Originally published in the Voices section of Newsline - Minnesota Department of Transportation Employee News Letter, Nov. 25, 2015
It’s an early and sunny Monday morning as I make my way half tiredly down the sidewalk and set my foot in the crosswalk on Rice Street, outside MnDOT’s Central Office. I am abruptly stirred out of my sleepy state as I notice cars whizzing by realizing that not only are they not going to stop for me, but they are not even going to consider slowing down. I take a step back and walk over to the signal push button. As the walk sign lights up, I swiftly yet cautiously dash across the busy five-lane road.
Just a mere 24 hours earlier I was reveling in the streets of Washington, D.C., and as quickly as those cars were passing by me on Rice Street, I realized I was no longer in “walker’s paradise.” Ironically, I had just spent the week in D.C. for the biggest walking event in the nation, the National Walking Summit, where experts and walker advocates alike gathered to celebrate the emergence of the walking movement and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action on walking and walkable communities.
My excitement from the great week and fresh enthusiasm from Washington, D.C., quickly came to a halt as I heard of what seems to be never ending and deeply saddening news of tragic pedestrian fatalities that had occurred over the weekend. One of them was a little boy.
It is for these reasons that MnDOT and the Minnesota Department of Health are stepping up and paving the way for Minnesota’s first ever Statewide Pedestrian Plan. As best put in the words of Dr. Robert D. Bullard, father of environmental justice, during his talk at the Walking Summit, “walking is a civic right” and this plan will begin to ensure that walking in Minnesota will be safe, convenient and desirable for all.
Many cities, states, countries have already figured it out – walkable places increase quality of life, health outcomes, economic vitality and many other benefits we hear of all the time. The U.S. Surgeon General’s acknowledgement of the work Minnesota is undertaking during his highly awaited speech at the Summit ignites and provides support and encouragement that there is no better time than now to step up and focus on improving the lives of Minnesota residents by creating walkable communities. It is not to discredit other modes, but to co-exist and provide equitable choices for all without undermining the sole purpose of what we are all made to do – walk.
Even more so, with the last few months of community engagement for the pedestrian plan, more than 3,000 voices of Minnesota residents from different corners of the state have been heard loud and clear – people want to be able to walk to the park, grocery store, school and transit. Even more so, it is good sidewalks, snow and ice removal, presence of other people and quiet streets/low traffic that make walking safe, convenient and desirable in various communities around the state.
The next step for MnDOT and MDH is to write the recommendations for policies, projects and programs at the state, regional and local levels. But the most crucial work is yet to come – the implementation of the plan and support from other agencies, advocates, developers, policy makers and all those who have a stake at advancing the quality of life of all Minnesotans. It is only then that we will start to see a shift and an end to these tragic headlines and support Minnesota’s Vision of maximizing the health of the people, the environment and the economy.
For more information about the Statewide Pedestrian System Plan, visit: www.minnesotawalks.org
Full time City Transportation Planner. Part time urbanista dreamer & traveler residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota.