New street safety app links lone female walkers in Edmonton

Melanie Eriksen and Jessica Tomory walk through ATB Place in downtown Edmonton. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC - image credit)
Melanie Eriksen and Jessica Tomory walk through ATB Place in downtown Edmonton. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC - image credit)

Jessica Tomory was walking home downtown from a work dinner recently when she noticed someone walking behind her, swinging a baseball bat.

She has been considering moving out of downtown Edmonton because of safety concerns — and she knows the issue is on other women's minds too.

"I'm checking behind my shoulder, scanning rooms, walking with my keys in between my fingers, and talking to girlfriends, realizing I'm not the only one doing that," she told CBC News on Thursday.

Tomory hopes a new app she has been working on with Trevor MacDonald helps women find nearby walking partners.

The app, which is called A Safer Walk, pairs women with other women who plan to walk in the same direction.

Users must submit their driver's licences and have their accounts verified before embarking on their first walks.

Madeleine Cummings/CBC
Madeleine Cummings/CBC

Co-founder MacDonald, who has been working on the app for two years, said the company spoke with about 200 women while researching the concept.

Their research revealed women wanted a safer walking experience and were more likely to trust an app dedicated to them.

"Women trust women above any other option," MacDonald said.

The app uses GPS data to facilitate walks but it doesn't continue to track users' locations or sell data to third parties, he said.

Though the app is free for women to use, the company licenses group services for property management companies and other commercial clients.

A custom pilot project with the commercial real estate company Triovest, which manages the ATB Place office towers, starts next week, on International Women's Day.

The app's primary purpose is to help women feel safer as they walk around, but the founders hope it also helps women network, meet new friends, find exercise partners or share car rides.

Madeleine Cummings/CBC
Madeleine Cummings/CBC

"There are a lot of really positive effects that I think this can have for women, in addition to helping them move more safely about town," Tomory said.

Other Edmonton organizations have tested safe walk services in the past year.

Using a platform from CommAlert, the Downtown Recovery Task Force (now the Downtown Recovery Coalition) piloted a "walk safe" service last year with four organizations.

Punetta McBryan, the executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, said the service had low adoption, potentially because more people were starting to come back to work in person and the weather was improving.

Also last year, the local Muslim women's collective Sisters Dialogue partnered with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues to offer a safe walk service for Muslim women in northeast Edmonton.

The summer program, launched in response to multiple unprovoked attacks on Black, Muslim women in the city, linked women with volunteer walkers.

Fifty-one people offered to volunteer for the program but only 21 women signed up as participants.

Sisters Dialogue founder Wati Rahmat said there was some hesitation to use the service, perhaps because of a lack of trust.

"We needed to build community and trust before they would be more open to using it more," she said.

Recreational group walks and regular meet-ups had some success, she said, but ad-hoc walk requests were difficult to coordinate with volunteers.

Submitted by Wati Rahmat
Submitted by Wati Rahmat

Rahmat said A Safer Walk will likely appeal to downtown workers who are already accustomed to using dating and food delivery apps.

"What A Safer Walk is doing is very commendable and I hope that more women can use it to feel safer," she said.