“Walking is Slow Tech”

Looking just for the info on Jane’s Walks? It’s here.

Do you ever forget you’re walking because it is such a beautiful walk? Seriously, there are days that you walk with awareness and then others that are more cerebral. Walking is not unpleasant and often really fun. Walking isn’t something that a lot of people think about. We do it all day and often are not aware of it.

 Meet Mary

image1Mary Wilson has been advocating for “walking” as long as I can remember knowing her. Walking is the tonic to better health as we inevitably age; getting out there on a spring day, cherry blossom smells wafting around or a rainy day walk in the forest. Variety, company, health, transport, what more can be said about walking?

Apparently, a whole bunch!

Walking as a hobby is perplexing to Wilson. “I don’t really look at walking that way,” she says.

“I’m interested in encouraging people to become more aware of walking since we are, after all, walking entities and I’m interested in raising the profile of walking as an activity worth exploring more.”

For some of us who aren’t in a rush to get here and drive there, or have time in their non-working hours to enjoy walks, this time is cherished time. Being able to engage with family and friends, do meetings walking, and just get healthy wandering the city slowly. A good walk feels great. It can melt the day’s stresses and help one think more clearly.

“Walking is slow tech!” says Wilson.

Crosswalk goes across 6th but there is no where to cross Stewardson.
Crosswalk goes across 6th but there is no where to cross Stewardson.

Wilson started advocating for walking in New Westminster when the crosswalk on Stewardson Way near Grimston Park was removed. It was this singular incident that made her take action several year ago and contribute time and energy into to the New Westminster City Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

The ghost crosswalk at 20th Street and the Skytrain rail. The old crosswalk is just barely visible under the newer paving.
The ghost crosswalk at 20th Street and the Skytrain rail. The old crosswalk is just barely visible under the newer paving.

“I get tired hearing that New Westminster is a very walkable City. We inherited a City infrastructure built for the automobile. Try walking along Royal, Brunette, McBride – it is really loud and polluted but this is what it is. Cars don’t obey the 30km limits in many walkable areas, like out front of the Century House on 8th. I don’t know how to make the City more pedestrian friendly but I know the city does want to. The norm is cars and cars are the standard in infrastructure for transportation here presently.”

The walking path ends here.
The walking path ends here.

Mary is trying to speed up the process.

Mary is a veteran member of the New Westminster City ACTBiPed Committee (formerly the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee) whose goal and mandate is to:

“…help integrate walking, cycling and transit use into the transportation system that is balanced among all users and supports a socially equitable, economically viable and environmentally friendly city. The committee will review, advise and make recommendations to Council on policies, issues, facilities and programs regarding walking, cycling, and transit use.”

Patrick Johnstone, New Westminster City Councillor and Chair of the ACTBiPed Committee says, “An advantage New Westminster has over other cities is that it was designed at a time when walking was the way everyone moved, so we are a compact city that is easy to walk around. However, with the pressure we feel from regional traffic, it sometimes doesn’t feel as safe as it should to walk even in our own neighbourhoods.”

Mary says many pedestrians don’t see themselves as having a voice, at intersections, on the roadside and in many ways in planning decisions.

“The general assumption is that people have, will have or want to have a car,” she says. “As a striking example, a recent new resident guidebook didn’t have the word ‘walk’ in it at all while there was written advice on how to get a BC Driver’s license”.

Two legs good, four wheels bad?

Not that some car use is wrong – there are certain things you simply must use a vehicle for – but Mary sees our City as one that can better itself with a design and function focus that allows for a modal shift to walking. With our aging, obese, and diabetes-challenged society, walking is something Wilson thinks should be given a larger focus in planning at the municipal level.

Over the years of being on the ACTBiped Committee, Wilson has collected a file over an inch high of complaints ranging from trips and falls from roots heaving the sidewalk to bad car-centric lighting that leaves some sidewalks pitch black in some areas. For older residents this is a challenge.

In addressing the planning aspects of making a City to be more walkable, Johnstone invoked the wisdom of Gil Penalosa, founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of 8-80 Cities whose website says the organization “…promotes walking and bicycling as activities and urban parks, trails, and other public spaces as great places for all”.

