Wheeling Walks Training Manual

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Chapter 12:
Creating a Walkable Community:
Why focus on the environment?
A "Walkable" Community
Making Walking Accessible

Support for a Walkable Community
The Impact of a "Walkable" Community Task Force

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Why focus on the environment?

A media campaign can get people interested in walking, but sustaining that interest requires environmental and policy changes.  Among community interventions, environment and policy changes potentially have the greatest influence on human behavior.  Environments can dictate, limit, or sustain a range of behaviors.  Increased access to safe walking trails, convenient fitness centers, sidewalks with adequate street crossings, enjoyable scenery, contact with others who are walking, and limits on motor vehicle traffic all positively influence walking behaviors.

When you begin to address environmental issues, several questions will arise, such as: Are our sidewalks clear and in good condition?  Are there continuous walkways on many of our city streets?  Can our children walk to school safely?  Can I walk at night and feel safe? 


A “Walkable” Community 

Making a walkable community involves transforming our communities from auto congested, angry, and uncivilized space into peaceful, economical, successful, and viable villages, neighborhoods, towns, and regions.  It transitions local planning, roadway design and funding decisions from reactive to proactive and increases a town’s livability and financial viability.

The end results of a walkable community effort is a focus on public process and older traditional street and town-making principles that enhance a sense of place and individual town character.  It is an idea worthy of all people who believe it is time to rebuild our communities. (See Appendix 12A for an information sheet on “Walkable” Community.)


Making Walking Accessible

 Walking can be done almost anywhere as long as facilities are available.  There are many issues to consider, such as safety of walkers, convenience of walking areas, lighting for those who prefer to walk in the evening, and places to walk when it is cold or wet outside.  In addition, when choosing a location, walkers may consider the availability of water fountains, juice/water machines, restrooms, mile markers, fitness stations, emergency telephones, and trash receptacles.  They may also choose to walk in an area that is aesthetically pleasing.  This may mean putting energy into planting flowers, cutting grass, and keeping trails void of debris.  For example, in Wheeling, a task force is in the process of having service groups and school children adopt sections of trails, much like the adopt a highway program, to ensure the trails are well maintained.

Making Options Available

In order to make it easy for people to walk, they must have options available. One outdoor preference may be as close as the sidewalk outside one’s home.  Other outdoor alternatives include walking and bike trails, public school facilities, hiking tails, beaches, college or university facilities, parks, and playgrounds.

Some indoor walking options include malls, public schools after hours, college or university sport complexes, churches, fitness centers, office buildings, and home treadmills.  It is important to know what indoor walking options are available in the community.  Contact public school, college, and university administrators to get their support for your community walking initiative.  They are part of the community and may be willing to allow community members to use their indoor and outdoor facilities for walking.  In addition, churches may be willing to open their doors to walkers. Many malls already have established early morning walking programs.  Never assume that an organization or agency will not want walkers to use their facility; many will not mind and some will enthusiastically support the idea.


Support for a Walkable Community

Engineers, planners, architects, landscape architects, developers, politicians, citizen advocates, ADA specialists, retailers, neighborhood leaders, administrators, and environmentalists all embrace the ideas of walkable communities.  A walkable community assimilates ideas, concepts, and issues at the center of smart community growth.  The focus is on making communities livable, friendly, and connected rather than sprawling and busy. 

Following the Wheeling media campaign, the original advisory board regrouped and was charged by the Mayor of Wheeling to function as the Walkable Wheeling Task Force.  Its mission: is to pursue policy and environmental changes to further support and enhance walking in the community.  The actions of the task force steadily gained recognition; the mayor then charged the task force with developing a list of recommendations related to the promotion of walking for the Wheeling community. 


The Impact of a Walkable Community Task Force

The impact can be as small or large as the Task Force members desire. For example, the Task Force may decide their goal is to clean-up existing trails and walking areas.  This could be accomplished by hosting Spring and Fall clean-up days, planting flowers and other greenery, and placing receptacle bins along busy walking paths.  This project may be relatively easy to implement and accomplish and have a small to medium impact on the community.

In addition, the Task Force may have as their goal improving safety on trails and streets.  Improving safety could have a great impact on a community, but is likely to be a more complex and involved issue taking many resources to accomplish.  Multiple public and private agencies would be involved; funding would need to be considered and several options would need reviewed.  Improving safety might mean local police patrolling trails and neighborhoods or the installation of emergency phones.

The Walkable Wheeling Task Force is actively involved in expanding walking opportunities in the community.  Following are examples of Walkable Wheeling Task Force accomplishments:

  • The Task Force is helping the city connect existing community trails by procuring a legal right-of-way to privately owned land sections between two ends of a trail.  The Director of the Wheeling Division of Recreation is a member of the Task Force and his involvement has led to the promotion of recreational walking as a priority for the future. 
  • The Task Force was influential in convincing new sponsors of the prestigious Wheeling Distance Classic 20 kilometer race to actively promote walking in the race. 
  • The Army Corps of Engineers has affirmed the request of the Task Force to include trail enhancements on a trail located along a creek in its strategic plan to upgrade the creek.

None of these accomplishments occurred overnight.  The members of the Task Force have been working on these efforts for 12-18 months.  They have contacted people they know to help promote these activities and to introduce them to other who could assist.  Persistence and patience have guided the efforts of the Task Force.

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