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PlaceMatters and WalkDenver Expand Collaboration on Active Transportation

PlaceMatters and WalkDenver are pleased to announce an expanded collaborative partnership focused on walkability and other forms of active transportation in the Denver metro area.

The two organizations first began working together in 2013, when PlaceMatters launched its Active Transportation Initiative aimed at assisting communities that want to become more pedestrian, transit, and bicycle friendly.  As a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to making Denver the most walkable city in the country, WalkDenver faced a challenge common to many American communities: while planners have a wide array of tools for collecting, tracking, and analyzing data about driving, the tools and data needed to make informed decisions about more active transportation modes is sorely lacking.

Walk ID

PlaceMatters and WalkDenver therefore teamed up to develop WALKscope, an open-source tool for crowdsourcing data about walkability, with grant funding from Mile High Connects.  Community members can access the tool via smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers to report data related to sidewalks, intersections, and pedestrian counts. WalkDenver is using WALKscope to engage residents in assessing the walkability of their own neighborhoods, to educate residents about the connection between walkability and quality of life, and to advocate for infrastructure improvements.

Just a few short months after its launch, WALKscope began attracting attention from communities throughout the Denver metro area and at the national level.  The outcomes of this collaborative effort contributed to WalkDenver’s success in acquiring additional grant funding from other sources, including a major grant from Kaiser Permanente announced this May.  This in turn allowed WalkDenver to expand their capacity by hiring a full time Policy and Program Director.  Jill Locantore, who supported the development of WALKscope as Program Director for PlaceMatters, will be shifting over to WalkDenver on July 1 to fill this new position.

With WalkDenver’s transition from a primarily volunteer-driven organization to a professionally-staffed advocacy group, and with support from other local and regional partners including the Denver Regional Council of Governments, WalkDenver and PlaceMatters are gearing up to build upon their previous efforts.  Collaboration over the next several months will focus on 1) implementing key enhancements that will increase the effectiveness of the WALKscope tool, and 2) expanding the focus of community engagement and walkability assessments to current and planned FasTracks corridors, with an initial emphasis on the West Line.

Jill can be reached in her new position at jill.locantore@walkdenver.org or 303-895-6376.  Critter Thompson will be taking the lead on WALKscope-related projects for PlaceMatters, and can be reached at critter@placematters.org or 303-964-0903.

 

Slow City: Denver @ 3MPH [One Day in Denver]

Is Denver built for people or cars? On April 26th, Walk2Connect’s Community Program Director, Rachel Grace Hultin, led a free walk with 27 people across the city of Denver (a total of 13 1/2 miles), facilitating a moving talk story about the “Future of Our City” through the lens of slowing down to make space for sustainable choices.  Participants explored their dreams, fears, and big ideas about how to create a slow city.

As a partner on the walk, PlaceMatters led discussions about how land use and transportation planning and decision-making has traditionally focused on cars more than people. PlaceMatter’s Active Transportation Initiative supports communities that want to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly by pioneering techniques for civic engagement tailored to these issues, and providing tools to gather the data and community experiences that allow for informed decisions.

The walk was filmed and uploaded to the One Day in Denver website as part of the national “Your Day, Your City” collaborative film event in 11 cities across the country. You can check out the 7-minute video below or through the link here!

SlowCity One Day in Denver from Rachel Hultin on Vimeo.

 

Event Partners:
WalkDenver ~ Place|Matters ~ Arts & Venues ~ 5 Fridges Farm ~ Greenway Foundation ~ Slow Food Denver ~ Denver Urban Gardens ~ Denver Kids Inc

Videography by Holly McClelland [Clementine Studios] and Daniel Weinshenker [Denver Center for Digital Story Telling].

 

Moving Talk Story: The Future of Denver @ 3MPH [One Day in Denver] April 26th

This Saturday, April 26th, Walk2Connect’s Community Program Director, Rachel Grace Hultin, will lead a free walk across the city of Denver, facilitating a moving talk story about the “Future of Our City” through the lens of slowing down to make space for sustainable choices. We will share dreams, fears and big ideas about how to create a slow city. You are invited to join for some or all of the walk which will be filmed, edited and uploaded to One Day in Denver website as part of the national “Your Day, Your City” collaborative film event in 11 cities across the country.

The walking route is approximately 13.5 miles and will be broken into three 4.5 mile segments. Each segment will focus on specific aspects of a slow city as we walk through context-specific neighborhoods. Participants are invited to walk the whole time or choose individual segments. All meeting points are along the Light Rail to make parking and returning to your car easy.

To help guide the conversation and understand barriers and opportunities to creating a future slow city, we are inviting thought leaders and change-makers from relevant topic areas to join us for each segment. Please consider joining the talk story and guiding the conversation on manifesting a better tomorrow.

