It’s Not Too Far…to Walk or Bike
Matt Tomasulo (left) of Walk [Your City] at the recent House Creek Trail sign installation. All photos courtesy of Sara Cowell Photography.
Bike [House Creek Trail] is the latest Walk [Your City]
way-finding sign installation in Raleigh, but this campaign takes the signs off roads and puts them on the greenway to highlight how close destinations just off the greenway are via bike. For example, it’s just 4 minutes from the House Creek Greenway Trailhead to Martin Middle School and just 11 minutes to the NC Museum of Art on bike.
“Most signs in Raleigh point to a few landmarks for visitors, but this program is to support residents. This effort is to show that there are places close by that you drive to on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, but we show that you also have the choice to potentially walk or bike to those places through signage,” said WYC founder Matt Tomasulo. Through a Walk [Your City] (WYC) contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, WYC worked with Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources on this campaign.
“When we were planning possible sites, the House Creek Trail had just been installed and it was connecting to both commercial areas and neighborhoods,” Tomasulo said. “The Raleigh Planning Dept. highlighted it as a potential interest if we wanted to support people on bikes. In other communities that have utilized our tools, we have seen it applied to trail systems since we do provide conversions for biking with our technology. So I loved the idea of doing that here.”
Tomasulo said the new House Creek Trail signage has a different design than the original Walk [Raleigh] signs in that it is icon-based, making the signs easier to read as you are biking.
Tomasulo’s original way-finding campaign in Raleigh was the outcome of research he was doing while in graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State related to perceived barriers to people not walking walkable distances. In California Department of Transportation data, he had overwhelmingly seen that respondents used “it’s too far to walk” as the reason they did not walk to different destinations within walking distance, when in reality, it was a shorter walk than they anticipated.
“I was going to NC State and lived near Cameron Village, and in an effort to test these findings in Raleigh, I asked some neighbors if they ever walk to the Harris Teeter. They said ‘No, it’s too far.’ I asked if they would walk if it was 14 minutes, they said yes, and then I showed them it was actually only a 13-minute walk. It happened this way multiple times, neighbor after neighbor. I realized there was a disconnect about the perceived distance and time it took people to walk in my neighborhood, versus the actual distance and time, so I decided to show Raleigh “it’s not too far” to walk in our city.”
Walk [Your City] is currently working with Lexington, KY, on multiple way-finding campaigns alongside a University of Kentucky health professor, who is conducting an IRB-approved research project on pre-and post-installation impact of WYC signage at the UK campus. “It’s really exciting. She has a couple of thousand participants for the pre-evaluation, and the intervention has been installed now. By the end of the year, the post-evaluation should be underway. The data could be really significant,” Tomasulo said.
As part of its BCBSNC work, WYC is in the midst of several campaigns in Durham. A downtown Durham installation is likely to expand because it has had overwhelming support. Tomasulo said he is working with the City of Durham’s Human Resources Department to support a new initiative it has to enable employees to take 20 minute walks. Walk [Your City] will use its system to create 3 different 20-minute walking loops highlighted by signs. Each sign has programming that lets employees check in and record their employee ID number. While HR is still finalizing programmatic requirements, by checking in at the furthest point from City Hall over some period of time, walkers will receive a wellness credit.
“It’s a fun, simple, lightweight way to encourage employees to walk through downtown, and hopefully other people as well. We designed the program so that it goes by businesses, allowing people to patronize local businesses while getting to know their downtown better,” Tomasulo said.
Tomasulo continues to work on developing a robust walkability toolkit through funding from the Knight Foundation. He is excited to take the learnings from Raleigh and other partner communities to continue to make resources simpler and easier to use to champion bike and foot choices, he said.