BY DARCY AMBLER
I love walking and do it almost daily, but this year I realized I needed to take action to improve Nanaimo’s pedestrian infrastructure. In February, I got off a bus by Beban Park and all I could see was an expanse of deep snow and chopped-up ice covering everything but the four lanes of roadway and the small area at the bus stop. This was a week after the thankfully rare snow event and a time when probably more folks were walking than usual.
This was also the final straw in motivating me and several other avid walkers to work on getting a louder voice for pedestrians in our city. In Nanaimo we often hear “nobody walks here.” In reality, almost everyone does walk at some point, even if they also travel by transit, bike or vehicle. Keep in mind that pedestrians include someone using a walker, a wheelchair, a similar mobility aid or pushing a baby carriage.
We know that people will walk more when the infrastructure is safe, connected and inviting. This is the vision of our new pedestrian advocacy group, Walk in Nanaimo, or WIN. Indeed, where the car has ruled for nearly a century, the benefits of walking are seriously under-rated in our culture and in the minds of government bodies that don’t recognize the true economic, health, and social value of getting people to use their feet more.
Studies show that there are economic advantages related to walking instead of driving. These benefits relate to traffic decongestion, reduced health care costs, lower vehicle operating costs, infrastructure savings and environmental benefits of reduced CO2 emissions and pollution. Well-designed pedestrian infrastructure can make our streets safer, help create more meaningful social connections and level the playing field for those who are socially disadvantaged. Some of these benefits can be difficult to measure financially, and as a result are often disregarded in planning and decision making.
Walkable cities are liveable cities. Nanaimo has a mild climate and tremendous scenery. Our kids, our seniors, our differently abled citizens and anyone who wants to feel safe walking deserves to enjoy the benefits of walking.
In the City of Nanaimo’s 2014 transportation master plan, pedestrians are placed at the top of the transportation hierarchy. The plan states, “the city consider the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, public transit, and goods and services movements before that of private automobiles.” However, if you walk, you know that this is not the everyday reality experienced by pedestrians.
Do you walk? Would you like to see improvements to our walking infrastructure? Help us promote a culture and create an environment where pedestrians are acknowledged, respected and feel safe walking in Nanaimo.
Please join us for the official launch of Walk In Nanaimo on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 11 a.m. Please meet us at McGregor Park on Front Street for a short walk through downtown. Please note that there is a crosswalk with a flashing light at this location. We look forward to meeting you.
Search ‘Walk in Nanaimo’ on Facebook for more information.
Darcy Ambler has lived in Nanaimo’s Harewood area for eight years. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.