Event Partners:
WalkDenver ~ Place|Matters ~ Arts & Venues ~ 5 Fridges Farm ~ Greenway Foundation ~ Slow Food Denver ~ Denver Urban Gardens ~ Denver Kids Inc

Segment  1 :: Nourish and Sustain [urban agriculture and open space conservation]
8:00 AM Leave at Cushing Park [700 W. Dartmouth, near Englewood Light Rail]
10:30 AM Arrive at Alameda Light Rail Station

Segment 2 :: Thrive and Enlighten [wellness, community service and education]
11:00 AM Leave Alameda Light Rail Station
1:00 PM Arrive at Millennium Bridge [16th & Little Raven] for brown bag lunch

SOLD OUT Segment 3 :: Move and Inspire [transportation and art] email Rachel [at] Walk2Connet [dot] com to be placed on wait list 
1:30 PM Leave Millennium Bridge [16th & Little Raven]
4:00 PM Arrive at Our Mutual Friend [near 29th & Downing Light Rail]

Please register below to indicate which segment(s) you plan to join. Please note registration deadline is April 23rd! Event details, including exact meet up locations, will be confirmed the week before the event. This is open to all so invite your friends to come along and talk about the future of our city.

Thank you to our sponsors and partners!

CreateDenver_4C

walkdenver logo

PlaceMatters logo

DUG Logo

Greenway Foundation

 

Reposted from Walk2Connect.

WALKscope: Crowdsourced Pedestrian Data

It’s easy to look around most American cities and guess (correctly) where most of our transportation infrastructure funding is spent: on auto-oriented projects. As transportation infrastructure became more complex and within the purview of the public sector, planners and engineers developed the data and methodologies we needed to track what infrastructure exists and how it’s being used. This information guides policy decisions about where to invest resources.

However, we rarely have this kind of data for active transportation like biking and walking. This lack of data puts active transportation at a disadvantage when it’s time to allocate resources; after all, how do you argue for more sidewalks or prioritize where to put resources when you can’t demonstrate where the existing gaps and strengths are in the network? Following the “what gets measured gets done” logic, auto-oriented uses are better equipped to demonstrate need because they have data, perpetuating a cycle of auto-focused spending.

walkscopedesktop

WALKscope desktop view

Over the last few months, PlaceMatters has been working with our friends at Walk Denver on a new tool for crowdsourcing data about the existing conditions and usage of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure. The concept behind WALKscope is simple: drop a pin on a map, and then answer a few questions about pedestrian counts, street quality, or intersection quality.

At the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last month, we were able to test it out in the field with 30 participants in a mobile workshop. Participants were given a quick tour of the tool, some maps showing them where to canvas, and then they were sent out into the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Denver. After about 30 minutes, we’d covered several blocks.

Jefferson Park Data

30 minutes of WALKscope with 6 groups

When participants returned, we pulled up the map and groups were able to report out on the data they’d just collected, including the pictures they took. Cool.

walkscopedemo

Using WALKscope to report what we found during the data collection.

We then got down to my favorite part, a usability review of the tool. Overall, the comments were really positive. Some of the pluses:

  • responsive design: because it’s designed for use with mobile devices, the interface for collecting data was really easy to use in the field.
  • pictures: incorporating pictures is really helpful for adding detail to what is otherwise a pretty basic survey of the area
  • conversation starter: several folks mentioned that neighborhood residents asked them what they were up to, and a couple of those residents even asked how they could get involved and pitch in.

and the most common requests/issues:

  • more categories: it’s always tricky balancing the desire for precision with the need to generalize categories to make the data manageable. We got some helpful feedback on refining our current ways of categorizing sidewalks and intersections.
  • ped counter interface: one of the best ideas we heard was to add a clicker feature to the ped counter option so people could just tick off a new pedestrian each time they saw one rather than remembering the total and updating it at the end. I love this idea; definitely something we’d like to implement.
  • user access: currently you can sign in via twitter or facebook, but people understandably would love to be able to have persistent sign-in so they could log a bunch of data points and have a user account keep up with it all for them.

So what’s next for WALKscope? If you’re in Denver, it’s up and ready for you to use it! We’ll be doing some data visualizations and other reporting from the work we’re doing with Walk Denver, and we’re talking with other organizations who are interested in using it. If you’d like more info on the tool, let us know!

PS: A huge amount of credit is due to the folks at OpenPlans for developing Shareabouts, the platform on which WALKscope is built.

