What We’re Learning at PA Walking College – Month #5

Seth holding his Walking College diploma.

This article was originally published on BikePGH.

Here’s how Seth is transferring skills to help make Pittsburgh better for walking!

It’s our final interview! We’ve been sitting down with BikePGH’s Advocacy Manager, Seth Bush, to hear all about his experiences with the 2023 Pennsylvania State Walking College Fellowship Program through America Walks and AARP. As a final project to close out this 6-month fellowship, Seth recently submitted his Walking Action Plan, which utilizes everything he’s learned in this fellowship such as walk audits, campaign strategies, assessing policy, developing relationships with key partners, and more.  

Congratulations on your new certification, Seth! We’re excited to see you take your new skills into the community to train advocates, consult with decision-makers, and affect real change in our communities. After today’s interview, this blog series will come to a close. If you missed it, check out our blogs from (Month 1) (Month 2) (Month 3) & (Month 4)  to get a recap of Seth’s experience, and continue reading below to learn why you should connect with Seth and/or level up your advocacy and improve your community in 2024!

Q:   Hi, Seth. Congratulations on completing your 6-month fellowship with PA Walking College. We all are very interested to hear about the major takeaways and any meaningful insights you gained through the experience… Can you enlighten us?

I think it’s really interesting that I started this Walking College journey when I was brand new on the BikePGH staff. I feel the experience supercharged my learning of the technical elements of how and why we do what we do in this organization. Prior to joining the BikePGH team and starting at Walking College, I already had an understanding of community organizing and experience making grassroots change. But through this program I was able to really put it all into the context of urban design and what it really takes to make “Streets for People.”

Another interesting and cool thing about this program that I didn’t initially expect is that out of the course’s six modules, the urban engineering portion was just one module of six total modules. Meanwhile, it was the history and impact that were the more substantial topics in the overall course –for instance, Mobility Justice, the history of racism on city design, and learning about the policies that create our built environment. I didn’t realize just how substantial those topics were going to be throughout the course of the fellowship, while just a sliver of the puzzle was the engineering portion. That takeaway is significant because I realize now that in order to have the most effective and equitable change on our streets, we really need to be intentional about having a deep understanding of the people those changes are going to impact: what are their lived experiences, needs, and wants?

Q: How else does this tie into your work at BikePGH?

Well, to start, our name is BikePGH but we’re working on advocacy for so much more than just people who bike. We’re really creating a culture shift to influence accessible streets for all people, whether biking, walking, or rolling. Intuitively, I understood that upon starting this job as BikePGH Advocacy Manager, but now with Walking College I’ve been able to connect that understanding with experts across the country and through exploring countless materials and resources. This all helped to educate me on the technical stuff that goes into this work, and now I feel better equipped to support our BikePGH advocates. Specifically, transferring some of the knowledge and resources I’ve learned and compiled in order to lead trainings, walk audits, give advice, and point to valuable resources I may not have otherwise been connected to. I’ve truly become more effective at supporting advocates through this program.

I feel like I’ve leveled up my advocacy! 

-Seth Bush

I’d like to share an anecdote of something that has already made me feel really good about the impact of this work. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the advocates I’ve previously met and supported from a nearby municipality. He had previously attended some of BikePGH’s advocacy trainings but I learned he was feeling really stuck on how to engage people in his community. Specifically, he was looking for an engagement strategy for a very busy street that runs through their business district. So I sat down with him 1-on-1 to talk about next steps. Their municipality already has a Complete Streets policy and they are looking at an Active Transportation Plan, but they have a long way to go to truly transform the walkability of their downtown. So, we talked about a good strategy to move forward, and I shared some of what I learned at Walking College. After that meeting, he told me each time we’ve sat down to talk together, he feels he has much more clarity and a much clearer path forward as a result of our conversations. That’s what I want for people, and it feels really good to hear it’s happening.

Walking College gave me so many of those tools and resources to support these conversations, and I am truly looking forward to having many more fruitful interactions with bike/ped advocates across Pittsburgh to help people be effective advocates in their neighborhoods. 

Q:  What’s next and what can we expect in terms of your next projects?

First, more Walk Audits! A Walk Audit involves walking through an area or observing a stretch of road to identify what challenges there are to people who walk through the area. The idea is to start thinking about solutions to make it safer and more enjoyable for people to walk in that area. If you want to do a Walk Audit in your neighborhood, reach out to me! Check out Blog 3 for more info on what a Walk Audit can do for the safety of your neighborhood. 

People walking on sidewalks as they perform a Walk Audit

Next, when it comes to getting my Walking Action Plan in motion, I’ve started so many conversations relevant to this plan. As for on-the-ground implementation, I’m going to be working on getting some traffic calming installed on Woodstock Ave in Swissvale sometime next year. 

I’ve also been able to better understand various funding opportunities available, and I now know which ones are relevant to my neighborhood and others. I’m able to show up in places and speak with decision makers intelligibly and get them to think about projects and areas of need relevant to this type of advocacy. 

More so, I’m going to be taking what I’ve learned from this in bringing it to communities all over the city. At a recent capital budget meeting, for instance, I listened to the folks speaking up for traffic calming & pedestrian safety – and I struck up conversation and started building relationships with those folks. I now have the knowledge to help communities that maybe wouldn’t have thought of Bike Pittsburgh as a way to help them get their pedestrian safety needs met. I am able to demonstrate skills and offer resources that show BikePGH as an organization can support their community – not just a community where people ride their bikes– but their community where the kids play, where people walk, and where people ride the bus.

Putting together the Walking Action Plan for Woodstock Ave, I now have a toolkit to pull from that allows me to create a vision of safer streets that exceeds what I have done before. I now have a greater sense of possibility. It has changed the lens by which I view elements of our community. I find inspiration in things I may not have otherwise found inspiration in. 

THE VISION: “[In 2028] The once broken sidewalks have been repaired and widened with new street trees to provide shade. Intersections have been redesigned with shorter crossing distances, raised crosswalks, and properly graded curb cuts with tactile surfaces… Street murals showcase the creative spirit of the community while signaling to drivers that our street is for people to live, not for cars to go fast. Bus stops along the street all feature a trash can, a nearby street light, and a nearby street tree…”

– The “Vision” section of Seth’s Walking College Action Plan

Q: Thanks, Seth! Is there anything else you want to share as we wrap up this blog series?

Just a sincere thank you to my group– I had the privilege of being a part of an AWESOME mentor group within the cohort. It was just a real privilege to be able to collaborate with my group and give each other feedback and help each other out. And to our Mentor, Daniel Price, thank you so much, you were great. The feedback and support I received from this group alone made Walking College worthwhile, among so many other elements of the program. I highly recommend it!

Seth speaking to group of people
Seth leading a BikePGH Advocacy Training

Congrats again to Seth on completing this fellowship, and thank you to everyone reading this blog series and following along with us! If you want to learn how to advocate for safer walking in your community, you can connect with Seth at seth@bikepgh.org. If you want to take that extra step, stay tuned on the AmericaWalks website for other opportunities.