Make way for pedestrians
January 26, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I start, or join, a public action committee or collective action group focusing on the needs and rights of pedestrians? A social support group or listserv would be OK too.

I have vision impairment and have always walked or taken the bus or subway. I have good frontal vision with glasses, but very poor peripheral vision. Due to this, I have never learned to drive. I live in the suburbs of a large city (Washington, DC) with relatively good public transportation. I have long commutes by Metro and bus to the two different schools that I work for; they are in exurban areas. I am usually able to get to work on time.

Nonetheless, this area is a car-driving culture. Except for Metro riders, the people who depend on public transportation are mostly poor and disadvantaged, especially the further you get from the city.

I am in good physical shape and don't mind the exercise of walking, but the inconvenience of public transportation is getting me down, especially in bad weather. I want to raise the consciousnesses of people who drive. I have not decided whether I want to join a mainstream pedestrian advisory committee (there are many) or join some in-your-face collective action like Critical Mass, if such a thing exists for walkers. I'm aware that grassroots organizing the majority of pedestrians and bus riders would probably mean speaking at least Spanish besides English (I don't speak Spanish).

At the very least, I would like the social support of other middle-class non-drivers.

I am concerned about pedestrian safety. I feel that I'm probably going to be seriously injured or die one of these days from a hit-and-run accident, and I walk very defensively (crossing with the light and looking all around).

I also want my community to enforce any laws or regulations about clearing the sidewalks of snow, whether they legislate that homeowners must shovel their sidewalks or raise funding for public sidewalk shoveling. The neighborhood is full of people who do not shovel, in part because heavy snowstorms occur only a few times a year in this area, but also because they are all drivers and do not think that anyone needs to use the sidewalks, which are covered in snow, ice, and slush. As a result, many pedestrians walk in the street, which is even less safe.

I'm aware that this tone and level of irritation aren't great tactics for persuading car drivers to respect pedestrians, and that I might be better served by moving into the city and finding a job there.
posted by bad grammar to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Greater Greater Washington is an active blog run by a group of people who share many of your views. Some of the contributors have experience working with DDOT and various committees so they may be good resources for you.
posted by JackBurden at 12:42 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in the work of the folks at Streetsblog. I believe they have a DC contingent.
posted by Sara C. at 12:48 PM on January 26, 2014

Have you looked into one of the community/neighbour associations where you live?

In my city, community associations are the ones who seem to have the most luck in swaying the city politicians to make meaningful changes for pedestrians, often because they are stable enough to have consistent interaction with the city councillors and because many of the leaders of the neighbourhood associations tend to enter municipal politics themselves. Plus, these are people who are concerned with their immediate neighbourhood and want to have it be a pleasant place to live.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:10 PM on January 26, 2014

You might contact the Alliance for Biking and Walking and see what advocacy groups they support in your area. Or ask for their help in starting one.
posted by katinka-katinka at 1:14 PM on January 26, 2014

Seconding neighborhood associations.

Also, you might look into the smart growth movement in urban planning, an important component of which is to promote walkability. It sounds like you like in a sprawly area. You might find allies and leads for community organization by becoming acquainted with your municipality's planning division and lobbying to move their policy towards walkability, or forging contacts with real estate developers in your area who are oriented towards smart growth style infill, and do lobbying of their own.

(An urban planning news-aggregator to browse is Planetizen. Walkable City is a book on the party line.)
posted by bertran at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Following this thread with interest, as I'd love to do the same in my small city. We've only had a few fatalities and injuries, but I've had a few narrow escapes myself and I'd love to be able to raise awareness. Plus, there are many simple things that could be done to make some of our busiest neighborhoods walkable.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2014

I work with a biking and walking advocacy group in my town. I guess I would suggest contacting your local council representative or equivalent and ask them what the regulations are about cleaning the sidewalks and who you should complain to.

One you know that, you just have to do it. Sometimes over and over, in a nice way and thanking the person who gets it done. You might have to make friends with the department of public works. If there isn't an advocacy group where you live, I honestly would just tell you to start a Facebook page with a Walkable Yourtown name and then you are it.

