Do-It-Yourself Project:

Sidewalks and Streets Survey

Time Needed:
1/2 Day to a Full Day
Skills Needed:
No special skills required
Causes:
Community, Health & Wellness, People with Disabilities
Project Categories:
Family Friendly, Geared for 50+ Volunteers, Outdoors, Requires Physical Ability
Created By:

Create the Good

OVERVIEW

Too many communities in the United States are designed for automobile travel, with very little consideration given to the needs of walkers. Lack of sidewalks, construction of sidewalks too close to roads and lack of maintenance are all factors that discourage people from walking regularly.

You can help make walking safer by teaching small groups to take simple “walkability” surveys. Once people rate an area and identify concerns, the group can take action to improve walkability. This toolkit will help you do that.

It takes about an hour to complete a walkability survey. More time is required to follow up and pursue the needed improvements.  This will depend on the extent of improvements needed and community cooperation to get the work done.

Here are some great reasons to do this project:

  • Increase exercise opportunities for your community
  • Boost social interaction among neighbors by creating a walking-friendly environment
  • Help reduce traffic congestion and pollution by leaving the car at home.
  • Increase property values: Walkable communities are associated with higher home values!


HOW IT WORKS

STEP 1: RECRUIT PEOPLE TO DO A SURVEY
Start with friends and neighbors. It’s helpful to include someone with a physical challenge (e.g., someone using a walker, wheelchair or cane, or even someone who pushes a baby stroller). That will help you get a true sense of an area’s walkability.

STEP 2: REVIEW THE SURVEY
View and print the Sidewalks and Streets Survey in the 'Supplemental Materials' section below.

STEP 3: IDENTIFY YOUR ROUTE
Map out a logical walking route in your community, ideally one that would take you and your neighbors to and from where you need to go. This could be in your own neighborhood or one surrounding your local faith-based group or senior center.

STEP 4: GET READY

Choose a date and time for the Survey and gather the following materials:

  • Street maps
  • Clipboards, notepaper, pens and disposable or digital cameras (all important for documenting what needs to be improved)
  • Comfortable walking shoes and, if needed, a hat and sunscreen

4,280 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in 2010 in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

STEP 5: CONDUCT THE SURVEY AND RATE YOUR ROUTE
Print out and bring surveys and materials for each member of your group. Conduct the survey and see how your community stacks up.

STEP 6: TAKE ACTION: HELP YOUR COMMUNITY BECOME MORE WALKABLE
After you’ve rated your walk and identified problem areas, review “Take Action: How to Improve Your Community’s Rating” and work with your group to agree on and take action.

STEP 7: INSPIRE OTHERS ON CREATETHEGOOD.ORG
KEEP UP THE GOOD!

Visit www.CreateTheGood.org to connect with a range of opportunities to use your life experiences, skills and passions to benefit your community.

 

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR SURVEY RESULTS

Now that you've identified the problems, you can find the answers. Consider these questions and see suggestions for taking action immediatly and in the longer term. 

Did you have room to walk?

  • Sidewalks or paths started and stopped
  • Sidewalks broken or cracked
  • Sidewalks blocked
  • No sidewalks, paths or shoulders
  • Too much traffic

What you can do immediately:

  • Identify another (safer) route and share information with friends and neighbors
  • Tell local traffic engineering or public works department about specific problems and provide a copy of the checklist

What you can your community can do with more time:

  • Speak up at board meetings
  • Write or petition the city for walkways and gather neighborhood signatures
  • Make the local media aware of the problem
  • Work with local transportation engineer to develop a plan for a safe walking route

Was it easy to cross streets?

