Photos Courtesy of the City of New Westminster
With the weather we’ve had this winter, writing an article about the benefits of walking in New Westminster feels a little awkward! However, it is the New Year, a time full of opportunities as well as challenges, and prioritizing walking is a big theme for the City of New Westminster in 2017. So, off we go!
The simple act of walking somewhere together brings so many benefits to the family. It’s a chance to get some fresh air and clear everyone’s head; a bit of exercise to boost everyone’s energy (without sugar or caffeine!); opportunities to make choices and share tasks (such as choosing which way to go and carrying groceries); the chance to make new discoveries about your neighbourhood; the chance to actually talk (always easier when there are no screens ); and, the opportunity to teach or learn new skills, such as road safety. And these are just some of the benefits.
Walking is what your four-legged family members also enjoy most, which makes it an ideal multi-tasking activity that packs a great dose of daily learning and enrichment for everyone involved. It’s also free, which makes it one of the most family-friendly activities there is.
In New Westminster, we are lucky to have a highly walkable city. Walk Score (www.walkscore.com) is a data-driven program that analyzes “walkability” information for destinations such as grocery stores, parks, schools, and cultural and entertainment destinations. Analysis of this data produces a Walk Score between 0 and 100. New Westminster has an average Walk Score of 70, which means that most errands can be accomplished on foot, and we also have good public transportation.
Walking is free, family-friendly, fun, and challenging all at once. It is also fairly easy to build into our busy lives, because the city is quite compact. Walking can take many forms in New Westminster; walking to school, walking to local grocery stores, walking to the park, or just walking around the block in your neighbourhood after dinner. The city has lovely destinations to walk to (think the Quay and River Market, Sapperton Landing, or Port Royal’s Riverfront Walk) and it can be easily combined with other ways of travelling, such as taking transit or driving, but parking further away from your destination.
We lament the transportation situation and threats to the liveability of our community, complaining of noise and air pollution, traffic gridlock, and transportation inconvenience such as a lack of parking, and rightly so. The stress and strain of getting around can be bad in New Westminster, and indeed in the Lower Mainland as a whole. But how about cutting one car trip a week and walk together instead? You could also just shorten a car trip and walk the rest of the way. “Weird!” you may say, but this is mindful walking and it is good for you, for your family, and whole community.
It is ironic that we are so excited when our child learns to walk, but we very often spend the next 18 years driving them everywhere; to the shops, to school, to appointments, and activities. Children sit passively in the car as we drive to all our own obligations as well. How can traffic gridlock, stress, and pollution be a fair trade-off against family health and wellbeing and setting both you and your kids up for a successful day? What defines “quality time” in your family? You have to concentrate on the road when you are driving, so you cannot focus on your kids. But when you and your family are walking, you can all take in the sights and sounds along the way, notice other people and connect a bit with the greenery (or the snowy vistas) around you.
There is already lots of walking going on in New Westminster. About 17% of commuting trips (to work or school) are on foot, as opposed to 14% in Metro Vancouver overall. Likewise, 25% of errands are completed by walking or cycling here, as opposed to 20% in Metro Vancouver overall. (*Source: New Westminster Community Health Profile, my Health my Community survey, by Fraser Health Authority/Vancouver Coastal Health/University of British Columbia, 2014). And yet we can walk more.
You may say that it is impossible for you to walk more because you are too busy or it is too inconvenient. However, if you want to get a little closer to that wonderful goal of being a healthy, happy, grounded, and connected family, you should look to increasing the walking you do in your community. With a long list of health and wellness benefits such as increased fitness and flexibility, stress reduction, and feeling more connected to the people and place where you live; simple walking should not and cannot be ignored as a worthwhile activity to build into your family’s daily routine. There is coverage everywhere of how our sedentary lifestyles are making us sick and weak. Heart disease, diabetes and obesity are inactivity-related, as much as they are related to an unhealthy diet and other factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, stress and genetics. Today’s car-centric patterns and behaviours can and should be challenged at every level for the good of us all. What do we need to be able to walk around more? Is it more flexible work hours, some infrastructure improvements, a good shopping trolley, a helpful map, or just a genuine intention? Find out by walking somewhere with your family and get involved in the walking conversation that is starting in New Westminster at www.walkerscaucus.ca.
New Westminster could become the walking capital of the Lower Mainland if we fully engage with being pedestrians here. Putting pedestrians first makes roads safer, public spaces more numerous, and promotes public transport for everyone’s benefit, young or old. This is exactly what the City of New Westminster is focusing on through our Master Transportation Plan and Official Community Plan during 2017 and beyond (www.newwestcity.ca/transportation).
So what is the City doing to make the city more walkable? Last year, we worked on improving routes to school and made several intersection and pedestrian crossing improvements. In 2017, curb extensions/letdowns, sidewalks, and spot improvements to improve walking connectivity are just some of the projects planned. Alongside Fraser Health, the School District, and the community, we want to raise walking awareness and engagement in our city, starting in February with a Walking Mythbusters series, followed by an eight-week Walking Challenge in the spring, that we hope everyone will take part in.
It takes courage to commit to a set of values and actually live by them, to “be the change you want to see in the world,” as Gandhi said. But as individuals, parents, and caregivers, isn’t it time to start doing things a little more mindfully, for the benefit of ourselves, our kids, and our future? There’s a simple way to make the first step towards changing our world for the better: discover walking in New Westminster this year.