Walkability Audits: A Tool for Change in Communities
Two Town of Apex staff members participating in the recent walkability audit at an intersection in Apex…and discovering some challenges for anyone in a wheelchair trying to navigate this particular intersection.
Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a walkability audit in Apex, which examined one intersection specifically: Hunter St. and Laura Duncan Rd. It didn’t take long to see a multitude of issues for pedestrian safety at this intersection very near Apex Town Hall, the Apex Community Center, Apex High School and a shopping center with a Food Lion.
The audit was coordinated by the Wake County Child Pedestrian Safety Action Network (WakePedNet), which is comprised of a group of local, county and state stakeholders, including AHA, who are working to increase the awareness of the child pedestrian safety concerns in Wake County and to build greater capacity to prevent pedestrian accidents. Nationally, a pedestrian is hit every eight minutes, and in Wake County, since 2000, more than 650 children aged 18 and under have been involved in a pedestrian crash. These safety concerns, coupled with a renewed focus on moving people rather than vehicles in the interest of public health and the environment, have made injury prevention a high priority for state and local agencies. The network receives support from The UNC Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC), with its partner Toole Design Group, through a grant from the John Rex Endowment.
Apex Walkability Audit
WakePedNet is planning a series of walkability audits as a tool to communicate with decision-makers about pedestrian safety concerns, with the Apex audit serving as the first one. Laura Sandt, UNC HSRC Research Associate and the Associate Director for the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center led a meeting with several Town of Apex staff, including planners, engineers, police, fire safety and me, to discuss the purpose of the walkability audit and how we would proceed. Our goal was to see and discuss pedestrian safety issues and opportunities, and document the concerns through photos and videos so that we could later engage stakeholders and decision-makers in a conversation about pedestrian safety.
Auditors observed and discussed the intersection.
HSRC shared some background information about the intersection, provided by Reed Huegerich, a Transportation Planner for the Town of Apex. The Apex Police Department had reported five pedestrian crashed nearby since 2006: two pedestrian crashes on Hunter St. and three on Laura Duncan Rd., but none at the particular intersection we audited. HSRC indicates there have been very few child pedestrian crashes in Apex and a relatively low child crash rate, which is great news. In addition, the Villages of Apex is a mixed use development currently under construction near the intersection. The economy has slowed the development, and the area immediately adjacent to the intersection is unlikely to develop in the near future. Also Old Mill Village is a townhouse community whose development has been slowed by the recession. There are plans to build sidewalks on the southwest corner of the intersection, but that also is unlikely to happen soon.
As part of the audit process, photos and video were taken to document the problems.
Outfitted with safety vests and Reed riding in a wheelchair to experience the audit from that perspective, we took a short walk to the intersection to see for ourselves. We observed the intersection and answered questions on a Walkability Checklist, such as “Was it easy to cross streets?” The checklist offers possible issues, such as “road was too wide”, “traffic signals made us wait too long or did not give us enough time to cross,” “Trees or plants blocked our view of traffic,” etc.
As part of the audit, we recorded several videos to document the process. This one intersection actually had a variety of problems: there were sidewalks and ramps on only two of the four sides of the intersection, the signal changed too quickly to enable our wheelchair auditor to safely cross the intersection, and there were no striped crosswalks or pedestrian heads to support pedestrians, for example. During our 15 minutes or so at the intersection, there was not significant pedestrian traffic, which could be in part because of the lack of connected sidewalks, but we did observe a group of high school students crossing and navigating the lack of connected sidewalks.
After the audit, the group discussed some possible short-term solutions to address some issues at the intersection and where there might be funds available to support such changes.
WakePedNet’s next meeting is May 16, and the group will continue planning walkability audits in the county, among other projects. The group is also focusing on pedestrian safety around schools. Documents and presentations from past meetings and the work plan are all available at www.WakePedNet.org.