merica Walks, a coalition of 60 grassroots pedestrian organizations from Arizona to Wisconsin, insists that this picture can change. The group's philosophy is summed up in planner Peter Calthorpe's statement that "pedestrians are the lost measure of a community; they set the scale for both center and edge of our neighborhoods." The number of affiliates advocating pedestrian principles is growing, from Oakland's BayPeds to Hawaii's Na Kama Hele ("the Travelers") to car-choked Atlanta's PEDS. From May 6 to 8 in Silver Spring, Maryland, the annual meeting of the National Congress of Pedestrian Advocates assembled experts intent on promoting the pedestrian and curbing the car. The theme of the meeting: Walking -- Everybody's Business.
You don't have to be a walking wonk to appreciate the tactics of the pedestrian advocates, from neckdowns -- roadways narrowed by wider sidewalks -- to traffic-taming rotaries; from signals timed for walkers to chaperones for youngsters who cling to a single rope on their Safe Routes to School. Add bicycle paths and pedestrian bridges and the toolkit for "traffic calming" grows. Take the next step to planning denser neighborhoods that encourage walkable main streets and public transit-oriented development and the pedestrian possibilities mount.
A decade ago, I started work on my book Asphalt Nation by visiting so-called new start streetcar (or light rail) lines in Portland, Oregon (the poster child of rail), San Diego, and St. Louis. Today even western motowns are laying new lines: Dallas citizens have voted to bond new streetcars; sprawling Phoenix is planning for rail in 2008. Add to these a host of other options, from car-rental services like Zipcars, which allows members to pay a yearly fee and then hourly rates for off-and-on use, to so-called location-efficient mortgages in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle, and let the public imagination soar.
It may seem strange to insist on all this inch-by-inch, row-by-row work simply to reinforce the most natural of motions of our bipedal, biologically itinerant species. But it is essential. In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit quotes Rousseau on the intimacy of thought and movement: "I can only meditate when I am walking." Yet planning for pedestrians is about survival as well as meditation. It is about attending to the planet on a human scale, about settling compactly enough and shrinking the asphalt sufficiently to preserve biodiversity. It is about not only environmental stewardship but personal well-being.
Consider the pleasures of your own mobility on foot, your own visual and emotional link to the walking journey, slow enough and tactile enough to absorb wind and weather and the lay of the land. Add the lengthening of your "footsteps" by communities that allow biking or create bike paths. Launch your own freedom of motion, here and there, in the outdoors, in the city, and in the country. And remember that a long eco-journey begins with a single footstep.