By: Leah Wyatt
Senator Marko Liias, who represents Washington State’s 21st legislative district, has been a longtime champion of walking as a means of transportation, which his political commitments to improving pedestrian infrastructure reflect. Roughly four years ago, however, he realized unhealthy habits he developed over time had contributed to significant weight gain. He decided to, as he says, “put his money where his mouth was,” adopting a healthier regime that included walking, a form of exercise he had always loved.
Senator Liias describes walking as an easy, accessible first step toward more vigorous forms of exercise, stating that walking was the “gateway drug” to his healthier lifestyle. Walking, he says, is wonderful because it can connect people to the outdoors as well as providing mental clarity. For Senator Liias walking is a “Zen activity,” allowing him to calm his mind and think about life’s larger picture.
Seattle’s Green Lake loop is Senator Liias’ favorite walking route given its ideal length and beautiful views, and he also likes exploring neighborhoods and cities on foot. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, Senator Liias is not fazed by rain. He does keep an umbrella, jacket, and other gear in his trunk to help mitigate any weather related excuses to avoid walking.
As a political leader, Senator Liias’ interest in walking transcends his personal life. In terms of what communities can do to ensure that people are able to walk safely, Senator Liias notes that as many as one in three people don’t drive. He states we need to keep this fact in mind, and design an accessible transit system so that people can remain mobile. He also firmly supports ensuring that our basic pedestrian infrastructure is safe and well lit as well as interesting and dynamic to attract people who do drive, encouraging them to perhaps walk instead.
Noting his enjoyment of walking as a child facilitated his rediscovery of walking as an adult, Senator Liias emphasizes ensuring that children have the opportunity to experience walking. Programs like the Walking School Bus and Safe Routes to School, he says, play an important role, demonstrating tangible ways that our schools can encourage kids to walk. Senator Liias has worked with Washington’s state legislature to ensure that the Safe Routes to School program is flexible and nimble, which he feels is key to its success. Different schools have different needs, and we should, he says, examine individual communities to find smart, cost effective ways to provide better pedestrian infrastructure. Ultimately, Senator Liias says, Safe Routes to School depends on sufficient funding, which he has been fighting to attain so that the program can continue to grow.
Through Senator Liias’ personal and professional commitments his steps are adding up; making the healthy choice the easy choice.