Happy Walktober! Going for a walk might be one of the easiest activities that you can do, yet it may not always feel safe and comfortable. Sidewalks might be crumbling, narrow, or nonexistent. The safe way across a busy street might result in a frustrating 500m detour. Or perhaps you’ve experienced a scary near miss with a vehicle or have recently tripped and fallen. These experiences all factor into our decision to walk and may become barriers to accessing our communities as we’d like.
A new crowdsourced website is hoping to change that. WalkRollMap.org has recently been developed by researchers at the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, and Memorial University with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Crowdsourcing offers a way to fill in the data gaps left by traditional sources such as police reports or ICBC claims. Building upon their experience with BikeMaps.org, the team has created WalkRollMap.org to gather reports of barriers to safe, comfortable walking or rolling on the region’s sidewalks and pathways. Website users can map three different types of reports: 1) Hazards or Concerns; 2) Missing Amenity; or 3) an Incident (collision, fall, or near miss). While the map platform is global, the project is focusing promotion initially on the Capital Region. After a participant drops a location pin on the map, they are asked a series of questions about their report.
Participation is anonymous, but demographic details such as year of birth, gender, and ethnicity are collected to better understand who the project has reached. People may experience the safety and comfort of their environment differently based on gender, race, or age. As well, different barriers may exist for people with a disability and this information is also collected. Data collected by WalkRollMap.org will be shared with Walk On, Victoria and the region’s municipalities to help improve the pedestrian environment. Have something to report? Simply go to WalkRollMap.org through your browser on any device.
As the population in the CRD increases, every mayor in a municipality with a commercial centre talks about housing densification to help create a community where residents can live, work and shop without commuting. Green space, essential for health and quality of life, frequently gets squeezed out of the planning.
Look at downtown Victoria. One high-rise after another has gone up, replacing increased suburban sprawl with vertical sprawl. What was once known as the city of gardens is turning into a city of canyons where, on some streets, sunlight seldom reaches the ground. Unless you consider green space to be a shrub in a pot on the sidewalk in front of a condominium complex, you will need to walk to the playground by the Court House, or to Beacon Hill Park, if you want to find a spot to sit down on a bench without having to buy a cup of coffee for the privilege. While shopping, coffee shops, restaurants, banks and the Royal and McPherson Theatres are close by, nature is not. Where’s the green space?
A growing amount of research indicates that people who have regular contact with nature are happier, mentally and physically healthier, and more likely to value environmental sustainability. Densification of housing needs to be planned in an environment that includes access to nature. A truly walkable urban community includes a number of small parks with benches, trees, and a children’s playground. Urban green space provides a necessary place where people find solace in the city. While residential “Walk Scores” posted by realtors focus on access to commercial and service amenities, walkable neighbourhoods must include space where birds and insects can thrive and people of all ages can experience nature within five to ten minutes walking distance from their homes.
Interestingly, older residential neighbourhoods, including parts of Fairfield, James Bay, the Hillside/Finlayson area, parts of Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt include neighbourhood parks that encompass a good size piece of property where, by today’s standards, numerous single family homes (or a sizeable apartment/condo complex) could be constructed. It’s the developers of more recently constructed housing complexes, and the municipal Councils who approve their developments, who have deemed park space too expensive, an extravagance that their communities can’t afford. The exception is affluent suburbs, where, even though residents own single family homes on sizeable pieces of property, additional space has been set aside for parks. An example is the lovely Emily Carr Park in the Broadmead area of Saanich.
And what is the true cost of deleting nature from our urban core? Desirable neighbourhoods, the places where people wish they could live, cities designated as beautiful, are never bereft of nature. No one should need to be affluent in order to have green space in their environment. A good example of a popular urban park in Saanich is Rutledge Park, located in the Cloverdale area where numerous people live in apartments and condos surrounding the park. Another example is the very well used Kings Park near the Royal Jubilee Hospital, where former hydro land will hopefully be saved in entirety to preserve the only neighbourhood park in that part of the city.
Downtown Victoria could use a park on the Capital Iron side of town and another on the site of a car dealership closer to the centre of town when the land is available. It’s not too late for Victoria, and other urban municipalities, to set land aside and build new parks as a priority in their plans for urban densification. Our urban communities need to be built with beauty and nature top of mind. For today and for the future, people have a right to access nature.
By: Arielle Guetta, Walk On, Victoria Steering Committee Member
Walktober is a month-long celebration of all things walking and encourages people to keep their steps up even in the rain and wind. October is also International Walk to School Month – an opportunity for families and kids to walk to school and to bring attention to needed safe routes to school.
As a pedestrian advocacy organization, we are all about Walktober. It’s a lovely time of year to get out and enjoy the fall colours, but also a time when we need to be thinking more about pedestrian safety as it gets darker earlier and roads are wetter.
One important way for pedestrians to stay safe in the coming months is to be seen. It is much easier for drivers and cyclists to see pedestrians who sport brighter gear. How about a colourful umbrella or a light-coloured jacket? Reflector strips that fit around the upper arm are easy to drop into a pocket when not in use. Small, flashing lights can be attached to a backpack, purse or book bag. Don’t forget Fido; a blinking light on a collar or harness helps keep our walking companions safe, too. Another safety tip is to carry a small flashlight to show the way when sidewalks in poor condition create tripping hazards, where street lights are few and far between or where sidewalks still don’t exist.
While I love walking, after 1.5yrs of a pandemic and having a baby, it can be challenging to motivate myself to get out the door sometimes. If you are looking for some new ideas to invigorate your walks in October, here are some suggestions:
A walking challenge: Try something like ‘World Walking’ to virtually walk around the world or participate in a month (or longer) walking challenge like this 31 day walking workout.
Find a new walk: Use an app like Footpath or AllTrails to map and find new walks near you, or check out your municipal or regional district webpage to see if there are any guided walks in your area – one of our favourites is the Signs of Lekwungen Tour.
Make it interactive: Download one of the many apps that can turn your walk into a game – Seek allows you to identify plants & critters on your walk and win badges the more you find; Geocaching turns your walk into a treasure hunt; and Pokemon Go unlocks a virtual world wherever you are.
In addition to the suggestions above, here are some fun things you can do with your kids to get them out in all weather.
A scavenger hunt: Make a list of what you might find on a Fall walk, or download an already made one like this one from CBC Parents, and get your child to mark off things as they find them. You can also collect the items for a fun art project when you get home.
A rainy day walk: Put on head to toe raingear and go looking for puddles. Stomping around in them is always a hit, but you can also look for sticks or leaves to turn into ‘boats’ in the puddle (my toddler loves this).
Use old technology: give your kids a basic pedometer and create a daily step challenge, or create a map and teach your kids how to use a compass to lead the way.
Whatever you choose to do this month – we hope you enjoy Walktober!