Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pedestrian Advocacy Part 3: Building Momentum

Here's the final installment of my series on the history of pedestrian advocacy. As we learned in part 2, pedestrian advocacy gained steam during the 1920s and 30s, as advocates concerned about pedestrian safety fought for measures such as vehicle speed limits, traffic signals, and sidewalks. However, as vehicle ownership rates grew and cars became the primary mode of transportation for more and more people, pedestrian advocacy gradually fell by the wayside. For a time, the UK's Pedestrians Association was the only voice for walkers around the world.

Fortunately, the 1960s brought a growing recognition of the importance of walking as an alternative transportation mode. Other European countries began to form their own national pedestrian advocacy organizations, and transportation leaders joined together to form the International Federation of Pedestrians (IFP) in 1963. In an effort to coordinate pedestrian policy worldwide, the IFP held a number of international meetings of pedestrian advocates, and also published an informational newsletter and technical materials on pedestrian issues. Yet outside of Europe pedestrian advocacy remained the responsibility of city planners, engineers, and other government officials. In the introduction to its bibliography of pedestrian planning and design documents produced between 1965 and 1975, the University of California’s Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering points out that up until the 1970s, “…the only consistent advocates of the ‘pedestrian cause’ were architects and urban designers defending a qualitative view of the city and its traditional amenities.”

However, in the 1980s this began to change. Brazil formed its first pedestrian advocacy organization ABRASPE in 1981. Seven years later Ottawalk, in Ottawa, Canada, became the first modern pedestrian advocacy group in North America. The United States followed suit in 1990 with WalkBoston, and over the next decade dozens of similar groups were created throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Unlike most earlier organizations, that focused on safety or public access, these new pedestrian advocacy groups work to address a broad range of issues related to walkability, including mobility, equity, environmental concerns, and health, as well as pedestrian safety.

Pedestrian advocacy continues to grow throughout the world, with a number of new groups popping up through the US, Europe, and (mostly in the last decade) the developing world. You can find a list of all the pedestrian groups worldwide--or at least all the groups I've been able to identify--on the Pedestrian Advocacy page. Don't see one in your town? Maybe it's time to start your own...

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