These streets were made for walking

The weather has been perfect lately for a good walk, so on Sunday, I invited some retired friends for one.  They declined, choosing instead to join the centrifugal crush of their comfortably dressed peers at the mall.

A brisk walk in Old Town Manassas is a heart heathy activity in a vibrant setting.

The mall?  I couldn’t imagine any place I’d rather avoid at on a sunny afternoon, but it got me thinking.  Can downtowns tap the spending power of traditional mall walkers, at least when the weather is good? And even if they don’t shop or eat everytime they come down, just how many times could a walker pass well appointed shop windows without creating a mental inventory of downtown offerings?

My friends like the mall because of the climate control, because they can measure the number of laps, because there’s lots to look at, because there’s easy access to restrooms, and because they can buy a reward snack when they’re done.  But outside of climate control, mall walkers can have all of that downtown. So encourage them.

Here are some tips for starters:

  • Measure out a short circuit or two and rate them by difficulty. 
  • Give the routes fun names.
  • Build routes around existing historical and cultural walks.
  • Mark distances in chalk on the sidewalk or on a map, using stores as landmarks.
  • Invite a mall walking club to try it out en masse.
  • Hold an organized fun walk on a Saturday to introduce the route to a larger audience–start and end at the farmer’s market.
  • Set records to be beaten for the number of laps or time of completion.
  • Get a group of downtown workers – or Main Street voluneers – walking at lunchtime.
  • Encourage a merchant to offer a small incentive for walkers.
  • Partner with a local health care provider to create more formal signs as the program grows.
  • Make sure a public restroom is available.
  • Encourage a local cafe or coffee house to offer a Walker’s Reward healthy smoothie on their menu.
  • Encourage merchants to call walkers by name when they see them out.
  • Explore mall-walking club strategies for more tips.

Last month, Staunton Downtown Development Association (SDDA) initiated their monthly walkers club called Walk the Walk. Activate Martinsville Henry County reinforces sense of place in the traditional commercial district by including several Uptown Martinsville walks in their efforts to encourage  healthy lifestyles. What other tools encourage pedestrians in your downtown?  Let us know!