Quick Ways to Step Smart

Posted on by Celeste Gilman. This entry was posted in Being Active. Bookmark the permalink.

Step smart. You’ve known how to walk since you were a toddler, but did you know there’s a new campaign to increase your feeling and experience of safety when traveling by foot?

I love to walk. I’d much rather walk than wait for a bus or sit in traffic. Give me the steady progress of one foot after the other over almost any other option. I am continually amazed and delighted at just how much ground I can traverse and, without even realizing it, reach destinations that seemed impossibly distant in what feels like almost no time. I enjoy the world around me so much more when I walk – I can smell the flowers, hear the birds, and have a friendly chat with people I meet. I’ve been fortunate in my life to travel to many wonderful cities across the world, and it has always been my feet that have given me an intimate introduction into the hearts of these places.

I am also a student of walking. As a professional focused on sustainable transportation, I’ve had the opportunity to look under the hood of how an environment works, or doesn’t work, for people on foot. And while there are places exclusively reserved for people who are walking, most of the places we walk are shared with other people using various types of vehicles. Often we think of vehicles in engineering terms of speed and throughput, and forget the human element – that all vehicles (Google’s innovations aside) are operated by a person. There is no question that the operation of large and heavy objects at considerable speed creates a risk for people who are sharing the space but are not similarly armored. But this risk is created by choices and can be mitigated by choices as well.

While drivers need to be responsible and avoid putting walkers at risk, here are some “walking hacks” that I’ve learned over the years to preserve your own safety when you are on foot.

  1. Look, Smile, Wave! Make eye contact and make sure you are seen. Communicate to drivers with a smile and a friendly wave to say thank you for stopping.
  2. Unplug. Take out the earbuds, turn off the smart phone, tune out of the distractions, and tune into the sights and sounds going on around you, especially when crossing the street.
  3. Watch for vehicles turning right. A driver turning right is looking left for approaching cars, not right for people in the crosswalk. Be especially attentive and make eye contact with right turning drivers.
  4. Watch for vehicles turning left. The left turn can be particularly dangerous. Drivers turning left may be looking for a gap in oncoming traffic and not paying attention to people in the crosswalk. When trying to fit through a small gap in traffic or if going through a large intersection, a driver may accelerate quickly, resulting in relatively fast vehicle speeds. A left turning vehicle may come up from behind a person walking in the crosswalk. Check over your right shoulder and behind you for left turning vehicles and make sure you get the driver’s attention.
  5. Get Noticed. People on foot can be hard to see. Be aware of your visibility. Is it dark? Are you wearing a color that blends into the background? Is there low sun, rain, fog, ice, or other factors that could be impairing a driver’s ability to see? Lights, reflective clothing, or light colors can help increase your visibility. If you might not be seen for any reason, be extra vigilant in making sure drivers see you and stop to let you safely cross.

These ideas and more will be rolling out on signs at key locations in the U District and on campus in early February in the Step Smart campaign. This effort began with a student intern at Transportation Services and has blossomed into a partnership with the Seattle Department of Transportation, Harborview Injury Prevention, and the School of Public Health. Our goal is to evaluate and refine the campaign to create a successful template that can be repeated on an annual basis. For more information or to provide feedback, please visit uwcommute.com/stepsmart.

What’s your experience of walking on campus? Do you have other savvy walking tips? Share them in the comments below!


Celeste_GilmanCeleste Gilman is the UW’s Commute Options Manager. A native Puget Sounder, Celeste graduated from UW, works for UW, and even had her baby at UW. You can find her and her daughter looking, smiling, and waving at every intersection they cross on their commute to and from campus.