Johnstone says,“Gil Penalosa taught us that if we don’t build ‘8-80 Cities‘ –  where your 8 year old daughter or your 80 year old grandmother cannot safely navigate – then you have not built an inclusive community. We are still a distance from there in New West, but the new Master Transportation Plan moves us in the right direction.”

As well, children are an important planning component with walking Wilson said and for younger kids there is the SafeWalks to School program as well as several School Maps for Active & Safer Walking Routes.

Wilson points out that while the City is doing a great job in planning, she believes pedestrians need to have a higher priority from a planning perspective.“Why can’t pedestrians be considered with a higher priority in the city planning process?” she asks.

“It would be wonderful to have at least equal consideration to other forms of transportation.”

There are many places to have good walks in our City such as parks, many streets, the quay, ravines, shorelines. But while you can get pocket-sized maps for cycling and road maps for driving, there is no all inclusive walking path map, though there are plaques with maps at the Police Station and near the Tin Soldier.

Creating a Grassroots Walking Culture

Mary hopes to hear more stories about pedestrian infrastructure and walking events and it’s why she brought Jane’s Walks to New Westminster. “We hadn’t had any [pedestrian] events until I decided to start a New Westminster Jane’s Walk,” she says.

What is Jane’s Walk? It is an annual event around the world the first weekend of May to celebrate urban walking. The Mission of Jane’s Walk is to “…develop urban literacy and a community-based approach to city building by encouraging citizen-led walking tours that make space for every person to observe, reflect, share, question and collectively reimagine the places in which they live, work and play.”

“In this way,” their website says,“We honour the legacy of Jane Jacobs whose writings championed the voices of local residents in neighbourhood planning.”

The New Westminster Jane’s Walk website provides a bit of context about Jane Jacobs. She wasn’t a city planner by training; she was just a concerned citizen who spent a lot of time observing city life around her, first in New York City, then in Toronto. From her observations, she developed some theories about what makes a city a great place to live. After she passed away in 2006, Jane’s Walk was founded in Toronto by a group of her friends and colleagues who wanted to honour her ideas and legacy. In her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote:

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Matt Matic, Fitness Programmer at the Queensborough Community Centre and City Organizer of the New West 2016 Jane’s Walk program, believes in the benefits of walking.

“New Westminster Parks and Recreation is always thrilled to be involved with Jane’s Walk. We’re always looking for ways to encourage individuals to become more physically active. Walking is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to engage in exercise. We especially support events that encourage walking among older adults as they promote accessibility among people who may not drive. Walking is a great method for older adults to maintain or improve their fitness levels and of out of home mobility which support healthy aging.”

Matic also believes walking has other community-building benefits:

“Jane’s Walk provides a forum for community members to come together and share walking routes.”

New Westminster’s Jane’s Walk

 So far, already 5 walks are confirmed in our small community, with others coming on board. Wilson’s walk, The Pinball Travel, is on May 7, 2016 at 10:30 AM [updated from 11], starting out from Century House where it will…

“… take us through a variety of pedestrian environments and to diverse destinations. We’ll visit the uptown shopping zone, and traverse nearby leafy residential streets. We’ll enjoy the trails in Friendship Gardens as well as the resources of Douglas College. From Century House to the Anvil Centre our route will be generally downhill. We’ll be looking at streetscapes and green spaces, busy streets and short cuts accessible only to pedestrians. What makes a great urban walking environment? What works, and what doesn’t?”

Johnstone summarized our important link to walking in making a good city: “People walking on our streets means people are on our streets, interacting, meeting each other, shopping, sharing, and integrating, ” he says.

“Pedestrians create friendly communities where people feel safe, connected, and comfortable. It is not just about transportation, it is about community building.”

Walking is something Mary Wilson wants to see many people re-engage with and frankly get out of the car and experience life as a pedestrian. Walking is something we can all do more of and enjoy the relaxation of slowing down to savour our outdoor experiences. Wilson’s favourite walks tend to link transit and walking.

“With my pass and my shoes, I can go from Horseshoe Bay to Tsawwassen Ferry and walk all around the region!”

3 Replies to ““Walking is Slow Tech””

  1. Mary Wilson is my hero! As a new member of ACTBiPed, I was pleased that one of the first presentations was by Mary. I found myself nodding so many times at the points she made. After her presentation, I raised further points that her talk had made me think of. I look forward to doing my part, however, small, to make New West truly walkable.

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