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When engineering meets health: walkability

Posted by: on 9/15/2014 8:46:34 AM

What is walkability and how do we work on it? Local engineer Ben Craddock explains. Find the orgininal story at http://www.lancastercivil.com/engineering-health-walkability/ 

Heath professionals want to get people moving more often. Engineering professionals want to get people moving safely and efficiently. When the two ideas come together, there’s an effective partnership that broadens the discussion beyond just body mass index and average daily traffic. Active transportation, safe routes to school and bicycle-friendly roadways are just a few of the many ways that health and engineering/planning officials can partner together to help improve our communities

Providing walkable infrastructure is another opportunity for an effective partnership. Studies have shown that walkable communities not only have higher property values, but that people who walk regularly have increased life expectancy and improved quality of life. One tool that we can use to evaluate the walkability of a community is called a walkability audit. This is a great way to experience just how walkable your community is and generate ideas for improvement. Performing a walk audit in your community helps raise awareness of the benefits of providing walkable infrastructure and highlights how important walkability is to the community.

What is a walkability audit? Essentially we just go for a walk and ask ourselves a few questions along the way. “Did we have room to walk?” “Was it easy to cross streets?” and even simply “Was your walk pleasant?” are all helpful questions that give us a sense of whether people feel safe and comfortable walking along a given route. Participants provide a rating for each evaluation criteria. We then tally the results and describe the findings in an easy to read report. The walk audit report also provides practical recommendations for improving walkability based upon the observations we make during the walk audit. Simple tasks such as trimming tree branches or adding signs can make a big difference.

I’ve been working with the Lighten Up Lancaster County Coalition in partnership with Lancaster General Health to perform walk audits across Lancaster County. If your community is interested in a walk audit, please ask your municipal officials to contact LULC Facilitator Beth Schwartz at Lighten Up. Beth can be reached via email at bakoser@lgheath.org. She’ll work together with community leaders to come up with a plan that includes all interested parties and makes the experience beneficial for all who are involved.

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