Talk a lot about how you get around. Talk about supporting local businesses. Talk about health on it, and then have a meetup or whatever with like-minded people who are concerned about getting around without a car, either on foot or on bike. Joining forces really helps you get support for both sides. Good luck!
posted by katinka-katinka at 1:41 PM on January 26, 2014

You might also see if Transportation for America has anything going on in DC. They are not pedestrian specific (they're also focused on public transit, bicycle access/safety, etc.) but their mailing list certainly sends out petitions about pedestrian safety.
posted by unsub at 2:52 PM on January 26, 2014

bad grammar: "I also want my community to enforce any laws or regulations about clearing the sidewalks of snow, whether they legislate that homeowners must shovel their sidewalks or raise funding for public sidewalk shoveling. "

Find out what these are, get some statistics from the various groups people have mentioned above, and then go speak to your city council, either during public comment or ask if you might make a presentation. Keep it relatively brief (providing extensive supporting materials in handouts) and say, "Hi, I'm bad grammar, I live in Neighborhood and you might know me from my non-stop patronage of Joe's Greasy Spoon because I subsist solely on Joe's pancakes. (pause for laughs) I've come to talk to you tonight about snowy sidewalks. While 75% of people in this community do get to work or school by car, 25% of us use some combination of our feet and public transit, and that 25% includes school children, the elderly, and people with me -- I have a vision impairment that makes it impossible for me to drive. We do not currently have any community program to ensure clear sidewalks after snowfall in the downtown, in neighborhoods, near schools, or near Metro stops, and that impedes mobility for many members of our community, and makes driving much more dangerous as pedestrians -- especially hard-to-see children and slow-moving seniors! -- walk in the road when conditions are already icy. There are many alternatives available, including [community funding for shoveling, neighborhood organizing to clear sidewalks, homeowner sidewalk clearing] and I suggest we implement [this combination]. I've provided details of various programs in communities similar to ours and my proposal in the handout I've prepared for council members and the press, but if we used [these grant funds] to subsidize the cost of gasoline for 142 key blocks to designate a homeowner to clear the sidewalks after a snowfall of an inch or more, it would cost the city only $7,000/year and potentially prevent 30 minor car/pedestrian accidents and 1 serious one each year, while making our city much more hospitable for children, the elderly, parents with children in strollers, the disabled, and those who just like to walk!"

(I just made up the gasoline snowblower subsidies, I don't think that's a thing. But it COULD be a thing!)

You want to focus on a) a personal hook and why it impacts you to get people interested, while b) noting the SEVERAL constituencies in the community who are impacted. Make sure you c) show what's been done elsewhere so nobody has to reinvent the wheel while showing d) its cost and e) its benefits to the community.

I would also start asking around your local social networks (twitter, facebook, etc.), just posting, "Hey, [town] people, are any of you aware of a local pedestrian advocacy group, or anyone who's been doing that locally?" A lot of these groups organize on facebook and once you find one person who's locally involved with "complete streets" or bicycle access or pedestrian access, you'll get hooked in to the whole network.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:32 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also you could organize through a disability advocacy group, or a pedestrian advocacy group if you join or start one, to give a similar presentation to neighborhood organizations and HOAs and business groups and so forth, with the goal of creating positive social peer pressure for people to clean their sidewalks. "Did you know that 6,000 school children, 2,000 elderly people, and 5,000 adults, including those with disabilities, make sidewalk trips in our city every day, whether it's to and from school, to run errands, or to get to work? When it snows and sidewalks aren't clear, many of those people are either housebound or walk in the street, creating danger for both pedestrians and drivers. It takes an extra five minutes of shoveling to clear a 75-foot sidewalk frontage after a 1" snowfall -- and I know nobody wants to be out there those extra five minutes, but if everyone puts in those extra five minutes, we make our city much friendlier and more welcoming to the elderly and disabled, to joggers and dog owners and mothers with strollers, to parents of small children who are concerned about their safety. In fact, City Police Department says that sidewalk shoveling can prevent six car/pedestrian accidents each year involving school children on the way to school, and cleared sidewalks increase shopper traffic at local businesses by as much as 30% after a snowfall! Five extra minutes is a small price to pay for the safety of our littlest citizens, isn't it?"

The goal is to encourage a community norm of clearing the sidewalks, where everyone who's not an asshole spends the trivial extra five minutes to clear the sidewalks in the spirit of community-mindedness, while being the guy who doesn't shovel the sidewalk becomes like being the guy who doesn't mow his lawn all summer or runs his sprinkler during droughts -- you're just selfish and deserve the low-level community censure you get, as well as the social pressure to conform to improving the community.

And if you don't already have a law requiring sidewalk-clearing, that's how you get there: make it so people are disgruntled at the folks who don't hold up their end of the social contract and shovel in the first place, so that it isn't just understandable laziness but a violation of community norms.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:46 PM on January 26, 2014

Keep an eye on DC.Streetsblog.Org--it's also not pedestrian-specific (more complete streets focused), but the Chicago version has kept me informed about local meetings and controversies over street re-design that brings the emphasis on pedestrian use over auto use.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:53 PM on January 26, 2014

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