Seattle to the World: Feet First and Walkable Communities

The Story:
Formed in 1996, the pedestrian advocacy group Feet First was created to build a “world that cares about health, community and design.” Since then, Feet First has grown into one of Seattle's leading advocating groups for building walkable communities. The group's staff and board -- which includes university professors and former mayors -- has worked to make walking safer and more enjoyable, and to help establish healthier, sustainable neighborhoods.

Some of Feet First's smartest solutions are also the simplest. The pocket pedestrian flag, invented by group member Lester Goldstein, is a great example. The idea: pedestrians carry around pocket-sized orange flags that can be waved to alert traffic when crossing the street. Considering that approximately 80 deaths per year in Washington state are associated with pedestrians, this little flag can be a lifesaver. Feet First produced hundreds of the flags for distribution (Seattle City Council has also installed pedestrian crossing flags at 17 Seattle intersections, which people can use on their way -- although the program has had a problem with theft.)

Feet First is now focusing on reviving the tradition of walking to school, through their participation in the national Safe Routes to School initiative. This program brings families and school employees together to ensure that kids have safe paths, and friends and parents to walk with. Safe Routes to School works on multiple levels to help reduce the rising childhood obesity rates and improve kids' overall health; relieve traffic congestion and decrease air pollution.

Feet First's extensive collection of maps is perhaps one of their most impressive ongoing projects. These maps, available free via online downloads, are chock-full of information including walk times, suggested walking loops, transit options and places of interest for multiple neighborhoods around Seattle -- providing the tools and information to make any day's stroll more enjoyable.

Other projects are also underway, including the DIY community mapping kit, where you can design your own neighborhood map for a healthier lifestyle and the Seattle Green Map, which connects Seattleites with all of the sustainable resources available in the region.

Why it's Worldchanging:
One major component of ensuring a bright green future lies in improving the walkability of our neighborhoods. Designing communities based on people -- not on cars -- can lead to dramatic increases in quality of life, including improved health, lower fossil fuel dependence and stronger community bonds. What Feet First has accomplished is a transformation of our urban environment, shifting a focus back on people to provide Worldchanging solutions that make Seattle a more livable, 21st century city.

This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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