Saturday's NE Walkfest encourages walking as a healthy form of alternative transportation

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When thinking about alternative forms of transportation, Stapleton Transportation Management Association Director Angie Malpiede saw an opportunity to talk about walking. "I went to CDOT and said, you know, transportation-demand management has always been about taking transit -- carpooling, van-pooling and even biking -- but I want to add walking to the equation," says Malpiede.

Joining forces with Jonathon Stalls of Walk2Connect, a local neighborhood walkability organization, Malpiede instituted a safe walking program in the five neighborhoods that her association oversees -- Stapleton, northeast Park Hill, greater Park Hill, east Montclair and northwest Aurora. To build on that program, this Saturday, August 24, they will launch the inaugural NE Walkfest, a free walking activities-oriented event aimed at getting neighbors out onto their streets.

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The event focuses on showing people that moving around in your own neighborhood doesn't require a car, or even a bicycle. Through themed walking tours and a main walking route, the day will give neighbors a good look at their own surroundings, while exploring the options for safe ways to get around on foot.

"The goal for something like this is walking behavior change -- we're hoping that we're taking people and literally showing them that it's really not all that difficult to cross Martin Luther King Boulevard while walking, or to cross Quebec into Stapleton or to cross Monaco," says Stalls of Walk2Connect. "The visual of walking, especially when we have such a strict grid of squares, can be really hard to see -- say you're standing at 26th and Holly Street and then you look down Holly, you can't even see Quebec, really. And yet, if you were to walk it, it really only takes fifteen to twenty minutes. It's that kind of behavior change. If I need to go to the post office, if I need to go to the grocery store or the rec center, walking to these locations really doesn't take that long."

This idea of measuring walking in minutes versus miles was a game-changer for Malpeide, who had been working on safe walking maps for several years before connecting with Stalls. "I was in Washington, D.C., for Champions of Change for the White House and Austin, Texas, was getting [a Champions for Change award]," she remembers. "I asked them, what was your success? He said, we put maps in minutes, rather than in miles. In doing that, people got the idea that they could walk fifteen minutes -- not a mile."

With that, her plans really took off. Even the mayor is getting in on the act. Just in time for back-to-school season, Michael Hancock will be at Saturday's event, leading a walk starting at Smiley Middle School at 11:30 a.m., and bringing attention to safe walking for students.

"It became very clear to me that this would be a perfect collaboration with the City of Denver and the Mayor's Head's Up program, that is all about keeping yourself safe while you're walking. We had these tragic incidents on 14th and Yosemite Street where children were hit and killed." says Malpeide.

Since then, there have been great improvements in pedestrian crosswalks and more traffic signals for neighborhood walkers. Joining up with the Denver Department of Public Works in an effort to advocate for safe walking has gone a long way to make things better, she says.

Saturday's event won't just highlight safe walking. It's also designed to showcase Stapleton, northeast Park Hill, greater Park Hill, east Montclair and northwest Aurora through themed walks focusing on neighborhood history, local wildlife and more Malpeide emphasizes that not only is walking beneficial to the environment, it creates happier people and, in turn, friendlier, safer neighborhoods.

"This thing happens to you -- it's been a long, long, long time since I've walked and been outside for period of time. All of a sudden, you start connecting to back when you were a kid and you used to go outside and play and explore," says Malpeide. "You felt alive and you could smell the air. I realized that this is a pretty life-changing event to get people back out in their neighborhoods."

The NE Walkfest is free. Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m. at 33rd Avenue and Holly Street in northeast Park Hill; walks begin at 9 a.m. For more information on the themed walking trips and other activities throughout the day, visit the NE Walkfest's website.

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