 

PlaceMatters and WalkDenver Partner on Pedestrian Data Collection Tool

We are pleased to announce that PlaceMatters is partnering with WalkDenver to develop an open-source, on-line data collection tool that will create an inventory of pedestrian facilities and conditions in Denver neighborhoods, as well as collect pedestrian data counts. The tool will allow community members to record neighborhood conditions via smart phones or tablets, upload and store this information in a shared online database, and create compelling maps and other visualizations that illustrate the need for improvements.  WalkDenver will use the tool to engage residents in assessing the walkability of their own neighborhoods and understanding how walkability relates to quality of life and health. The data collected will help identify and prioritize strategies for improving walkability and track changes over time.  The project is funded by a grant from Mile High Connects.

A Walkshop to Remember: Reflections on the Inner Belt Brickbottom Walkshop

I came to PlaceMatters this summer from Somerville, Massachusetts, a Boston-area city best known as Cambridge’s slightly grittier, more affordable, and no-nonsense neighbor to the north.  I’m a proud two-time resident of Somerville, and in my time there I’ve gotten to know my adopted hometown—the most densely-populated municipality in New England—block-by-block, one triple-decker and Brazilian corner store at a time.   It’s a remarkably diverse community, a mix of students, new immigrants, young professionals, and older ethnic communities that have been a part of the socio-cultural fabric for generations.

Tube Tunnel connecting the north and south ends of the IBBB study area

Image taken of the tube tunnel connecting the north and south sides of the IBBB study area (taken by walkshop participant Lynn Weissman)

But in all my municipal trekking there has always been an outer limit, an end of the known universe that is Somerville.  And that boundary had always been McGrath Highway.  Nary a ten-minute walk from my Union Square apartment, McGrath is a fearsome behemoth of a road, with rickety concrete and steel overpasses and busy at-grade on-and-off-ramps.  Beyond McGrath lies a vast industrial zone, bisected and circumscribed by railroad tracks and highway overpasses, stretching to Sullivan Square and I-93, and Charlestown beyond.  This forbidding terra incognita—far off the mental maps of a great many area residents, myself included—is Somerville’s Inner Belt Brickbottom district.

But with a boulevardization plan under consideration for McGrath Highway and the planned construction of an MBTA Green Line Extension light rail station at Washington Street, Inner Belt and Brickbottom are well on their way toward integration with the rest of the city.  On June 25th, PlaceMatters—in partnership with Goody Clancy and the City of Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development—facilitated an opportunity for area residents to expand our mental maps, inviting us to explore this undiscovered neighborhood and formulate a vision for its future.   The Inner Belt Brickbottom (IBBB) “Walkshop”—think “walk” + “workshop”—divided us into five teams, envisioning new corridors along McGrath Highway, Washington Street and New Washington Street, and investigating the potential for neighborhood development in the more-remote industrial cores of Inner Belt and Brickbottom.
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Livable streets and driving don’t mix


Here is a video from Street Films that was sent to me from colleagues working on the ICLEI STAR Community Index several months back. It revisits some of the pivotal research done by Donald Appleyard starting back in the 60s and leading to his work on Livable Streets. The video uses wonderful animation to illustrate the findings quantifying the negative effects cars and speed can have on sense of community.

Meant to blog about it back when I first saw it but projects kept me busy. The imagery and message, nonetheless, stuck with me as I traveled to several communities and could see what was being described firsthand. While the results are intuitive, the level of impact is higher than I would have guess. In areas where traffic is light, communities are much more likely to interact with each other, identifying more than 3 times as many friends on the block as folks living on heavy traffic streets.

Writing this blog sent me on a journey to learn more. The first thing I discovered was how coveted copies of Appleyard’s book Livable Streets have become. Used copies are selling for more than $250. In the Wikipedia link I provide above, I also learned Donald was tragically killed by a speeding car in Athens in 1982. I’ve share with you 2 sentences from the article:

Appleyard was that rare combination of innovative path-breaking academic researcher and quiet, insistent activist, professional, intent on getting things done–things that made cities better places for people to live. He was a person of ideas– especially concerned with expanding the scope of urban design to encompass thinking from the social sciences.

Tomorrow we travel to Boston to work with the City of Somerville to conduct a Walkshop in the Inner Belt/Brickbottom region. The area is ripe with opportunities and challenges including an elevated highway that divides the study area and a new transit station on Washington Street included in plans to extend the Greenline through Somerville. Participants will spend the morning walking around the area, taking photos with their phones and digital cameras, and talking about many of the same issues Appleyard brought up in his work. Will have this video on hand to help illustrate things to consider when thinking about walkability in the area.

