To a casual observer, a group of more than two dozen people walking along the sidewalk may not have seemed terribly unusual, but it was a diverse group determined to look at conditions around them and imagine how the area could be changed to make it more inviting to others.
There were young and old, man and women, children in strollers and one on a parent’s shoulders, and their challenge was to see the area as others would see it, imagining even more diverse usage.
They were participants in a walk audit led by Mark Fenton, an engineer and a consultant on healthy living and community design. Fenton was brought here for three days to help local residents, city staff and elected officials find ways to make the community more inviting to people wanting to walk or bike to in-town destinations.
He said the goal is to encourage “active transportation modes” such as walking, biking and buses, rather than the more popular term “alternate transportation.”
“When we say alternate transportation, it’s a negative. It says, ‘You seem like a loser. You don’t have a car,’ ” he told walk audit participants before they set out from the Oxford Lane Library. “I’m giving you a method I hope you will replicate over and over again.”
That method was to walk and observe conditions and score that portion of the walk on a scale of 1 to 10 and then ask participants to tell what caused them score it less than a 10 and then to ask the reverse, why that score was not zero.
“I want you to look through the eyes of all users,” he said.
That meant to look for things that would be a problem for people with baby strollers, or in wheelchairs, or elderly and moving slowly or young an easily confused or even things that would make people uncomfortable.
He said the goal was to imagine programs, projects and policies that would make to area traveled safer and inviting for pedestrians and cyclists in an effort to cut down on motor vehicle trips as well as getting people active and out moving around.
South Locust Street between Spring and Foxfire is, arguably, the worst stretch of street in town for walking or bicycling, or even driving. The walk audit started there but Fenton gave participants a taste of what they would be doing with a simpler task.
The group met in the Lane Library to get instructions and then started the walk. He stopped everyone and told them to gather around at the sidewalk near Locust Street and asked for scores for the area moving through the new construction in front of the site.
Since the site includes the library, several businesses and student housing Fenton said it is an ideal place to illustrate his argument for multi-modal transportation including bikes, pedestrians and buses.
“I want easy access for every pedestrian, every bike rider and every transit rider. If cars have to take a couple extra seconds, I like that,” he said. “We can tell people to be active and exercise but we have to give them what they need. A walk audit is one of the ways we look at a community not using maps.”
Alfter the walk, he asked participants to discuss short- and long-term programs, projects and policies which the city might consider in relation to that area.
Among them were:
• A weekend festival with the street blocked off to encourage biking, walking and public transit
• An all-community bus pass program
• Covers over bike racks
• Way-finding signs directing people to specific destinations, with time to get there included
• “Buy-a-bench” of “Buy-a-bike rack” programs in order to have more of each installed
• Covering or moving underground the drainage ditch along the street at that site
• Creating a round-about at the intersection of Church-Locust-U.S. 27 North