Walking home from school in Alta Vista. Photo: Graham Larkin.

Find a decent pair of shoes. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat.

Most of us are blessed with the capacity for ambulation; if more of us were to take advantage of this simple and eminently affordable means of locomotion we would all be living healthier, more engaged lives. As John Stilgoe contends in a wonderful book there’s magic right outside your door, and a great way to connect with that world is to put your feet on the ground and move through it at a leisurely pace.


It’s a little scary that we live in a society where one needs to make a case for walking, but the fact is that since the mid-20thC Ottawa has largely been designed for automobiles. Luckily there’s change afoot, with many groups throughout North American promoting a healthy and safe walking culture.

The US-based Everybody walk campaign has produced this excellent brochure (PDF) on the benefits of walking—a “wonder drug” proven to help, treat or prevent all manner of mental and physical illnesses. On the safety front, Smart Growth American has produced this guide addressing the “national epidemic of pedestrian deaths” and seeking the solution in better street design. Their site comes complete with a petition to the US Department of Transportation, encouraging them to “get serious about transportation safety and accountability.” Unlike Transport Canada, USDOT at least has a section on pedestrians and cyclists on their home page, so there’s a lot of work to be done.

Walkable City author Jeff Speck outlines his smart growth philosophy in TED talks here and here, and in this entertaining, well-illustrated hour-long talk. Speck suggests a number of ways planners can facilitate walks that are “useful, safe, comfortable and interesting.” Tom Vanderbilt provides thoughtful and entertaining introductions to “The Crisis in American Walking“; “Sidewalk Science: The Peculiar Habits of the Pedestrian, Explained“; and “Learning To Walk: How America Can Start Walking Again.” In a fourth essay Vanderbilt takes a wary look at the walkability metrics from Walkscore, whose analysts contend that Ottawa is the fifth most walkable Canadian city—after Mississauga. For a more granular approach see their complete Ottawa neighbourhood listings or punch in your address. And be aware that any such single-score metrics should be taken with a grain of salt.

Canada Walks (@CanadaWalks on Twitter) is an excellent national advocacy group keeping tabs on walkability issues nationwide. Their community-based Active & Safe Routes to School initiative promotes active transportation for kids. The venerable federal ParticipACTION program (Participaction program (@ParticipACTION on Twitter) has a campaign called Park the Car, It’s Not That Far telling us that only 28% of Canadian children walk to school today, as opposed to 58% a generation ago.

The Canada Walks affiliated Walk Friendly Ontario is a recognition program that encourages municipalities to improve walkability by awarding Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum designations. Their program “gives walking a prominent profile in community planning and design, and encourages municipal governments to set targets for ongoing improvements.” Their web site includes a terrific overview of web resources for walking advocacy here.

An extensive 2012 survey by Toronto Public Health (PDF) concludes that residents of walkable and transit-accessible neighbourhoods enjoy more active and sustainable lives. The City of Ottawa has a Pedestrian Plan that you can link to here. Walk Ottawa (web site here, and Twitter page here) is devoted to providing “a voice for pedestrian safety and walkable communities for the City of Ottawa through policy advocacy and community empowerment.” They have a terrific resources page here, and they support the Ecology Ottawa Complete Streets Petition. If you’re on Twitter please tweet the petition from here, to help them reach their target of 5,000 signatures.

For an overview of pedestrian safety in Canada you can read this incredibly informative Maclean’s article by Brian Bethune, which draws largely on the researches by Neil Arason, culminating in his book No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads, whose prologue you can read here. These authors note that virtually all recent gains in Canadian traffic safety have been for those within the car, despite massive progress in pedestrian safety in places like Europe and Japan. Likewise, New York City’s measures to ensure child pedestrian safety have paid off with such measures as

[n]arrowing intersections by building out sidewalks, setting off dedicated bicycle lanes, installing speed humps, and timing lights so pedestrians have more time to cross. The program—now de-funded by Congress—cost $10 million but returned a benefit Columbia University researchers calculated to be $230 million saved in that city alone and 2,055 “quality-adjusted life years gained.

dan_rube_walkingListen here to an exclusive one-hour Slow Ottawa interview with Dan Rubinstein, who’s got a great blog and a forthcoming book on the benefits of walking. And visit the Slow Ottawa Pinterest page including the popular Streets For Everyone board.


There are a number of walking and running routes listed on the Step Where? and Map My Walk websites. And here’s an innovative running map of a Kanata neighbourhood. For further afield check the NCC guide to Hiking and Walking in the Greenbelt.


Local walking clubs include the Ottawa Voyageurs Walking Club.

For an overview of cycling activity and advocacy in Ottawa go here.

Finally, have a look at some of these walking-themed Pinterest boards, scrolling over image for details and clicking to pin. And please use the sharing buttons at bottom of page. Sharing on Facebook is especially welcome, as it’s not my thing but I know it works!



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