‘Moving in the Right Direction’ reaches consensus on walkability

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 4/24/24



When the Local 20/20 nonprofit’s Transportation Lab hosted its second-annual “Moving in the Right Direction” conference, it not only boasted a packed turnout …

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‘Moving in the Right Direction’ reaches consensus on walkability




When the Local 20/20 nonprofit’s Transportation Lab hosted its second-annual “Moving in the Right Direction” conference, it not only boasted a packed turnout and a return appearance by former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, but it also brought its attendees to a consensus about the need for more walkable cities.

Scott Walker, a member of the Local 20/20 Transportation Lab, said a dominant majority at this year’s conference reached the same conclusion: Walkability and bicycle-accessibility need to be built into communities on the planning level.

“That’s the vision Local 20/20 has been working toward, but we didn’t lead our attendees toward that conclusion,” Walker said. “They reached it as a result of the data that was presented.”

Walker emphasized that Local 20/20 would like to see automobiles become less of a requirement, regardless of what fuels they use, since, as he pointed out, even electric vehicles consume vital resources.

Walker was especially pleased to see the conference, held at the American Legion hall in downtown Port Townsend on Friday, April 19, populated by so many elected officials and government representatives. It included staff members from the local, city, county, and state levels, some from the departments of Transportation and Health.

“Which is important, because their opinions are not to be taken lightly,” Walker said. “It often takes civic leadership to bring the people along. Our goal is education, and the understanding we’ve sought to impart is how transportation affects all of these other elements.”

Walker noted that having to drive for extended distances, whether for work or to run everyday errands, drives up the cost of living. Eschewing cars in favor of walking or biking also burns more calories and reduces the risks of certain chronic health conditions.

“Even with cars that rely less on fossil fuels, they still have an impact on our ongoing climate change,” Walker said. “With cars also comes parking, and one of the other things we discussed was how to work with developers on parking codes, so that you don’t have to sacrifice huge stretches of land to seas of asphalt.”

Walker compared the parking lots of the county’s chain grocery stores to the relatively modest number of parking spots provided for Aldrich’s grocery store which he asserted “meet the needs of their neighborhood.”

Walker deemed parking spots to be one of downtown Port Townsend’s most sought-after commodities. “And yet, we’re just giving them away, when we could be recovering millions of dollars in lost costs by renting them out.”

For those reasons and more, Walker was particularly impressed by the keynote address of McGinn, who currently serves as executive director of America Walks, and who opened his April 19 remarks by praising Port Townsend’s “wonderful sense of place,” which he asserted to be separate from “the beauty of its historic buildings,” or even its streets or other infrastructure.

“Most Americans will live seven to nine years beyond their ability to drive,” said McGinn, targeting what he identified as the older demographic of the local community. He noted that one of America Walks’ primary funders is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because “inactivity is a significant cause of health problems in the nation.”

McGinn noted how increasingly walkable places see decreases in stress, heart disease and diabetes, along with increases in “a sense of community.”

“We all just went through the pandemic,” McGinn said. “Social isolation is a real health issue.”

Moving on to the impact of housing density, McGinn said “land use reform could reduce as much pollution as our most ambitious vehicle electrification policies,” by reducing driving overall, as well as by protecting carbon sinks, such as forests and wetlands.

McGinn’s optimistic final note pointed out that “cities aren’t static,” even though “we put in a bunch of rules to make them static.” Communities like Port Townsend emerged from “people trying to figure out how to build a great place, without a zoning code, without design review” and without “a single master’s (degree) of urban planning” among their earliest settlers.

“Human beings naturally want to build good places for themselves, and for others,” McGinn said. “We need to have a little bit of trust and confidence in each other, that we can do this right together.”