to agree with one of jim’s earlier comments about the income level of the people walking: just guessing, but they look to be lower income people.

    Also just guessing about how they feel about walking to get groceries and whatever…but the expressions on their faces suggest they’re happy to be walking. I’d bet that many of you reading, if you lived in this neighborhood, if not using the bike for chores, would be walking just like these people are, because as I remarked earlier, many of the conditions for walking here are good; it’s quiet…vehicle traffic is moderate and slow paced at 15mph…20mph tops.

    Compare that brief description of walking on a quiet neighborhood street with no sidewalks, to walking on the sidewalk alongside a thoroughfare or a connector street with a lower volume of traffic than a thoroughfare: motor vehicle traffic is likely to be far faster. Numbers of vehicles traveling the street are likely to be far greater in number. The dirt and noise kicked up and produced by the volume of motor vehicles is likely to be unpleasant at best.

    Improving conditions for walking within neighborhoods from residences to places people regularly go to get things done would be a natural way to invite more people to walk.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • CaptainKarma July 28, 2010 at 1:33 am

    When I was a kid, I had to walk >10 blocks uphill to school, in the freezing snow. It was uphill to get back home, too.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Philistine July 28, 2010 at 8:11 am

    You know, 100 years ago before cars and bikes there was only sidewalks everywhere. All people did was walk, all was good and green and in total balance.

    Then the greedy industrialists tore up the sidewalks and put in streetcars all over town. This is the decade that America became the fattest nation on the globe.

    Then even greedier industrialists, capitalists with top hats and snotty attitudes, tore up the street car lines and built roads for cars. As a people we became even fatter than ever.

    Then one day something snapped. Mellow, thoughtful and super fair people all decided to tear up the roads and build bike lanes using road taxes, sewer taxes, and lottery money. All was well in the land and all lived in peace and harmony.

    The moral of the story is this: no matter what you try to build, someone will come along and tear it all up and make you use a different form of transportation just when you get comfortable living your life as you see fit.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Spiffy July 28, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I’m often on foot out here in the east Holgate neighborhood… things are still close enough to not bother with having to get the bike out of the garage, and worry about locking it at the store…

    walking is a challenge with very young children? our toddler insists on going for walks daily… he loves walking the 17 blocks to the store… he gets to be outside and explore his world at his level… it’s awesome!

    and before he could even walk we pushed him around outside along dirt shoulders with no sidewalks (thanks east Portland)…

    we never used to walk to the stores on 82nd or 122nd before the bike lanes were put in… we always drove the car before… there are still a lot of sidewalk obstacles to go around but it’s not so scary now with the bike lane buffering traffic…

    on the weekends I bike to my friends place at 39th/Hawthorne and sometimes we spend six hours walking the neighborhood bar scene… the sidewalks there are much friendlier than the ones in my neighborhood…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jim July 28, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Lynn #12
    You mention ADA.
    Good topic, shouldn’t there be sidewalks on all streets to compy with ADA? Even if the street isn’t paved?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Michael M. July 28, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    In NYC, I used to walk about 2 1/4 miles each way to and from work, and it took me about 40 minutes. Longer if I took longer routes (for variety), under 35 minutes if I took the shortest route possible and hoofed it.

    But walking in Portland is generally slower, much slower depending upon where you live. Signal timing and intersection planning is all geared to vehicular travel, not at all to pedestrian travel. Walking here is nowhere near as efficient as it is in denser cities, alas. Doesn’t matter so much when you’re out for a stroll or running a few errands, but it is certainly a deterrent to commuting on foot.

    I so enjoy walking in the rain! I so do not enjoy cycling in the rain!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jim July 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    can’t compare NYC to Portland. Apples and well peas?
    I am happy you like Portland, and welcome

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • GLV July 29, 2010 at 9:44 am

    jim: ADA doesn’t require sidewalks. It only requires that if sidewalks are built, they meet certain design standards.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Merckxrider July 29, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Why are private developers not forced and required to build sidewalks wherever they put a house or shopping? And, why do we persist in enforcing zoning codes that keep businesses and housing in huge blocks separated from each other? Maybe it’s time to stop enforcing home-business restrictions EVERYWHERE.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Cat July 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I love walking (as with Michael M., my preferred winter time way to get around), and I’m excited to have another advocacy group. I even run errands walking with a backpack. Works pretty well. But even in the central city there are some intersection safety issues for walking that would be good to address!

    I also really like working to have bicyclists and walkers supporting each other — ie, not waiting to walk across the street in the bike lane and also not riding over walkers on the sidewalk.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Michael M. July 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Tom Vanderbilt’s article in Slate about how non-drivers/non-auto-owners are depicted in Hollywood movies got me thinking about how odd it is that walking doesn’t inspire as much passion or excitement as cycling, given the rich romance and symbolism of walking as portrayed in pop culture. From Dietrich’s walk into the desert at the end of Morocco to Rock Hudson’s lonely walk in the rain in Magnificent Obsession to Emile Hirsch’s walk Into the Wild, walking has so often represented a sort of freedom from the shackles of modern life. It’s what you do when you assert, in the most stripped-down manner possible, your independence. You don’t need gas, you don’t need a well-oiled chain or tires that won’t get flat. It’s the ultimate representation of human-powered freedom. I walk, therefore I am.

    This is probably even more true in song: I Walk the Line, Walking After Midnight, Walking in My Shoes, You’ll Never Walk Alone, These Boots Were Made for Walking, Walk of Life, Walk Away Renee, Walk On By,…on and on and on, and those are just some that come to mind with “walk” in the title. Green Day didn’t sing about “Riding around the streets of sorrow” in Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Bicycling hasn’t fared nearly so well — Queen’s Bicycle Races and …?

    So hey babe, take a Walk on the Wild Side. Get out of or off your vehicles once in a while and enjoy life as we were born to do (Born to Run notwithstanding!).

    Recommended Thumb up 0