Over the course of this fall, the local advocacy group Ridgewood Walks has supported discussions, tours, and other events in Ridgewood as part of its initiative to increase pedestrian activity. Ridgewood Walks’s aim is to draw attention to health benefits of walking and also to the potential positive effects of frequent walking on Ridgewood’s economy. The founder of the group, Ridgewood resident and RHS parent Jeanne Johnson, created Ridgewood Walks in order to inspire “a safer, more connected, and vibrant community.”
Programming this fall began with a September 26 panel discussion at the Ridgewood Public Library. Panelists— Leigh von Ann Hagen, traffic safety analyst, Joe Getz, retail consultant, Lisa Chamberlain, physical therapist, and Lenore Skenazy, author and founder of child-independence organization Free Range Kids— discussed their various perspectives on issues surrounding the village’s walking culture. Topics included child safety, parking turnover in downtown, and health benefits of walking.
Joe Getz stressed that increased walking traffic would bring commercial rewards, noting that Ridgewood possesses more consumer demand within five miles of its downtown than all of Boston, and that about $116 million dollars of tax valuation were lost over the last decade in Ridgewood’s central business district.
Getz argues that the clearest factor in Ridgewood’s commercial stall is the lack of people walking around downtown, which is related to the lack of parking close to the downtown: “If people can’t find a convenient place to park,” he says, “they won’t walk around or shop in the stores. If they don’t shop, sales go down… Ridgewood should look at the many parking solutions that have not [been] explored, such as better parking management, downtown trolleys, commuter buses/trolleys, remote parking, etc.”
Local government officials agree that increasing circulation in the downtown is a priority. According to Mayor Susan Knudsen, “While all Village neighborhoods are walkable, not all of Ridgewood is walkable to the central business district.”
September’s panel was in part an introduction to Walktoberfest, an October-long program designed by Johnson in which residents of Ridgewood led walking tours to engage and educate on different aspects of Ridgewood’s history and culture.
Tours included exterior tours led by school principals, a tour of desert locations, an arts and architecture tour, and others.
Walktoberfest is an outgrowth of Walktober, an initiative that dates back years and encourages students in Ridgewood to walk to and from school.
Walk-to-school weeks were an early part of Johnson’s work with encouraging student walking, dating to May 2005. “Kids love it,” Johnson says, “They get to feel some independence and they get to hang out with their friends on the way to school. Parents love it because their kids burn off energy and stress on the way home from school. Teachers have repeatedly commented how attentive students are during walk to school months.”
Walking “makes for long talks and great memories,” says Mayor Knudsen
Graphics: Caroline Chang