Iowans discuss walkability

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Thursday, Bob Fagen, Spencer city manager, along with representatives from Ames and Muscatine, attended a conference in Ames to discuss issues of walkability in Iowa communities.

"Basically, (walkability) is a plan to make the community easier and safer to navigate for pedestrians and bike riders," Fagen explained. He noted that walkability has been a priority in Spencer for a number of years now. The city's plan to increase Spencer's walkability coincided and bolstered its efforts to become certified as a Blue Zone by Wellmark Insurance. Fagen indicated that, if citizens are encouraged to be active and walk or bike, they must be able to do so safely.

"We have to make sure we practice what we preach," Fagen said.

The conference, which approximately 200 people attended, allowed the representatives to compare, discuss, and learn from one another. Fagen described the meeting as, "a learning curve for those trying to do the same thing." He went on to say that, currently, Spencer's walkability is more developed than Ames' but less developed than Muscatine's.

"Muscatine did some amazing things there," Fagen said. He explained that Muscatine has been able to utilize the Blue Zones Program's "tool kit" to install road features such as roundabouts, bump outs, and road dieting, which is the process of narrowing a road to allow more space for pedestrians.

Fagen recalled that, one of the communities present had been hesitant about installing a roundabout and was able to share their solution. A full scale cutout of the proposed roundabout was laid on a gymnasium floor so traffic flow could be tested.

Another community demonstrated the concept of "reverse parking" using miniature cars. This technique calls for cars to be backed into angled street parking. Once in this configuration, driver visibility is greatly increased as the cars leave, making the street safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The local plan for Spencer involved creating safe routes to schools. Fagen noted that this portion of the plan received a great deal of public participation. This involved not only physical changes, such as countdown lights at crosswalks, and marked paths to schools, but safety programs such as a Bike Rodeo and walking school busses as well. In addition, the plan requires sidewalks be added to any new residential subdivision or to a road during major construction. The city has also allocated $200,000 toward a sidewalk incentive program for residents who wish to add or repair a sidewalk. In addition, the city is working to expand the bicycle trails in the area as well.

"I think we've come a long way," said Fagen, noting that the city's plan is a step-by-step approach rather than a plan he likened to tearing off a Band-Aid, "Most cities that have tried to get sidewalks, if it is handled the wrong way, it becomes very disruptive."

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