In the 1990s, the state’s rising pedestrian fatality rate drew concern not only from state and federal government entities but also from community members who experienced first-hand the dangers due to a lack of safe walkable streets in their neighborhoods. Various local advocacy organizations began to emerge around California to advocate for change at the local level. After years of invaluable, but perhaps fragmented, efforts around the state to influence transportation policy, the need for a statewide organization that could unite the efforts of the separate California organizations and influence state policy became clear.
In 2001, a grant from the California Department of Public Health was awarded to an informal federation of organizations–led by Anne Geraghty (also the founder of WALKSacramento)–that helped launch California Walks and created the group’s first strategic plan. The organization continued to slowly grow, eventually gaining its 501(c)(3) incorporation and its first Executive Director Wendy Alfsen in 2006.
In addition to offering input on statewide policies and transportation plans, California Walks provides trainings and education to community residents and professionals. The organization is now recognized as one of the lead statewide advocacy organizations focused on transportation safety and walkable and just communities. California Walks has also provided dozens of communities with training, capacity building, and technical assistance to achieve their vision of a healthy, sustainable, and walkable community–successfully helping these communities secure over $35 million from the Active Transportation Program.