Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Councilmember Tommy Wells recognizes D.C.'s walkability heroes

December 8, 2011 - 03:51 PM
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(Photo: flickr/daquellamanera)

Tonight the D.C. Council will recognize the power of pedestrians, everyone.

Or one council member will, least.

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells is holding the fifth annual Livable, Walkable Awards at the Hill Center on Pennsylvania Avenue SE starting at 6:30 p.m. It's little surprise that Wells hosts these awards, also known as the Brickies.

After all, this is the D.C. council member who also has a book club ("Tommy's Traveling Book Club") in the midst of reading Edward Glaeser. This is the man who adamantly encourages laws like the anti-harassment bicyclist bill that's floating through the Council. This is the man who's championed streetcars at the H Street Festival and elsewhere and has earned the glib City Paper nickname "Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells," who worries about sidewalk safety in winter,  the big smiling man who set up a barbecue and impromptu park for Park(ing) Day in the Wilson parking lot. If anyone is holding walkability awards, it's Wells.

And for the sake of pedestrian awareness, thank goodness he is.

Pedestrians, unlike drivers or transit-riders or even bicyclists, don't have as much of the natural power to harness support, money, and protection in our transportation world. Advocacy for their concerns are limited, despite the real growth we've seen in recent decades. They're the most vulnerable people out there traveling. But as society moves closer to the vision of "The City 2.0" that TED evoked with its recent 2012 prize, they're also increasingly the most valuable. We want our transportation system to be walkable, to have appropriate paths, safety, a heritage trail or two, accessible park land, and even sidewalk cafes.

What does Wells honor with tonight's awards?

With his Neighbor Award, Wells honors Michael Barrette, an individual who's apparently been "leading the charge to transform our rooftops into platforms for sustainable energy with the Capitol Hill Energy Coop ... working to promote youth sports with groups like Capital Futbol Club, Sports on the Hill, and the Friends of Watkins Recreation Center ... pushing the city to re-envision the ocean of asphalt along the Anacostia River with the Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park." For the Community Organization Award category, we have the Neighbors of Southwest Duck Pond. The Business Award goes to local coffee shop SOVA Express & Wine. The Public Service Award? Capital Bikeshare. And finally, the Civic Pride Award goes to the Caldwell Bank holiday display due to the fact that "for the pedestrian outside, it is impossible to miss and enlivens the sidewalk and walking experience for every passerby." A small donation is requested for those attending tonight's ceremony, which will go to Wells' constituent service fund and attempt to cover the cost of the event.

The event might strike some as a stunt or cute or too befitting Wells' brand as a smart-growth crusader but ultimately such a ceremony is necessary — and we could use more of them. I'm reminded of another awards ceremony I recently wrote about that honors businesses that offer their employees the best, appropriate transit options. Employer initiative can create sustainable commuters, and you can nominate your D.C. metro area bosses for those awards by the end of January.

The true virtue of Wells' walkability awards isn't so much the winners as the fact that it's introducing and expanding the notion of what walkability really means to a modern urban city. It's a fresh reminder from a politician that walking and sidewalks matter, that we have to pay attention to these issues of parks and rooftops and sidewalks and any number of public spaces that we share. I respect and applaud the move.

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