  • Road too wide
  • Traffic signals made us wait too long or did not give us enough time to cross
  • Crosswalks/traffic signals needed
  • View of traffic blocked by parked cars, trees or plants
  • Curb cuts were missing or in need of repair

What you can do immediately:

  • Pick another route for now
  • Tell local traffic engineering or public works department about specific problems and provide a copy of the checklist
  • Trim trees or bushes that block the street and ask neighbors to do the same
  • Leave nice notes on problem cars asking owners not to park there

What you can your community can do with more time:

  • At city meetings, push for crosswalks, signals, parking changes and curb cuts
  • Report to local traffic engineer the locations of parked cars that pose safety hazards
  • Report illegally parked cars to the police
  • Request that the public works department trim trees and plants
  • Make the local media aware of the problem

Did drivers behave well?

  • Backed without looking
  • Did not yield
  • Turned into walkers' path
  • Drove too fast
  • Sped up to make traffic lights or drove through red lights
  • Stopped too close to crosswalk

What you can do immediately:

  • Pick another route for now
  • Set an example by slowing down and being considerate of others; encourage your neighbors to do the same
  • Report unsafe driving to the police

What you can your community can do with more time:

  • Petition for better law enforcement
  • Request protected turns
  • Ask city planners and traffic engineers for traffic-calming ideas
  • Organize a neighborhood speed-watch program

Was it easy to follow safety rules?

  • Cross at crosswalks or where you could see and be seen
  • Stop and look left, right, left again, before crossing
  • Walk on sidewalks or shoulders facing traffic
  • Cross with the light

What you can do immediately:

  • Educate your community about safe walking

What you can your community can do with more time:

  • Encourage schools to teach walking safety. Help schools start safe-walking programs.
  • Encourage corporate support for flextime so parents can walk children to school.

Was your walk plesant?

  • Needs grass, flowers, trees
  • Dogs off leashes
  • Unsafe people
  • Not well lit
  • Dirty, litter, pollution
  • Lots of traffic
  • No resting places

What you can do immediately:

  • Point out areas to avoid; agree on safe routes
  • Ask neighbors to keep dogs leashed and fenced
  • Report unleashed dogs to animal-control department and to your neighborhood association
  • Report unlawful activity to the police
  • Report lighting needs to the police or appropriate public works department
  • Collect trash during your next walk by taking a trash bag along
  • Plant tress and flowers in your yard
  • Select an alternative route with less traffic

What you can your community can do with more time:

  • Request increased police enforcement
  • Start a crime-watch program in your neighborhood
  • Organize a community cleanup day
  • Sponsor a neighborhood beautification day
  • Begin an adopt-a-street program

A quick health check:

  • Could you not go as far or as fast as you wanted?
  • Were you tired, short of breath or had sore feet or muscles?
  • Was the sun really hot?
  • Was it hot and hazy?

What you can do immediately:

  • Start with short walks and work your way up to 30 minutes of walking most days
  • Invite a friend along
  • Walk along shaded routes where possible
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher; wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Try not to walk during the hottest time of day

What you can your community can do with more time:

  • Get the local media to do a story about the health benefits of walking
  • Call the recreation department about community walks
  • Encourage corporate support for employee walking programs
  • Plant shade trees along routes
  • Have a sun-safety seminar
  • Learn about unhealthy ozone days and the Air Quality Index (AQI)

*AARP would like to thank the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (www.walkinginfo.org) for providing the original content for improving your community's walkability rating.


MORE WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR COMMUNITY’S RATING

City and county bureaucracies can be a challenge to persuade to make changes. You can get the ball rolling by identifying problem areas and calling them to public attention. In the meanwhile, identify alternative routes that can keep you and your community walking, moving and thriving.

  • Rally your neighbors to work with the appropriate local traffic and transportation officials and with local government to add new walkways and sidewalks and help improve the safety and accessibility of your community.
  • Contact your local public works and your county department of transportation or elected community representative to report broken, cluttered or otherwise unsafe sidewalks. Give them copies of your survey report and photos that demonstrate the problems.
  • Ask city or county officials to install pedestrian and traffic signals to mark crosswalks and to add traffic-calming devices (such as speed bumps and traffic circles) to help control the speed of traffic. Make sure the timing of traffic signals is long enough to accommodate older pedestrians, people with disabilities and other slower-moving pedestrians.
  • Organize a neighborhood watch group to prevent crime from taking place in your community. More awareness of activity in the neighborhood can reduce crime so your community can have safer streets that everyone can enjoy.
  • Advocate for raised medians with curb cuts to easily accommodate all pedestrians and wheelchair users.

