I recently attended Walk21, an international conference on walking. I heard some useful things, met interesting people, and enjoyed meeting several of my HealthBridge Liveable Cities colleagues and partners. But throughout the conference I could not help but reflect on the oddity of a conference about walking.
Walking should be the most normal, yes, even pedestrian of activities in the sense of being the most common means of transport and the most obvious choice. The most affordable and sometimes the fastest way to reach a destination, walking should also be full of joy and pleasure. A conference on walking could consist of people sharing their favourite places to walk and their stories of good times and new friends. What it should NOT have to be is discussions of how to ensure that children can walk to school safely, how to help ensure that pedestrians can cross the street without being maimed or killed by cars, and how to convince governments pleading poverty to set aside tiny sums for pedestrians. And yet that, of course, is exactly what the conference was about.
As I’ve said repeatedly, I believe it’s important to maintain our sense of shock and surprise at such craziness. We need to understand that the only possible rational approach to transport is to prioritize pedestrians, not just in words but with policies, budgets, and infrastructure. We need to demand not just minor improvements but an entire change in the way that walking, and transport, are viewed. Then, working and conferencing together, we can achieve something truly fabulous.