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.
June 19th was Victoria’s second annual Car Free Day. Once again the weather was great and people came out in droves to experience their city on foot. This year 220 people visited our booth and signed up to become part of our general membership–welcome and we look forward to getting to know you!
Our informal polls at the event gave us some information about the people we strive to represent. Here’s the results:
The most common place that Greater Victorians walk is to the grocery store, followed by the park/beach, work/school, bus stop, restaurants, and other shopping. Other places we didn’t include in our list but were named by respondents were the library, community centre playgroups, and recreational walking areas.
Respondents are generally willing to walk quite far–with the majority saying “no distance is too far”! When asked how many hours per week they walk, almost half said they walk over eight hours.
Respondents had a lot of ideas about what the #1 walking improvement in their neighbourhood would be. More crosswalks got the most votes, but here’s some of the items respondents themselves came up with:
- bus shelters
- cyclists off the sidewalk
- dog-friendly cafes
- dogs on leash
- better lighting
- construction detours
- beverage stop/food truck along Dallas Road
- for drivers to be reminded that any pedestrian at a crosswalk has priority
- less pavement
- protected walkways
- path between streets to connect our neighbourhood
- less obstructions (e.g., overgrown plants)
- improved sidewalk surface conditions for mobility devices (e.g., Fort Street)
- a pedestrian precinct downtown (Government St.)
- more trees for shade
- sidewalks (Gorge-Tillicum)
- micro-parks and placemaking
- more greenspaces
The wide variety of input reflects the diverse neighbourhoods and pedestrians of Greater Victoria.
Several people mentioned they’ve noticed overgrown shrubs in their neigbourhood blocking the sidewalks. Homeowners are required to keep those in check so sidewalks are accessible to all! If you find yourself stymied by an overgrown shrub or other obstruction, note the location/address and report it to your local government. Your fellow pedestrians will thank you!
Here’s where you can report obstructions for three of our local municipalities:
The tricky thing about pedestrian advocacy is that there is no obvious way to do it. It’s tied to so many issues–health & safety, the environment, community vibrancy and social connections, and social justice–which means everyone has different reasons for being involved. Meanwhile, there are an infinite number of ways to work towards a more walkable city–do we focus on specific trouble-spots? Do we push for one type of improvement over another? Do we promote walking through events and campaigns? Do we attempt to educate pedestrians, road-users, and policymakers? Prioritizing between hundreds of potential projects is difficult but necessary, given our limited capacity.
Our steering committee has been grappling with these questions since the beginning and I think it’s safe to say now that we’ve come up with a few initial answers. I’m only one member, but here’s how I would explain them:
- As advocates, our main priority is to push for a more walkable city–mainly by expressing our views to city councils, developers, and others who make decisions affecting walkability.
- Focusing on a few key areas of town that many members use is one way to narrow down an otherwise overwhelming number of ideas and to see real impact.
- Greater Victoria is a city with a lot of sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrians, and hazards–we don’t have the capacity to highlight and prioritize every problem spot or potential improvement. Instead, we hope to work with and support neighbourhood associations and residents to raise concerns related to walkability. For individual residents, we plan on creating an Advocacy Toolkit to empower those who want to see a specific change in their neighbourhood.
- Promoting walking is not our first priority…but an annual event promoting walkability is a good way to promote the group, grow membership, and start a conversation.
- We are lucky to have a talented, connected, and diverse membership. By recognizing and leveraging what people bring to the table, we can take advantage of special opportunities to make an impact.
- It’s fun to learn about walkability and related urban design issues. We plan on participating in and promoting educational opportunities so that together we can all learn more about how we can make Greater Victoria a pedestrian paradise.
We’ll continue to ponder how we can maximize our impact given limited capacity. In the meantime, please have a look at our draft Strategic Plan and let us know what you think.
Click here to download the draft Strategic Plan:
Walk On, Victoria Draft Strategic Plan 2016-2017
At the end of 2015 we asked our growing membership what they wanted from Walk On, Victoria. We surveyed them online about their biggest concerns as pedestrians and asked them to describe the types of work they see Walk On doing to further their interests.
One survey result suggests that downtown is likely the most important for pedestrians, many of whom live, work, shop, and play downtown. Another was that safety is top-of-mind for many of our members.
Walk On, Victoria strives to represent Greater Victoria’s pedestrians–what’s important to you is important to us. The survey results will help shape our plans for 2016 and will help us understand what part our general membership wants to play.