So Just Who Are the Players Who Can Help You Make a Difference?

City or County Public Works or Department of Transportation:

  • Your public works agency can address concerns about placement and width of sidewalks and sidewalk maintenance. Responsibility for specific sidewalk issues may vary. For example, even though the city public works department often addresses sidewalk maintenance, the maintenance may actually be the responsibility of property owners. Adding a new walkway may require negotiating with the respective property owners about paying for it. This process is easier if a gap can be filled in, as opposed to installing a completely new walkway that crosses a number of private properties.
  • Trimming bushes that overhang the sidewalk is the property owners’ responsibility, but the city or county will send an official notice to request that property owners take care of it. If a property owner does not comply, a public works crew may trim the bushes and bill the property owner. In some neighborhoods, the homeowners’ association is responsible for sidewalks.
  • Some communities or neighborhoods have ordinances restricting installation of sidewalks or curbs for aesthetic reasons or to make the area appear to be less urban. In these communities, you must present the need for sidewalks to the city or county council, and it can be quite challenging. Consider directing your energies more effectively toward ensuring that neighborhood streets are well-maintained.
  • If action on sidewalks is not possible, your group can still help make it safer to walk along the streets by urging that the city install traffic-calming measures such as roundabouts, speed tables or speed humps to reduce cut-through traffic or speeding cars. You can also organize a neighborhood watch group to deal with any criminal activity in your community. More awareness of activity in your neighborhood can reduce crime, which means the streets are safer for everyone to enjoy.

Other Community Partners:

  • Contact your local public works department or elected community representative to report broken, cluttered or otherwise unsafe sidewalks. Consider forming an alliance with downtown merchants or others who may be interested in advocating for more effective streetlights, benches and shade trees to improve your community’s appeal. Contact the planning department, which would be involved in improving streetscapes, or the parks department, which might be involved in planting trees. Local parent-teacher associations (PTA's) may also be interested in ensuring safe school routes.
  • The traffic manager in the city or county department of transportation is responsible for controlling the speed of traffic through traffic signals. Make sure the timing of traffic signals is long enough to accommodate older pedestrians, people with disabilities and other slow-moving pedestrians.
  • Signalized crosswalks with flashing lights or special signals activated by a walk sign are safest because they help reduce the number of pedestrians stranded at crosswalks when the light changes. New types of crosswalks that feature a striped path that lights up when activated by a pedestrian demonstrate the potential of technology to enhance pedestrian safety. Older residents particularly benefit from these types of improvements at major street crossings.

ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES

Pedestrian Mobility and Safety — Audit Guide – ite.org/PedAudits
This guide, written by AARP and the Institute of Transportation Engineers, explains the numerous issues related to pedestrian safety and mobility. It includes photos of what to look for and findings from surveys in four cities.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Centerwww.walkinginfo.org 
Information includes walking basics, solutions and resources.

Walk Wise, Drive Smart – www.walk-wise.org
Learn from the experience of Hendersonville, NC, which is building community support to create pedestrian-friendly environments for older adults.

The Getting Around Guide – www.aarp.org/howtogetaround
This AARP guide can help you take advantage of fun, healthy, and economic ways for getting around your community, including walking, biking, and taking public transportation.

Model Design Manual for Living Streets – www.modelstreetdesignmanual.com/
The Model Street Design Manual was created by national experts in living streets concepts. The manual aims to have balanced street design that ensures safe and comfortable travel for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users while also accommodating cars. The manual includes ways to make streets beautiful, environmentally sustainable, and lively.

Supplemental Materials