Walking College Fellow Discovers How to Connect “All Things Walking”

Pat Jewett is a 2017 graduate of the America Walks Walking College and currently writes a Walking and Hiking blog for GroupWorks. She also is an on-demand People Walker in Portland OR. Pat retired early from OHSU after a 28 career in work with nonhuman primates to focus on walking advocacy. She enjoys walking, relay walking, and meandering. She also manages her website and is always on the search for a part-time job in the field of walking, writing about walking, and walking advocacy. 

Finding your path, your own unique niche in advocacy work, can be a windy yet rewarding road. I’ve found my niche advocating for walkable communities and increasing awareness that walking is a sport. Before joining the America Walks’ Walking College, I was already managing my website but I wasn’t making the leap to doing any promotion of pedestrian safety and the right to have walkable neighborhoods. I wanted to make a difference. When I read about the Walking College I saw an opportunity to learn about walkability and I decided to apply.  

Attending the National Walking Summit as a Fellow in 2017 provided me with the opportunity to connect with other Fellows and advocates, learning from national experts, and experience a collective synergy that built up into a crescendo. The crescendo nurtured a small seed of an idea that grew while I participated in the Summit, to see if I could connect America Walks with my existing connections at the American Volkssport Association. This seed sprouted into conversations between the two organization and I am excited to share that America Walks will be doing a workshop at the AVA convention in June to help AVA expand around topics of walkability and walkable neighborhoods.

The Walking College afforded me the foundation of connections and confidence to begin actualizing my  Walking Action Plan (WAP), the final project of the Walking College that challenges Fellows to put into action all that we learn throughout the program. My WAP involved assisting our House Speaker, Tina Kotek, on the Columbia Blvd Pedestrian crossing. She received 1.5 million dollars from HB2017 to work on making the crossing from my neighborhood on the Northside of Columbia Blvd (a designated freight route), to George Middle School and the St Johns neighborhood community. Every chance I had I used my voice to advocate for sidewalks. Representative Kotek’s plan was focused on either a pedestrian signal or a new pedestrian bridge and it seemed that sidewalks were not getting as much attention. I showed her team the rundown sidewalks that led to grass paths or blackberry brambles and how the few patches of sidewalks that we do have are incomplete. I did this until the conversation shifted to include complete sidewalks and received word from the Project Manager of the Portland Bureau of Transportation that it was in part due to my efforts. Without the Walking College’s training and education on the importance of safe and connected infrastructure, I would not have been able to achieve this.

This small success caused me to do a crazy leap into what I can only call all things walking advocacy. I looked around my neighborhood and the city of Portland and found an opportunity to loosely tie together a thread between numerous groups that promote trails and walking and biking. This helped to not only expand my network and build connections between groups, but gave me the chance to build upon the education started with the Walking College.

Photo Senator Lew Frederick and myself on a tour of the npGreenway trail (not yet completed).

By joining various groups, I have had the opportunity to engage on a variety of topics from safety to equity to trails and greenways. This is representative of the many topics and issues that I was exposed to by America Walks, the Walking College, and the National Walking Summit. For example, I joined the Rivergate Transportation Advocacy Group, where we’re working on a local bus route to provide adequate bus services to the industrial businesses in nearby St Johns. We tackle important equity issues here and these efforts have become a cornerstone of my advocacy.

A highlight of my post-Walking College career is when I became involved in a loose group of advocates concerned about active transportation that evolved into the North Portland Transportation Partnership. Our focus is on highlighting active transportation for all North Portland. Last September we held our first Kick-off Summit meeting where House Speaker Tina Kotek and PBOT’s Commissioner of Transportation Chloe Eudaly each spoke. About 150 people, from local agency figures to citizens, attended. It’s been fascinating to watch this group grow and figure out how best to assist the community. Many community members are ill informed when transportation projects are underway –– ones that involve traffic calming or bike lanes, roads narrowing, or sidewalk infrastructure. One of our roles is to interface with the agencies and the neighbors to keep decisions and activity transparent. The skills I developed as a Walking College fellow have made me well-suited to provide leadership, build connections, and be that voice for walking and active transportation that our community needs.

House Speaker Tina Kotek speaking at the North Portland Transportation Partnership Kick-Off event in September, 2018.

Throughout the rigorous and invigorating process of joining these groups and expanding my knowledge I learned a whole lot about myself. Because of the way I’ve navigated this great web of paralleled organizations, people and campaigns, I finally found my purpose and my niche which is networking. I’ve become that person who successfully bridges gaps. I am unifying various components of the walking movement in my community in ways that had not been done before. I even have a couple of gig jobs that involve walking, along with managing my website.

I was mentioned in a blog for GroupWorks and I’ve been in conversation with the film producer of “The World Before Your Feet”. My advocacy and passion for walking seems to lead down many paths and I don’t know where I will end up, but I know I will be on my feet.

My advice to you, especially if you don’t think you’ve identified your true niche yet, is to build your community far and wide. The Walking College is a great place to lay the foundation for this community. There can be no downside to deep connection within the walking movement. In fact, it is everything. Cushion yourself with like-minded people, organizations, and advocacy groups. Be a sponge. Chisel your voice. Never give up. Until one day you’re ready to expel, yell, and thoughtfully release all that knowledge into your community. For me, the deeper journey of connection truly began with my acceptance into The Walking College.

Walking CollegeInterested in applying for The Walking College?

America Walks is accepting applications until February 28th. Learn more and apply here.