City Time

Now that I am PlaceMatters’ “East Coast Office,” I get to hear WNYC’s Radiolab actually on my radio (I had been one of their many podcast followers).  Radiolab is a fun, science-themed show, and a recent broadcast focused on some of the science and stories around cities. Frequent travelers know that each city has its own “feel.” Radiolab’s guest,  Dr. Robert Levine of Cal State, argues that some of this feel comes from differences in pacing, both literally–he times how fast people walk–and with respect to a variety of other metrics he has explored, including how many people wear watches, how quickly residents talk, or how long it takes a bank teller to change a twenty dollar bill. Part of what is striking about Dr. Levine’s research is that the pace at which people walk in each city is incredibly consistent.  On one end, Dublin walkers are speedy, taking 10.7 seconds to cover 60 feet, while at the other end, pedestrians in Buchanan, Liberia stroll 60 feet in 21 seconds.

Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt from the Sante Fe Institute are physicists whose research indicates that the pace to each city has some logic.  They claim that if given the walking pace, they can tell you the population, average wage, crime, GDP, number of colleges, restaurants, patents, cultural events, and cases of certain diseases because all these factors are related to one thing–size.  As a city scales up, these characteristics also scale up.  Less than 15% (or so) of the factors that they measure are attributable to specific things like location.

Because these numbers are so consistent, cities can look at the math and determine their “performance”.  A city can determine if they “need” more cultural events, or innovation (via patents), and prepare for crime or public health problems.  Of course there a many qualitative factors that change what cities are like, but this research can serve as a benchmark for a variety of services.

Grist to the mill: can people be seduced into a low carbon lifestyle?

Over the months I have been collaborating with Bill Becker from Natural Capital and Jonathan Arnold from Arnold imaging on a website, exhibit, and suite of resources to help communities imagine a more sustainable future.  The central premise is that people need inspiration, not just dooms-day projections, to be motivated to pursue a more sustainable future and that many of the actions we can take to reduce our ecological footprint, can have multiple quality-of-life benefits.

Jonathan Hiskes with Grist, recently reviewed our beta website, The Future We Want.  He gave us some praise but wrapped up his blog with a healthy dosage of skepticism.

I’m intrigued. I’ve been wondering about this sort of thing and highlighting similar works on the hunch that lots of people are convinced it’s time to move beyond our sputtering fossil-fuel dependence and on to something better… The bigger problem, though, is the same reason Hollywood turns out so many dystopian movies. Danger alerts us, grabs our attention. Danger is sexy. Safety lulls us to sleep. It’s tough to make compelling drama out of a happy-green-prosperous future — even if that’s where we want to live.

I think the October issue of WIRED magazine, highlighting the huge impact the Tesla has had on the electric car industry, is a nice counterpoint to this argument.  Really well designed low carbon/high tech can be fun and enticing.

Nonetheless, I share Hiskes’ skepticism when he challenges any notion that we might be able to convince people to change their lifestyle simply by showing them beautiful 3D renderings of the future.  No doubt, it is going to take much more than that. Getting people to choose a more sustainable path for the future is less about individual choice and more about engaging in a collaborative  process with others. Along the way, people need access to good information to help them see the trade-offs and benefits of different strategies and choices.  That is why we propose a comprehensive suite of tools and resources on this site to assist communities.

Visit our beta site at www.futurewewant.org and send us your comments.  I also encourage you to contribute to the debate emerging on the Grist site.

Bicycle Friction

Commuters in a bike/bus lane in Milwaukee (Flickr photo by Steven Vance, Creative Commons license).

There is a growing body of research tackling the question of why people choose to ride a bike instead of driving (and vice-versa).  In a sense, the question of whether people will choose to ride boils down to a simple concept: how much friction is involved in the choice to ride versus driving?

Friction can show up in a lot of places.  Is your bike buried in the back of the garage?  How hard is it to find the bike lock, and where is that key, anyway?  What sort of clothes do I have to wear today, and how compatible are they with riding a bike?  How hard is the ride, and how safe or vulnerable will I feel on my bike route?  How hard will I have to look to find a good spot to park my bike, and what are the odds that it gets wet in the rain or stolen while I’ve left it?  If I’m going to sweat on my ride, how easy is it for me to shower and change?

For hard corps bicycle commuters, most of these don’t seem like real barriers . . . the committed riders figure them all out one way or another.  And the non-bike-commuters, because they themselves don’t bike to work or to run errands, often don’t really see or understand the points of friction.  But for people that are on the fence – they could choose to ride a bike sometimes or might just decide it’s not worth the trouble after all – every point of friction is another reason to pick another option.  And even when the friction is perceived rather than real (parking your bike downtown might be a lot easier than parking your car, but you don’t really know where to park your bike and you know the car routine well), it creates just as much of an obstacle.

The challenge, then, for city planners and electeds and cycling promoters, is to find those barriers and nudge them out of the way.