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WalkMassachusetts Network Adjusts to ‘New Normal’ with a Virtual Gathering

WalkMassachusetts Network Adjusts to ‘New Normal’ with a Virtual Gathering

On June 26, a dozen WalkBoston staff and WalkMassachusetts Network members met virtually for the first time. Our conversation, held on Zoom, offered an important opportunity for advocates from across the state to check-in and provide mutual support in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The meeting followed WalkBoston’s Walkability and Main Street Resilience virtual panel on June 24, in which Stacey Beuttell (WalkBoston), Che Anderson (City of Worcester) and Alia Hamada Forrest (Roslindale Village Main Street) discussed strategies for expanding street spaces for walkers, rollers, and local businesses with an emphasis on safety, accessibility, and economic recovery. The WalkMassachusetts members discussed major takeaways and inspiration gleaned from the panel, including the variety of creative solutions that they hope to implement in their own communities. 

We also discussed how communities across the Commonwealth are approaching shared and open streets projects, which alter streets for increased active transportation and outdoor dining, and we learned that implementation varies. Network members shared examples of what is working well in their towns and cities and noted the challenges, such as securing funding for these projects and ensuring that there is still enough accessible sidewalk space for all pedestrians. Members noted how the narrative around “open/shared streets” has changed from one focused on public health to one focused on economic development. That change in focus appears to have sparked new interest in these strategies from state and local government. Advocates expressed concerns around accessibility and prioritizing alternative recreation spaces for children as playgrounds remain closed. Members also shared strategies for identifying streets that make good candidates for closure, and how to approach local officials with project ideas. We wrapped up the call with a closer look at the many funding opportunities currently available to towns, municipalities, and community groups for open/shared streets projects.

It was fantastic to hear from WalkMassachusetts Network members about how their communities are coping and see members supporting each other by sharing ideas for safer walking. WalkBoston works with Network members from across the state, so we are excited to continue using video calls as a platform for meeting and connecting more often with the larger group. Many of the Network members are working remotely, though some are working on the front lines. We look forward to creating accessible ways for all members to come together and share experience and expertise. 

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